Friday, April 28, 2006

A Japanese bandit queen

Recently I came across this page about women pirates who were less well known than their male counterparts.

The page reminded me of a passage from the extraordinary book
Confessions of a Yakuza
. In the mid-1920s, the protagonist, a Japanese yakuza, was drafted and sent to Manchuria, China—which Japan had invaded after its victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. On page 122 of the book, he mentions a female bandit there named "Okiku of Manchuria."

The place [Manchuria] was crawling with warlords, bandits, and so on, who did more or less what they liked—I mean, there wasn't any proper government, so it was every man for himself, and a lot of people who couldn't make a living in Japan drifted over there hoping to get rich. A fair number of them became bandits, apparently. There was a woman called "Okiku of Manchuria," for instance—she was one of the best known—who was supposed to be a force to reckon with there, with at least five thousand followers of her own.

A Google search in English turned up zip, but a search in Japanese turned up a reference in a review [in Japanese] of a book titled Sonbun no Onna ("The Women of Sun Yat-sen "; written by Masaaki Nishiki and published in 2005 by Bungei Shunju). (The book's title is taken from a section of the book dealing with two Japanese women with whom Sun Yat-sen was romantically involved while he lived in Japan; Okiku herself has nothing to do with the Chinese revolutionary.)

The brief summary of the chapter of the book dedicated to Okiku of Manchuria says only that she was "sold from Amakusa (in Kumamoto, Japan) to Korea, became a bandit in Manchuria, and eventually drifted to Siberia."

Sounds like a fascinating story. Being intrigued by obscure figures in history, I may just have to get this book.

—Mellow Monk

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