As the European powers and the United States advanced into East Asia in the nineteenth century, their advance was accompanied by various kinds of relationships with people in colonies, settlements and treaty ports. Colonising men married or entered into informal relations of concubinage with local women, or they frequented brothels staffed by local women. These rela­tionships were also depicted in cultural forms. Pierre Loti’s (1850—1923) novels, for example, depicted relationships between a French sailor and Japanese women with quaint names like ‘Chrysanthemum’ or ‘Butterfly’ (Loti 1888, 1985). Loti’s stories were adapted by Giacomo Puccini in his opera of 1904, ‘Madama Butterfly’, about the relationship between ‘Cio-Cio-san’ and an American officer. Madama Butterfly continues to influence the cultural representation of relationships between European men and non-European women in conflict situations (Mackie 2000; see for example, Schonberg and Boublil’s musical Miss Saigon). Although China and Japan were not formal colonies in the same sense as India or the East Indies, the treaty ports of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries provided a site for unequal relationships between Europeans and non-Europeans (Wakeman 1996), with Japan eventually joining the colonising powers and establishing its own settlements in the treaty ports. In the city of Tianjin in 1900, for example, separate brothels were set up for Japanese, American, British and Russian troops and the local Department of Hygiene carried out medical inspections of sex workers (Rogaski 2004: 178; 262; 268-69).

The earliest places to experience the expansionism of the Japanese state were the northern territory of Ezo (present-day Hokkaido) and the southern islands of Ryukyu (present-day Okinawa). Even before Japan’s formal and informal empire was established, some of the earliest overseas enterprises were the brothels set up by Japanese entrepreneurs throughout Southeast Asia (and even as far away as Australia) from the end of the nineteenth century. They were staffed by Japanese emigrant women known as Karayuki-san, literally ‘women who go to China’ (Mihalopoulos 2011). The Japanese government established a licensed prostitution system in Japan in the late nineteenth century, and this system was also instituted in its colonies in Taiwan and South Korea, In Korea, the local kisaeng system was adapted to provide sexual services to the colonists (Barraclough in this volume). As the Japanese army protected traders and colonial officials in the colonies and other settlements on the Asian mainland, entrepreneurs set up brothels to serve these colonial officials, traders and soldiers, and these were licensed and inspected in similar ways to the licensed brothels on the Japanese mainland (Driscoll 2010; Rogaski 2004: 268-69). By the 1920s the brothels and dance halls of Shanghai were staffed by women from all over the world, including Japan, China and Russia (Mackie 2013: 77-79), with a similarly international clientele. Japan ratified the 1921 League of Nations Treaty on Trafficking in Women and Children in 1925, but did not apply the agreement to Korea, the northern territories of Karafuto (Sakhalin), or the Kwantung province of China.