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"Little Japs" and racism--a few literary notes


In America, the term "Jap" came into wide use in 1860 to refer to the members of the Japanese embassy to the United States (see the page on "Japs in 19th-century popular usage"). In newspapers, magazine articles, and nonfiction accounts of all kinds it was mostly just a breezy abbreviation, and in its earliest usages referred to specific groups--the embassy, or a particular troupe of Japanese acrobats touring the U.S. Only gradually did "the Japs" become a larger category.

We can't think without categories, and "Japanese" (as a "race," nationality, or doll) is a handy category to think with. It was developed in children's literature of the late 19th and early 20th century, and in travel literature and encyclopedias for adults, too. Just as children learned that a zebra has stripes and a giraffe has spots, they learned that the Japanese sleep on the floor and take lots of baths. Adults wanted to learn the difference between the Japanese and the Chinese, in order to understand politics and geography--a difference that was sometimes reduced to explaining how one group was moral and civilized, the other brutal and crude (which was which, though, changed depending on the period & the writer). But many responsible memoirists and authors provided stories set fairly accurately in Japan, on which authors who had not visited the country could in turn draw for "local color" for their stories. Nearly always the fascination was with distinctive qualities of "japaneseness"--a potentially racist attitude, no matter how approving.

History proved that the "neutral" word could turn to a racist epithet, forever marked by hatred: during World War II Jappy rhymed with Sappy, and the little Jap had to be hated and feared as a semi-human fighting machine. After that, no matter how much Americans decided to admire the Japanese again, the word could not be used with affection.

For an extensive introduction to American novels set in Japan, see the online Introduction to Charles Wordell's series Japan In American Fiction, 1880-1905 from Ganesha Publishing (external link). In such novels, the term "Jap" or "Japs" occasionally appears, usually in speech--that is, an English-speaking character refers to a group of Japanese or a Japanese individual using this term. The narrator and the more cultured characters use the full word "Japanese." The use of the term usually establishes that the speaker is either uneducated (using the term as a casual, slangy substitute for the longer word), or is trying to dismiss or dehumanize the Japanese. The diminutive iestablishes the idea that the speaker and his/her audience agree about the status of the "Jap," while the person being discussed does not understand the term. But the tone, as in many such cases, is complicated.

In my reading of literary works about Japan, or set there, from the late 19th and early 20th century, I have tried to notice the situations when someone refers to Japanese people as "Japs." They can be categorized, loosely and with exceptions, as follows:
    I. The character speaking is an educated adult, usually a man, who thinks that using the short form is clever and sophisticated. He does not however use it more than once or twice, and the author's point seems to be to show the shallowness of the character. .
    II. The character speaking is a boy or man whose frequent use of the word is presented as natural; he uses it in all situations, to refer to Japanese friends and foes, objects of admiration or of anger.
    III. The character speaking is "lower class" (or American as opposed to British, or Irish-American/African-American as opposed to WASP, etc.) and the effect of the casual use of the term is purely comic.
    IV. The character is a child or careless adult whose use of the term  is corrected by an adult, who makes it explicit that the term is improper or insulting to the Japanese.
    V. The character is an adult who uses the term in an emotional situation where he or she desires to define as alien in some way the Japanese in general or the person being referred to. This may be a bit of psychological drama, or it may be a rather crude effect on the author's part.
    VI. The person referred to is a child, thus making the casual term less offensive (?).



1. In Yone Santo: A Child of Japan, by Edward H. House (1888), a character is presented as aware that the term "Japs" is in fact an insult.  The setting is Tokio and Yokohama, around 1878-9. Doctor Charwell, the American narrator, has rebuked his countryman Arthur Milton for referring to the heroine, a teenaged Japanese matron,  as "the girl" (--that being a term for a servant, not a respectful term). After some thought, Milton replies with this analogy.
"Doctor Charwell, listen to me,"he began, as he crossed the threshold. "I have a speech to make, and I must not be interrupted. In the first place, you were all right, and I was all wrong--that goes without saying. But that is not enough. The truth is, there is no snare so cunning as common custom. You fall into it without stopping to think. Now, everybody out here speaks of these people as 'Japs,'--and so have I, like the other idiots. I wonder how I should relish hearing myself called a 'Yank'! In the same way, I suppose, every Japanese woman, high or low, is a 'girl.' But this is no excuse for me. Here I have been putting myself foward for the last month as a defender and champion of this country and its inhabitants; and yet I can't keep my tongue from insulting them...." (chapter 12, p. 341).
Thus, in the context of a different kind of slangy disrespect, the disrespect involved the term "Japs" is defined by one who himself uses the term--by a Westerner to a Westerner, out of hearing of the Japanese.


2. Here is a particularly striking example of the use of the word "Japs" in a nonfiction work:

Mrs. Hugh Fraser, in her Letters from Japan, gives generally a very respectful and friendly view of the Japanese, as befitted her role as wife of the British Legate in Japan. However, when describing the Christmas party she gave for the children of the Legation servants, she becomes rather emotional and writes,

"A long procession of little Japs was marshalled in, with great solemnity and many bows, till they stood, a delighted, wide-eyed crowd, round the ....Christmas tree."
     --letter of Jan. 1890; Letters from Japan vol. 1, Macmillan, 1899 (there is a more recent condensed version, but the editor cut the phrase "of little Japs.")
This is the only time (in the first volume, at least) that she uses the word. Mrs. Fraser would never have referred to the children of her aristocratic Japanese friends that way; it would have been too rude, too familiar. One can feel affection in the term, though; in my edition, the affection is borne out in the facing page, a photographic collage of literally hundreds of Japanese babies' faces. But she is also a woman who finds it necessary to explain to her sister, in a letter, why she mourns the death of her Japanese servant quite deeply. Perhaps the word helped her remind herself that, although she had worked very hard to give the children this party, and was truly thrilled with the result, still they were just "little Japs," the children of foreign servants.


3. An early example of little boys using the term "Jap/Japs" constantly is Percy Ainslie's Bertie Linton: or, Lost in Japan (U.K., 1891). Bertie is ten, visiting Yokohama with his family (rich father, nervous mother, older sister and brother). Through most of the book, Bertie is the only one who uses these words, and he starts in on p. 10:  "Oh, here's a real Jap at last!" (i.e. one not wearing Western dress) and continues with such remarks as "How odd the Japs are!" (p. 15). Towards the end of the book, Bertie, who has been kidnapped, is rescued by a passing English youth, who is surprised to find that the disguised boy seems to be "A litte Jap, and yet able to speak English as well as I can myself!" Presumably this exclamation, made half to himself, emphasizes the distance between what Bertie seems to be and what his language proclaims him to be.


In  Onoto Watanna's 1906 novel, A Japanese Blossom, the word "Jap" comes easily into the mind of young Billy, whose American mother has married a Japanese with children of his own. On their first encounter, the hostile new stepbrother Taro tries some jiu-jitsu on Billy:
Could it be possible that this little mite of a Jap was sitting victoriously on his chest?... Billy rose like a lion shaking off a troublesome cub.... Billy reached down and took the little Japanese boy by the waist and cooly tucked him under his arm; then he marched up and down, singing at the top of his voice:
 "Yankee Doodle came to town,
Riding on a pony--
Took a little Jappy Jap,
Who was a bit too funny!"
     Here it may be well to explain that Billy, besides being the prize fighter of his school, was also the class poet.
     Mrs. Kurukawa rescued the little "Jappy Jap" from her big son's hands...
and Billy and Taro become immediate fast friends, after this bit of bonding (pp. 37-38). Evidently the song does not particularly distress or insult the parents, and Billy's respect for his stepfather is not compromised by his willingness to think and speak of a "little Jap"--in fact, he continues to use the word, for example in a very pro-Japanese letter to his stepfather, now at the front in the Russo-Japanese war. As with the sailors in Under Togo, the word betokens a rude candor, not racism; and Billy is rather like Kirk Munroe's American heroes, pro-Japanese but hopelessly slangy.  (See below for more on Onoto Watanna.)


An encounter with "Japs" set in the United States occurs in Peck's Bad Boy with the Circus, by George W. Peck (Thompson and Thompson, Chicago, 1905). Among the members of the circus managed by the Bad Boy's father are Russian "Cossack" horsemen and Japanese acrobats (such performers were often the only personal encounter Americans had with Japanese individuals). In Chapter XII, the current Russo-Japanese war is evoked in a wholly comic manner:
The Bad Boy Causes Trouble Between the Russian Cossacks and the Jap Jugglers--A Jap Tight-Rope Walker Jiu-Jitsu's Pa
     I did not mean any harm when I told the Japanese jugglers that they ought to kick against having those Russian cavalrymen in the show.... 'cause I had listened to their Russian talk, and it seemed to me they were spies who were looking for a chance to do injury to the "poor little Japs." I could see that I made the Japs mad the first thing, and then I told them that pa and all the managers of the show felt sorry for the little Japs....
     You ought to have seen the look of scorn on the faces of the Jap jugglers when the interpreter told them that the circus people were afraid the Russians would hurt them. They jabbered awhile, and then the interpreter told me that the ten little Japs could whip the 20 Russians in four minutes.
This is of course what happens. Interestingly, the Russians compare the Japanese consistently to "little brown monkeys," an image that is borne out by the references to their "jabbering" and their skill at climbing and using both arms and legs to grab hold of an enemy. There is also a comparison of a Russian seized by a Japanese to  "a mastiff that has trifled in an overbearing manner with a little bulldog, until the bulldog got mad and began the chewing act on the mastiff's fore leg."


4. A  genre of "ripping yarns" in which valiant young American men had adventures in Japan sprang up in the early years of the 1900s. A very early example, one might say a precursor, is "The Emperor's Eye" by Ausburn Towner (Putnam's monthly magazine  13, May 1869; link to MOA online version). This story provides a remarkable early example of certain themes in this type of  romance: romance with a Japanese woman, entering "closed" Japan and so seeing the effect of Perry's visit. The American hero, shipwrecked in Japan, is more or less rescued by the Shogun/Emperor's daughter (at this period Westerners preferred to suppose that the Shogun, with whom they had made treaties, was indeed the true emperor of Japan), and they immediately realize they are soul-mates, despite her dusky skin. (She has the astonishingly unJapanese name of Lai Lai Lin.) After some years of slavery, the hero manages to escape with his beloved on Commodore Perry's ship, and return home to a quiet domestic life with her. The distressed Emperor sends a troupe of Japanese acrobats to America to look for her. They locate her and kidnap her, but are foiled by the hero's negro servant, Winthrop. The quotations below are dialogue from a train conductor and Winthrop, i.e. relatively unrefined characters.)
"The Japs have got themselves in trouble. Our folks got a despatch to stop them and all their goods here. Guess they came away and forgot to pay their bills!' (p. 575)

"Dey can't do dat sort o' ting in dis country, Mass'r Gal'tin. I t'o't it must be dem Japs, shuah!" (p. 576)

The comment "they... forgot to pay their bills" probably refers back to the memorable 1860 incident when the Japanese embassy to the U.S. left New York City without paying the hotel and restaurant bills they had accumulated, leaving a large debt for the city to pay off.


  A 1910 novel with a very similar plot, The Shogun's Daughter, by Robert Ames Bennet (Chicago, 1910), contrasts the narrator/hero's respectful tone with that of a lower-class American in the same way. The hero is a descendent of Will Adams, the 17th-century "English samurai" who advised the Shoguns on trade. The shipboard atmosphere of his first passage near Japan is established by the American clipper captain's comment that "the old Morrison tried to land the castaway Japs" in Kagoshima, some 15 years earlier (p. 6). The hero, however, does not use the term at all, and the plot involves his proving his American -Southern -aristocratic mettle by becoming a Japanese aristocrat in the style of his forefather, and marrying the Shogun's daughter. As in "The Emperor's Eye," he is at the end of the novel in Japan with his wife and child(ren), waiting to welcome the Americans and help their cause. (The Shogun's Daughter is also closely related to Son of Satsuma, discussed below, in pairing the American hero with a Westernized Japanese buddy.)


In many of these works, the Japanese in general, or at least a large subset of them, are viewed as "the good guys," the Asian equivalent of Americans and/or the British (analogous to the latter in being an island nation). This was particularly true after the 1905-6 Russo-Japanese war, which provides a situation ripe for heroism both of the Japanese and of any American or British lads who might find themselves in the midst of the battles. The rough-and-ready conversation of sailors or soldiers leads to dialogue using the terms "Jap," "Japs." For example, in Under Togo for Japan, part of a series by Edward Stratemeyer (Boston, 1906), the young heroes are sailing "in the service of the Mikado" in the Russo-Japanese war. Early on, a Japanese villain is characterized as "that Jap," "that wart-nosed Jap," who resents his American officers because he believes "he and other Japs like him can't get any sort of an officership." However, one of the American youths observes that "the nicer class of Japs" will not follow this fellow's lead in resenting American officers (quotations from pp. 54-59). Later, one of the American men is saved from death by a Japanese shipmate, and he is told, "It was that Jap, Dalji, Larry. He's a friend if ever there was one" (274). The diminutive tells us that the honest sailor cannot help but express his "natural" Yankee sense of superiority to the Japanese as well as his admiration of them.


Dick Merriwell, a youthful American hero whose adventures, by Burt L. Standish, featured in Tip Top Weekly, went to Japan and learned Judo in the July 1905 issue. He and his buddy and their professor chaperone become involved in an intrigue involving a valiant Japanese judo master, a craven and treacherous Japanese jiu-jitsu master, and an American youth in love with the latter's betrothed. The term "Jap" is used constantly and without reflection to refer to any male Japanese.

In Son of Satsuma, or With Perry in Japan by Kirk Munroe (New York, 1901), Bob Whiting, a New England orphan, becomes a sailor, saves the life of a shipwrecked Japanese on the Northwest coast, and, in company with the Japanese youth, Katto, manages to enter Japan in time to witness Perry's negotiations and of course help with them. Katto becomes a top-notch steward on the ship, speaking his pidgin and teaching Bob some Japanese, but he turns out to be the son of one of the most important lords of Japan, Satsuma. There is some irony here. Given the rough setting, the word "Jap" is in use constantly. A striking example is the following:
  "I say, Katto, are they Japs? I mean, are they your country men?"
  "Yep. Nippon man."
"Japs" is clearly not adequate to designate one's best friend's relatives, or America's future trading partners, and it seems that Katto is gently correcting Bob. Bob ends up being adopted (which includes a tattoo) by the Lord of Satsuma, and attending the Naval Academy, too, bridging the two cultures.  See the 1904-5 entry below for another book of Munroe's which presents a similar situation more explicitly.

     In Yankee Boys In Japan, by Henry Harrison Lewis (New York: 1903), the action is not military but economic, with rival import-export businesses run by young men in Yokohama. The word "Jap" is too crude for this book, but at one point the villain Ralph Black answers a reasonable comment by a virtuous Japanese friend of the heros:
     "Don't be too sure, John."
     Now, if there is anything on earth that will anger a native of Japan, it is the appellation "John." It places them on the same level with the Chinamen in America.... and, look you, the Japanese rightly consider themselves much above their brother Asiatics. Mori felt the insult keenly.
Evidently "John" here  is a reference to the common American and British characterization/caricature "John Chinaman" (e.g. in Mark Twain's brief note, "John Chinaman in New York"). It seems a bit peculiar to have an American in Yokohama, a town full of Japanese, calling one of them "John Chinaman" (more likely the Japanese might call the American John Bull....). Presumably "Jap" would be insufficiently insulting.
    At any rate, the implication here is not that the Japanese are superior to or equal to Americans, but that they are superior to the Chinese and deserving, unlike the Chinese, of respect when addressed.


Herbert Strang's  Kobo: A Story of the Russo-Japanese War (1905) is a British war novel, set in the period immediately preceding, with a young British engineer as the hero--he is supposed to be maintaining equipment for the Japanese navy but ends up in some hair-raising adventures in Russian-occupied Manchuria, continually meeting up with an evil bandit and a superbly wonderful aristocratic Japanese, Kobo, acting as a spy. In this novel, "Jap" is used only twice. In the first instance, a British newspaper correspondent complains to the hero, in the presence of other reporters who are equally frustrated, about the Japanese refusal to discuss war plans or hire foreigners: "Jap motto: 'No foreigners need apply" (p. 35).  The use of the abbreviation invites the hero to identify himself with his fellow Westerners and spill whatever he might know about "Jap" plans.
    The second occurence is quite different; now the hero, his American sweetheart, and her father are discussing the probably outcome of the war. The father begins,
    "Well, I suppose the Japs--
    "Poppa!" interrupted Ethel. "Don't use that horrid word--call them Japanese."
    "Anything to please you, my love. I was going to say that I suppose the Japs--Japanese, I mean--are not winning this war for nothing. They'll want to develop the country--what?" (p. 359)
Mr. Charteris is not intending to insult the Japanese, though he certainly plans to exploit them by trying to get mining rights in conquered Manchuria. It's not clear whether Ethel condemns the word because is vulgar or because she perceives its potential for turning the Japanese quickly from an empire into a commercial colony. With this example and the next one, then, it is possible to pinpoint the Russo-Japanese war as a moment when th term "Jap" might be perceived as insulting a people who had a right to greater respect.


      Kirk Munroe's For the Mikado (1904-5) is set more or less in the present, and begins at Annapolis, with a pair of roommates and best friends, Dunsten Casimir Brownleigh of  Colorado and Takahaki Matsu of Hakodate; the latter has been sent to Annapolis on a scholarship from the Mikado, the Emperor of Japan, which he won in a tremendous competition among all the young men of Japan. This "buddies" plot echoes Munroe's earlier Son of Satsuma (see above). As in that book, the Americans routinely refer to the Japanese as "Japs," but Takahaki is vigorous in protesting this word. Thus we get the one real discussion of the connotations of the word which I have found so far in any of these texts:
    "Do you know," remarked Dunster, that you are the very first Jap I ever met, and--"
    "I beg your pardon," interrupted Takahaki... "but it is that I ask of you to no more name a man of the Mikado as a 'Jap.'"
    "Not call you a 'Jap,'" retorted Dunster, with a puzzled ai-- "but you are one, aren't you? What else could I call you?"
    "The men of the Mikado, in Engrish, are 'Japanese,' and one must die before he submit to be said a 'Jap.' ... It is the insurt that no man of the Mikado may endure...."
    "Of course..." replied Dunster, promptly, but still puzzled by his companion's protest against a designation whoe propriety he had never before heard questioned." ".... But you mustn't take it too much to heart if some of the other fellows call you 'Jap.' Some of them may do so just to tease you, but they won't mean anything by it."
    "If one time, some man say to me 'Jap,' I speak to him. He excuse, I excuse. If two time, I no excuse.... I must teach him. He may say to me 'pig,' 'foolo,' what he like. I not care. It mean me, Takahaki; but if he say 'Jap,' then he mean every Nippon man. He mean my Mikado."
    "Well, from your point of view, perhaps you are right, said Dunster, "though it seems to me rather a small thing to make a fuss about."          (pp.15-16)
This situation is worked out over the first five chapters, in which Takahaki "teaches" older members of the Academy not to use the term by refusing to salute until they apologize, and later, when they attempt to haze him, by using jiu-jitsu on them. In the subsequent disciplinary hearing, the Academy superintendent summarizes Takahaki's attitude:
...he has been, from the very first, hailed by a designation that is particularly obnoxious to him, because he regards it as insulting to his countryment, including the Mikado, whom he reveres above all created beings. In every instance he has carefully explained this... and courteously requested them not to repeat it.... I am happy to state that in most cases this entirely proper request has been respected. In one instance, however, it was contemptuously ignored, whereupon Cadet Matsu very properly refused to salute those persons....    (pp. 36-37)
Takahaki comes to be known at the Academy as "Johnny Chopsticks," which he does not mind (but see the preceding item for the idea that "John" is a racial insult).
     This carefully worked out series of episodes clearly presents two ideas about the connotation of the term "Jap" for a Japanese person. On the one hand, it is perceived by the speakers as a perfectly proper word, not insulting at all, or at best "teasing." On the other, it is perceived as a racist epithet by the Japanese, and a violation of his national honor.



5.  In romances where a woman is the main character, crude or slangy  language that would include the word "Jap" ought not to be in order. However,  it does show up from time to time....

A Pagan Romance, by Augusta de Bubna   (Harper's, 54,.324, May 1877, pp. 892-97) is a short story about a summer romance between a possibly aristocratic Japanese student living in an American college town, and Prue, the only girl who does not find him repulsive. The story begins by distancing the Japanese boy as  "it":

     MRS. LORRIMER passed something very queer-looking as she ascended the long, brass-tiled hotel steps on her way up from breakfast her first morning in Bethany.
      It was human, to be sure, and appeared civilized, for it stepped aside very politely, and with a deep low bow waited for her to pass. But it was certainly a curious sort of being, to say the least, and she looked back over her shoulder with a smile, as she went on up the stairs.
      "What sort of boarders do you imagine we shall find here, Prue?" she said to her niece.... "I just met the oddest creature on the stairs.... What do you suppose it could have been? It had a funny little thin pair of legs, and looked something like—a last year's mosquito dried and pressed."
      "A 'Jap,' probably. You know Dr. Brandon said there was a young student here at the university."
      It was several years before the Centennial Exposition, which will account for the sight of one of our dusky-complexioned new friends being so curious and novel a one.
      "Of course it was a Jap! How stupid of me not to recollect the doctor's telling us about him! Well, he did look exactly as though he had stepped out of a picture on a tea box; one of those silhouettes, you know."
Here both Prue and her less cultivated aunt use the term. Although Prue is friendly to the young man, she does not fall in love with him, and declines his proposal of marriage. The Japanese boy never becomes a very vivid or attractive character, but he is no longer called a "'Jap'" and is presented with some dignity.



At the beginning of Onoto Watanna's Miss Numé of Japan (1899), an American youth, a recent Harvard graduate, cheerfully refers to a Japanese college friend as a "Jap":
"No use looking over there, my dear. Takie has no heart to break--never knew a Jap that had, for that matter--cold sort of creatures, most of them.... You don't know these Japs as I do, my dear--dozens of them at our college--awfully strict on subject of etiquette, manners, and all that folderol." (ch. 2)
The speaker's character here is quickly established--a light-hearted, casually slangy, young man. The word "Jap" then disappears from this novel.


A Bride of Japan by the Australian author Carlton Dawe is not a romance--it is a moralizing novel about a doomed marriage between a Puritanical Englishman and a Japanese girl. The moral is that "yellow is yellow and white is white," etc. and the baby born of this marriage is referred to throughout the narrative, until his death, as "the portent," "the hybrid," or simply "it".  In general, the British residents of Yokohama refer to and think of the Japanese as "the natives" and the author seems to have little distance from the estimate of them as "primitive creatures" (p. 207) incapable of moral choices. In a few places the term "Jap" is used with telling force:
At first the fellows at the club began to talk of the pretty little Jap who had been seen at Tresilian's bungalow, and numerous surmises were set afloat as to her status. (p. 77).

"I cannot talk to thee, Daidai; thou art too full of foolishness and malice."
The old Jap smiled.
"...They say at Joro's she [your wife] dances like a geisha." (p. 178)


 In a genuinely  romantic novel,  Hallie Rives' best-seller The Kingdom of Slender Swords (New York: 1910), an American couple encountered by the heroine on the train to Tokyo refer both to dolls and to "the Jap." The woman, a pretentious but good-hearted tourist, has learned to "see" the Japanese by looking at Japanese dolls in America:

"There was a baby on the platform that was too sweet!--for all the world like the Japanese dolls we buy at home, with their hair shingled and a little round spot shaved right in the crown! My husband tried to give it a silver dollar, but the mother just smiled and bowed and went away and left it lying on the bench." (p. 31)
The message is: this doll is not for sale. A few pages later, her husband asks the heroine's uncle for a precis of recent Japanese history, and when this gentleman has concluded his explanations:
"It strikes me.... that a nation plucky enough to do this in fifty years, in fifty more will make some other nations get a move on... And, by gad! The Japanese deserve all they get! When we go back I guess me and Martha won't march in any anti-Jap torch-light processions, anyway!" (p. 46)
The implication seems to be that these Americans, shopping for curios in Japan and trying to give cute babies money, might indeed have considered marching in such parades. Jap dolls are not enough to  keep one from being "anti-Jap"; a mature understanding of the "plucky" Japanese character is necessary.

Onoto Watanna (Winnifred Eaton) moved away from her Japanese identity and subject matter after about 1913; one of her later "Japanese" novels,Tama (1910) has been analyzed by Dominika Ferens (Edith and Winnifred Eaton:  Chinatown Missions and Japanese Romances, 2002--external link) as a "white" romance set in Japan (the two main characters are defined racially as "white," and the Japanese characters are hostile or stupid).  After a 10-year gap, Watanna published one more Japanese romance, Sunny-San (1922); the main characters are all American, except for the heroine, whose grandparents include a Japanese aristocrat, a Russian, and two Americans (evidently genetics had finally shown that Madame Butterfly's child, or Eaton's own  half-caste Tama, could not have blue eyes). Sunny is "adopted" by four young American men spending a post-college year in Japan. The main hero, Jerry, instructs his friends to terrorize the teahouse owner who owns Sunny's indentures:
 
    "...skin over to the teahouse and scare the guts out of that chimpanzee. Hire a bunch of Japs and cops to help along with the noise. Give him the scare of his life."  (p. 29)
As in the citation above from Peck's Bad Boy, the analogy between the Japanese and lower primates is suggested, though in this case it is only applied to one Japanese (Jerry also calls him a "baboon"). However, it and the term "Japs" seem to establish Jerry as a somewhat reckless member of the superior race. Like many of Watanna's heroine's, however, Sunny derives her inner beauty from her cultural Japaneseness:
 
    "Question number one: Are you a white or a Japanese girl?"
    "I are white on my face and my honorable body, but I are Japanese on my honorable insides." 
    Later in the novel, the young men distance themselves from their memories of Sunny and their Japanese adventures.  They have gathered, several years after leaving Sunny with missionary protectors in Japan,  to discuss her  recent arrival in New York, and they are trying to dismiss the idea that they are somehow responsible for this "Frankenstein" they have created.
 
    "You're a fine bunch of snobs. I'm not stuck myself on having a Jap girl foisted on to my hands....  At the same time, I'm not so white livered that I'm going to flunk the responsibility. We encouraged--invited her to join us out here...."
    "Well, it was one thing to sentimentalize over a pretty little Jap in Japan," growled Bobs, who was not a snob, but ... something of a stickler for the conventions,  "but it's another proposition here...."   (p. 109)
Sunny turns out to be a satisfactorily Westernized young woman when she arrives, and is no longer referred to as a "Jap girl" or "little Jap." In 1922, even in New York, the term "Jap" would have had strong racist potential, which it seems Watanna is exploiting in this conversation.  It is not that the men are "snobs" or racists, but that a racist attitude is useful to them psychologically at this moment.

For more on women in romantic tales set in Japan, see the Mirror of Women page.


6. In Holy Prayers in a Horse's Ear (1932), Kathleen Tamagawa* (daughter of an American woman of Anglo-Irish breeding who married a Japanese man, and born in 1893), deals very directly and fiercely with her Chicago childhood being classified as "the Japanese doll" (p. 24, 57) who never in fact was culturally Japanese--a "Jap who talked with a Chicago brogue" as her brother-in-law cheerfully put it (142). She presents the problem clearly: in America, her every personal quirk and quality is seen as quintessentially Japanese, and nonexistent Japanese qualities are imposed on her. Thus, although tall, she is "the little Japanese lady" (144). Although she suffers the normal pains of childbirth she keeps quiet, fearing to be betray the doctor's and nurses' belief that Orientals give birth without pain; if she cried out like the "half-nigger girl" in the next ward she would become a no-account "Jap girl" (149-52; after her first birth, she resolves not to suffer in "Oriental" silence again). She was a young adult in a period when she never knew whether she would meet admiration or fear of the Japanese, whether she herself would be perceived as  "the Japanese doll"  or "the yellow menace" (148) –until, as a diplomat's wife, she became enough of an unknown quantity that folks would frankly express their racial prejudices in front of her, not realizing she was half Japanese.


7. On the stage and in popular song, however, Jappy rhymed with happy, and in musicals such as Sidney Jones's The Geisha (1896) and Lionel Monckton's The Mousmé (1912), such numbers as "The dear little Jappy-Jap-Jappy" (who loves a Jolly Jack Tar but winds up married to a Japanese chappy-chap-chappy), "Honorable Jappy Bride," and "Oh dear! Little Jappy girls, / If you would be happy girls...." or "Happy little Jappy, Mother’s little baby boy!" Here the Jappy was the heroine, or someone like her, and the force of the term was merely satirical, just like Jack Tar. In 1914, Paul West and John Bratton published "Happy Jappy Soldier Man: Japanese War Song," combining the theme of military prowess inconguously with the inevitable rhyme.

The Jap doll occasionally got to serve as his country's representative on the toyshelf. Being only a doll, he or she didn't mind being called Jappy.