Co-winner of the Tarpaulin Sky Book Awards
Forthcoming, Spring 2022

Weaving historical documents, photographs, and first-hand accounts against a background of nationalism and war, Body of Empire explores the lives of Japanese sex workers – both government-sanctioned and freelance – between 1868 and 1953. Some hid in the bottom of ships heading toward Shanghai or Hong Kong. Some were auctioned off to Singapore, Manila, Borneo, Thursday Island, Rangoon, and Bombay. Some were taken from villages in Korea with a promise of a better job, even an education, then were herded into Japanese Imperial Army ships and labeled “military supply.” Some lost their families in air raids and were stranded without homes, opening their legs to the “white devil” soldiers as a last chance to survive. Karayuki-san. Rashamen. Comfort women. Special Women of RAA. Panpan. Only-san. Different names, different times, all of them women and girls whose bodies were bought and sold by men.

As soon as surviving women and children are ushered into civilian camps like scared sheep, trading of flesh starts: an extra bowl of food for a fuck, or American soldiers coming to barbed-wire civilian camps, demanding women.


Born in Tokyo, Japan and raised in Europe and America, Mariko Nagai has received fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center, UNESCO-Aschberg Bursaries for the Arts, Akademie Schloss Solitude, among others and has won the prestigious Pushcart Prizes for both in poetry and fiction. Mariko Nagai is the author of Histories of Bodies: Poems (2007), Georgic: Stories (2010), Instructions for the Living (2012), and Irradiated Cities (2017), as well as two verse-novels for children. Nagai is an Associate Professor at Temple University Japan.