Runaway Stories: The Underground Micromovements of Filipina Oyomesan in Rural Japan

Peer Reviewed

"Kiso Valley." November 17, 2008 via Ali Kenner.


During fieldwork among Filipina migrants married to Japanese men in rural Nagano, stories about Filipina women who had "run away" from Japanese husbands and families in the region regularly surfaced in casual conversations. This essay focuses on both running away and stories about it as interconnected means through which these women negotiated their dissatisfactions with their lives abroad. I suggest that through such practices, these women's dissatisfactions assumed a "runaway agency" that created unsettling and, sometimes, unexpected social effects. First, insofar as running away involved "underground micromovements," it enabled Filipina women to craft spaces in Japan outside the domestic boundaries of both the home and the nation. These "extradomestic spaces" offered at once hopeful and dangerous possibilities for building alternative lives in Japan. Second, as Filipina women who remained in rural Nagano gossiped about those who had run away, they pressured some Filipina wives into staying while encouraging others to leave. Third, running away became an unexpected leveraging tool through which some Filipina women negotiated the conditions of their domestic situations to unpredictable effect.

Editorial Footnotes

Cultural Anthropology has published a range of essays on women, gender, and sexuality. These include Katherine Pratt Ewing’s “Between Cinema and Social Work: Diasporic Turkish Women and the (Dis)Pleasures of Hybridity” (2006); Aradhana Sharma’s “Crossbreeding Institutions, Breeding Struggle: Women's Empowerment, Neoliberal Governmentality, and State (Re)Formation in India” (2006); and Nicole Constable’s “At Home but Not at Home: Filipina Narratives of Ambivalent Returns” (1999).

Cultural Anthropology has also published many essays on migrancy. See, for example, Didier Fassin’s “Compassion and Repression: The Moral Economy of Immigration Policies in France” (2005); Victoria Bernal’s “Eritrea Goes Global: Reflections on Nationalism in a Transnational Era” (2004); and David B. Coplan’s “Fictions That Save: Migrants' Performance and Basotho National Culture” (1991).

Cultural Anthropology essays on Japan include Miyako Inoue’s “The Listening Subject of Japanese Modernity and His Auditory Double: Citing, Sighting, and Siting the Modern Japanese Woman” (2003); Karen Kelsky’s “Gender, Modernity, and Eroticized Internationalism in Japan” (1999); and Takie Sugiyama Lebra’s “The Socialization of Aristocratic Children by Commoners: Recalled Experiences of the Hereditary Elite in Modern Japan” (1990).

About the Author

Lieba Faier is an Assistant Professor of Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Multimedia and Links

Video: "Joint Statement of Japanese-Filipino Children (JFC)" (9/24/09)


Video: "Uplift Lives, Transform the Image of Filipina in Japan"  


Center for Japanese-Filipino Families

International Organization of Migration

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan

Editorial Overview

In the November 2008 issue of Cultural Anthropology, Lieba Faier uncovers the stories of Filipina migrants who have “run away” from their Japanese husbands in Central Kiso, asking why these stories hold such significance despite the fact that few of the women actually leave their husbands. “Runaway Stories: The Underground Micromovements of Filipina ‘Oyomesan’ in Rural Japan” highlights “running away” as one of the ways in which transnational migrants come to terms with the gap between their aspirations for living abroad and their experiences once there. Faier understands these actions as a kind of runaway agency that has become an uncertain and unsettling social force for Filipina women, their families and Japanese communities. Yet, running away holds ambivalence for these women, who lives and imaginations reflect the possibility of finding something better, as well as the uncertainty and danger that may come with those dreams. “In focusing on the ways that running away figured for Filipina women in Central Kiso, I am drawing attention to the frantic, unstable, and subterranean micro-rhythms of movement that follow from migrants’ dissatisfactions with their lives abroad.  Attending to these movements can help us see how these dissatisfactions shape transnational processes sometimes in unexpected ways,” particularly as individual migrants negotiate new social relations and legal structures. As Faier writes, “Anthropologists have demonstrated that although transnational processes are in some sense deterritorialized, they are still tied to everyday, located, territorialized, and historical practices.” In the case of Filipina migrants, Faier’s work demonstrates “not only how the practice of running away transformed the lives of women who left, but also the ways that narratives about these women reverberated in the region and figured in the lives of those left behind.”

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