Feminism in Japan

Feminism in modern Japan began in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries. Many observers believe the movement was due to the flood of western thinking after the Meiji Restoration in 1868. However, the consciousness of women’s rights drew from both imported and native thought (Molony, 640). The continental thought of Japan is based on Buddhism and Confucian thought. The Japanese always want to do what is best for the collective, not the individual.Fact|date=July 2008 Cultivating a good moral, ethical and responsible character, which benefits the community is crucial to these philosophies. According to someWho|date=July 2008, through education and ethical development one achieves self-cultivation. Western thought emerging in the early twentieth century is that a self-cultivated person is entitled to a respected role in society (Molony, 640).

A manual widely spread throughout Japan from the Edo era to Meiji period was Onna Daigaku [Great learning for Women] . Its philosophy was for women to be good wives and wise mothers. Women were to maintain the strict family system as the basic unit of Japanese society by unconditionally obeying their husbands, their fathers-in-law and mothers-in-law (Kazuko, 6). Women were confined to their households and did not exist independently. They were subordinate to their father's or husband's family. A woman was divorced and sent back to her family not only for bad health or barrenness but disobedience, jealously, and even talkativeness (Duus, 14).

During the feudal era, women lucky enough to be educated were instructed by their fathers or brothers. Women of the higher class were discouraged from becoming educated more than women of the lower class. The men in the higher classes strictly enforced social norms more so than men in lower classes. This made women of higher class more likely to be bound to the norms. Soon after the Meiji Revolution, in an effort to spread practical knowledge and practical arts needed to build, children were required to attend school. In 1890, forty percent of eligible girls enrolled in school for the allotted four years. In 1910, over ninety-seven percent of eligible girls enrolled in school for the allotted six years. These schools were meant to teach feminine modesty. However, education leads to self-cultivation, which advances subjectivity.Fact|date=July 2008 Subjectivity refers to a person’s ability to think, feel, and reason individually (Molony, 643). Women began to articulate their self-awareness through literature.

Women of Seito

One of the earliest modern female writers was Higuchi Ichiyo (1872-1896). After her father died, she lived in poverty, supporting her mother and sister. In 1893, she began to publish her writings in order to earn money. Her novels and stories were critically acclaimed by the literary elite, however, they were never a financial success. The family opened a toy and candy shop near Yoshiwara, the geisha quarter of Tokyo. Working in such a district, Ichiyo became more aware of women’s conditions. One of her major works, Nigorie [Muddy Waters] , portrays unfortunate women forced into becoming geisha due to economic circumstances. The women, no matter what role they took, were despised by society. Jusanya [Thirteenth Night] is about two families joined by marriage. The woman is of low class and the man, a high-ranking government official. Through marriage families can secure their wellbeing and it was the only way to move upward in society. The woman sacrifices herself for her family to endure cruel and humiliating taunts from her husband and is unable to protect herself due to social norms. Ichiyo’s stories offer no solutions beyond explicitly depicting the conditions of women. According to some, her four and half year long career marks the beginning of Japanese women’s self awareness (Reich & Fukuda, 281).dubious

Yosano Akiko (1878-1942) is one of the most famous female poets in post-classical Japan. As a daughter of a rich merchant, Yosano was able to attend school and learned to read and write. Later she became a sponsor of the magazine Seito [Bluestocking] and also a member of Myojo [Bright Star] , a poetry journal. In September 1911, Yosano Akiko’s poem, “Mountain Moving Day,” was published on the first page in the first edition of Seito. The magazine was named after a feminist group, Bluestocking, in London. However, Hiratsuka Raicho (1886-1971) led and established Seito. Hiratsuka, with Raicho’s mother’s financial backing, the women of Seito used literary expression and were able to fight Confusion-based thought and improve opportunities for women (Reich & Fukuda, 281).clarifyme

Other women brought other views to the magazine. Okamoto Kanoko (1899-1939) brought a Buddhist view. Her poetry was more concerned with spirituality. According to her, women could find success by not acknowledging the illusions of the world (Reich & Fukuda, 285). Without attachment to the world, excluding the patriarchal society, women can find inner strength. Ito Noe (1987-1923) became editor of the magazine after Hiratsuka left due to pleading health issues in 1915. She explored women’s rights to abortion, which remained a hot topic until the magazines end in 1916. Ito married an anarchist, Osugi Sakae. Both became political prisoners, then murdered by military police in the aftermath of the Great Earthquake of 1923. Hayashi Fumiko (1904-1951) was the antithesis of Okanmoto Kanto. Hayashi was naturalistic describing life as an experience (Reich, 286). Her stories are about economic survival of women without men. However, the endings return to male society with no solution. She is the next most popular writer after Higuchi Ichiyo (Reich, 286).

Seito was a very controversial magazine as it became more concerned with social problems. Seito introduced the translated version of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. The play is about a woman who acts on her own and forges her father’s signature into order to save her husband's life. Instead of being grateful, her husband reacts with anger and disgust. Unlike Japaneseclarifyme, she becomes aware of her situation as subhuman to her husband and decides to leave him. In Japanese society during this time, any husband would react the same.Fact|date=July 2008 The government did not like the production of these types of values (Birnbaum, 31). The government opposition increased, deemed the content “harmful to the time-honored virtues of Japanese women”, and banned five issues of Seito (Raicho, 218). The first issue to be suppressed was a story, Ikichi [Life Blood] by Tamura Toshiko, about the reminiscences of a woman and a man who spent the night at an inn. Hiatsuka Raicho’s issue was banned because it challenged the family system and marriage. Ito Noe’s Shuppon [Flight] is about a woman who left her husband and then her lover betrayed her, another issue that was banned (Reich, 284).

Women and politics

In 1919, with the help of Ichikawa Fusae and Oku Mumeo, Hiratsuka created the New Woman Association [Shin Fujin Kyokai] . Their goal was to achieve rights of protection and inclusion through identifying a female class (Molony, 645). In November 1919, Hiratsuka delivered a speech at the All-Kansai Federation of Women’s Organization. Her speech, “Toward the Unitification of Women,” stated that if women had rights, they would be able to be part of the state and help determine the future (Molony, 645). The following January, Ichikawa and Hiratsuka drafted the two demands of the NWA’s. First, they wanted to amend the Public Peace Police Law, a revised version of the 1890 Law on Political Association and Assembly, which banned women from attending or participating in political events and banned them from joining any political party. Second, they wanted protection from husbands and fiancées with venereal diseases. The Revised Civil Code of 1898 states that a woman who commits adultery is subject to divorce and up to two years in prison. However, a woman is unable to divorce her husband if he commits adultery. Challenging patriarchal society, the NWA wanted reforms so that women could reject infected husbands or fiancées (Molony, 647). They prepared petitions and any opposition was met with the popular “good wives and wise mothers” reasoning. Ichikawa believed that with these changes women could become better wives and mothers (Molony, 647). Feminists and conservatives supported motherhood. By stressing the value of motherhood, society and the government could value women (Molony, 647). Two petitions were prepared. The first addressed the need to give women rights and to include women in the state by revising the Public Peace Police Law. The second addressed the need to protect women by testing future husbands for sexually transmitted diseases and would allow women to divorce husbands and collect compensation for medical expenses. Unfortunately, the Diet was adjourned before the petitions could make it to the floor. On February 26, 1921, the House of Representatives passed a bill to allow women to attend political meetings. However, the bill was defeated in the House of Peers. Finally in 1922, the Diet amended Article 5 in the 1900 Police Law allowing women to attend political meetings, but not allowing them to join political parties or vote. However, women still celebrated the partial victory.

The Red Wave Society [Sekirankai] was the first socialist women’s association. Yamakawa Kikue and others organized the association in April 1921. The Red Wave’s manifesto condemned capitalism, arguing that it turned women into slaves and prostitutes. Rural families were forced to contract their daughters to factories due to financial economics. These girls were required to live in dorms unable to leave except to go to work. They worked at least ten hours a day in poor working conditions. Many caught Brown Lung, a disease caused by exposure to cotton dust in poorly ventilated working environments, and other illnesses related to working in textile factories (Ravina). The state deprived legislature needed to protect women in the factories.clarifyme There was no on-call doctor in the dorms and no medical compensation for contracting Brown Lung or any other illnesses. After the contract ended, they returned to the countryside to be married. The Red Wave Society mainly focused on suffrage and women’s rights.

Other groups were formed concentrating on their own demands. Some women pushed for political rights while others looked to end prostitution. Housewives campaigned to rationalize their roles at home. On September 1, 1923 around lunchtime the largest recorded earthquake hit Tokyo. Seventy-three percent of the city was destroyed and over one hundred thousand people were killed or reported missing. Kubushiro Ochimi, a member of the Women’s Reform Society, and many other women, turned to the relief effort. Socialist like Yamakawa, middle-class Christians and housewives worked together to supply earthquake victims with food, clothing, and shelter. On September 28, 1923, one hundred leaders from many different organizations came together to form the Tokyo Federation of Women’s Organizations [Tokyo Rengo Funjinkai] . They divided into five sections: society, employment, labor, education, and government. The government section focused on women’s rights and discussed ways to gain membership in the state (Molony, 656). The leader of the government section, Kubushi Ochimi, called a meeting in November 1924 for women interested in working for women’s rights. The meeting created the principal women’s suffrage organization called the League for the Realization of Women’s Suffrage [Fujin Sanseiken Kakutoku Kisei Domei] (Molony, 656). The organization’s goal was to improve the status of Japanese women. In their manifesto they declared that it was females' responsibility to destroy the past twenty-six hundred years of customs and to promote natural rights of men and women. It was unjust to exclude women from voting having already proved their subjectivity.clarifyme Political rights were necessary to protect working women. According to someWho|date=July 2008, women must recognize their own potential before the law. Women need rights for the government to recognize them as human.clarifyme And it is possible, some sayWho|date=July 2008, for women, no matter their religious background or occupation, to come together on these issues (Molony, 657). In order to achieve their goals, the league petitioned for civil rights. In February 1925, the Diet passed the universal manhood suffrage bill, allowing men to vote free from any economic qualifications, excluding women. They continued to lobby representatives to discuss their issues. In March 1925, four items were to be discussed in the Diet. Many women came to watch as the House of Representatives discussed amending the Public Peace Police Law of 1900, a petition for higher education for women, a petition for women’s suffrage in national elections, and a petition to make changes to the City Code of 1888 and the Town and Village Code of 1888, which would allow women to vote and run for local offices. The House of Peers defeated the bill to amend the Police Law. Through the thirties feminists believed the best ways to achieve their goals were through protection of laborers, welfare for single mothers, and other activities producing social welfare reforms (Molony, 661).

When women in Japan finally got to vote for the first time on April 10, 1946, it showed that they were truly citizens and full members of the state. Women like Hiratsuka Raicho, Yosano Akiko and Kubushi Ochimi worked extremely hard to achieve self-transcendence and self-actualization. After women gained subjectivity, there was no stopping the state from realizing universal humanity.


* Birnbaum, Phyllis. Modern Girls, Shining Stars, the Skies of Tokyo. New York: Columbia University Press. 199?.
* Duus, Peter. Modern Japan. Boston: Stanford University Press. 1998.
* Molony, Barbara. Women’s Rights, Feminism, and Suffrage in Japan, 1870-1925. The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 69, No. 4, Woman Suffrage: The View from the Pacific. (Nov., 2000), pp.639-661.
* Professor Mark Ravina. History 372. Emory University. (July, 2007). Lecture.
* Pauline C. Reich; Astuko Fukuda. Japanese Literary Feminists: The “Seito” Group. Signs, Vol.2, No.1. (Autumn, 1976), pp.280-291.
* Raicho, Hiratsuka. Translated, Teruko Craig. In the Beginning Woman Was the Sun: An Autobiography of a Japanese Feminist. New York: Columbia University Press.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • FEMINISM —    Feminism (josei kaihoron) as a movement began in Japan in the early 20th century. During the Meiji period, women authors, such as the writer Higuchi Ichiyo and the poet Yosano Akiko, met with great critical acclaim. In the 1920s, an indigenous …   Japanese literature and theater

  • Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World — written by Kumari Jayawardena is widely used in Women s Studies programs around the world and is considered a key text of third world feminism.Jayawardena reconstructs the history of women s rights movements in Asia and the Middle East from the… …   Wikipedia

  • Feminism — Feminists redirects here. For other uses, see Feminists (disambiguation). See also: feminist movement and feminism in the United States …   Wikipedia

  • List of feminism topics — This is a list of topics related to the issue of feminism, women s liberation, the women s movement, and women s rights:*All female band *Amazon feminism *Anarcha feminism *Antifeminism *Anti pornography feminism (also Sex negative feminism)… …   Wikipedia

  • History of feminism — The history of feminism is the history of feminist movements and their efforts to overturn injustices of gender inequality. Feminist scholars have divided feminism s history into three waves . Humm, Maggie. 1995. The Dictionary of Feminist Theory …   Wikipedia

  • Pro-sex feminism — Sex positive feminism ist eine Bewegung, die in den USA in den frühen achtziger Jahren des 20. Jahrhunderts als Antwort auf die Versuche einiger antipornografisch orientierter Feministinnen wie Catharine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin und Dorchen… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Sex-positive Feminism — ist eine Bewegung, die in den USA in den frühen achtziger Jahren des 20. Jahrhunderts als Antwort auf die Versuche einiger antipornografisch orientierter Feministinnen wie Catharine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin und Dorchen Leidholdt entstand,… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Sex positive feminism — ist eine Bewegung, die in den USA in den frühen achtziger Jahren des 20. Jahrhunderts als Antwort auf die Versuche einiger antipornografisch orientierter Feministinnen wie Catharine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin und Dorchen Leidholdt entstand,… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Sexually-liberal feminism — Sex positive feminism ist eine Bewegung, die in den USA in den frühen achtziger Jahren des 20. Jahrhunderts als Antwort auf die Versuche einiger antipornografisch orientierter Feministinnen wie Catharine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin und Dorchen… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Sexually liberal feminism — Sex positive feminism ist eine Bewegung, die in den USA in den frühen achtziger Jahren des 20. Jahrhunderts als Antwort auf die Versuche einiger antipornografisch orientierter Feministinnen wie Catharine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin und Dorchen… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.