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Feminism in Modern Japan Citizenship Embodiment and Sexuality Contemporary Japanese Society

Feminism in Modern Japan Citizenship Embodiment and Sexuality Contemporary Japanese Society

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Published by: Marina TheZan on Jan 04, 2013
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A precursor of the Bluestockings' interest in bodily difference appeared
in 1904 in Heiminsha member Fukuda Hideko's autobiography, which
includes a striking description of becoming a mother.31

In Fukuda's
account of pregnancy and childbirth, it is the physical manifestations
of her condition that she initially dwells on.32

The impending birth is
marked by extreme anxiety, and the strange dreams she experiences are
recounted. The dreams involve conflict with supernatural creatures -
wolves and dragons - with Fukuda the heroic protagonist who banishes
the creatures.33

The trauma of a difficult labour is thus displaced onto
dreams of heroism, displaying an ambivalence of gender identification.
Even the quintessentially female experience of childbirth is refracted
through images of masculine heroism. The birth takes place on a night
of thunder and lightning.
Her son's stormy entry into the world prefigures a period of conflict
between Fukuda and her lover, Oi Kentaro. Later, Fukuda discusses some
of the financial problems she suffered when deserted by Oi Kentaro, the
father of her first son. In this relationship, she came face to face with
the difficulties of the patriarchal family system and family registration
system (the system outlined in Chapter 2). She was unable to register
her first son in Oi's family register because he had not divorced his first
wife. After her desertion by Oi, she married Fukuda Tomosaku and bore
three more sons. Her husband died while the children were young, and
she was left with the responsibility of caring for them with the support of
her comrades in the socialist movement.

The New Women


Feminist poet Yosano Akiko, who had shocked literary circles in 1901
with her collection of love poems, Midaregami (Tangled Hair), also
brought the experience of childbirth into the public domain, with ' Ubuya
(Tales of Childbirth) which was serialised in a Tokyo news-
paper in 1909.34

In particular, she recounts a difficult birth, where she
delivered twins, although one died almost immediately. She confesses
that in each pregnancy, when labour pains commence, she feels hatred
towards men, and she comments that love, for a woman, means risking
her life and that bearing children is comparable in importance to men
doing things for the country, for scholarship, for war.35


It is strange that among those men who debate women's issues, there are those
who view women as being physically weak. What I want to ask these people is
whether a man's body could bear childbirth. I have given birth six times, borne
eight children, and have left seven new human beings in the world. Could a man
suffer over and over in that way?36

In a poem composed after a later experience of childbirth, Yosano
comments wryly on the young doctor who attempted to reassure her -
after eight pregnancies she surely knows much more about childbirth than
he does! The poem describes the extreme loneliness of the experience of

... I am all alone,
totally, utterly, entirely on my own,
gnawing my lips, holding my body rigid,
waiting on inexorable fate.
There is only one truth.
I shall give birth to a child,
truth driving outward from my inwardness.
Neither good nor bad; real, no sham about it.
With the first labour pains,
suddenly the sun goes pale.
The indifferent world goes strangely calm.
I am alone.
It is alone I am.37
Yosano would go through eleven pregnancies, twice delivering twins.
One child was stillborn, while another survived only a few days. Yosano
was thus responsible for raising eleven children, and her writing often
provided the major source of income for herself, her husband Yosano
Tekkan and the children.
The women of the Bluestocking Society celebrated the maternal body
as the source of women's creativity. The appearance of their journal


Feminism in Modern Japan
Seito in 1911 was described by editor Hiratsuka as being the cry of
a newborn baby, and she wondered how her baby would grow up.38
It has been argued that the use of reproductive metaphors for literary
production is primarily a masculine preoccupation, in Anglophone cul-
ture at least.39

Hiratsuka's use of such metaphors for women's literary
creativity challenged the divisions of masculine-feminine, mind-body,
productive-reproductive, by suggesting that the feminine, reproductive
body might also be a source of literary creativity.
For Hiratsuka, then, childbirth initially functioned as a metaphor for
feminine creativity. However, the editor of Seito became involved with
Okumura Hiroshi, a man she described as 'five parts child, three parts
woman, and two parts man'.40

Hiratsuka's status as an unmarried mother
after the birth of her first child in 1915 provided further cause for news-
paper comment on the exploits of the scandalous New Women.41

her writing, Hiratsuka now attempted to come to terms with the expe-
riences of pregnancy, parturition and childcare. Despite her idealisation
of feminine qualities, the experience of childbirth forces Hiratsuka to
consider some basic philosophical questions. With a complete lack of
romanticisation, she recounts a labour of over twenty-four hours and a
difficult breech birth. The pain was so extreme that she found herself
telling the doctor to end her ordeal, no matter what happened to the
baby. This causes her to reflect on notions of altruism and selfishness.
Fellow Bluestocking Iwano Kiyoko described a similar experience, going
so far as describing her feelings of enmity towards the new life in her

Nogami Yaeko contributed the story, 'Atarashiki Seime? (A New Life)
to Seito in April 1914. The story tracks a woman's experience, from
the first labour pains to the birth of her son, and her husband's visit
to see the new baby. Like Yosano, she describes the pain of childbirth
in searing detail. Like Fukuda, however, ordinary language provides no
way of dealing with this experience. Where Fukuda had invoked classical
Chinese mythology, Nogami's character is a translator who has been read-
ing Greek and Roman mythology. Her reference points are Medusa, Leda,
Chimera, Minerva, the Harpies, and Argus.43
These women did not stop with the portrayal of individual feelings but
went on to consider the social context of mothering, and ways in which
feelings of compassion for children could be made a part of political
discourse. It is interesting that it was the individualists of the Bluestock-
ing Society, rather than the professed socialist Fukuda, who considered
the maternal body a subject which could be linked with social policy. A
connection between the two generations of activists was formed, how-
ever, when Fukuda contributed an article on her views of socialism and

The New Women

women's liberation to Seito in 1913, resulting in the third banning of the

While the pages of the Bluestocking journal contained literary portrayals
of romantic love and sexual desire, they also, as we have seen, carried
debates on the issues of abortion and contraception which were faced
by the New Women who were experimenting with heterosexuality. In
a series of articles in a range of intellectual journals over several years,
these women also debated the forms of social policy needed to deal with
women's reproductive capacity and the care of children.45

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