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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

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Published by: Marina TheZan on Jan 04, 2013
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The nationalist implications of ryosai kenbo ideology became explicit with
the formation on 24 February 1901 of the Patriotic Women's Association
{Aikoku Fujin Kai) under the leadership of Okumura Ioko.80

In 1902, the
organisation started publishing its own journal, Aikoku Fujin (Patriotic
Woman). By the end of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, its member-
ship had leapt from an initial 45,000 to 463,000. By 1912 it had 816,609
members, making it the largest women's organisation in the Meiji period.
Although the association was initially formed as a private organisation,
its activities were congruent with bureaucratic definitions of the role of


'good wives and wise mothers', and it came to take on a semi-official

The Russo-Japanese War saw an expansion of the membership of the
Patriotic Women's Association, and several other women's organisations
also became involved in activities which supported the war effort, in-
cluding fund-raising and the preparation of packages to send to soldiers
serving overseas.81

Women could prove their femininity by crying for
their lost husbands and sons, by supporting the war effort through char-
itable activities, and by travelling to the front as nurses, in the same way
as men proved their masculinity on the battlefield. The creation of the
quintessential^ feminine profession of nursing had been relatively recent
and was closely linked with the creation of a modern military.82
This was the beginning of a process whereby the state mobilised not
only the labour of men and women but also emotional attachment in the
service of state goals, a process which would achieve its apotheosis in
the 1930s and 1940s.83

As early as 1904, students in girls' high schools
spent part of each day in preparing packages for soldiers at the front.84
At the same time, the conscription system, instituted as early as 1873,
ensured that most young men would receive systematic training as loyal
soldier-subjects. The influence of military values reached further into
the population as the conscription system was supplanted by Reservists'
Associations and Young Men's Associations in the 1900s.
The identification between personal feelings and patriotic obligations,
however, was not achieved without difficulty. In 1904, Yosano Akiko's
poem 'Kimi shini tamau koto nakare' (Do not give up your life for the
Emperor) dramatised this conflict, in the voice of a woman who does not
want to see her brother leave to participate in the Russo-Japanese War.
The suggestion of a conflict between personal loyalty and nationalist goals
was seen to be so threatening that Yosano was castigated for the publi-
cation of this poem, described by a literary columnist as 'an expression
of dangerous thoughts which disparage the idea of the national family',
while Yosano herself was described as 'a traitorous subject, a rebel, a
criminal who deserves the nation's punishment'.85
The year 1904 also saw the publication of several books on the theme
of'Women and War', which promoted the role of women as supporters of
a militarist state.86

This spate of publications also, however, stimulated
some more critical discussion of the relationship between women and
state processes. Socialists and feminists argued that, if women were to
support the militarist aims of the state in various ways, they should have
the political rights to match such support. The Russo-Japanese War also
prompted demands for state assistance for widows and their children, a


Feminism in Modern Japan
suggestion that women's role as nurturers of future soldiers should be
matched by the discharge of the state's duty to look after loyal subjects
who have rendered service to the state.
The activities of the Patriotic Women's Association provided an op-
portunity for comment by several critics on the issue of women's political
participation. The association provided a living example of the implica-
tions of subjecthood for women under the Meiji regime which emphasised
'a wealthy country and a strong army' supported by 'good wives and wise
mothers'. While women were politically confined to the domestic sphere
by Article 5 of the Public Peace Police Law of 1900, which prevented them
from attending or holding political meetings or joining political parties,
their support for the militarist state could be sought where necessary. By
contrast, members of the fledgling socialist movement argued for a view
of women and politics whereby women could become citizens with rights
which matched their obligations.

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