Toshiae: A Story of Village Life in Twentieth-Century Japan

Toshiae: A Story of Village Life in Twentieth-Century Japan

Toshiae: A Story of Village Life in Twentieth-Century Japan

Toshiae: A Story of Village Life in Twentieth-Century Japan


"Within the lively and often gripping story of Sakaue Toshie and her world, Partner gives us a sweeping and thought-provoking history of social change in rural Japan and sheds new light on key developments such as war mobilization and US occupation reforms. Fresh, personal, and engaging."--Steven Ericson, author of "The Sound of the Whistle: Railroads and the State in Meiji Japan

"Partner beautifully tells the story of the life and times of a farm woman from the 1920s to the present. He traverses seamlessly between the often moving details of her life and the large transformations which it exemplifies."--Andrew Gordon, Harvard University


On August 14, 1925, in the hamlet of Kosugi in Niigata prefecture, a child was born. Sakaue Toshié was born in her family home, a structure of wood, bamboo, and mud, on the edge of the hamlet abutting the levee of the Agano River. Her mother gave birth to her in the close, windowless room that the family used for sleeping. Her mother, whose name was Tsugino, endured the pains of childbirth lying on the floor on a cottonbacked mattress, over which were thrown several rough straw mats stuffed with ashes to catch the blood accompanying childbirth.

A birth was a commonplace event in the life of the village, but it was also a dangerous one. Tsugino could expect no assistance from modern medicines. the dangers from infection and excessive bleeding were all too real. Two out of every ten babies died in childbirth or infancy. Kosugi had no doctor; its births were presided over by Mrs. Yamazaki, the midwife. in the event of a complication, the doctor must be sent for from Sōmi, an hour and a half's walk up the bank of the Agano.

Mrs. Yamazaki was a young woman in her twenties, recently graduated from midwifery school in the nearby town of Shibata. Her husband was the priest of the hamlet temple. Mrs. Yamazaki attended virtually every birth in Kosugi, and she was usually the only medical resource available. Unlike the old-fashioned “delivery women” (toriagebasan)— who offered only a few herbal remedies and a supporting hand while the birthing mother clutched at a rope hanging from the ceiling—Mrs. Yamazaki was fully trained in the importance of sterility and hygiene. She . . .

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