Dorei (Slave): A Play by Tamura Toshiko

Article excerpt

Tamura Toshiko (1884-1945) is considered by most Japanese literary scholars to be the main representative of the Japanese New Woman writer of the late Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-1926) eras. She is best known for her graphic depictions of female sexuality and the modern woman's struggle for personal and economic independence at a time when "good women" educated under the conservative ideology of ryosai kenbo (good wife, wise mother) did not discuss such things. Writing was the sole means of Tamura's economic sustenance. Unlike many of her female writing peers, Tamura did not come from a wealthy family and she did not have a steady husband or father upon whom she could rely to support her. Tamura wrote to pay her bills. The consequence of this is that she wrote a lot. Some of her material has been judged to be quite good and other works have been deemed by scholars to be too pedantic or of questionable literary merit. Tamura wrote in all genres: fiction (for which she is best known), poetry, essays, and even two plays. Tamura wrote from the time she was nineteen as a disciple of Koda Rohan (1867-1947) (1) until she died in 1945 at the age of sixty-one in Shanghai, where she worked primarily as a journalist. Most scholarship, however, tends to focus solely on Tamura's early fiction during what is normally considered by Japanese scholars as Tamura's "golden age" of writing, spanning from 1911 to 1918. (2) The work that put her on the literary map was "Akirame" (Resignation, 1911), which won first prize in a literary contest sponsored by Osaka Asahi shinbun (Osaka Morning Newspaper). (3) Tamura wrote this novella under pressure from her husband, Tamura Shogyo (1874-1948), whom she met in Koda Rohan's writing circle. After winning first place for this story about infidelity, lesbian love, and a young woman's desire for fame despite admonitions from her school principal that, for good girls, such behavior and ambition are inappropriate, Tamura began writing on almost a monthly basis to meet the demands of various literary publishers. Her career was set. While Tamura's reputation as a writer soared because she wrote in a new style about new themes for readers grappling with what it meant to be modern in the early phases of Japan's modernization process, Tamura Shogyo's reputation faltered because he insisted on writing in a classical style advocated by Koda Rohan. This led to a strain in the Tamura marriage. The couple's tumultuous, and often times violent, relationship became the source of many of Tamura Toshiko's stories in the early 1900s, including the play Dorei (Slave), translated here.

Eventually, in 1918, Tamura Toshiko, who had been struggling with an unsatisfactory marriage and writer's block, left Japan to follow her socialist lover, the journalist Suzuki Etsu (1886-1933), to Vancouver. She ended up living in Canada for almost two decades, where she became involved in Suzuki's political activities to improve the working conditions of Japanese immigrant laborers. During this time Tamura mainly wrote poetry for a women's column in Tairiku nippo (Daily Continental), which was the newspaper for Japanese immigrants in Canada. After Suzuki's sudden death in 1933, Tamura moved to Los Angeles for three years and wrote a column for Rafu shinpo (Los Angeles Times), a Japanese-language newspaper for the Japanese immigrants and their community in LA, which is still published today. The title of her column was "Karihorunia no ikkaku kara: Hito ni au," (From a Corner in California: People Whom I Meet). Tamura finally returned to Japan in 1936.

The Japan she returned to was drastically different from the Japan she left. In 1918, when she parted from her homeland, the social climate was one of perceived "democracy," under the brief reign of the Taisho Emperor (1912-1926). Women looked like flappers and there was an increased interest among Japan's intellectuals in Western ideals of democracy and freedom. By the time Tamura returned in 1936, however, the Showa Emperor (1926-1989) ruled, and Japan's militarism had begun. …

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