Academic journal article Hecate

Motherhood and Pacifism in Japan 1900-1937

Academic journal article Hecate

Motherhood and Pacifism in Japan 1900-1937

Article excerpt

In the late nineteenth century, Japan created all of the machinery of a modern nation-state -- a Constitution, a legal code, capitalist industry, and an army and navy. The slogan guiding this programme was fukoku kyohei, "a wealthy country and a strong army". As part of this process, there was extensive discussion of the family, which was to form a crucial link in the chain of loyalty from subject to emperor. Women's contribution to this family was encapsulated in the phrase ryosai kenbo, "good wives and wise mothers". Implicit in the conjunction of these two slogans was a process whereby women were constructed as passive supporters of militarism, whose major contribution to the state was through their maternal function.

In opposition to the conjunction of maternalism and militarism, many feminists tried to show the `natural' links between feminism and pacifism. Both pro- and anti-militarists referred to women's maternal function in their attempts to mobilise women, and these discussions may be used to examine the limitations of a feminism based on essentialism and maternalism. Some women, however, saw that the creation of a new feminine identity which went beyond passivity and maternalism could provide a more effective challenge to militarism.

For most women, their contribution to the new state revolved around the concept of ryosai kenbo. In the thirty years from the Meiji(1) Restoration to the promulgation of the Civil Code, thinkers of all shades of the political spectrum made an explicit connection between power relations in the family and in the state. All of these thinkers linked patriarchal power with monarchical power, but praised or criticised this relationship according to their political orientation. Liberal theorist Ueki Emori identified the patriarchal power of the family head (koshu) with the autocratic power of the monarch (kunshu). Those who grew up in an autocratic power structure, he argued, failed to develop independence and autonomy. Ueki's ideal democratic state was based on individuals rather than families -- each individual would act autonomously and responsibly. At the other end of the spectrum, Hozumi Yatsuka's ideal state was based on Confucian concepts of loyalty -- the wife's obedience to her husband, filial piety (oya koko), and loyalty to the Emperor (chukun).(2) Confucian ideals similar to those espoused by Hozumi Yatsuka were eventually adopted in the Meiji Civil Code.

Not only did power relationships in the family reflect those in society at large, but the family became a crucial link in the chain of loyalty from subject to Emperor. Each family was ruled over by an autocratic father who was responsible for each family member's loyalty to the Emperor. Although there was limited male suffrage (universal male suffrage was not achieved until 1925), women had no political rights, and married women had no right to individual property. The ryosai kenbo slogan shaped all discussion of women's contribution to Meiji society, so that women who wished to challenge this ideology had to create a new vocabulary in which to frame such a challenge. Any criticism of the family was an implicit challenge to the basic authority relations of the state, and Popular Rights campaigner Kishida Toshiko was arrested in 1884 for her criticism of the family system. Not only did Kishida criticise the family system, she also described women as political actors who could have rights and responsibilities outside the home, and outside the protective "boxes" in which genteel daughters were raised.(3)

Ryosai kenbo ideology did, however, give women a positive role within the family. They were to be responsible for the welfare of children, and were to receive a suitable education for this purpose.(4) For many Meiji women this seemed like a dramatic improvement in perceptions of their role in society. There was, however, a clear class bias in this ideology -- only middle-class women had time to devote all of their energies to childcare. …

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