The History of Premodern Japan: A Quest for Origins

The History of Premodern Japan: A Quest for Origins

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This video, describing the history of Premodern Japan (by Kanda University of International Studies), discusses the origins of Japanese culture and is part of a lecture series on ancient Japan.

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Shinto history

Shinto has been a major part of Japanese life and culture throughout the country's history, but for the greater part of that history Shinto has shared its spiritual, cultural, and political roles with Buddhism and Confucianism.

Periods of Shinto history

One of the standard classifications of Shinto history reduces it to four major periods:

Historians encounter some problems when trying to understand Shinto history as a discrete narrative.

What Japanese history lessons leave out

Japanese people often fail to understand why neighbouring countries harbour a grudge over events that happened in the 1930s and 40s. The reason, in many cases, is that they barely learned any 20th Century history. I myself only got a full picture when I left Japan and went to school in Australia.

From Homo erectus to the present day - more than a million years of history in just one year of lessons. That is how, at the age of 14, I first learned of Japan's relations with the outside world.

For three hours a week - 105 hours over the year - we edged towards the 20th Century.

It's hardly surprising that some classes, in some schools, never get there, and are told by teachers to finish the book in their spare time.

When I returned recently to my old school, Sacred Heart in Tokyo, teachers told me they often have to start hurrying, near the end of the year, to make sure they have time for World War II.

"When I joined Sacred Heart as a teacher, I was asked by the principal to make sure that I teach all the way up to modern history," says my history teacher from Year Eight.

"We have strong ties with our sister schools in the Asian region so we want our students to understand Japan's historical relationship with our neighbouring countries."

I still remember her telling the class, 17 years ago, about the importance of Japan's war history and making the point that many of today's geopolitical tensions stem from what happened then.

I also remember wondering why we couldn't go straight to that period if it was so important, instead of wasting time on the Pleistocene epoch.

When we did finally get there, it turned out only 19 of the book's 357 pages dealt with events between 1931 and 1945.

There was one page on what is known as the Mukden incident, when Japanese soldiers blew up a railway in Manchuria in China in 1931.

There was one page on other events leading up to the Sino-Japanese war in 1937 - including one line, in a footnote, about the massacre that took place when Japanese forces invaded Nanjing - the Nanjing Massacre, or Rape of Nanjing.

There was another sentence on the Koreans and the Chinese who were brought to Japan as miners during the war, and one line, again in a footnote, on "comfort women" - a prostitution corps created by the Imperial Army of Japan.

There was also just one sentence on the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I wanted to know more, but was not quite eager enough to delve into the subject in my spare time. As a teenager, I was more interested in fashion and boys.

My friends had a chance to choose world history as a subject in Year 11. But by that stage I had left the Japanese schooling system, and was living in Australia.

I remember the excitement when I noticed that instead of ploughing chronologically through a given period, classes would focus on a handful of crucial events in world history.

So brushing aside my teacher's objection that I would struggle with the high volume of reading and writing in English - a language I could barely converse in - I picked history as one of my subjects for the international baccalaureate.

My first ever essay in English was on the Rape of Nanjing.

There is controversy over what happened. The Chinese say 300,000 were killed and many women were gang-raped by the Japanese soldiers, but as I spent six months researching all sides of the argument, I learned that some in Japan deny the incident altogether.

Nobukatsu Fujioka is one of them and the author of one of the books that I read as part of my research.

"It was a battlefield so people were killed but there was no systematic massacre or rape," he says, when I meet him in Tokyo.

"The Chinese government hired actors and actresses, pretending to be the victims when they invited some Japanese journalists to write about them.

"All of the photographs that China uses as evidence of the massacre are fabricated because the same picture of decapitated heads, for example, has emerged as a photograph from the civil war between Kuomintang and Communist parties."

As a 17-year-old student, I was not trying to make a definitive judgement on what exactly happened, but reading a dozen books on the incident at least allowed me to understand why many people in China still feel bitter about Japan's military past.

While school pupils in Japan may read just one line on the massacre, children in China are taught in detail not just about the Rape of Nanjing but numerous other Japanese war crimes, though these accounts of the war are sometimes criticised for being overly anti-Japanese.

The same can be said about South Korea, where the education system places great emphasis on our modern history. This has resulted in very different perceptions of the same events in countries an hour's flying time apart.

One of the most contentious topics there is the comfort women.

Fujioka believes they were paid prostitutes. But Japan's neighbours, such as South Korea and Taiwan, say they were forced to work as sex slaves for the Japanese army.

Without knowing these debates, it is extremely difficult to grasp why recent territorial disputes with China or South Korea cause such an emotional reaction among our neighbours. The sheer hostility shown towards Japan by ordinary people in street demonstrations seems bewildering and even barbaric to many Japanese television viewers.

Equally, Japanese people often find it hard to grasp why politicians' visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine - which honours war criminals among other Japanese soldiers - cause quite so much anger.

I asked the children of some friends and colleagues how much history they had picked up during their school years.

Twenty-year-old university student Nami Yoshida and her older sister Mai - both undergraduates studying science - say they haven't heard about comfort women.

"I've heard of the Nanjing massacre but I don't know what it's about," they both say.

"At school, we learn more about what happened a long time ago, like the samurai era," Nami adds.

Seventeen-year-old Yuki Tsukamoto says the "Mukden incident" and Japan's invasion of the Korean peninsula in the late 16th Century help to explain Japan's unpopularity in the region.

"I think it is understandable that some people are upset, because no-one wants their own country to be invaded," he says.

But he too is unaware of the plight of the comfort women.

Former history teacher and scholar Tamaki Matsuoka holds Japan's education system responsible for a number of the country's foreign relations difficulties.

"Our system has been creating young people who get annoyed by all the complaints that China and South Korea make about war atrocities because they are not taught what they are complaining about," she said.

"It is very dangerous because some of them may resort to the internet to get more information and then they start believing the nationalists' views that Japan did nothing wrong."

I first saw her work, based on interviews with Japanese soldiers who invaded Nanjing, when I visited the museum in the city a few years ago.

"There were many testimonies by the victims but I thought we needed to hear from the soldiers," she says.

"It took me many years but I interviewed 250 of them. Many initially refused to talk, but eventually, they admitted to killing, stealing and raping."

When I saw her video interviews of the soldiers, it was not just their admission of war crimes which shocked me, it was their age. Already elderly by the time she interviewed them, many had been barely 20 at the time, and in a strange way, it humanised them.

I was choked with an extremely complex emotion. Sad to see Japan repeatedly described as evil and dubbed "the devil", and nervous because I wondered how people around me would react if they knew I was Japanese. But there was also the big question why - what drove these young soldiers to kill and rape?

When Matsuoka published her book, she received many threats from nationalist groups.

She and Fujioka represent two opposing camps in a debate about what should be taught in Japanese schools.

Fujioka and his Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform say most textbooks are "masochistic" and only teach about Japan in negative light.

"The Japanese textbook authorisation system has the so-called "neighbouring country clause" which means that textbooks have to show understanding in their treatment of historical events involving neighbouring Asian countries. It is just ridiculous," he says.

He is widely known for pressuring politicians to remove the term "comfort women" from all the junior high school textbooks. His first textbook, which won government approval in 2001, made a brief reference to the death of Chinese soldiers and civilians in Nanjing, but he plans to tone it down further in his next book.

But is ignorance the solution?

The Ministry of Education's guidelines for junior high schools state that all children must be taught about Japan's "historical relations with its Asian neighbours and the catastrophic damage caused by the World War II to humanity at large".

"That means schools have to teach about the Japanese military's increased influence and extension of its power [in the 1930s] and the prolonged war in China," says ministry spokesman Akihiko Horiuchi.

"Students learn about the extent of the damage caused by Japan in many countries during the war as well as sufferings that the Japanese people had to experience especially in Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Okinawa in order to understand the importance of international co-operation and peace.

"Based on our guideline, each school decides which specific events they focus on depending on the areas and the situation of the school and the students' maturity."

Matsuoka, however, thinks the government deliberately tries not to teach young people the details of Japan's atrocities.

Having experienced history education in two countries, the way history is taught in Japan has at least one advantage - students come away with a comprehensive understanding of when events happened, in what order.

In many ways, my schoolfriends and I were lucky. Because junior high students were all but guaranteed a place in the senior high school, not many had to go through what's often described as the "examination war".

For students who are competing to get into a good senior high school or university, the race is extremely tough and requires memorisation of hundreds of historical dates, on top of all the other subjects that have to be studied.

They have no time to dwell on a few pages of war atrocities, even if they read them in their textbooks.

All this has resulted in Japan's Asian neighbours - especially China and South Korea - accusing the country of glossing over its war atrocities.

Meanwhile, Japan's new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe criticises China's school curriculum for being too "anti-Japanese".

He, like Fujioka, wants to change how history is taught in Japan so that children can be proud of our past, and is considering revising Japan's 1993 apology over the comfort women issue.

If and when that happens, it will undoubtedly cause a huge stir with our Asian neighbours. And yet, many Japanese will have no clue why it is such a big deal.


HSTAS 108 International Baccalaureate (IB) History of Asia (5) I&S
Course awarded based on International Baccalaureate (IB) score. Consult the Admissions Exams for Credit website for more information.
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HSTAS 201 Introduction to South Asian History, pre-history to 1500 (5) I&S
Religions, literature, philosophy, politics, arts, and history of India from earliest times to the Mughal empire.
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HSTAS 202 Introduction to South Asian History, 1500 - present (5) I&S
The Islamic impact, British conquest, and contemporary India. Emphasis on the rise of nationalism, social organization, and contemporary life and history. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 202.
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HSTAS 211 History of Chinese Civilization (5) I&S
Intensive survey of Chinese civilization from earliest times to today. Introduces all students, including East Asian history majors, to the general sweep of Chinese history. Social, cultural, and intellectual developments.
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HSTAS 212 History of Korean Civilization (5) I&S
From earliest times to the present. Development of Korean society and culture in terms of government organization, social and economic change, literature, and art. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 212.
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HSTAS 214 Modern Korean History through Film (5) I&S
Analyzes South and North Korean films as well as films produced when Korea was a Japanese colony (1910-1945) as historical documents on Korean history, society, and culture during the twentieth century. Through films and other cultural products, it examines processes of nation-building in Korea, paying special attention to formations of gender, class, and national identities.
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HSTAS 221 History of Southeast Asia (5) I&S, DIV
Surveys Southeast Asian civilizations at the outset of Western colonial rule the colonial impact on the traditional societies of Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines nineteenth- and twentieth-century nationalist and revolutionary movements emergence of Southeast Asia as a region in the modern world. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 221.
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HSTAS 235 History of Modern Taiwan (5) I&S
Social, cultural, political, and economic history of modern Taiwan from approximately 1600 to the present. Places Taiwan within global historical changes and explores Taiwan-centric issues in depth. Covers migration, colonialism, race and identity, urban and rural development, the Cold War, capitalism and industrialization, science, religion, labor, and gender. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 235.
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HSTAS 241 Japanese Civilization (5) I&S
Japan's civilization, including its origins, government, literature, economic institutions, material culture, social organization, and religions, in relation to the development of Japan as a society and nation. Cannot be taken for credit if SISEA 341 previously taken. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 241.
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HSTAS 242 Christianity in Asia (5) I&S Hajin Jun
Christianity in East Asia, sixteenth century to present. Shared experiences that transcended national boundaries. Also traces divergent paths Christianity took in China, Korea, and Japan. What propelled missionary expansion? Why did people convert? What are lasting legacies of Christianity? Attention to shifting meanings of faith, identity, and religious community across the region. Offered: jointly with RELIG 242.
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HSTAS 244 Imperialism and Anti-Colonialism in Asia (5) I&S, DIV
Introduction to Western imperialism expansion, conquest, and colonial rule in Asia the anti-colonial, nationalist resistances they engendered and the resultant cultural, political, economic, and intellectual transformations in Asian societies. Covers post-1800 violence, racial hierarchies, human rights abuses, post-colonial memories, persistent strategies of domination, and structural inequities. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 244.
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HSTAS 245 Human Rights in Asia (5) I&S, DIV Callahan, Giebel
Introduction to recent and ongoing human rights issues in South, Southeast, and East Asia. Focuses on how human rights politics have played out in domestic political arenas. Provides exposure to views/insights into the historical context in which human rights claims, abuses, and debates arise. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 245.
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HSTAS 254 Modern China: Three Revolutions (5) I&S Y. Dong
Surveys Chinese history from the late nineteenth century to the end of the twentieth century. Examines how "modern China" took shape by focusing on the transformations and changes in the political system, economic structure, social organization, and intellectual trends. In particular, examines the three revolutions of modern China -- the Republican, Nationalist, and Communist revolutions. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 254.
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HSTAS 264 Violence, Race, and Memory (5) VLPA/I&S, DIV
Explores how images and ideas of power, race, violence, and global modernity circulate in memories and discourses about US relations with Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Topics include foundations myths, colonial and postcolonial encounters, historiography and narrative, and nationalist and ethnic identity formations. Offered: jointly with JSIS B 264 Sp.
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HSTAS 265 The Viet Nam Wars (5) I&S Giebel
Recent Vietnamese history and struggles for independence and national unification vis-a-vis French colonialism, Japanese occupation, American intervention, and internal divisions. Covers historical roots and contemporary contexts of revolution and war, objectives and motivations of participants, and the enormous human costs. Emphasizes socio-cultural changes and wars' legacies. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 265.
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HSTAS 290 Topics in Asian History (5, max. 10) I&S
Examines special topics in Asian history.
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HSTAS 303 Divided Lands/Divided Lives: An Environmental History of South Asia (5)
Focuses on the mobilization of South Asian tribal, peasant, and ethnic communities around ecological issues to secure social equity in the colonial and post-colonial period. Examines how the complex interactions of states and peoples have changed the ways in which nature itself is conceptualized. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 303.
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HSTAS 317 History by Bollywood: Colonial India through Film (5) I&S, DIV Anand A Yang
Through popular cinema, specifically Hindi-language films produced by Bombay-based film industry for mass market, explores colonial history of South Asia beginning with British takeover of Indian subcontinent in late eighteenth century to emergence of independence and partition in 1947. Focuses specifically on Bollywood films that have shaped popular (mis)understandings of key episodes and developments in history of modern India. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 317.
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HSTAS 327 China and the West in Historical Perspective, 1500-1976 (5) I&S M. MOSCA
Examines relations between China and the West in historical perspective. Covers the period from 1500 to 1976, including political interactions as well as intellectual, religious, and cultural contact. Investigates how and why these relations changed over time, and how this historical legacy is relevant today. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 327.
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HSTAS 348 Alternative Routes to Modernity (5) I&S
Routes to modernity followed by non-Western societies between 1600 and 1900. Historical experiences of non-Western societies seen in the context of European history and of development theory. Emphasizes primary sources and techniques for posing theoretical questions of historical data. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 346.
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HSTAS 354 Modern China: From Empire to Republics (5) Dong
Surveys the major historical events and discourses of twentieth century China and lays a foundation for understanding contemporary China. Themes include reforms revolutions colonialism and imperialism state and society and social and cultural changes. Offered: jointly with JSIS D 354.
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HSTAS 401 History of Ancient India (5) I&S
India in ancient times emphasis on forms of political organizations and economic life, social organizations, and cultural developments.
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HSTAS 402 History of Medieval and Mughal India (5) I&S
Medieval India emphasis on forms of political organizations and economic life, social organizations, and cultural developments.
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HSTAS 403 History of Modern India to 1900 (5) I&S
Modern India emphasis on forms of political organizations and economic life, social organizations, and cultural developments.
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HSTAS 404 History of Twentieth-Century India (5) I&S A. Yang
Analysis of the problems in the fields of social life, international and domestic politics, education, economics, and other areas that confront India today. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 409 A.
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HSTAS 408 Fabulous Gurus and Fake Fakirs: Religious Reform in Colonial India (5) I&S
Focuses on efforts by Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh reformers in British India to transform many aspects of religious practice and identity. Investigates the impacts such social movements had on politics, nationalism, family structure, education, and the role of women in society then and now.
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HSTAS 421 History of Pre-Modern Japan (5) I&S
Introduces the early years of Japan's political, socioeconomic, and cultural history, culminating in the emergence of the early modern state around 1600.
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HSTAS 423 Origins of Modern Japan (5) I&S Mark Metzler
Course surveys Japan's early modern age, from the end of the warring-states period in the late 1500s through the Meiji revolution and creation of a modern state in the late 1800s. Japan's history since the early 20th century is continued in a second class, JSIS A 424/HSTAS 424. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 423.
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HSTAS 424 The Emergence of Postwar Japan (5) I&S Pyle
The making of modern Japan World War II and surrender American occupation postoccupation rebuilding emergence as an industrial power. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 424.
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HSTAS 440 Japanese History in Ecological Perspective (5) I&S M. Metzler
Survey of Japanese history in ecological perspective, from early times to the present. Topics include ancient Japanese lifeways climate and history agriculture, population, and resources Buddhist and animist views of outer and inner nature urbanization from ancient capitals to megacity Tokyo industrialization and energy and future visions. Readings include influential scholarly works and Japanese sources in English translation. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 440 W.
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HSTAS 441 Economic and Social History of Japan to 1900 (5) I&S
Lecture-seminar on Japanese economic and social history from 700 to 1900. Analyses of the rise and decline of the shoen system, the rise of commerce, social change, changes in the living standard, demographic changes, and the early phases of industrialization. Political and cultural developments as related to economic and social change.
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HSTAS 451 Chinese History: Earliest Times to 221 BC (5) I&S
Pre-imperial China.
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HSTAS 452 Chinese History from Earliest Times to 1276 (5) I&S
Traces the development of Chinese civilization form earliest times through the Song dynasty. Examines social, cultural, political, and economic history.
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HSTAS 453 Chinese History from 1276-1895 (5) I&S
Political, social, economic, and intellectual history form the time of the Mongol conquest of China to the Sino-Japanese war. Focus on the evolution of the late imperial Chinese state and the "early modern" era in China.
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HSTAS 454 History of Modern China (5) I&S
Offered: jointly with JSIS A 454.
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HSTAS 456 Topics in Chinese Social History (5) I&S
Surveys major issues and approaches to the study of the role of the Chinese people in China's historical development. Historical focus of course varies with instructor. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 456.
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HSTAS 457 Women in China to 1800 (5) I&S, DIV
Gender in Chinese culture, women's situations in the patrilineal family system, and the ways women's situations changed as other dimensions of China's political system, economy, and culture changed from early times through the nineteenth century. Offered: jointly with GWSS 457.
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HSTAS 458 Youth in Modern China (5) I&S Madeleine Y. Dong
Emergence of youth in Modern China as a social category a distinctive stage of life from most dominated group in society to driving force of history. Explores how young people experienced history of modern China as individuals, members of family, and society. Youth as shaped in post-socialist consumer culture, new nationalism, cosmopolitanism. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 451.
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HSTAS 459 Gender Histories of Modern China, Eighteenth to Twentieth Centuries (5) I&S
Emergence of modernist social, political, intellectual gender formations in social activism, revolutionary writing, scientific ideologies, economic globalization. Stresses gender difference in colonial modernity, revolutionary movement, communism, post-socialist market society. Relates modern Chinese women to global flows, new division of labor, local and regional experience. Offered: jointly with GWSS 459.
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HSTAS 460 Cities in China: Past and Present (5) I&S Dong
Economic, political, social, and cultural functions of the city in modern Chinese history. Changes in China's urban system. The city as cultural center and focus of literary and cinematic representation. Attention to architecture, commerce, urbanization, the role of capital cities in the power of the state. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 460.
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HSTAS 462 Southeast Asian History to 1800 (5) I&S
Absorption and modification of cultures (Indian and Chinese), religions (Islam, Buddhism, Catholicism), and peoples (northern European) by island- and mainland-Southeast Asians. Main themes are cultural contact and the growth of states and peoples.
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HSTAS 463 Southeast Asian History from 1800 to the Present (5) I&S
Post-eighteenth-century history of the present countries of Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Deals with colonial rule, emerging nationalism, and political independence. Investigates broad themes of social, economic, and cultural history.
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HSTAS 466 Islam, Mysticism, Politics and Performance in Indonesian Culture (5) VLPA/I&S
Examines how Indonesia, the world's fourth most-populous country, with the largest Islamic population, weaves together local practices and influences from India and Persia. Offers ways of understanding modern Indonesian performing arts, religion, and polities. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 462.
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HSTAS 481 History of Pre-Modern Korea (5) I&S
Examines political, socioeconomic, intellectual, and cultural development of Korea from the earliest times through the nineteenth century.
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HSTAS 482 Modern Korean History (5) I&S Hajin Jun
Traces complex social, cultural, and political developments that transformed Korea during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Topics include late Choson reforms, changing gender norms, national identity, colonial state and society, territorial division, and democratization. Attention to diversity of Korean experiences, as well as the interplay of local dynamics and global forces in the peninsula. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 446.
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HSTAS 484 Korea in the Japanese Empire (5) I&S, DIV
Korean colonial history in the context of Japanese imperial expansion from the 1870s to 1945. Analyzes the Korean quest for modernization and nation-building, colonial industrialization and colonial modernity, assimilation and resistance, wartime mobilization and collaboration, Manchurian experiences, social movements, and cultural developments. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 484.
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HSTAS 490 Topics in Asian History (5, max. 10) I&S
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HSTAS 501 Indian History (3-6, max. 6)
Prerequisite: permission of instructor.
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HSTAS 502 Seminar: History of India (3-6, max. 12)
Seminar on selected topics and problems in the history of medieval and modern India. Prerequisite: HSTAS 501 and permission of instructor.
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HSTAS 503 Seminar: History of India (3-6, max. 12)
Seminar on selected topics and problems in the history of medieval and modern India. Prerequisite: HSTAS 501 and permission of instructor.
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HSTAS 520 Premodern Japanese History (5)
Field course Japanese history prior to 1868. Prerequisite: HSTAS 421 and HSTAS 422, or SISEA 441 and SISEA 541, or permission of instructor.
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HSTAS 521 Modern Japanese History (3-6, max. 6)
Field course. Prerequisite: HSTAS 422, HSTAS 423, or permission of instructor.
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HSTAS 523 Seminar in Modern Japanese History (3-6, max. 12)
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HSTAS 524 Seminar in Modern Japanese History (3-6, max. 12)
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HSTAS 530 Field Course in Southeast Asian History (5)
Introduces major English-language works on Southeast Asian history and to the major historiographical issues of the era. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 580.
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HSTAS 532 Seminar in Southeast Asian History (5)
Selected topics in Southeast Asian history and historiography. Includes preparation for theses and doctoral dissertations on Southeast Asian History. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 582.
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HSTAS 534 Indonesian Histories, Oral Traditions, and Archives (5)
Explores the inscription of Indonesian histories and stories. Focuses on oral traditions, oral testimonies, and archives. Investigates how oral and written testimonies enter historical archives. Explores theoretical work on literary and performance traditions as they relate to nationalism and Islam in Indonesia. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 534.
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HSTAS 540 Japanese History in Ecological Perspective (5) M. Metzler
Survey of Japanese history in ecological perspective, from early times to the present. Topics include ancient Japanese lifeways climate and history agriculture, population, and resources Buddhist and animist views of outer and inner nature urbanization from ancient capitals to megacity Tokyo industrialization and energy and future visions. Readings include influential scholarly works and Japanese sources in English translation. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 539 W.
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HSTAS 541 Economic and Social History of Japan to 1900 (5)
Analyses of landholding systems, the rise of commerce, demographic changes, urbanization, early industrialization, and social change. Prerequisite: previous course work in Japanese history or economic history, or permission of instructor. Not open to students who have taken HSTAS 441.
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HSTAS 551 Field Course in Chinese History: Pre-Sung Period (3-6, max. 6) Ebrey
Introduction to the English-language literature on Chinese history through the Song dynasty.
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HSTAS 552 Seminar in Chinese History: Earliest Times to 1276 ([3-6]-, max. 12)
Methods and materials for research in early imperial Chinese history. Prerequisite: reading knowledge of classical Chinese. Instructors: Ebrey
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HSTAS 553 Seminar in Chinese History: Earliest Times to 1276 (-[3-6]-, max. 12)
Methods and materials for research in early imperial Chinese history. Prerequisite: reading knowledge of classical Chinese. Instructors: Ebrey
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HSTAS 554 Seminar in Chinese History: Earliest Times to 1276 (-[3-6], max. 12)
Methods and materials for research in early imperial Chinese history. Prerequisite: reading knowledge of classical Chinese. Instructors: Ebrey
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HSTAS 555 Core Research Seminar in Chinese History (5-, max. 10) I&S
An introduction to research practices in Chinese history and exemplary recent works.
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HSTAS 556 Core Research Seminar in Chinese History (-5, max. 10) I&S
An introduction to research practices in Chinese history and exemplary recent works.
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HSTAS 560 Field Course in Chinese History: 1276-1895 ([3-6]-, max. 6) Guy
Introduction to the English-language literature on the Yuan, Min, and Qing dynasties.
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HSTAS 561 Field Course in Chinese History: 1276-1895 (-[3-6], max. 6) Guy
Introduction to the English-language literature on the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties.
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HSTAS 562 Seminar in Chinese History: 1268-1895 ([3-6]-, max. 12)
Materials and methods for research in imperial Chinese history. Prerequisite: reading knowledge of Chinese. Instructors: Guy
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HSTAS 563 Seminar in Chinese History: 1268-1895 (-[3-6]-, max. 12)
Materials and methods for research in imperial Chinese history. Prerequisite: reading knowledge of Chinese. Instructors: Guy
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HSTAS 564 Seminar in Chinese History: 1268-1895 (-[3-6], max. 12)
Materials and methods for research in imperial Chinese history. Prerequisite: reading knowledge of Chinese. Instructors: Guy
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HSTAS 566 Islam, Mysticism, Politics, and Performance in Indonesia (5)
Examines how Indonesia, the world's fourth most-populous country, with the largest Islamic population, weaves together local practices and influence from India and Persia. Offers ways of understanding modern Indonesian performing arts, religion, and politics. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 586.
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HSTAS 572 Seminar in Twentieth Century Chinese History (-[3-6], max. 12)
Materials and methods for research in imperial Chinese history. Prerequisite: reading knowledge of Chinese. Instructors: Dong
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HSTAS 573 Seminar in Twentieth Century Chinese History ([3-6]-, max. 12)
Materials and methods for research in twentieth-century Chinese history. Prerequisite: knowledge of Chinese and permission of instructor. Instructors: Dong
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HSTAS 574 Seminar in Twentieth Century Chinese History (-[3-6]-, max. 12)
Materials and methods for research in twentieth-century Chinese history. Prerequisite: knowledge of Chinese and permission of instructor. Instructors: Dong
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HSTAS 575 Seminar in Chinese History: Modern Period (-[3-6], max. 12)
Research seminar in modern Chinese history. Training in the materials and methods of research, and preparation of extended research papers. Prerequisite: HSTAS 571-572 or permission of instructor and reading knowledge of Chinese.
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HSTAS 579 Modern Chinese History (5)
Introduction to the major English-language literature on modern Chinese history and to the major historiographical issues of the period. Prerequisite: HSTAS 454 or equivalent, and permission of instructor. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 576.
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HSTAS 581 Modern Korean History (5) Hajin Jun
Traces complex social, cultural, and political developments that transformed Korea during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Topics include late Choson reforms, changing gender norms, national identity, colonial state and society, territorial division, and democratization. Attention to diversity of Korean experiences, as well as the interplay of local dynamics and global forces in the peninsula. Prerequisite: permission of instructor. Offered: jointly with JSIS A 583.
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HSTAS 582 Seminar in Korean History ([3-6]-, max. 12)
Selected topics in Korean history and historiography.
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HSTAS 583 Seminar in Korean History (-[3-6]-, max. 12)
Selected topics in Korean history and historiography.
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HSTAS 584 Seminar in Korean History (-[3-6], max. 12)
Selected topics in Korean history and historiography.
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HSTAS 590 Topics in History (5, max. 15)
Seminar on selected topics in general history, with special emphasis on preparation for field examinations. Topics vary according to interests of students and instructor.
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Top reviews from the United States

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Matthew Stavros traces the history of Kyoto through eight centuries of urban planning and design. He foregrounds Kyoto as the topic of the book, but far from writing a mere history of buildings, he describes the dynamic relationship between the people of Kyoto and the built environment of their city and its suburbs. Stavros acquaints the reader with the institutions of imperial ritual, the palaces of nobles, the bustling machiya of merchants, and the fortified compounds of warriors.

Stavros returns throughout the book to his main themes of monumentality and authority, public authority versus private power, and the relationship between space, place, and authority. These broad themes are balanced by details from primary sources such as diaries, which give personal accounts of demonstrations by armed warrior monks or first-hand descriptions of castle architecture.

The many maps and diagrams in this book are one of its great assets. They show how the ideal Kyoto was imagined, and how the real Kyoto failed to live up to the ideal they show the rise and decline of marketplaces, the reconfiguration of venues of state, and the destruction of the city by warfare.

Stavros' writing style is clear and incisive. The book is very well-organized with useful summaries at the end of each chapter. I recommend this book for students of Japanese history, and while it is an academic work, I think anyone with an interest in the beautiful city of Kyoto would enjoy reading it.

I have two small suggestions. 1) A chronology of the main events in the book would be very helpful. 2) Captions to the many beautiful, color reproductions of folding screens and other illustrations should include the date of production. These are minor points and not enough to take the star rating down from 5.

History of Woodblock Printing

Katsushika Hokusai, &ldquoThe Great Wave off Kanagawa,&rdquo ca. 1829-1833 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain)

Introduced during China's Han Dynasty, which lasted from 206 BCE to 220 CE, the art of woodblock printing was not popularized in mainstream Japan until its Edo period, an era denoting 1603 through 1868. Initially, the woodblock printing process was used to reproduce traditional hand-scrolls as affordable books. Soon, however, it was adapted and adopted as a means to mass produce prints.

While woodblock printing was eventually replaced by methods of moveable type (in terms of text), it remained a preferred and popular method among Japanese artists for decades&mdashnamely, those working in the ukiyo-e genre. Japanese masters like Andō Hiroshige, Katsushika Hokusai, and Kitagawa Utamaro helped elevate the practice with their “floating world prints,” which are considered world-class works of art today.


The samurai (or bushi) were the warriors of premodern Japan. They later made up the ruling military class that eventually became the highest ranking social caste of the Edo Period (1603-1867). Samurai employed a range of weapons such as bows and arrows, spears and guns, but their main weapon and symbol was the sword.

Samurai were supposed to lead their lives according to the ethic code of bushido ("the way of the warrior"). Strongly Confucian in nature, bushido stressed concepts such as loyalty to one's master, self discipline and respectful, ethical behavior. Many samurai were also drawn to the teachings and practices of Zen Buddhism.

Samurai Experiences
Kyoto Samurai & Ninja Museum with Experience
Interactive samurai history museum with experiences. Samurai armors, katana displays, samurai costume trial, samurai lessons, sword cutting and guided tours. Service hours: 10:30


The samurai trace their origins to the Heian Period campaigns to subdue the native Emishi people in the Tohoku Region. Around the same time, warriors were increasingly hired by wealthy landowners that had grown independent of the central government and built armies for their own protection.

The two most powerful of these landowning clans, the Minamoto and Taira, eventually challenged the central government and battled each other for supremacy over the entire country. Minamoto Yoritomo emerged victorious and set up a new military government in 1192, led by the shogun or supreme military commander. The samurai would rule over Japan for most of the next 700 years.

During the chaotic era of warring states in the 15th and 16th centuries, Japan splintered into dozens of independent states constantly at war with one another. Consequently, warriors were in high demand. It was also the era when ninja, warriors specialized in unconventional warfare, were most active. Many of the famous samurai movies by Kurosawa are set during this time.

The country was eventually reunited in the late 1500s, and a rigid social caste system was established during the Edo Period that placed the samurai at the top, followed by the farmers, artisans and merchants respectively. During this time, the samurai were forced to live in castle towns, were the only ones allowed to own and carry swords and were paid in rice by their daimyo or feudal lords. Masterless samurai were called ronin and caused minor troubles during the 1600s.

Relative peace prevailed during the roughly 250 years of the Edo Period. As a result, the importance of martial skills declined, and many samurai became bureaucrats, teachers or artists. Japan's feudal era eventually came to an end in 1868, and the samurai class was abolished a few years afterwards.

How to appreciate the samurai today

Samurai related attractions can be found across Japan in form of castles, historic residences, museums, historically themed amusement parks and dress up tours. The following are some of the many ways tourists can learn about and experience samurai culture and lifestyle today:


Castles developed over the centuries from small defensive forts built high up on mountains into massive complexes at the heart of cities, where they served as the status symbol, administrative center and residence of the local lord. The lord's samurai vassals resided in the town surrounding the castle: the higher their rank, the closer they were allowed to reside to the castle.

Over a hundred castles exist in Japan today, including twelve original castles (that survived the post-feudal years intact) and many modern reconstructions. Most of the castles contain exhibits or entire museums that display samurai artifacts and lifestyle. See our castle page for more information.

Samurai Districts and Mansions

In order to separate the social castes, samurai were forced to reside in designated districts of the castle towns during the Edo Period. Today, a few of these samurai districts remain preserved with their historic atmosphere of narrow lanes, earthen walls, entrance gates and residences, and allow tourists to get a glimpse into the samurai lifestyle. In other cases, single samurai mansions have been preserved and opened to the public. Below is a list of some of the better of these districts and residences:

Feminism in Japan

Japan’s first movement for civil rights emerged in the 1870s, and a small number of women were part of it. Women’s legal status was significantly inferior to men’s in the pre–World War II era, and feminists struggled for decades to improve it. Their activism in transnational organizations often gave them a voice they did not have at home. For example, the Japanese branch of the International Woman’s Christian Temperance Union worked to end international sex trafficking, licensed prostitution, and marital inequality. The Japanese cultural world took a feminist turn in the second decade of the 20th century. Increasing numbers of women entered the classroom as teachers, nurses served on the battlefield and in hospitals, and actresses performed in plays like A Doll’s House. Many of these women were called “New Women,” and an explicitly women’s rights organization, founded in 1919, called itself the New Woman’s Association.

When the Tokyo earthquake killed 100,000 people and destroyed millions of homes in 1923, women’s organizations of all types—Christian, Buddhist, alumnae, housewives, and socialists—coalesced to carry out earthquake relief. The following year, several of those groups decided to address women’s political rights. The Women’s Suffrage League grew from this collaboration in 1924. Annual Women’s Suffrage Conferences brought together women of diverse organizations from 1930 to 1937. In the 1920s and early 1930s, Japanese feminists also made their voices heard through transnational organizations, including the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the Young Women’s Christian Association, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, and the Pan-Pacific Women’s Association. When Japanese militarism at home and abroad repressed freedom of expression in the 1930s, feminist groups continued to meet, turning to community activism (like improving municipal utilities) and nonthreatening feminist legislation (the Mother-Child Protection Law of 1937). During World War II, many feminists accepted government advisory positions to improve the lives of women and families, viewing this as a step toward greater political integration. By the 1980s, however, feminists strongly critiqued prewar feminists for collaboration with the wartime government.

Women voted for the first time in 1946. In 1947, the new Constitution granted equal rights, the new Civil Code eradicated most of the patriarchal provisions of the 1898 Civil Code, and the Labor Standards Law called for equal pay for equal work. Nevertheless, women continued to face discrimination in the workplace, at home, and even in the law. Feminists supported the United Nations International Women’s Year (1975) with vigor. Since then, they have successfully advocated for strengthened employment and child-care leave laws as well as anti–domestic violence laws. But gender-neutral legislation has been hotly contested and has led to a backlash against feminism in general.



Gender and Rights: Creating a New Society

After Japan’s Meiji Restoration ( 1868 ), government and private-sector leaders as well as average people throughout the country developed new discourses of citizenship, created new economic systems, redefined relations with the outside world, and studied and selectively borrowed ideas from abroad. The government was also interested in the construction of new types of citizen/subjects to serve the new nation. For the first time, some Japanese in the 1870s and 1880s felt liberated to voice their opinions in public discussions, and some of those were women who articulated their views using the discourses of rights developed in the West during the previous century.

The earliest advocates for women’s rights were part of the larger People’s Rights Movement, most of whose participants were men. One of the first women to demand “rights” was Kusunose Kita ( 1833–1892 ), a 45-year-old widowed household head who, in 1878 , petitioned for the right to vote in local elections, a right enjoyed by male property owners. Women’s rights advocates, who called her the “People’s Rights Grandma,” contended that she should not be taxed without representation. She protested the use of gender in establishing an individual’s relationship to the state. Kusunose failed to gain the vote in 1878 , but women began to advocate for danjo dōken (male–female equal rights) and joken (women’s rights).

Fearful of the People’s Rights Movement, the government imposed press censorship laws in 1875 . Verbal expression was also restricted in the early decades of the Meiji period. In 1883 Kishida Toshiko ( 1861?–1901 ), a feminist orator and People’s Rights member, was arrested for publicly calling for women’s rights. Kishida inspired women all over Japan. Thousands heard her proclaim that women’s equality in society and the family was an indicator of civilization and that equality would elevate Japan in international eyes. After her arrest, Kishida soon abandoned public speaking for essay writing—mainly in the feminist journal Jogaku zasshi (Women’s Education Magazine)—and teaching. One of those inspired by Kishida was Fukuda Hideko ( 1865–1927 ). Fukuda created a women’s organization to showcase women’s rights speakers, for which the authorities punished her by shutting down the school she and her mother had established. This did not stop her. In the first decade of the 20th century (which encompassed the Russo-Japanese War [ 1904–1905 ] and the early years of Japanese imperialism), she worked with antiwar and socialist men and women and was the founding editor (in 1907 ) of the feminist newspaper Sekai fujin (Women of the World).

Japan’s new constitution of 1889 , the first such document outside of Europe and the Americas, stipulated that civil rights could be limited by law. The government began creating those limits immediately. In 1890 , women were prohibited from joining political parties or attending political rallies, thereby denying them the rights of speech and assembly. This prohibition was reinforced in 1900 under the Public Peace Police Law. Repealing that law’s infamous Article 5, which restricted women’s rights, was a major focus of women’s activism for the next two decades. By the end of the 1890s, women’s rights were further limited by the Civil Code, which subordinated all members of a household (ie) to the (male) head of household.

Supporters of women’s rights expressed profound disappointment with the gendered legal restrictions on rights. Novelist Shimizu Toyoko ( 1868–1933 ) articulated these sentiments in her article, “To My Beloved Sisters in Tears,” published in Jogaku zasshi in 1890 . Members of the Japan Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (JWCTU), founded in 1886 as a branch of the transnational WCTU, were also distressed by the codification of inequality but recognized that women’s activist options were limited by Article 5. The JWCTU’s focus on social and moral reforms, including movements against licensed prostitution and concubinage, appeared less overtly political to the authorities. (Japanese men were legally allowed just one wife, but many also had concubines, who had legal status within the family for several decades before the adoption of the Civil Code in 1898 .) These movements were therefore within the bounds of the law. Moreover, the Christian organizations that supported these reforms framed them in the patriotic terms of elevating the status of the nation by improving the status of women.

Other advocates for women’s rights joined antiwar and socialist movements. One group of women within a larger socialist and Christian organization that had opposed the Russo-Japanese War petitioned the Diet in 1907 to take up the question of amending Article 5 to allow women to speak and assemble publicly. Though they failed to change the law, their activities were chronicled in Fukuda Hideko’s Sekai fujin . Another important feminist who expressed antiwar sentiments during the Russo-Japanese War was the poet Yosano Akiko ( 1878–1942 ), one of Japan’s leading literary figures. Her famous poem begged her brother not to fight. “Brother, do not give your life,” she wrote. “His Majesty the Emperor goes not himself into the battle.” Yosano changed her views in the years leading up to World War II, when she supported Japan’s military enthusiastically.

New Women, Modern Girls, and the Motherhood Protection Debate

From the 1910s through the 1930s, many Japanese women were experimenting with new ways of self-representation. In the 1910s, they were called—and called themselves—New Women. In the mid-1920s, a new type of modern woman emerged—the Modern Girl (modan gāru, also abbreviated as moga). Japan’s New Woman and Modern Girl were both part of global phenomena.

New Women entered the scene in 1911 in the form of Nora, the protagonist of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House . As in the West, the play led to an outpouring of media commentary about Nora as an archetypal New Woman. The same month, Hiratsuka Raichō ( 1886–1972 ) launched her new organization, the Bluestockings, and its magazine of the same name, Seitō (Bluestocking). Hiratsuka’s famous “Feminist Manifesto” appeared in the first issue of Seitō in 1911 : “In the beginning, woman was the sun” evoked the powerful image of the Sun Goddess, the mythical founder of Japan’s imperial family, in its call for women to retrieve their lost genius. Critics of the Bluestockings called Hiratsuka and her colleagues “Japanese Noras”—New Women who were frivolous and self-absorbed in their quest for self-awareness.

From 1911 to 1916 , Seitō published articles on chastity, abortion, and prostitution in which the writers debated one another in strongly worded essays that used strikingly contemporary-sounding language. Should women remain chaste, even if doing so might lead to one’s family’s destitution? Was a fetus a separate human or was it part of a woman’s body over which she should have control? Was prostitution slavery or a social necessity to serve “men’s inherent needs”?

Mass circulation periodicals aimed at a general audience also ran articles about New Women. While some asserted that New Women denied their true womanly nature, many others discussed, in positive terms, women in modern occupations like teaching, office work, and medicine and the importance of women’s education. Another progressive women’s organization, which some in the media depicted as a rival to the Bluestockings, was the True New Women’s Association ( Shinshinfujinkai ). Both the Bluestockings and the True New Women claimed the title of New Women, and members of these and other groups went on to build the interwar domestic and transnational women’s movements. Most immediately, the term “New Woman” was embedded in a political organization, the New Woman’s Association, described below. Many New Women were professional writers whose novels and short stories depicted women taking control of their own lives and sexuality. Many wrote for Seitō , mass-circulation media, or the left-leaning feminist literary journal Nyonin geijutsu (Women’s Arts), published from 1928 to 1932 .

The term “Modern Girl” seems to have first appeared in 1923 . By then, New Women were part of Japan’s cosmopolitan, literary, and activist scene. The Modern Girl was a new phenomenon, who first appeared as a media sensation. And yet, the Modern Girl was a real person. She was one of the thousands of female factory workers, employees in newly emerging professions, retail workers in both modern department stores and tiny retail shops, bus conductors and telephone operators, café waitresses, highly trained employees in teaching, medicine, and other sectors, and privileged young women who could easily afford international products and fashions. As a media sensation, the Modern Girl was transgressive. Common criticisms focused on her supposed foreignness, frivolousness, and promiscuity. Both Marxist and conservative critics called Modern Girls “hedonistic” and “decadent.” Most, however, were hardworking employees with working-class or middle-class jobs.

Toward the end of World War I, the Bluestockings’ Hiratsuka was one of several leading feminists engaged in the “Motherhood Protection Debate.” She was joined by poet Yosano Akiko, socialist feminist Yamakawa Kikue ( 1890–1980 ), and rescued Seattle sex-worker-turned-feminist-translator Yamada Waka ( 1879–1957 ). The debate was conducted through approximately 115 articles in a variety of women’s and general audience journals. Yosano, who gave birth to thirteen children and raised eleven to adulthood, fired the opening charge, claiming that women should not marry and have children until they could support them independently. Women’s liberation, she asserted, was based on their ability to support themselves without depending on their husbands or the state, which she called “slave morality.” Hiratsuka replied that Yosano, a very successful poet, could not speak for poor women, who, she said, were not paid well enough to support themselves independently. Instead, Hiratsuka asserted, the state should support mothers—that is, “protect them”—because they performed an essential service to the nation-state by producing children. Yamakawa wrote that socialist revolution was the only way to produce the changes in social conditions necessary to protect mothers. Yamada’s view was consistent with the state-supported “good wife, wise mother” philosophy she claimed that it was the “sacred mission of women” to educate their children for the sake of the state and to be supported by their husbands or the state. In the end, the four women acknowledged that they all cared about improving the status of women and mothers.

Domestic and Transnational Roots of Interwar Japanese Feminism

Working with transnational women’s organizations gave Japanese women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries a space for influencing state policy in the absence of civil rights at home. Transnationalism took many forms, embracing feminisms of various sorts beginning in the Meiji period. By the interwar years (1910s–1930s), Japanese women in global Christian organizations like the YWCA and the WCTU played important roles in articulating feminist theories of citizenship as well as the foundation of movements for labor and social justice, consumer rights, and reproductive rights. At the same time that women in transnational Christian organizations were working to improve the lives of women at home and abroad, secular feminists were intensifying their efforts for greater rights in these areas as well.

The most notable 20th-century secular suffragist was Ichikawa Fusae ( 1893–1981 ). Born in a farming village to a family where her father encouraged his sons’ and daughters’ education but violently abused her mother, Ichikawa started her life of activism by leading her college classmates’ protest against the gender-defined curriculum for female students. Following jobs as a schoolteacher and as a journalist, Ichikawa settled in Tokyo in 1918 , where she signed up for English lessons with Yamada Kakichi, Yamada Waka’s husband. She met not only Waka, but also Hiratsuka Raichō, who was also Kakichi’s student. This meeting led Hiratsuka, already a famous feminist, to ask Ichikawa, the general secretary of the women’s division of the labor organization Yūaikai (Friendly Society), to introduce her to women textile workers so she could learn about their labor conditions. Shortly thereafter, in November 1919 , they founded the Shin fujin Kyōkai (New Woman’s Association, hereafter NWA). Ichikawa and Hiratsuka recruited Oku Mumeo ( 1895–1997 ) as the third leader of the NWA.

In January 1920 , the NWA leaders met with activist women journalists and labor organizers and decided to petition the Diet for two changes to Japanese law. The NWA knew their first task had to be amending Article 5. The second petition concerned Japanese family law, which turned out to be much harder to change than the law concerning political inclusion. Hiratsuka was most interested in petitioning for a law requiring that men be tested for syphilis before marrying. Had this law passed—it failed—it would have given women the right that they did not have in the patriarchal family system at that time to terminate a marriage or engagement.

In 1921 , the NWA expanded its demands, calling for women’s suffrage. That same year, however, tensions were developing within the NWA over Hiratsuka’s and Ichikawa’s different ideological approaches to women’s rights. While Hiratsuka advocated the principle of mothers’ rights (bokenshugi), Ichikawa stressed the principle of women’s rights (jokenshugi) as the foundation for women’s citizenship. Hiratsuka and Ichikawa left the NWA in 1921 , but Oku stayed on until Article 5 was finally amended, due to her efforts, in 1922 .

After achieving a partial victory for women’s rights, Oku Mumeo turned her attention to helping working women and women as consumers. She worked with suffragists on motherhood issues and with socialists on labor issues. In 1921 , socialist women, including Yamakawa Kikue, established the Sekirankai (Red Wave Society). Around the same time, Japanese women peace activists, many of them involved in transnational Christian movements—like their sisters in North America, Australia, Europe, and China—linked peace advocacy and women’s rights. In 1921 , Christian women founded the Fujin Heiwa Kyōkai (Women’s Peace Association), which later became the Japanese affiliate of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Members included both secular activists and members of the JWCTU and the YWCA. Also in 1921 , the 89-year-old founder of the JWCTU, Yajima Kajiko, hand-delivered a petition for peace signed by 10,224 Japanese women to American President Warren Harding at the Washington Naval Conference. JWCTU members took additional steps to claim a space in governance through transnational ties in 1924 when the United States outlawed Japanese immigration that year, JWCTU members contacted American WCTU members to lobby on behalf of their humiliated nation. They also went straight to Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes.

Women in transnational feminist organizations were also turning to more explicitly suffragist platforms. Gauntlett Tsune ( 1873–1953 ), one of the JWCTU delegates to the World WCTU meeting in 1920 , attended the meeting of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance in Geneva at the invitation of IWSA President Carrie Chapman Catt ( 1859–1947 ). Gauntlett’s primary interest at that time was the international peace movement, and Catt persuaded her that women’s suffrage was the way to advance peace. Gauntlett returned to Japan, where her new advocacy for suffrage was eagerly supported by Kubushiro Ochimi ( 1882–1972 ), secretary of the JWCTU. In July 1921 , Kubushiro argued for votes for women in an article in the JWCTU’s journal and, together with Gauntlett, founded the Nihon fujin Sanseiken Kyōkai (Japan Women’s Suffrage Association).

Ichikawa had left the NWA in 1921 , traveling to the United States, where she deepened her knowledge of the diversity of Western feminisms through meetings with numerous leading feminists, including Jane Addams ( 1860–1935 ) and, especially, Alice Paul ( 1885–1977 ), proponent of the complete political equality position in American feminism. Paul exerted the strongest influence on Ichikawa. Ichikawa enjoyed her time in the United States, but following the devastating earthquake that killed over 150,000 people in the Tokyo area on September 1, 1923 , she returned home. She arrived in early 1924 , having been hired to work on women’s issues by the International Labour Organization. She also joined women from across the political spectrum who had created the Tokyo Rengō Fujinkai (Tokyo Federation of Women’s Organizations) at the end of September 1923 to carry out earthquake relief. One of the divisions of this federation was its “government section,” which began to work on women’s rights while carrying out earthquake relief. In December 1924 , government-section head Kubushiro Ochimi invited Ichikawa to join her in launching what became Japan’s leading suffrage group, the Fusen Kakutoku Dōmei (Women’s Suffrage League hereafter WSL). Members of the WSL included teachers, journalists, writers, housewives, and workers.

From Earthquake Reconstruction to the Manchurian Incident

During the first national election (in 1928 ) after the passage of universal male suffrage in 1925 , the WSL campaigned for fourteen House of Representatives candidates who supported women’s rights. Seven of them were successful. Until 1931 , the number of parliamentary supporters of women’s rights continued to grow rapidly. Feminists called these years “a period of hope.” From March 1928 to December 1929 , the WSL joined with five other women’s groups, four of them affiliated with proletarian movements such as labor unions, to create the Fusen Kakutoku Kyōdō Iinkai (Women’s Suffrage Coordinating Committee).

In August 1928 , an eighteen-member delegation of Japanese women, including secular and Christian feminists, attended the first Pan Pacific Women’s Conference. Some members of the delegation continued to collaborate, creating the Japan Women’s Committee for International Relations as an affiliate of the Geneva-based Joint Standing Committee of Women’s International Organizations. In 1930 , when the heads of the major world powers met in London for a disarmament conference, Japanese women, inspired by Gauntlett Tsune, presented to the male delegates petitions for world peace signed by many thousands of Japanese women. As they had almost a decade earlier, women disenfranchised in national politics used the international stage to find their voice.

The women’s civil rights movement was advancing in the winter of 1928–1929 , when the WSL organized thirteen Tokyo-based women’s groups to gather petitions for women’s suffrage. In 1929 , Prime Minister Hamaguchi Osachi asked women’s groups to assist in carrying out the government’s economic policies during the recession of the late 1920s. In December 1929 , Hamaguchi commended their actions, and pledged to support expansion of women’s political rights.

In April 1930 , the WSL convened a National Women’s Suffrage Convention, bringing together 400 members of religious feminist groups like the YWCA and Young Women’s Buddhist Association, secular feminist organizations, the Proletarian Women’s League, and teachers’ organizations. A number of elected officials spoke out in support of women’s rights at this convention. But the bills they proposed in May 1930 and February 1931 fell short of equal citizenship rights for women. These bills would have granted women the right to vote on the municipal level but not on the prefectural or national level and would have required married women to obtain their husbands’ approval to run for office. Although denounced as inadequate by almost all feminists, these bills were rejected as too radical by the conservative House of Peers. Women failed to obtain even limited civil rights before everything changed in 1931 .

In September 1931 , right-wing officers of Japan’s Kwantung Army stationed in Manchuria along the Japanese-owned South Manchuria Railway bombed a section of track, instigating hostilities with Chinese soldiers in the region. This event, known as the Manchurian Incident, set in motion Japan’s fifteen years of war on the continent. Right-wing extremism produced a wave of domestic terror as well, some of it fueled by hatred of modern society characterized by New Women and Modern Girls. Japan was closely tied to Western countries through multilateral treaties and trade. The global Great Depression triggered by the crash of Wall Street in 1929 spread to Japan, and anything transnational was viewed as a national threat. In that context, feminism became suspect. Suffrage legislation was not proposed again until 1945 . But the suffragists were pragmatic they adjusted their tactics while retaining, at least until the late 1930s, their strategy of civic engagement as the basis for improving the status of women and children.

Feminist Activism to Protect Women’s Bodies

One of the feminists who had been involved in the Motherhood Protection Debate in the 1910s was socialist feminist Yamakawa Kikue. In 1925 , she struggled unsuccessfully to persuade the leftist union Hyōgikai to accept the formation of a women’s division to support measures to help working mothers retain their jobs. The measures she called for included paid maternity leave, an eight-hour workday, and equal pay for equal work. Unfortunately, the union’s male leadership neither made efforts to promote these reforms nor created a women’s division, although they did support women workers’ strike demands for improved maternity leave during the late 1920s.

Women workers made other body-centered demands in the interwar period. The one most curious to Western observers was menstruation leave. Decades later, in the 1980s, when the Equal Employment Opportunity Law was debated in Japan, this policy was framed as necessary to preserve working women’s future maternal health. No one recalled that the original demand for this provision, which became part of the post–World War II Labor Standards Law of 1947 , had nothing to do with maternal health. Rather, it was based on working women’s need to find a way to continue to work under difficult conditions related to their bodies.

The issue of menstruation leave was first raised in 1928 , when 500 women bus conductors struck for better working conditions against the Tokyo Municipal Bus Company. One of their key demands was menstruation leave. Bus conductors had to spend long hours on their feet in crowded, moving buses that had no toilet facilities. Metropolitan buses could not stop to find a toilet when a conductor might need one. Quitting their jobs because they could not take care of their monthly period was not possible for many women who needed work. So Tokyo’s female bus conductors demanded several days off to accommodate this bodily function.

Feminists joined the call for menstruation leave in the late 1930s. The April and May 1937 issues of the women’s magazine Fujin kōron contained articles entitled “Let’s Have Menstruation Leave!” Feminists from across the political spectrum voiced their support for menstruation leave. A decade later, after Japan’s nearly complete destruction in World War II, the demand for menstruation leave was reintroduced by women factory workers. Cotton or rags that could be used for sanitary purposes were nonexistent or in short supply. Most factories had no heat or clean toilets. Again, women who needed to keep their jobs (many were war widows and orphans) required provisions that addressed their gendered needs.

In the early 20th century , Japanese intellectuals had begun to discuss birth control as a means of controlling overpopulation and the resulting strain on national resources. In 1922 , with the visit of American birth control advocate Margaret Sanger ( 1879–1966 ), reproductive control was taken up by feminists as a way of helping all women, but especially poor and working-class women. Sanger’s conviction that poor women’s ability to control their fertility would improve the lives of their families and affect society for the better was shared by Katō Ishimoto Shidzue ( 1897–2001 ), who met Sanger while living in New York in 1921 . Shortly after Sanger’s visit, Ishimoto was joined by medical doctors, university professors, the founder of the Yūaikai labor union, and socialist–feminist Yamakawa Kikue in a combined effort to study birth control and establish a small clinic. In 1932 , just as Japan was entering the militarist period, Ishimoto formed the Birth Control League of Japan. In December 1937 , she was arrested and jailed briefly. Her clinic was closed down in January 1938 , and the birth control movement was put on hold until after World War II.

Feminism and Politics in the War Years

Following the Manchurian Incident in 1931 , Japanese feminists struggled with the question of supporting their nation—a key element in the quest for women’s rights—or opposing the increasing repression at home and the expanding warfare on the Asian continent. At first, most of them opposed Japan’s foreign policy and continued to work for women’s rights at home while recognizing that the struggle for voting rights was increasingly hopeless. By the end of the 1930s, feminists abandoned even these efforts. During the period from 1931 to 1945 , almost all progressives went to jail, abandoned their activism and lived quietly under the radar, or tried to find a way to survive by cooperating with the government.

Immediately after the Manchurian Incident, many feminists, speaking as “mothers of humanity,” outspokenly condemned the war. Feminists’ opposition was to military expansionism in China, though not to Japanese colonialism in Korea, which few opposed. By the late 1930s, feminists and others appeared to shift their views on a variety of topics in addition to the war. For example, Ichikawa framed the quest for civil rights as a way for women to “assist the Emperor.” Because prewar feminists tried to work with a government that is today discredited—particularly following the expanded discussion in the 1980s about the “comfort women,” Japan’s military sexual slaves—later feminist historians have critiqued them.

Japanese feminists who had been involved in transnational movements felt torn between nationalism and transnationalism. In 1934 , Japan’s WCTU and YWCA leaders lamented this in Japanese Women Speak: A Message from the Christian Women of Japan to the Christian Women of America , an English-language book published in Boston and targeted to an American audience to maintain international ties. In 1938 , the WCTU began publishing an English-language journal, Japan Through Women , to highlight the positive deeds of Japan’s women. But this effort failed, and the Japanese WCTU cut its ties to the World WCTU at the beginning of the Pacific War in December 1941 . The Japanese WCTU and other Christian groups refocused their transnational efforts toward Asia. To reach out to China, the Japanese WCTU built schools and a medical settlement house in Beijing and undertook social reform projects, believing these acts of sisterhood would improve Japan’s image in China. But these projects were possible only because they were under the protection of the Japanese military, and rather than improving Japan’s image, they tied the knot of imperialism more tightly.

Like their Christian counterparts, secular feminists had long-existing links with feminists across the Pacific that were strained by Japan’s militarist actions. The WSL tried to maintain ties to Western friends by publishing Japanese Women , an English-language newsletter whose goal was similar to that of the WCTU’s Japan Through Women . The journal, edited by Ichikawa Fusae, printed sixteen issues from 1938 to 1940 , and ended publication in July 1940 .

By the middle of the 1930s, advocating women’s suffrage was strongly challenged, as Japan’s militarist government kept suffragists under close surveillance. The WSL turned to less overtly political activities—such as reforming garbage collection, municipal utilities, elections, and the Tokyo fish market—as a way of involving disenfranchised women in governance. In several elections in the early 1930s, the WSL campaigned for candidates they believed to be incorruptible, calling this action an “election purification” movement. Another of the feminists’ activities in the 1930s focused on getting the government to pass welfare legislation for poor mothers and children. In 1934 , twenty women’s organizations lobbied together for the Mother–Child Protection Law. This passed in 1937 , giving financial assistance to single and widowed mothers.

The ideological trends in feminism can be viewed in the changing resolutions passed by the annual National Women’s Suffrage Conventions held throughout the 1930s. The first convention, in 1930 , optimistically focused on the vote. The third convention, in 1932 , condemned the Manchurian Incident and the rise of “fascism” in Japan. The fifth convention, in 1934 , supported resolutions for peace, for welfare benefits to families of soldiers killed in the war, for cooperation with women around the world, for birth control, and for mother–child protection legislation. By the sixth convention, held in 1935 , the suffragists’ views had shifted to calling on the government to give women the vote so they might help the government in this time of “emergency” (a term used by the government as a euphemism for war). The conventions were supplanted in 1938 by a Women’s National Emergency Congress when the rise of militarism at home made suffrage conferences suspect. That was the end of conventions focused on women’s civil rights until after World War II.

The largest women’s organizations during the long prewar and war period were those run by the Ministry of Education, the Army, and the Home Ministry. The membership of these organizations, taken together, reached 19 million by the end of the 1930s. The independent women’s organizations, both Christian and secular, resented these government-affiliated organizations at first: they were run by men, they took potential members away from groups dedicated to women’s rights, and they dealt with women from the perspective of mobilizing them to serve the state through stereotyped women’s roles. Groups like the WSL, YWCA, and WCTU came together in a Federation of Japanese Women’s Organizations in 1937 , and were forced to disband three years later. Many of their members came to accept the government organizations as venues for women’s agency outside the home. In February 1942 , the government brought all Japanese women’s organizations together into one large group, the Dai Nippon Fujinkai (Greater Japan Women’s Association), including the government-directed groups as well as feminist, Christian, and social reform groups. (Many of these independent groups had already been disbanded.)

Ichikawa Fusae was the secular feminist most often criticized after the war for having replaced her earlier opposition to the state with the kind of wartime collaboration in government-sponsored activities on the home front also undertaken by most other secular and Christian feminists. Ichikawa, who later became one of the most highly respected members of the Diet, was purged by the postwar US military occupation (one of only eight women, later two, out of a total of over 200,000 Japanese who were purged).

Poverty, Gender, and Sexuality after the War

Millions of Japanese heard the voice of the emperor for the first time on August 15, 1945 . He called on the Japanese people to “endure the unendurable and bear the unbearable.” At the end of the war, 9 million Japanese were homeless. An additional 7 million were scattered throughout the empire and needed to find a home in Japan when they did return.

Both men and women suffered, but in many cases it was women, many of them widows, who struggled to find new ways for their families to survive in the chaotic times right after defeat. Agricultural production was a fraction of its prewar level, and families who lived on the meager rations allotted by the government could not survive. Most depended on food they bought on the black market. Most businesses had been destroyed, so there were few jobs for urban people. The firebombing of cities led to the destruction of housing and a resulting mass migration to the countryside before the war ended, but almost half the population still lived in the cities, often in huts made of scavenged wood from destroyed houses.

Compounding Japanese concerns was the Allied military occupation, which lasted from 1945 to 1952 . Anticipating the arrival of foreign forces, the Japanese government spent the last two weeks of August destroying government records and setting up sex stations for the army of occupation. On August 18, the government secretly began planning for “comfort stations.” In little more than a week, 1,300 young women, mostly destitute widows and orphans, had signed up to work in the newly created Recreation and Amusement Association (RAA). Many were depressed because they had thought they would find jobs as clerks and typists, but others accepted jobs as sex workers, believing that would be the only way to keep their families and themselves from starvation.

The RAA was short lived but historically important. US officials severed their ties with the RAA after a few months because of a very high rate of sexually transmitted disease and because the Americans had come to view the official brothels as a violation of women’s human rights. The sex trades did not end with the closing of the RAA brothels, however. Thousands of women worked in licensed brothels or became pan-pan (the occupation-era term for sex workers not affiliated with brothels). Japanese Christian feminist organizations, such as the YWCA and WCTU, reestablished themselves after the war and worked to end all licensed and nonlicensed prostitution and to oppose the US occupation’s treatment of all Japanese women as prostitutes. Feminists were rightly appalled that average women were routinely pulled from the street or public transportation by American military police and publicly humiliated by being forced to undergo gynecological exams in front of military examiners. Some were jailed, and others were sprayed with toxic disinfectants. Christian and secular women’s organizations vigorously protested this treatment.

Politics and Gender During the Occupation

Ichikawa Fusae and the WSL searched throughout war-torn Tokyo for survivors of the prewar group. On August 25, several members met to establish the Women’s Committee on Postwar Policy. On September 11, they held a large meeting—70 participants—at which they resolved to promote women’s actions to survive the difficult times. At a meeting on September 24, they resolved to demand full civil rights, especially the vote. The Japanese cabinet, at its first meeting on October 9, decided that women should be granted rights the following day, Ichikawa visited Prime Minister Shidehara Kijurō and other cabinet ministers, who verbally confirmed that the government would amend the election law to grant women political rights.

Before the government could make that announcement, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, met with the Prime Minister the next day (October 11) and presented him a list of reforms the United States demanded. Women’s full civil rights were at the top of the list. Ichikawa and other feminists, as well as male supporters in government who wished to credit the suffragists for their hard work over several decades, were deeply disappointed that the Americans would be credited with granting women rights. Women went to the polls in the first postwar election on April 10, 1946 . Two-thirds of eligible women voters cast their ballots, an extraordinary percentage when compared to other countries right after women were enfranchised. (It is estimated that 35–45 percent of eligible women voted in the United States in the decade after gaining the vote in 1920 .)

Thirty-nine women were elected members of the Diet in 1946 . The first women representatives were highly educated, and many were professionals. Feminists of varying political persuasions formed organizations to educate new voters about their rights and to formulate demands for social and political reform. They transcended party lines as the Fujin Giin Kurabu (Women Diet Representatives Club) to work on issues related to women’s roles as mothers, including policies for food distribution, stabilizing milk prices and securing adequate milk supplies, and repatriation of soldiers.

In November 1946 , Ichikawa Fusae and other prewar feminists created the New Japan Women’s League (renamed the League of Women Voters in 1950 ) as a successor to the WSL. Women on the left, including novelist Miyamoto Yuriko, birth control advocate Katō (Ishimoto) Shidzue, and notable educators and labor activists from the prewar period, formed the Women’s Democratic Club in March 1946 . Joining the Japanese women in undertaking the political education of women was the occupation’s Lt. Ethel Weed, Women’s Affairs Information Officer of the Civil Information and Education Section, who lectured throughout the country and published articles in newspapers and magazines. The role of the American occupation in promoting women’s political education meant that the socialist–feminist movement in Japan was stifled in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The Women’s Democratic Club and forty-one other women’s organizations had formed the Nihon Minshu Fujin Kyōgikai (Japan Democratic Women’s Council) in 1948 . The council reached out to the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF), a large global organization that was supported by communist countries and leftist movements in noncommunist countries during the Cold War. This alarmed Ethel Weed, and the occupation forbade the council from attending the WIDF meeting in Beijing in 1949 . The purge of WDC leaders (and the death of Miyamoto) at the end of the occupation led to the WDC’s disbanding in 1953 .

Although some of the first women Diet members remained in office for just one year, six of their number played a notable role in Japanese political history. These six were among the seventy-two Diet members who reviewed the draft of the new Constitution. The 1947 Constitution, which guarantees women’s political equality, was not actually written by the Japanese Diet, but rather by the American occupation. The clauses dealing with women’s rights were written by twenty-two-year-old Beate Sirota, who had grown up in Japan and was, therefore, one of the few members of the Constitution committee fluent in Japanese. The Constitution stipulates that women and men are equal under the law (Article 14) and that husbands and wives have equal rights in marriage (Article 24).

Two prewar feminist leaders, planning to stand for election in 1947 , were purged by the occupation right before that election and were therefore forbidden from playing any public roles. One was Takeuchi Shigeyo ( 1881–1975 ), a pioneering medical doctor in the early 20th century and later a suffragist who served on a government commission during World War II. Takeuchi was one of the first thirty-nine women elected to the Diet in 1946 , but was prohibited from running in 1947 . The other was Ichikawa Fusae. Her numerous influential friends in the United States petitioned to have her released from the purge, and the depurging committee agreed. But for reasons that are not clear, Ichikawa was not depurged until the end of the occupation. (Some additional women had served the government during the war but escaped the purge.) Ichikawa did not enter electoral politics immediately upon the Americans’ departure. Rather, she resurrected a movement for anticorruption in politics that had been part of the WSL’s activities in the 1930s when the Japanese government made advocating women’s voting rights impossible. In 1953 , Japan’s League of Women Voters urged her to run for the House of Councillors. She won and joined other prewar feminists such as Oku Mumeo, Katō Shidzue, and Kamichika Ichiko as a Diet member.

Gender and the Family in the First Postwar Years

The lives of men and women were radically changed in many ways in the postwar years. The new Constitution required major changes in the Civil Code and the Labor Standards Law. The 19th century Civil Code stipulated that the senior male was the head of the family and that other members of the family had fewer rights, especially in inheritance (which under most circumstances was to go to the eldest son), choice of domicile, and divorce (wives had fewer grounds for divorce). The new Civil Code of 1947 equalized the grounds for divorce, but in other ways, the Civil Code continued to carry the baggage of the past. It has been a continuing struggle for postwar feminists to amend the code.

Another gendered change was the creation of the Women’s and Minors’ Bureau ( Fujin Shōnen Kyoku ) in the Ministry of Labor to oversee the protection of women and children in the workplace, enforce laws against child labor, and conduct surveys of working conditions. Prewar socialist feminist Yamakawa Kikue was appointed the first director of this bureau.

The family was also changed by the legalization of birth control and abortion. Concerned about the country’s inability to feed the growing numbers of children born during the postwar baby boom, medical doctors and bureaucrats joined with prewar feminist advocates of birth control, such as Katō Shidzue, to propose ways to limit Japan’s population growth. Katō unsuccessfully submitted a bill to the Diet to legalize birth control in 1947 . A later bill became the Eugenic Protection Law ( Yūsei Hogo Hō ), implemented in 1948 . Rather than focusing on contraception, which Katō advocated and which remained illegal until 1949 , the Eugenic Protection Law focused on abortion, making abortion legal if the mother’s medical or economic condition would be imperiled by carrying a pregnancy to term.

When the “Second Wave” of the feminist movement took off in the 1970s, many observers at that time incorrectly believed it was a new challenge to a “traditional” family made up of a stay-at-home housewife, a white-collar husband more dedicated to his company than to his family, and one or two children driven to academic success by an “education mama.” But this “tradition” only dated from the 1950s. Japanese women, men, and children had always worked—in shops, in factories, and on farms. When 1970s feminists attacked a society divided into a female-dominated home and a male-dominated workplace, they were challenging institutions of relatively recent history.

The vocal feminist movement of the 1970s did not emerge from thin air after a period of complete quiescence. One of the key feminist efforts in the 1950s was the movement to eliminate licensed prostitution. Women legislators, many of them members of prewar feminist organizations, pushed the Prostitution Prevention Law (a law not supported by many sex workers themselves) through the Diet in 1956 . Other organizations that emerged after the war adopted a variety of approaches to improve women’s status. Some of these reinforced old gender norms. For example, Oku Mumeo, who had worked with Ichikawa Fusae and Hiratsuka Raichō in the NWA from 1919 to 1922 , founded the Shufuren (Housewives Association) in 1948 . This association was fairly militant in its assertion of women’s power as consumers within the household. Marching for better products and economic justice, its members carried giant mock-ups of a rice-serving scoop that symbolized women’s role as housewives. The Housewives Association continues to play a large role in movements against pollution and global climate change.

Another women’s organization, the Mothers’ Convention ( Hahaoya Taikai ), which mobilized women politically as mothers, was founded in 1955 . A nonpartisan peace organization focused on the prevention of nuclear war, the Mothers’ Convention had transnational links, similar to the prewar women’s peace movements. The group grew rapidly: 13,000 women delegates attended the 1960 annual meeting. Members used what was defined at the time as the traditional family to advance their causes.

This traditional family was seen by many as a means of empowerment for women, but attacked by others in the “Housewife Debate” of the mid-1950s for holding women back. This debate, like the “Motherhood Protection Debate” of the late 1910s, was waged in the pages of women’s and other mass-circulation journals. At least one debater of the 1910s, Hiratsuka Raichō, contributed to the 1950s debate. The opening salvo of the debate was launched by Ishigaki Ayako ( 1903–1996 ) in February 1955 with an article in a special issue on working women of the women’s journal Fujin kōron . Ishigaki was a feminist journalist who had migrated to America in the 1920s, where she married noted Japanese American artist Ishigaki Eitarō. Her 1955 article unleashed a torrent of reactions that reflected the diversity of 1950s attitudes toward housewives.

Feminism in the 1970s

As Japan became one of the world’s most prosperous countries in the late 1960s, many women grew tired of their second-class social status and added their voices to the global feminist movements that are often called “second wave feminism.” Large numbers of middle-class married women joined movements to make a better, cleaner, and safer Japan, stating they were doing so as mothers protecting their children. Housewives’ groups sprang up in every neighborhood. During the same years, the Anpō o Tatakau Fujin Renrakukai (Women’s Conference Fighting the US–Japan Security Treaty) assembled women, some of them from the grassroots housewives’ movements, who opposed Japan’s role in the United States-led Vietnam War. These 1960s and 1970s movements reenergized the antipollution, antiwar, and women’s movements, and by the end of the 1970s, some of their members contemplated running for office as housewife-citizens.

Additional women’s movements with more expressly feminist ideologies sprang up in the late 1960s and early 1970s. These movements, called “women’s liberation” groups by the press and by their members, differed from the organizations that stressed women’s political strengths as housewives and mothers. The new feminist organizations’ members were often younger. Many had participated in New Left movements of the 1960s that had focused on opposition to global capitalism and America’s war in Vietnam. The leadership of many of the New Left groups was male and often sexist. “Consciousness-raising” activities led thousands of formerly New Left women to redefine feminism in new terms. These included a questioning of sexuality, motherhood, and women’s oppression as women. Motherhood, which earlier housewife feminists had viewed as a source of strength, came to be seen as leading to inequality.

These kinds of revolutionary approaches paralleled those in feminist movements in other countries, and transnational linkages among radical feminist organizations were reestablished. Japanese feminists in the early 1970s viewed their position in more complex ways than many feminists in the West, however. For example, the Ajia Fujin Kaigi (Asian Women’s Conference), founded in the summer of 1970 , articulated the view that while Japanese women were oppressed by sexism in Japanese society and by Western imperialism toward people of color, Japanese women were also complicit (even if unconsciously) in the First World’s economic oppression of other Asian women. Thus, they were simultaneously oppressed and oppressors. Another group founded in 1970 , Tatakau Onna (Fighting Women), got its start fighting against proposed limitations of women’s reproductive rights, but soon turned its attention to broader questions of the sexual liberation of women. The Shinjuku Women’s Liberation Center was established in 1972 as an organizing hub and as a women’s shelter. Another group, Chūpiren, used sensationalist tactics—like wearing pink helmets—to promote the goals of legalizing oral contraceptives and eliminating the sexual double standard.

Hundreds of small mimeographed magazines and newsletters spread the ideas and public actions of the women’s liberation movement. Other, more substantial publications, such as the magazines Onna: Erosu (Woman: Eros) and Feminisuto (Feminist), founded by scholars and artists, were also widely read. Feminisuto consciously referenced the past by adding a subtitle: “The New Bluestocking.” Mainstream newspapers publicized feminists’ actions, but their coverage was often negative. One sympathetic mainstream journalist was the feminist Matsui Yayori ( 1934–2002 ), who wrote for the Asahi , one of the most respected newspapers in Japan. In addition to her excellent reporting about women, especially women in Asia, she was also the founder of the Ajia no Onnatachi no Kai (Asian Women’s Association).

Negative press coverage changed in 1975 , with the United Nations (UN) International Women’s Year. In late 1974 , veteran feminists Ichikawa Fusae and Tanaka Sumiko ( 1909–1995 ) coordinated a large number of women’s groups, ranging from old-line women’s organizations to radical feminists, writers, intellectuals, members of the bureaucracy, and academics, to plan for Japan’s participation in the 1975 UN meeting in Mexico City. In January 1975 , they founded the International Women’s Year Action Group and created a progressive agenda for change. The Action Group continued long after the Mexico City conference, coordinating the activities of several dozen organizations. They addressed a wide range of issues, from organizing for the 1985 Equal Employment Opportunity Law and other laws to improve the status of women, to protesting sexist television commercials. The Action Group joined with other Japanese women’s groups, including the Asian Women’s Conference, the Asian Women’s Association (whose initial goal was to combat sex tourism), and venerable Christian organizations such as the Japanese WCTU—as well as feminist groups in South Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines—to attack sex tourism by Japanese men in those countries.

Feminism and the Workplace

Persistent economic inequality, particularly in the workplace, was a leading feminist issue in the 1970s and 1980s. Discussion about an Equal Employment Opportunity Law began after Japan’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). These discussions highlighted significant ideological differences among employers, workers, the government, and feminist groups. The only legislation until that time that addressed workplace gender inequality had been Article 14 of the Japanese Constitution of 1947 , which prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex the Labor Standards Law of 1947 , which mandated equal pay for equal work and maternity leave for women workers and the Working Women’s Welfare Law of 1972 , which called for counseling and training of women workers. Although some women had attempted to improve workplace conditions through litigation, there were no penalties for employers who failed to hire, pay, or treat women and men equally.

During the prosperous decades of the 1970s and 1980s, many women in their late 20s whose husbands made good salaries left full-time jobs to become full-time mothers and housewives. Returning to the workforce, as many did in their late 30s, they were unable to get good full-time jobs because companies did not hire older workers into promotion-track positions. In addition, the Labor Standards Law had codified the pre–World War II feminist demand to protect women from having to work on midnight shifts. Employers were reluctant to hire women, whom they could not force to work the long hours they pressured men to work. In 1978 , the Labor Standards Law Research Association reported that some of the “motherhood protection” provisions under the law such as limited work hours did, in fact, harm women’s chances for employment and promotion. Employers’ associations opposed any movement toward equality of opportunity for women, claiming that women had no work consciousness. Women’s work opportunities and pay lagged far behind men’s.

Feminists supported different approaches to changes in labor law. Some wished to abolish the motherhood protection clauses that differentiated male and female employees, while others wanted to retain some of those provisions. Some feminists had to be persuaded that menstruation leave had no relationship to women’s health and was no longer necessary. In the end, the bill proposed by the Diet in 1984 was opposed by forty-eight women’s organizations of the Action Group because it presumed that all men and women must adopt the male employment model rather than one that balanced work and home for both men and women.

The law passed in 1985 , but it was flawed. Women and men on a track toward a managerial position had to accept long hours of daily work as well as the possibility of being transferred to a branch office far from one’s spouse and children. The law also only called on employers to “endeavor” to hire without regard to gender. Despite its flaws, the law temporarily improved labor conditions for women, until a major recession hit Japan in the 1990s.

Fortunately, additional legislation marginally improved women’s work conditions. The Child-Care Leave Law of 1992 allowed either parent to take a partially paid leave of up to a year after the birth of a child. But few parents, especially fathers, initially took this leave. In 1997 , the Long-Term Care Insurance Law shifted responsibility for caring for the elderly from the family to society, thereby lifting some—though not all—of the burden for that care from daughters and daughters-in-law, who had traditionally been responsible for it. Some of the weaknesses of the Equal Employment Opportunity Law’s protections for equality in the workplace were addressed in 1997 . Sanctions against discrimination in hiring were included in a revision of the law in 1997 . A more comprehensive Gender Equality Law of 2007 stipulated penalties for discrimination in both hiring and workplace conditions, but women’s pay equity and access to management positions continues to lag behind those in most industrialized countries.

Academic and Political Feminisms

The resurgence of the feminist movement in the early 1970s and the excitement of International Women’s Year in 1975 encouraged feminist scholarship and inspired women’s studies courses and programs at many universities. Two major scholarly groups, each with an important journal disseminating feminist research, were established: the Women’s Studies Society of Japan, founded in Kyoto in 1978 , and the Women’s Studies Association of Japan, founded in Tokyo in 1979 . Feminist scholars were featured on talk shows and were appointed to government councils, although most were still teaching at smaller colleges before they began to break into the top tier of elite universities in the 1990s. The appointment that made the biggest splash in the news was that of Japan’s most prominent feminist, sociologist Ueno Chizuko, in 1993 at the University of Tokyo, Japan’s most prestigious university. In addition to the still small but growing number of women in academia, feminists influenced government policy-making in the 1990s. Ōsawa Mari (b. 1953 ) played a particularly important role in the drafting of feminist legislation.

That legislation became the center of Japan’s “state feminism”—that is, feminism promoted by the state. Some of the laws drafted in the 1990s by the government, with the advice of feminist scholars and of women Diet representatives, addressed societal shortcomings that slowed women’s progress in the labor force, such as insufficient child-care and elder-care provisions, despite legal requirements for these. Other laws addressed problems of gendered bodily harm. These included the 1999 Law for Punishing Acts Related to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and for Protecting Children, the 2000 Anti-Stalking Law, and the 2001 Law for the Prevention of Spousal Violence and the Protection of Victims, which criminalized behavior previously overlooked as personal.

These laws all helped women and children, and they did not produce the resistance encountered by the 1999 Basic Law for a Gender Equal Society. The Basic Law called for a Gender Equality Bureau in the Prime Minister’s cabinet and divisions responsible for carrying out gender initiatives in each ministry and agency. Prefectures, cities, and towns were also required to create plans to carry out the law. Around the same time, though coincidentally, feminists and others began discussing a concept called jendā furī (gender free). That term was used in several ways: to mean free of gender bias or free of gender itself. The first meaning called for the removal of inequality in society, economy, and government between two binary genders, male and female the second suggested redefining gender as a constructed concept that could be changed or eliminated. Right-wing nationalists within Japan started to become concerned about the effects of what they saw as transnational feminism on Japan, and attacked the 1999 Basic Law as a manifestation of foreign-style “gender free” ideology—especially the second definition. When the backlash started, feminists in government and academia had already been working, under the Basic Law, to implement policies based on both meanings of “gender free.”

Exacerbating conservatives’ concerns about Japan’s adopting “foreign” values and their discomfort about the possibility of “gender free” leading to greater acceptance of lesbians, gay men, and transgender people was the government’s panic, expressed since the 1980s, about Japan’s declining fertility rate. That stood at about 1.3 children per woman in 2005 , and Japan’s population was beginning to decline. At 1.4 children per woman in 2015 , Japan had a lower fertility rate than all but thirteen countries in the world. At the same time, Japan ranked highest among large countries in longevity. The panic had two parts: concern about the insufficiency of working-age people to support the growing number of elderly retirees, and the decline of Japan’s global status as it fell from being one of the larger countries in the world to a middle-sized country in terms of population. Women should focus on making babies, conservatives opined in their attack on the Basic Law for a Gender Equal Society.

The concept of “gender free” was the first issue to be hit by the backlash, and familiar fears like unisex restrooms in schools were next to emerge. Some feminists retreated strategically from the more inclusive meanings of gender free to defend the policies that called for equal treatment of men and women. Even in that climate, some progress was made in redefining gender. Sexual reassignment surgery was legalized in 2003 , and the Japan Association for Queer Studies was founded in 2007 (it has since disbanded). Feminist scholar and activist Ueno Chizuko retired from the University of Tokyo in 2011 to run an Internet site, the Women’s Action Network (WAN), which she built into a powerful feminist communications network that includes archival materials, global feminist news, and information about actions in Japan and elsewhere. Some of the socially transformative aspects of the Basic Law may have been postponed, but contemporary feminists continue to work toward building a more equal Japan.

Discussion of the Literature

Long before gender became a category of analysis, women’s rights activists in Japan recognized that publishing a history of feminist activities (both in Japan and elsewhere in the world) would reify their movement and establish a record that was less likely to be overlooked by posterity. 1 Those feminists wrote for political reasons, not as professional historians, but the legacy of their works has been more far reaching than they may have intended. These works in Japanese, written in the 1920s, were followed by histories and ethnological and sociological studies of Japanese women written in both Japanese and English in the 1930s. Some of those in English were written by Christian feminists and other feminists for political reasons as well—that is, to maintain transnational ties as Japan’s wartime activities attenuated those ties. One such work was Japanese Women Speak: A Message from the Christian Women of Japan to the Christian Women of America , published in Boston in 1934 . 2 The first English-language work that was a self-conscious history of Japanese women qua history (that is, without a conscious advocacy motive) was The Force of Women in Japanese History , published in 1953 , by Mary Beard, a leading American intellectual to whom the work’s Japanese author (Katō Ishimoto Shidzue) gave permission to publish under her name. 3

In the historical field, a few books and articles about women took a similar approach to these early works—that is, they attempted to find notable women and add them, in a compensatory manner, to the male-centered dominant narrative of history. Sharon Sievers’s pathbreaking work Flowers in Salt changed this in 1983 , modifying the dominant narrative by focusing on Meiji-era feminism. 4

The history field began to be rapidly altered in the 1990s and early 2000s with works on gender and sexuality in English and other European languages by Vera Mackie, Janet Hunter, Greg Pflugfelder, Barbara Sato, Kathleen Uno, Sheldon Garon, Ron Loftus, Patricia Tsurumi, Don Roden, Ayako Kano, Regine Matthias, Sabine Frühstück, Sally Hastings (who was also the editor for about twenty years of the US-Japan Women’s Journal , which has introduced English readers to a plethora of translations of Japanese scholars’ works since 1988 ), and others. 5 These scholars included gender issues in new histories of politics, labor, migration and diaspora, activism, culture and the literary and theatrical arts, economics, sexualities, masculinities (which trailed the study of femininities but is now booming), nationalism, and other subfields. Most of these scholars are trained historians or scholars in diverse fields whose work displays a keen historical sense. Most, though not all, address feminism and feminist movements.

Gail Lee Bernstein’s 1991 edited collection Recreating Japanese Women made the study of women accessible to larger audiences in the 1990s. 6 The field of gender history took off in Japan as well, with leading historians publishing in both Japanese and English—one noteworthy English-language publication at the end of the 1990s was the monumental two-volume collection of essays by Japanese scholars, Gender and Japanese History , edited by Wakita Haruko, Ueno Chizuko, and Anne Bouchy. 7 In the 1990s and 2000s, the prestigious historical journal Rekishi Hyōron ran special issues on women’s history, many of them articles on feminism, every year.

Women’s studies academic organizations that began to flourish in Japan in the late 1970s and 1980s produced works that radically expanded the field of women’s history. The International Group for the Study of Women hosted an international conference in 1978 and published a pioneering work in English and Japanese the following year. 8 The Women’s Suffrage Center, founded in 1946 by suffragist Ichikawa Fusae and her colleagues as a gathering place to help newly enfranchised women, expanded radically through the following decades. In the mid-1970s, their collection of not-yet-catalogued materials from 20th-century women’s movements was one of the few places one could do primary research in feminist history. Over the years, they expanded their capacity and organized and digitized many of the materials. The archive is now part of the Fusae Ichikawa Center for Women and Governance.

In the 1980s, Japanese feminist historians’ anger about women’s support for the wartime government—especially in light of the exposure of the gendered oppression of “comfort women”—fueled a historiographical debate about feminism during World War II. Historians like Suzuki Yūko and Kanō Mikiyo strongly criticized both leaders and average women—calling the latter the “home front”—for not being more actively opposed to the war. 9 A leading feminist scholar, sociologist Ueno Chizuko, analyzed this historiographical turn in her critique of nationalism and feminism, originally published in Japanese and translated as Nationalism and Gender in 2004 . 10 The bitterness of this issue seems to have subsided in recent decades. That is not to say that the issue of war responsibility has disappeared rather, the wartime Japanese feminists’ support of the war has become normalized in works by feminist historians.

After the turn of the century, scholarship on femininities, masculinities, gender, and sexualities continued to expand greatly, building on the foundation established in the 1990s. Nuanced works in English on gender, women, feminisms, and/or sexuality in the Meiji era (late 19th and early 20th centuries ) have come out in the last two decades by Vera Mackie, Elizabeth Dorn Lublin, Marnie Anderson, Mara Patessio, Bill Mihalopulos, Harald Fuess, Sabine Frühstück, Barbara Brooks, Kathleen Uno, Hiroko Tomida, and numerous others. 11 Historical scholarship on the interwar and wartime era is perhaps even more lively, with some of the scholars noted above joined by Dina Lowy, Miriam Silverberg, Michiko Suzuki, Haruko Cook, Sarah Frederick, Jan Bardsley, Teruko Craig, Shibahara Taeko, Noriyo Hayakawa, Helen Hopper, Manako Ogawa, Mariko Tamanoi, Rumi Yasutake, Sumiko Otsubo, Janet Hunter, Andrea Germer, Barbara Molony, and Elyssa Faison. 12 Many of these scholars have employed transnational and intersectional approaches. Gendering the history of the postwar and contemporary eras, as in the work done by Cristopher Gerteis, Mire Koikari, Sarah Kovner, Sally Hastings, Naoko Shibusawa, John Dower, Andrew Gordon, Ayako Kano, Jan Bardsley, Setsu Shigematsu, Julia Bullock, Sandra Buckley, and others, has fundamentally rewritten those eras, too. 13 Sabine Frühstück and Anne Walthall’s excellent edited collection Recreating Japanese Men has underscored that gender is not limited to women. 14 Mark McLelland and Vera Mackie’s monumental Routledge Handbook of Sexuality Studies in East Asia allows readers to sample widely from that growing field as well. 15

The foremothers and forefathers who continue to expand the field, bringing in more intersectional, interdisciplinary, and transnational approaches, have been joined, in Western languages, by scholars whose works have destabilized our views of the building of the modern state, the meaning of location (through gendered diaspora), the construction of the modern “citizen,” the building of the economy, intersectional meanings of race, ethnicity, and empire, and many other topics scholars used to think were stable. 16 For example, studies that focus on Japan in the world have forced “the world” to see Japanese gender history as consequential and not peripheral to a Western-dominated master narrative. This has become particularly important in historical studies of countries where Japanese people migrated. 17

Finally, the explosion of history and historiography about feminism in Japan has paralleled a more than century-long dialogue between feminists around the Pacific Rim. From the late 19th century until today, transnational feminist organizations globally linked secular women (International Woman Suffrage Alliance, WILPF, the ILO, and Pan Pacific Women’s Association) and Christian women (YWCA, WCTU, and others). The documents of these organizations are excellent primary sources on feminism.

Primary Sources

Primary sources on Japanese feminism are available mainly in Japanese. The best archive on the women’s movements of the 20th century is maintained by the Fusae Ichikawa Center for Women and Governance. 18 In the 1970s, as a major wave of research on women’s history took off in Japan, numerous organizations, such as the Japan Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and women’s colleges and universities, published their documents in major collections. 19 Scholars also gathered complete sets of documents from particular movements, such as the Motherhood Protection Debate. 20 Very extensive sets of documents on all aspects of women’s, gender, and feminist history include the twelve-volume set Nihon fujin mondai shiryō shūsei. 21 Individual volumes cover different subjects, including human rights, women’s political movements, labor, education, the family system, and health and welfare. Women’s political rights documents are collected in volume 2. A collection of speeches and written documents of the women’s movement may be found in Kindai Nihon joseishi e no shōgen. 22 Domesu published numerous collections of primary sources in the 1980s. In addition, an excellent collection of materials of the various women’s rights movements beginning in the 19th century, Nihon josei undō shiryō shūsei, has been assembled by Suzuki Yūko. For documents from the 1970s women’s liberation movement, see Shiryō Nihon ūman ribu-shi, edited by Mizoguchi Akiyo, Saeki Yōko, and Miki Sōko. 23

Primary sources in English, especially for the period of the US occupation of Japan following World War II, may be found in the United States National Archives, Record Group 331. The American occupation required that all documents and publications be translated into English to be accessible to the American censors, and thus these archives are unrivaled for the years 1945 to 1952. They are both extensive and, fortunately for researchers without Japanese fluency, in English.

A variety of primary courses in English have been assembled by Barbara Molony, Elizabeth Dorn Lublin, and Taeko Shibahara and are available online in the Japan cluster of Women and Social Movements in Modern Empires Since 1820. 24

Many interwar feminists wrote memoirs, but almost all are in Japanese. One that is readily available in the original English is (Katō) Ishimoto Shidzue’s Facing Two Ways. Another, which has been translated into English, is Hiratsuka Raichō’s In the Beginning, Woman Was the Sun. 25 Primary documents of the Bluestocking movement have been translated and annotated by Jan Bardsley. 26

The best archive of primary sources for the contemporary feminist movement is the Women’s Action Network (WAN), founded by Ueno Chizuko. 27

The History of Premodern Japan: A Quest for Origins - History

The World at War: 1931-1945

While the United States was still struggling to emerge from the Great Depression at the end of the 1930s, and would do so partly because of the war, Japan had emerged from its own period of depression, which had begun in 1926, by the mid-1930s. Many of the young soldiers mobilized into the Japanese army by the early 1930s came from the rural areas, where the effects of the depression were devastating and poverty was widespread. Their commitment to the military effort to expand Japanese territory to achieve economic security can be understood partly in these terms. The depression ended in the mid-1930s in Japan partly because of government deficits used to expand greatly both heavy industry and the military.

Internationally, this was a time when "free trade" was in disrepute. The great powers not only jealously protected their special economic rights within their colonies and spheres of influence, but sought to bolster their sagging economies through high tariffs, dumping of goods, and other trade manipulation. The Japanese, with few natural resources, sought to copy this pattern. They used cutthroat trade practices to sell textiles and other light industrial goods in the East Asian and U.S. markets, severely undercutting British and European manufacturers. They also developed sources of raw materials and heavy industry in the colonies they established in Korea, Taiwan and Manchuria. Japan used high tariffs to limit imports of American and European industrial products.

The Japanese military faced a particular tactical problem in that certain critical raw materials — especially oil and rubber — were not available within the Japanese sphere of influence. Instead, Japan received most of its oil from the United States and rubber from British Malaya, the very two Western nations trying to restrict Japan's expansion. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's embargo of oil exports to Japan pressured the Japanese navy, which had stocks for only about six months of operations.

The Japanese army, for its part, was originally concerned with fighting the Soviet Union, because of the army's preoccupation with Manchuria and China. The Japanese army governed Manchuria indirectly through the "puppet" state of Manchukuo and developed heavy industry there under its favorite agencies, disliking and distrusting the zaibatsu (large Japanese corporations). But the Soviet army's resistance to Japanese attacks was sufficient to discourage northern expansion.

Meanwhile in 1937, the intensification of Chinese resistance to the pressure of the Japanese military drew Japan into a draining war in the vast reaches of China proper, and in 1940 into operations in French Indochina, far to the south. Thus, when the navy pressed for a "southern" strategy of attacking Dutch Indonesia to get its oil and British Malaya to control its rubber, the army agreed.

While it seems that economic factors were important in Japanese expansion in East Asia, it would be too much to say that colonialism, trade protection, and the American embargo compelled Japan to take this course. Domestic politics, ideology and racism also played a role.

The political structure of Japan at this time was inherited from the Meiji era and was increasingly dominated by the military. During the Meiji period, the government was controlled by a small ruling group of elder statesmen who had overthrown the shogun and established the new centralized Japanese state. These men used their position to coordinate the bureaucracy, the military, the parliament, the Imperial Household, and other branches of government. Following their deaths in the early 1920s, no single governmental institution was able to establish full control, until the 1931 Manchurian Incident, when Japan took control of Manchuria. This began a process in which the military behaved autonomously on the Asian mainland and with increasing authority in politics at home.

From 1937 on, Japan was at war with China. By the time General Hideki Tôjô became prime minister and the war against the United States began in 1941, the nation was in a state of "total war" and the military and their supporters were able to force their policies on the government and the people. The wartime regime used existing government controls on public opinion, including schools and textbooks, the media, and the police, but Japan continued to have more of an authoritarian government than a totalitarian one like Hitler's Germany. In particular, the government was never able to gain real control of the economy and the great zaibatsu, which were more interested in the economic opportunities provided by the military's policies than in submitting loyally to a patriotic mission.

The emperor has been criticized for not taking a more forceful action to restrain his government, especially in light of his own known preference for peace, but Japanese emperors after the Meiji Restoration had "reigned but not ruled." One wonders if a more forceful emperor in fact could have controlled the army and navy at this late date. The doubts are strengthened in light of the difficulty the emperor had in forcing the military to accept surrender after the atomic bombings. The emperor's decision at that point to bring agreement among his advisers was an extraordinary event in Japanese history.

The emperor-based ideology of Japan during World War II was a relatively new creation, dating from the efforts of Meiji oligarchs to unite the nation in response to the Western challenge. Before the Meiji Restoration, the emperor wielded no political power and was viewed simply as a symbol of the Japanese culture. He was the head of the Shintô religion, Japan's native religion, which holds, among other beliefs, that the emperor is descended from gods who created Japan and is therefore semidivine. Westerners of that time knew him only as a shadowy figure somewhat like a pope.

The Meiji oligarchs brought the emperor and Shintô to national prominence, replacing Buddhism as the national religion, for political and ideological reasons — since Buddhism had originated in India and come to Japan via China. The people were not allowed to look at the emperor, or even to speak his name patriotism had been raised to the unassailable level of sacredness.

It is sometimes difficult to comprehend the extreme sacrifices the Japanese made in the name of the emperor. This can perhaps best be viewed, however, as extreme patriotism — Japanese were taught to give their lives, if necessary, for their emperor. But this was not entirely different from the Americans who gave their lives in the same war for their country and the "American" way. The kamikaze pilots, who were named for the "divine wind" (kami kaze) that destroyed the Mongol fleet in the thirteenth century and saved Japan from invasion, might be compared to the young Iranian soldiers fighting in suicide squadrons in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, or even to fanatical Shiites responsible for the truck bombing of the U.S. Lebanese embassy in 1983.

The Japanese were proud of their many accomplishments and resented racial slurs they met with in some Western nations. Their attempt to establish a statement of racial equality in the Covenant of the League of Nations was vetoed by the United States (because of opposition in California) and Great Britain (Australian resistance). The Japanese greatly resented this.

The Japanese military was convinced of the willingness of its people to go to any sacrifice for their nation, and it was contemptuous of the "softness" of the U.S. and European democracies, where loyalty and patriotism were tempered by the rights and well-being of the individual. The military's overconfidence in its own abilities and underestimation of the will of these other nations were thus rooted in its own misleading ethnic and racial stereotypes. While Asians, the Japanese saw themselves as less representatives of Asia than Asia's champion. They sought to liberate Asian colonies from the Westerners, whom they disdained. But although the Japanese were initially welcomed in some Asian colonies by the indigenous populations whom they "liberated" from European domination, the arrogance and racial prejudice displayed by the Japanese military governments in these nations created great resentment. This resentment is still evident in some Southeast Asian nations.

The World at War: Discussion Questions

  1. What was the economic situation in Japan around 1930? Why was this?
  2. Who dominated the government in Japan at this time? What was their ambition?
  3. Describe the international economic situation that fueled military conflict among nations. How did Japan fit into this situation?
  4. Who was General Hideki Tojo?
  5. Explain what an "ideology" is? What ideology was propagated by the Japanese leaders to unite the country behind the war? Explain what role belief in the emperor's special status played in the ideology. What role did racism play — the belief in the special qualities of Japanese and other Asian peoples?
  6. Give an example of a situation where the Japanese felt insulted by what they perceived as the racism of Western countries.

Japan and the United States at War: Pearl Harbor, December 1941

Today Japan and the United States are close allies. But between 1941 and 1945, they fought a bitter and bloody war, which many people remember well today. Why did they fight this war?

The answer on the American side is simple: the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. The Americans were angry at the Japanese for their invasions of first Manchuria (1931), then China (1937), and later French Indochina (1940). After the Japanese moved into Indochina, President Roosevelt ordered a trade embargo on American scrap steel and oil, on which the Japanese military depended. But the American people felt that Asia was far away, and a large majority of voters did not want to go to war to stop Japan. The surprise attack on the Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 changed this, outraging the whole U.S. nation and convincing it that it must stop the Japanese army and navy.

Why did Japan attack the United States? This is a more complicated question. Japan knew the United States was economically and military powerful, but it was not afraid of any American attack on its islands. Japan did worry however, that the Americans might help the Chinese resist the Japanese invasion of their country. When President Roosevelt stopped U.S. shipments of steel and oil the Japan, he was doing exactly this: the Japanese are dependent on other countries for raw materials, for they have almost none on their own islands. Without imports of steel and oil, the Japanese military could not fight for long. Without oil, the navy would not be able to move after it had exhausted its six-month reserve. Roosevelt hoped that this economic pressure would force Japan to end its military expansion in East Asia.

The Japanese military saw another solution to the problem: if it could quickly conquer the British and Dutch colonies in Southeast Asia and gain complete control of the oil, rubber, and other raw materials it needed, then it could defend its interests in China and Indochina against those Europeans who were now busy fighting a major war in Europe against the Germans and Italians. The only force that could stop the Japanese was the American Pacific fleet — which was conveniently gathered close to Japan at Pearl Harbor, in Hawaii. Knowing that many Americans did not want to fight a war against Japan, the military thought that if it suddenly destroyed the U.S. fleet, America would simply give up and allow Japan to consolidate its grasp on East Asia.

Japan was not militarily or economically powerful enough to fight a long war against the United States, and the Japanese military knew this. Its attack on Pearl Harbor was a tremendous gamble — and though the short-run gamble was successful, the long-run gamble was lost because the Japanese were wrong about the American reaction.

But behind this mistake was another, earlier miscalculation. Ever since Commodore Perry's fleet opened Japan in 1853, in an era of great colonial expansion, the Japanese had watched the European powers dominate East Asia and establish colonies and trading privileges. China, Japan's neighbor, was carved up like a melon as Western powers established their spheres of influence on Chinese territory. After an amazingly short time, Japan was able to develop the economic and military strength to join this competition for dominance of the Asian mainland. Japan defeated China in 1895 and Russia in 1905, in battles over who should dominate Korea. Japan joined the allies against Germany in 1914-18 in a struggle to control a portion of China and then conquered Manchuria in 1931 in an effort to secure a land area rich in raw materials. The Japanese nation and its military, which controlled the government by the 1930s, felt that it then could, and should, control all of East Asia by military force.


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Imperialism, state policy, practice, or advocacy of extending power and dominion, especially by direct territorial acquisition or by gaining political and economic control of other areas. Because it always involves the use of power, whether military or economic or some subtler form, imperialism has often been considered morally reprehensible, and the term is frequently employed in international propaganda to denounce and discredit an opponent’s foreign policy.

What is imperialism in history?

Imperialism is the state policy, practice, or advocacy of extending power and dominion, especially by direct territorial acquisition or by gaining political and economic control of other territories and peoples. Because it always involves the use of power, whether military or economic or some subtler form, imperialism has often been considered morally reprehensible. Examples from history include Greek imperialism under Alexander the Great and Italian imperialism under Benito Mussolini.

Does imperialism still exist today?

Today the term imperialism is commonly used in international propaganda to denounce and discredit an opponent’s foreign policy. International organizations, including the United Nations, attempt to maintain peace using measures such as collective security arrangements and aid to developing countries. However, critics say imperialism exists today for example, many in the Middle East saw the U.S.-led Iraq War as a new brand of anti-Arab and anti-Islamic imperialism.

Did imperialism cause World War I?

Following the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, European nations sought to extend their economic and political power overseas, especially in Africa, in a period dubbed “the New Imperialism.” This competition led European elites and the broad literate classes to believe that the old European balance of power was over and a new world order was dawning. Some scholars argue that this process intensified imperial rivalries and helped provoke World War I.

Imperialism in ancient times is clear in the history of China and in the history of western Asia and the Mediterranean—an unending succession of empires. The tyrannical empire of the Assyrians was replaced (6th–4th century bce ) by that of the Persians, in strong contrast to the Assyrian in its liberal treatment of subjected peoples, assuring it long duration. It eventually gave way to the imperialism of Greece. When Greek imperialism reached an apex under Alexander the Great (356–323 bce ), a union of the eastern Mediterranean with western Asia was achieved. But the cosmopolis, in which all citizens of the world would live harmoniously together in equality, remained a dream of Alexander. It was partially realized when the Romans built their empire from Britain to Egypt.

This idea of empire as a unifying force was never again realized after the fall of Rome. The nations arising from the ashes of the Roman Empire in Europe, and in Asia on the common basis of Islamic civilization (see Islamic world), pursued their individual imperialist policies. Imperialism became a divisive force among the peoples of the world.

Three periods in the modern era witnessed the creation of vast empires, primarily colonial. Between the 15th century and the middle of the 18th, England, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain built empires in the Americas, India, and the East Indies. For almost a century thereafter, relative calm in empire building reigned as the result of a strong reaction against imperialism. Then the decades between the middle of the 19th century and World War I (1914–18) were again characterized by intense imperialistic policies.

Russia, Italy, Germany, the United States, and Japan were added as newcomers among the imperialistic states, and indirect, especially financial, control became a preferred form of imperialism. For a decade after World War I the great expectations for a better world inspired by the League of Nations put the problem of imperialism once more in abeyance. Then Japan renewed its empire building with an attack in 1931 upon China. Under the leadership of Japan and the totalitarian states—Italy under the Fascist Party, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union—a new period of imperialism was inaugurated in the 1930s and ’40s.

In their modern form, arguments about the causes and value of imperialism can be classified into four main groups. The first group contains economic arguments and often turn around the question of whether or not imperialism pays. Those who argue that it does point to the human and material resources and the outlets for goods, investment capital, and surplus population provided by an empire. Their opponents—among them Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and J.A. Hobson—often assert that imperialism may benefit a small favoured group but never the nation as a whole. Marxist theoreticians interpret imperialism as a late stage of capitalism wherein the national capitalist economy has become monopolistic and is forced to conquer outlets for its overproduction and surplus capital in competition with other capitalist states. This was the view held, for instance, by Vladimir Lenin and N.I. Bukharin, for whom capitalism and imperialism were identical. The weakness in their view is that historical evidence does not support it and that it fails to explain precapitalist imperialism and communist imperialism.

A second group of arguments relates imperialism to the nature of human beings and human groups, such as the state. Such different personalities as Machiavelli, Sir Francis Bacon, and Ludwig Gumplowicz, reasoning on different grounds, nevertheless arrived at similar conclusions—which Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini also endorsed, though not for intellectual reasons. Imperialism for them is part of the natural struggle for survival. Those endowed with superior qualities are destined to rule all others.

The third group of arguments has to do with strategy and security. Nations are urged, proponents of this viewpoint say, to obtain bases, strategic materials, buffer states, “natural” frontiers, and control of communication lines for reasons of security or to prevent other states from obtaining them. Those who deny the value of imperialism for these purposes point out that security is not thereby achieved. Expansion of a state’s control over territories and peoples beyond its borders is likely to lead to friction, hence insecurity, because the safety zones and spheres of influence of competing nations are bound to overlap sooner or later. Related to the security argument is the argument that nations are inevitably imperialistic in their natural search for power and prestige.

The fourth group of arguments is based on moral grounds, sometimes with strong missionary implications. Imperialism is excused as the means of liberating peoples from tyrannical rule or of bringing them the blessings of a superior way of life. Imperialism results from a complex of causes in which in varying degrees economic pressures, human aggressiveness and greed, the search for security, the drive for power and prestige, nationalist emotions, humanitarianism, and many other factors are effective. This mixture of motivations makes it difficult to eliminate imperialism but also easy for states considering themselves potential victims to suspect it in policies not intended to be imperialistic. Some states of the developing world have accused the former colonial powers and other nations of neocolonialism. Their fear is that the granting of aid or the supply of skilled personnel for economic and technical development might be an imperialist guise.

Under international organizations, attempts have been made to satisfy by peaceful means the legitimate aspirations of nations and to contain their illegitimate ones. Measures for these purposes have included collective security arrangements, the mandate and the trusteeship system for dependent areas, the stimulation of cultural relations between nations, aid to developing countries, and the improvement of health and welfare everywhere.See alsocolonialism.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Brian Duignan, Senior Editor.

Watch the video: Japans Geschichte: Vom Kaiserreich bis 1945 (November 2022).