Reforming Japan: The Women's Christian Temperance Union in the Meiji Period (review)
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Reforming Japan: The Women's Christian Temperance Union in the Meiji Period. By Elizabeth Dorn Lublin. 264264 pages. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press, 2010 (hardcover $85.00). University of Hawai'i Press, 2011 (softcover $32.95).

The Meiji period brought the Japanese archipelago and people to the forefront of world history and modernity, and the Japanese converts to Protestantism who emerged during this time were more than just religionists; indeed, though few in number they played a central role in Japan's intellectual and social modernization. Elizabeth Dorn Lublin has written an important and admirable book that helps us to understand the vicissitudes of the Meiji Protestant movement. Reforming Japan examines the establishment and evolution of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU)—one of the country's most important reformist and oldest women's associations—and its central programs over the last two decades of the Meiji period. The book, moreover, not only tells the story of the WCTU as a "case study" of Meiji civic activism, but also contains many insights that can be applied to other modernist intellectuals and reformist activities of the period.

Reforming Japan is divided into two parts. Part 1, "The WCTU in Meiji Japan: An Organizational History," chronicles the two decades of the WCTU's development in three chapters. The first chapter explains the connections between the expansion of the American temperance movement overseas and the rise of Protestantism in Meiji Japan, placing special emphasis on the work of American activist Mary Clement Leavitt. Leavitt, Lublin claims, worked as a "catalyst" (p. 32) for the formation of a WCTU branch in Tokyo by gaining the recognition of prominent male enlightenment intellectuals (also Protestants) and the support of Japanese Protestant women. Leavitt's arrival and the establishment of the Tokyo branch of the WCTU in 1886 occurred almost simultaneously with the WCTU's broad overseas outreach and with Meiji Japan's rapid Westernization and fever for "social reform."

The WCTU added more branches throughout the country and managed to establish a national umbrella organization in 1892, but from the end of the 1880s to the early 1890s, the Japan WCTU as a whole, as well as the Protestant movement in Japan, experienced a severe setback, as outlined in the remainder of part 1. Lublin cites the general political, educational, and legal changes (such as the procedural debacle in the government's revision of its Unequal Treaties with the West as well as the promulgations of the Imperial Constitution, the Civil Code, and the Educational Rescript) that formed the backdrop to these difficulties, but what really stands out in her account of this period is the internal struggle between conservative leader Yajima Kajiko and radical member Sasaki Toyoju for leadership of the organization. This was a defining moment for the future of WCTU activism and a key to understanding the ideological assumptions behind the movement's reformist program. [End Page 355]

Also notable is Lublin's stress on the importance, both symbolic and substantive, of American missionaries such as Leavitt, Mary Allen West, and Clara Parrish (photographs of all three are included in the book) in developing the Japanese WCTU as a whole and bringing together discordant and sometimes disorganized Japanese groups at critical moments in the union's historical evolution. Lublin vividly describes the distinctive passion of these American women for spreading reform, as well as their methodical and diligent efforts (West, incidentally, died during her missionary tour in Japan), and she draws an interesting contrast with the personal rivalry and ideological conflict that existed among Japanese Christian women of the time. Perhaps intentionally, Lublin did not include the word "Japanese" in the book's subtitle; certainly, the early organization could not be described without mention of the significant input provided by American missionary women. Indeed, as Lublin says, it was the "convergence" of historical developments in both countries (p. 14) that came into historical play.

Part 2, "Under the Guise of National Strengthening and 'Good' Citizenship: Pillars of the WCTU's Reform Program," brings the reader back to the early formative period of the movement and to the key Japanese intellectuals involved. These chapters discuss the WCTU's most significant...