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Passages to Modernity

Motherhood, Childhood and Social Reform in Early Twentieth Century Japan

Kathleen S. Uno

Publication Year: 1999

Contemporary Japanese women are often presented as devoted full-time wives and mothers. At the extreme, they are stereotyped as "education mothers" (kyoiku mama), completely dedicated to the academic success of their children. Children of working mothers are pitied; day-care users, both children and mothers, are faintly disparaged for their inadequate home lives; hired babysitters are virtually unknown. Yet historical evidence reveals a strikingly different picture of Japanese motherhood and childcare at the beginning of the twentieth century. In contrast to today, child tending by non-maternal caregivers was widely accepted at all levels of Japanese society. Day-care centers flourished, and there was virtually no expectation of exclusive maternal care of children, even infants. The patterns of the formation of modern Japanese attitudes toward motherhood, childhood, child-rearing, and home life become visible as this study traces the early twentieth-century rise of Japanese day-care centers, institutions established by middle-class philanthropists and reformers to provide for the physical well-being and mental and moral development of urban lower-class preschool children. Day-care gained broad support in turn-of-the-century Japan for several reasons. For one, day-care did not clash with widely accepted norms of child care. A second factor was the perception of public and private policymakers that day-care held the promise of social and national progress through economic and moral betterment of the urban lower classes. Finally, day-care offered working mothers the opportunity to earn a better livelihood with fewer worries about their children. In spite of emerging notions that total devotion to child-rearing was a woman's highest calling, Japanese nationalism, a signal force in the genesis of the modern Japanese state, economy, and middle-class culture, fed a deep wellspring of support for day-care and fostered significant reshaping of motherhood, childhood, home life, and view of the urban lower classes. Passages to Modernity is an important and original contribution to our understanding of the institutional and ideological reach of the early twentieth-century state and the contested emergence of a striking new discourse about woman as domestic caregiver and homemaker.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

It is now over a decade since I first began to shape the evidence gleaned from Japanese archives into the arguments and interpretations in this book. I would like to express my gratitude to many fellow researchers on both sides of the Pacific for their willingness to discuss ideas and provide assistance as I worked through documents and secondary works along the long and...

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pp. 1-8

This book takes up the problem of the growth and expansion of day-care facilities in Japan during the first three decades of the twentieth century. As institutions that educated and nurtured very young children for long hours on a daily basis, day-care centers could have aroused strenuous opposition from parents, families, communities, or government authorities. In addition, the foreign...

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Chapter 1: Beginnings

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pp. 9-18

In 1868, the opening year of Japan’s modern era, socialization and physical care of youngsters took place almost exclusively in the home, but by the third decade of the twentieth century specialized institutions such as public schools, orphanages, reformatories, kindergartens, day nurseries, child consultation centers, and day-care centers1 assisted increasing numbers of families in bringing up...

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Chapter 2: Child-Rearing in the Nineteenth Century

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pp. 19-46

This chapter explores the care and socialization of children in nineteenth-century Japanese households and extrafamilial institutions in order to assess the implications of preexisting patterns of reproduction for Japanese acceptance of day-care centers in the early twentieth century. In the mid-nineteenth century very few institutions provided care and education for children outside a household setting, although formal schooling...

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Chapter 3: Day-Care and Moral Improvement: The Case of Futaba Yōchien

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pp. 47-73

On February 2, 1900, in an alley near a notorious Tokyo slum, two young women opened the doors of a tiny pauper’s kindergarten to sixteen ragged street urchins. Although a growing number of institutions sought to educate lower-class children of all ages during the late Meiji period, Futaba Yōchien was one of the first institutions in Japan to provide both education and care to poor...

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Chapter 4: Day-Care and Economic Improvement: The Kobe Wartime Service Memorial Day-Care Association

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pp. 75-88

Japan’s second set of permanent day-care facilities, founded in the western port city of Kobe by the Kōbe Seneki Kinen Hoikukai (Kobe Wartime Service Memorial Day-Care Association, hereafter KSKH), also contributed much to the development of institutional care for young children in the prewar era.1 Like Futaba Yōchien, the Kobe centers also instructed and protected lower-class...

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Chapter 5: Nationalism, Motherhood, and the Early Taishō Expansion of Day-Care

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pp. 89-111

During the first decade of the twentieth century Futaba Yōchien and the KSKH centers established fundamental standards for day-care in pre-World War II Japan. During the 1910s (the first half of the Taishō period) the rising number of child-care institutions, the appearance of networks of centers, and the continued support of the Home Ministry and the throne indicate that day-care centers...

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Chapter 6: Late Taishō Day-Care: New Justifications and Old Goals

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pp. 113-138

By the 1920s two of Japan’s most renowned day-care experts, Namae Takayuki, the former KSKH director who became a Home Ministry official, and Tokunaga Yuki, director of Futaba Yōchien, began to discuss day-care as an institution to protect working mothers, a departure from previous rationales for child-care centers as aid to working parents and the household economy and as providers of...

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Chapter 7: Conclusion

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pp. 139-150

In this study I have explored two factors contributing to acceptance of day-care centers, new institutions providing both education and care to young lower-class children, in early twentieth-century Japan. In brief, the main factors were nineteenth- century child-care attitudes and practices and deep-seated nationalism. Nineteenth-century ordinary and elite child-rearing customs and practices help...

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Epilogue: Since 1945

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pp. 151-158

Examination of the early twentieth century beginnings of Japanese day-care offers insights into the construction of Japanese motherhood, childhood, and household life in the modern era—its link to changes in economy and state resulting from development driven by nationalism in an imperialist era. It may be equally illuminating to consider briefly some aspects of the evolution of motherhood...


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pp. 159-193

Bibliography and Index

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pp. 195-237

E-ISBN-13: 9780824863883
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824816193

Publication Year: 1999

OCLC Number: 45843008
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Passages to Modernity

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Subject Headings

  • Mother and child -- Japan -- History -- 20th century.
  • Child care -- Japan -- History -- 20th century.
  • Day care centers -- Japan -- History -- 20th century.
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