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Reviewed by:
  • Hiratsuka Raichō and Early Japanese Feminism
  • Andrea Germer
Hiratsuka Raichô and Early Japanese Feminism. By Hiroko Tomida. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2004. 482 pages. Hardcover $180.00/€126.00.

This voluminous book is a study of the well-known early twentieth-century Japanese feminist Hiratsuka Raichô (1886-1971). As editor of Seitô (Bluestocking), the first magazine written by and for women, Hiratsuka became the key figure of the Japanese women's movement of the Taishô era. Seitô was launched as a literary periodical in 1911 with the intention of giving women an opportunity to enhance their talents, and, under Hiratsuka's leadership, it became a prominent forum where Japanese women themselves—rather than male experts—led, and stirred up, public debates on the "woman question." Throughout her life, with the notable exception of the Pacific War years, Hiratsuka played a leading role as a thinker and activist in the women's, peace, and consumers' movements. Not surprisingly, she is highly revered among Japanese feminists.

Hiroko Tomida in the study under review is critical of most Japanese publications on Hiratsuka, and early she states that her goal is "to produce a less heroic, fuller and [End Page 269] more contextual analysis of this major Japanese figure" (p. 17). She certainly accomplishes this goal in regard to Hiratsuka's prewar activities, while Hiratsuka's diverse engagements in the latter part of her life are outlined rather broadly.

In the introduction, Tomida gives an overview of Hiratsuka's life and her most important accomplishments as an activist and discusses the state of the field of research on her. Critical of most Western publications for "basic factual errors" (p. 8), Tomida also clearly distances herself from the majority of Japanese scholarship, notably Kobayashi Tomie's works on Hiratsuka's life and thought. Early second-wave feminists' writings on the founders of the movement indeed show a tendency toward emotional allegiance rather than critical scholarship, and Tomida rightly points to their shortcomings. Since at least the 1990s, however, these tendencies have given way to more critical and methodologically sound studies on the history of feminist discourse and its agents in Japan. One fine recent example is Yoneda Sayoko's Hiratsuka Raichô: Kindai Nihon no demokurashî to jendâ (Yoshikawa Kôbunkan, 2002), which places Hiratsuka firmly within a historical context. By using theories of gender in her analysis of the part Hiratsuka played in the discourses of the time, moreover, Yoneda enables the reader to understand the historical significance of Hiratsuka's works against the background of the constraints of the age. Surprisingly, this major publication does not appear in Tomida's bibliography, but is only mentioned in a footnote listing Yoneda's writings on Hiratsuka.

In chapter 1 Tomida gives a detailed sketch of the historical evolution of women's status in the Edo and Meiji periods and assesses the changes of the Taishô era that served as the backdrop of Hiratsuka's activities. Although she takes account of class differences, Tomida seems in places to convey an overly smooth image of steady improvement in women's status over this span of time. To some extent this may reflect the influence of the secondary sources on which she draws (namely, Inoue Kiyoshi, Takamure Itsue, Miyagi Eishô, Fukuchi Shigetaka, Fukuo Takeichirô, and others), most of whose works were published between the 1940s and the 1970s and were colored by Marxist liberation theory.

Chapter 2, "Hiratsuka Raichô's Early Life and the Formation of her Radicalism and Feminism," emphasizes Hiratsuka's privileged position as a member of one of the first generations of women with access to higher education in Japan. Chapter 3 focuses on another crucial point in Hiratsuka's maturation as an individual: the abortive double suicide with her teacher, the novelist Morita Sôhei. Tomida offers a unique quasi-literary interpretation of this incident (regarding which both parties later published their own accounts) as a crisis that symbolized Hiratsuka's emancipation from family tradition.

Tomida devotes chapter 4 to the history of the Seitô Society, Hiratsuka's self-identity as a "New Woman," and the public discussions about the "New Woman" in the first half of the 1910s. The end of that...


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