- Managing Women: Disciplining Labor in Modern Japan
Elyssa Faison has written a very interesting book on Japanese female textile workers during the interwar period. She focuses on the discourse and [End Page 231] counterdiscourse between employers and workers and the systems of management utilized by large textile companies that aimed to define women workers primarily by their gender in an attempt to dissuade women from organizing and striking as workers. She frames her discussion within key themes of gender, ethnicity, and nationalism and locates it more broadly in a dialogue with the tensions surrounding the social (and economic) roles of women in a modernizing Japan.
In chapter 1 Faison relates how women entered the modern textile work force during the Meiji period and notes the emergence of paternalistic labor ideology and the passage of the 1929 Factory Law. In chapter 2 she describes how the industry focused on keeping these women workers busy and "out of trouble" after night work had been abolished (by the 1929 legislation). She describes how textile managers were fearful that increased free time would incite young female workers to sexual depravity (leading to pregnancy or prostitution) or that they might have more time to devote to organizing themselves into collective action. Certainly the latter fear was well founded, as she depicts in her later chapters discussing textile strikes. But in some respects I would have liked Faison to delve further into the legitimacy of fears that these women were "dangerously close to falling into prostitution" (p. 51). For example, how founded does Faison think this fear was for textile managers? While such fears (real or otherwise) no doubt provided some motivation for managers to provide educational and other structured activities for their young female workers, there were also other motivations for this, including (as she notes) a preference for a more "holistic approach to the management of workers" (p. 33).
In chapter 3 Faison takes a look at "cultivation groups" and the role they played in gendering both men and women in Japan. In particular she looks at the concept of shūyō (cultivation or self-cultivation) and how textile employers used this as a basis for compulsory programs of learning and activity for their female workers, again in an attempt to limit worker time and thereby preempt activism (p. 54). Her account of the Shōjokai (Young Women's Association) and its interest in female workers in this chapter is valuable, as is the discussion of the tensions inherent within the image of the factory girl as a model of filial piety. The Shōjokai wanted to intervene and protect female factory workers from the "polluting influences of modern machinery, the industrial process and urban life" as well as cultivate them in the "womanly arts and improve morals" (p. 63). Faison also describes how the shūyōdan (self-cultivation units) were keen to provide factory girls with training—primarily calisthenics, cleaning (she provides an interesting description and image of the "dust rag dance" [pp. 73–74]), and etiquette-based programs—to fill their nonworking hours. The tensions between the shūyōdan, textile management, and textile unions are palpable (pp. 78–80) [End Page 232] and it would have been interesting to have gained a clearer sense of how these tensions played out between them during these years.
Chapter 4 changes tack somewhat in that it focuses on two women: Tatewaki Sadayo, a labor activist who founded a worker's school for women, and her friendship with the proletarian writer Nakamoto Takako who wrote extensively (in semifictionalized form) on the T ōyō Muslin strike of 1930. In this chapter, Faison describes the events of the T ōyō Muslin strike itself, discusses the indirect association of these two women with this strike, and broadly places this narrative within the textile industry's rationalization efforts, the relocation of production to Japanese colonies, and the rise of proletarian consciousness and labor unrest in Japan at this time. Faison then turns again to this very interesting discussion on the sexuality of...