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Recent Historical Scholarship on Japanese Women E. Patricia Tsurumi. Factory Girls: Women in the Thread Mills ofMeiji Japan. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990. xii + 215 pp. ISBN 0-691-03138-X (cl); 0-691-00035-2 (pb); $29.95 (cl); $14.95 (pb). Gail Lee Bernstein, ed. Recreating Japanese Women, 1600-1945. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991. 351 pp.; ill. ISBN 0-520-07015-1 (cl); 0-520-07017-8 (pb); $40.00 (cl); $14.95 (pb). Chieko Irie Mulhern, ed. Heroic with Grace: Legendary Women of Japan. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1991. xviii + 326 pp. ISBN 0-87332-527-3 (cl); 0-87332-552-4 (pb); $39.95 (cl); $15.95 (pb). Sharon Sievers These three recent books on Japanese women provide badly needed resources in a field that remains, on the Western-language side, very small. While true that the last decade has seen significant growth in the study of Japanese women by Western scholars, nothing has approximated the explosion of research we have seen in women's history elsewhere. There are many reasons for this. The field of Japanese studies itself remains relatively small and contains idiosyncratic tendencies that, taken together with the problems facing those studying women in general, certainly do not encourage scholarship on women: the time-consuming, difficult tasks presented by the language, both in terms of Western-language scholarship and getting Japanese scholarship translated for Western audiences; the historically conservative character of a field that has generated struggles between left and right that, for the most part, have excluded gender. These obstacles are reinforced by the often unspoken ambivalence many authors still feel about basic feminist issues, including central issues in women's history. These three volumes reflect the continuing influence of our idiosyncratic struggles, and they illustrate the ambiguities of "work on Japanese women" in Western-language scholarship. These works represent an enormous commitment of time, energy, and talent on the part of the authors, but that effort is perhaps most obvious in the careful research that is the backbone of E. Patricia Tsurumi's Factory Girls. This book contains a wealth of important information and documentation that should be celebrated by everyone with even a marginal interest in the history of women workers. It will, I am sure, bring Japanese women into better focus as comparative historians assess the significance of "women's work" in the context of rapid, and disruptive, economic change. It is also excellent reading for anyone who wants a short course in the © 1993 Journal of Women's History, Vol. 4 No. 3 (Winter) 1993 Book Reviews: Sharon Sievers 191 economic and institutional history of Japan during the formative years of the late nineteenth century. Using a wide array of sources that includes (sometimes fortuitously, it seems) a number of oral histories, Tsurumi shows us the fives of factory women in contexts that include their families, their responses to the difficulties they faced as the nature and conditions of their work changed, and their growing working-class consciousness. Factory women, whose numbers dominated the work force of an industrializing Japan, thus become something more than either a footnote in a catalog listing the social costs of industrialization or proof of the unique abihty of the Japanese (especially Japanese women) to overcome hardship through loyalty and self-sacrifice. Japan's silk and cotton workers have been presented in the past, even by sympathetic historians, as little more than hapless victims of an economic juggernaut. Less sympathetic historians, those who reject the social costs argument or who see social costs as cost-effective in Japan's late nineteenth-century environment, have preferred to praise the abihty of Japan's factory women to endure any hardship and have assumed that they were motivated by a desire to serve their country. Tsurumi's book lets a lot of air out of both of these balloons. In Factory Girls we discover that increasing numbers of women went off to the mills because they were playing a role with many historical precedents; their work was an important part of the family economy. They continued to go the mills even after they learned of the abuses...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 190-198
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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