- Managing Women: Disciplining Labor in Modern Japan
Elyssa Faison's book is a welcome addition to the existing literature on Japanese women factory workers. In many respects, Faison stands on the shoulders of Patricia Tsurumi, who had to address an earlier historiography focused on the failure of Japanese laborers to create an effective working-class movement. In this view, women's presumed lack of class consciousness and their predominance in the textile industry combined to explain the absence of strong unions. In her 1990 book Factory Girls, Tsurumi showed in no uncertain terms that in the Meiji period, the women who earned the foreign exchange that built industrial Japan by and large acted out of self-interest rather than blind patriotism and resisted their employers to the extent possible. In Managing Women: Disciplining Labor in Modern Japan, which analyzes women workers of a later era (1929–1964), Faison is able, thanks to Tsurumi and others, to take the significance of female workers for granted. Moreover, with this book Faison contributes to a scholarly discourse quite different from the one Tsurumi faced at the outset of her research. As Japan's postwar economic success became apparent in the 1980s, scholars such as Sheldon Garon and Andrew Gordon turned their attention to the origins of Japanese management practices before, during, and after the Pacific War. Investigating the management of women workers in the transwar era, Faison provides new insights into the recruitment, education, and discipline of the Japanese workforce.
Documenting her argument with evidence from textile industry journals, Faison draws attention to how factory owners helped extend the ideals of "good wife, wise mother" to working-class women. During recruitment, companies promised not only to treat their workers as daughters but also to educate them in domestic arts such as [End Page 431] sewing and etiquette. Companies' assurance to parents that they would protect the chastity of their young charges provided a moralistic justification for isolating these workers from the influence of labor unions. The interest of owners in inculcating proper domestic skills increased in 1929, when a revised factory law abolishing night work for women went into effect. Fearing that if leisure time were not properly supervised, women workers would become pregnant or fall into prostitution, owners offered calisthenics and lessons on tea ceremony and flower arranging. Experts on female employees worried that work in the factory might deprive women of their femininity or foster "abnormal sexual desire" (p. 44). The notion of abnormal depends, of course, on a standard of normal, but Faison makes no explicit reference to the scholarly literature on the development of sexology in early twentieth-century Japan.
Faison goes on to show how bureaucratically backed and privately organized associations for young women that encouraged moral cultivation reinforced the training and discipline inculcated by the factory owners. Richard Smethurst and others have touched on the seinendan, or young men's associations, but Faison is among the first to show how the practices of cultivation were used to mold working-class women through shojokai, or young women's associations. Faison points out that cultivation, which in slogans such as "Factory girls are filial girls" (p. 60) emphasized duty to family, company, and nation, was attractive to employers as a means of "creating a workforce less prone to militant activism" (p. 54). At the same time, national networks of cultivation groups maintained links between the factory girls and the rural villages where they had grown up.
Kameido, a working-class district on the outskirts of Tokyo, was the site of a fiercely contested strike at Tōyō Muslin in the autumn of 1930. Faison introduces two activists who provided leadership among the women workers of Kameido, the teacher Tatewaki Sadayo and the writer Nakamoto Takako. Tatewaki founded a labor school where, recognizing the aspirations of working women to establish homes, she taught domestic arts as well as proletarian politics. Nakamoto, who worked as a labor organizer, in 1950 published a novel based on the February 1930 strike at Tōyō Muslin. Countering the...