- The Destinations of “Women’s Friendships”:Imperializing Education in The Women’s Classroom
In “Emperor System Ideology and the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere: Problematizing ‘Imperial Feminism,’” Ōgoshi Aiko writes:1
Feminism, which grew from the modern concepts of liberty, equality, and human rights, has stuck to its traditions without any consciousness of the nation-state framework that gave rise to these concepts and realized them. Because the national policies of colonialism and imperialism were the pillars of the modern nation-state, as long as the feminist movement aimed to acquire rights for women and equality of the sexes within that nation, the movement was exposed to the danger of internalizing that national policy, and having no choice but to become “imperial feminism.” Of [End Page 106] course there were feminists and women who were aware of this trap and managed to tread their own original paths.
Undeniably, for the majority of feminists and women, the more they sincerely pursued that lifestyle and sexuality, the more involved they became in “imperial feminism.”
The woman writer Yoshiya Nobuko, who gained enormous popularity, particularly with women readers, from the Taishō (1912–26) through to the postwar period, embodied this “imperial feminism.” Up until now, the nature of Yoshiya’s cooperation with the war has been investigated and analyzed through her battlefront reportage, as represented by “Seeing the War Damage on Site in Northern China”2 and “My Resolute Journey to the Shanghai War Zone.”3 However, the reason she was able to become an ideologue, especially for women on the home front, was that from the beginning of her writing career she maintained an earnest faith in the bonds between women; even from her oppressed position within the patriarchal system, she created richly emotive portrayals of women supporting and feeling deep affection for one another. The nature of the relationship between Yoshiya Nobuko and her women readers itself can indeed be described as a strong bond. As a woman reader graduated from different life stages, she might change her magazine subscription from, for example, Shōjo no tomo (Girls’ friend) or Shōjo kurabu (Girls’ club) to Fujin kurabu (Ladies’ club), then to Shufu no tomo (Housewives’ friend); but whatever magazine she turned to, she could encounter work by Yoshiya Nobuko that suited her own age group. And while Yoshiya adjusted the story development and the setting of each work according to the age of her target readers, what unites all of her works is her continued writing of the beauty of women, her paean to women’s will, and her faith in the bonds between women.
The role that Yoshiya fulfilled as an ideologue was fundamentally different from the roles played by, for example, Hiratsuka Raichō and Takamure Itsue, or again by Ichikawa Fasae and Kōra Tomi. In “When Hōkoku [Reportage] Becomes Hōkoku [Patriotism]: What Hayashi Fumiko’s Warfront and North Bank Corps Teach Us,” Kanai Keiko focuses on the fact that at Yoshiya’s public lecture “North China Shanghai Field Report,” she “drew laughter 26 times” from her female audience; Kanai points to the extreme affinity and feeling of equal standing between the audience and the speaker that were contained in Yoshiya’s words.4 We should bear in mind this emotional affinity that connected Yoshiya with her women readers. But if we suppose that it was, above all, Yoshiya’s power as a storyteller, as a narrator, that helped encourage women on the home front to actively [End Page 107] participate in the war, then the first thing that should be examined is literature’s war responsibility as it exists in the power of narrative itself.
In this chapter, I will take up Yoshiya’s work Onna no kyōshitsu (The women’s classroom), which was serialized in the Tokyo Daily Newspaper in 1939 (Shōwa 14), after Yoshiya, as both a special war correspondent and a war writer accompanying the navy, observed sites including Tianjin, Shanghai, Changkufeng, and Hankou. I will consider, with a focus on narrativity, a number of sentimental episodes that color the lives of the various characters, and...