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  • Opportunities and Constraints for Late Meiji Women:The Cases of Hasegawa Kitako and Hasegawa Shigure
  • Mara Patessio (bio)

Scholarship on Meiji (1868-1912) women during the past twenty years has helped illuminate women's social, educational, and political participation as well as the ways in which the government tried to control them. It has also helped put a face on Meiji gendered debates, and the women's life stories that we know of point to the richness and variety of opinions and beliefs women held during those years.1 In this essay I contribute to the discourse on Meiji women by introducing Hasegawa Kitako (1872-1925) and Hasegawa Yasuko (pen-name Shigure, 1879-1941), who were active during the late Meiji period (1890-1912). (Though they had the same surname, the two women were not related. To avoid confusion, I refer to them simply as Kitako and Shigure throughout.) The contrast in their experiences and life stories draws our attention to the importance of families in shaping lives. Moreover, these lives remind us of the importance of private institutions. Anne Walthall has quite rightly pointed out the way in which, compared to the Edo period, Meiji state education narrowed the scope of what women could learn.2 However, the lives presented here show that a variety of private institutions remained important into late Meiji. Kitako was able to support herself and participate in public and educational activities through her association with Westerners and Christian institutions, [End Page 93] whereas Shigure developed her talents entirely within a Japanese context and studied only in private schools. Kitako also seems to have remained single—a privilege of her ability to support herself—whereas Shigure was married.

Kitako and Shigure's lives and achievements also have some important points in common that justify their analysis here together. Both women reached financial security through their work, and in the process managed to become famous public figures in late Meiji society, but did not find that to be enough. At a time when the government and many segments of society were fully supporting the ideology of "good wives and wise mothers" (ryōsai kenbo), both were interested in discussing and changing late Meiji women's conditions, thus challenging themselves and society. In order to do so, Kitako became active in the international (Christian) women's movement and discussed Japanese women's rights abroad, while Shigure opened up a new field to women. Raised in the same geographical area of Japan and only a few years apart, Kitako and Shigure's life stories demonstrate how it was still possible to obtain different kinds of education and futures in the late Meiji, during a time when the government was intent on creating a homogeneous female subject.

Hasegawa Kitako (1872-1925)

Kitako is an interesting woman for various reasons. First, although we know how Western men resident in Japan encountered individual Japanese men—for example, how the Kumamoto Band helped Captain Janes proselytize—the sources available shed much less light on the relationships and the common work of Western female missionaries and Meiji women.3 Kitako's life story tells us not only about her close contact in Japan with missionaries from England (rather than from North America), but also about how such close contact became a defining experience for most of her life, and about the ways in which foreign female missionaries benefitted from Japanese women's work. Second, although most Meiji women involved in foreign missionaries' work in Japan either studied with North American missionaries or went to North America, Kitako went to England (a country in which women's education was highly debated and also supported) to continue her education. We know less about the experiences of Japanese young women studying in Europe than in North America, so her story sheds new light on this topic, and it also shows how some women could use foreign missionaries' connections to access new experiences and build a new future. Third, given that she was already a famous female educator before studying, if only briefly, at the most [End Page 94] prestigious British universities, her opinions were sought for publication in Japanese journals and newspapers that reached wide audiences...


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pp. 93-118
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