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  • Reading the Bodies and Voices of Naichi Women in Japanese-Ruled Taiwan
  • Anne Sokolsky (bio)

In the July 1934 issue of Taiwan fujinkai (Taiwan women’s world), a journal meant for women living in colonial Taiwan, the Japanese editor, Kakinuma Fumiaki (or Bunmei),1 published a story by an obscure Japanese woman writer. The story is “Sora wa kurenai” (The crimson sky), written by Ono Shizuko (dates unknown). It is about the trials and tribulations of three women who lead distinctly different lives—as a housewife, a moga (modern girl), and a political journalist—in the modern space of Tokyo. This essay examines the significance of this story about women in the naichi (Japan’s metropole), and of the decision to publish it in a colonial magazine meant mainly for Japanese women and elite Taiwanese women living in the gaichi (outer land or periphery). Specifically, I consider the complex gender and racial dynamic of this story written by and about Japanese women but published in a journal read by a colonial audience. I argue that discontinuity is a recurring theme both in the story’s meaning and in the circumstances under which it was published. This discontinuity reveals various layers of anxiety on the part both of the author of the story, who most likely wrote it for a Japanese audience, and of the editor of Taiwan fujinkai, who circulated it among a wider audience of Japanese and Taiwanese. The primary questions I address are (1) What was the author trying to articulate in her story about the role of women in 1930s Japan? and (2) What are the implications of publishing this story in [End Page 51] a colonial magazine whose readers were Japanese and Taiwanese women living outside of cosmopolitan Tokyo, on the periphery of Japan’s empire?

There has been significant research on Japanese women’s magazines during the interwar years, and on the role these journals played as mediators in debates about the changing expectations of Japanese women resulting from Japan’s rapid modernization and increasing expansionism as an empire and military state from the late 1800s to the 1930s. Barbara Sato’s The New Japanese Woman (2003) examines three types of urban Japanese women in the 1920s—the modern girl (modan gāru), the “self-motivated” housewife (shufu), and the professional working woman (shokugyō fujin)—the three images that also appear in Ono Shizuko’s story. Sato describes the social atmosphere of interwar Japan in which these types of women appeared as a whirlwind of conflicting images that reshaped everyday life as a result of technological growth, rapid industrial expansion, and the rise of urbanization, which occurred in both the West and Japan:

In the media, women appeared in the guises of café waitress, housewife, dancer, and shop girl. In magazines, books, and movies, women became prominent icons of the modern city, strolling through bustling shopping districts and becoming a presence on crowded buses and streetcars. These images of women were notable for their mutability as well as their novelty . . . . Such images defined the modern woman as both multifaceted and ceaselessly changing.2

Sato argues that these new images challenged the “mythology of a monolithic Japanese woman” who was docile and meek and confined in a subservient position to the space of the patriarchal family system (ie seido), legally sanctioned by the 1898 Meiji Civil Code.3 This code gave the head of the household, typically a man, legal responsibility for all other members of the family, thus rendering the family, not the individual, the legal subunit of Japanese society.

Sarah Frederick’s Turning Pages (2006) analyzes both the content of the actual magazines (articles, stories, and advertisements) and how that content was presented, so as to examine the role that women’s magazines played in modern Japanese literature and culture. She looks at three prominent women’s magazines of the time and treats the magazines as “institutions and as groups of texts (literary and otherwise),” to understand “their role as mediator between women readers and the world of cultural production.”4 Frederick looks carefully at the relationships among what editors chose to publish, where writers decided to submit their works, and how readers responded...


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pp. 51-78
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