Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context
Issue 7, March 2002

Resistance to Difference:
Sexual Equality and its Law-ful and Out-law (Anarchist) Advocates in Imperial Japan [1]

Hélène Bowen Raddeker

  1. In imperial Japan sexual equality had many champions, though definitions of what constituted equality varied markedly. The following discussion concerns three women who were among the most radical of its advocates: Kanno Suga (1881-1911), Itô Noe (1895-1923) and Kaneko Fumiko (1903-1926). All three, it will be noted, died young. Not one of them, moreover, died from natural causes but, rather, at or in the hands of the State. This may come as no surprise since all were anarchists or (in the case of Fumiko) strongly influenced by anarchism; as we shall see below, two of the three were even self-confessed traitors who believed in political violence as a necessary strategy. These three women did not fall foul of state power due specifically to their advocacy of sexual equality, yet this was an intrinsic part of the political standpoints and identities they embraced. If it had not been for their resistance to hierarchical notions of male-female difference and their demands for equal recognition and treatment by society, their fates may have been different. The self-denial and self-effacement traditionally expected of women was, for each of them, not an option, for it ruled out the possibility of a true subjecthood and destiny of her own choosing.
  2. Not unusually, tradition in Japan held that femaleness and an individual identity and destiny were oxymoronic. Thus, when the Tokugawa (1603-1867) authorities chose to execute a woman, she would be given a man's name. This was not unlike the view of progressive medieval Buddhists that enlightenment was not, after all, out of the reach of women. In male bodies, transformed at the point of death through the grace of Amida Buddha, they might gain immediate entry to the Pure Land. Either style of 'annihilation' meant dying a 'man'. However, after the Meiji imperial restoration of 1868, Western-style modernity brought with it a new view of women as modern citizens. The Meiji Constitution, Civil Code and political assembly laws fell far short of according them equality in terms of their rights or duties to the nation, yet the new criminal code promulgated in 1880 spelt a certain equality for women in granting them equal access to criminality.
  3. Under the Meiji (1868-1912) criminal code, no longer was the 'name of woman' incompatible with the severest of penalties. As a woman the anarchist-feminist, Kanno Suga, could in 1912 be sentenced to death for the intent, not an attempt, to assassinate the Meiji emperor. As a woman she could be, and was, lawfully executed.[2] This was together with eleven male comrades, anarchists and other socialists—or, not quite together, since Suga was garrotted separately from them, one day later. Years later in 1926, another woman, Kaneko Fumiko, was sentenced to death, once again for lese-majesty, for conspiring to import bombs from the mainland to use on the imperial family. Politically, Fumiko identified with nihilistic egoism, a position strongly associated with individualistic anarchism influenced by European moral nihilists such as Nietzsche and Max Stirner. For egoists then in Japan, the assertion of the individual will, self-determination and the liberation of the Self were all-important. In some cases this position may have led to a lack of social conscience or narrow self-centredness that ruled out collective political action, but this was not the case with Fumiko. None the less, for her it was largely the assertion of the individual Self and will, through political resistance, that would lead to the mitigation, if not necessarily the destruction, of State and bourgeois power.
  4. What was just as central to egoistic thinking was the importance of an individual identity. Having a name was important to Fumiko partly because she had grown up a musekisha [legally unregistered person] (a person not registered legally in a family register, not even as an 'illegitimate' child). Thus, it was fortunate that being sentenced to death no longer necessitated having her identity effaced. In her prison memoir she was scathing about the effects on a child of having no legal existence until the age of nine, being denied entry to schools and facing other forms of discrimination.[3] Fumiko, it might be noted, had her death sentence commuted to life imprisonment. Not long after that, however, she took what she saw to be her own life in her prison cell. At first the special circumstances of her death in prison were thought suspicious by some, yet Fumiko's threats to kill herself during her testimonies left little doubt that she did take her own life—even if torture and beatings were not uncommon in Japanese prisons then, sometimes resulting in death. Intimates such as her (socialist) lawyer and anarchist comrades then and later believed she had killed herself, as a political statement. She had retorted whilst ripping to shreds the imperial pardon commuting her sentence to life imprisonment: 'You toy with people's lives, killing or allowing to live as it suits you.... Am I to be disposed of according to your whims?'[4]
  5. Fumiko had been arrested immediately after the Great Kantô earthquake of 1923 at the same time as patriots, including civil and military police, were doing the state the favour of ridding Japan of known or likely subversives. Those murdered included the former Bluestocking (Seitô editor and anarchist-feminist publicist , Itô Noe, who like Fumiko had been greatly inspired by egoism.[5] Noe's murder was not a legal one but, even if it had been, by now there was no danger of her losing in death the highly individualistic identity that had been important to her. In all three cases, these women were accorded the 'right' of execution, whether lawfully or unlawfully, together with their male partners.
  6. Inhering in these events are multiple ironies, one of which has already been suggested: the fact that women had few rights under the law and no equality, except when it came to equal 'discipline and punishment' in the sense outlined above. A further irony lay in the likelihood that in all three cases, the main targets of the authorities were the women's male partners. Suga was one of a handful of guilty defendants amongst the total of twenty-six sentenced either to death or 'life' and was even accused by lawyers in the case of being the 'ringleader' of the Meiji high treason plot—a charge that was somewhat exaggerated. Yet the undisputed leader of the anarchist wing of the early socialist movement was her lover, the anarchist theorist, Kôtoku Shûsui, who had been responsible for introducing anarchism to Japan. Kanno's interrogations reveal that the authorities were intent on ridding themselves of him, regardless of the fact that he had lost interest in the assassination plans well before their arrests.[6] Noe's partner, Ôsugi Sakae, was the subsequent leader of Japanese anarchism by the 1920s. He was a flamboyant figure whose popularity in radical Left circles derived from his being a theorist and active publicist. Since by then he had embraced anarcho-syndicalism, his influence was particularly strong in the radical wing of the union movement. Ôsugi was infamous in other circles, however. According to the mainstream press he was a dangerous troublemaker, and was the sort of radical leader targeted in the government's attempts to introduce in the early 1920s a bill to control the 'twin evils of anarchism and communism.' There must have been jubilation in some quarters on the day of his death. The captain of the squad of MPs who strangled him, Noe and a small nephew 'extra-legally' was brought to trial but let off virtually scot-free. Finally, Fumiko's partner, Pak Yeol, was not only the leader of a small group of nihilists and anarchists, but he was Korean rather than Japanese. Korea had been a Japanese 'protectorate' since 1905 and a colony since 1910, and the police kept a particularly vigilant watch on Koreans in Japan—especially students and others involved in political groups.
  7. The circumstances of the arrest of this group of mainly Koreans are therefore complicated both by Pak Yeol's nationality and by the fact that they were arrested just after the earthquake. After this natural disaster a massacre of some actual Japanese subversives occurred, together with potential subversives numbering hundreds of Chinese and thousands of Koreans. Clearly, most were simply ordinary labourers and the like who were unfortunate enough to become scapegoats—caught and lynched amidst the post-earthquake panic and public hysteria. Pak and Fumiko's group had called themselves the 'Futeisha' ['society of outlaws, rebels or malcontents'], satirising the way Koreans were referred to by the authorities as troublemakers. If it had not been mostly comprised of Koreans, the group probably would not have been arrested, supposedly for their own 'protection'; furthermore, the charges may not have escalated from vagrancy, to an explosives control law violation, and then to treason, with which Pak and Fumiko were ultimately charged. Pak was not entirely innocent of the charges of trying to import explosives, even of hoping to use them on the emperor or crown prince.[7] However, sympathisers had good cause to suspect a 'lawful' conspiracy to use his case both as warning to others not to resist Japanese imperialism and as a post-hoc justification of the massacre of mostly Koreans. The Japanese authorities had been censured by the foreign press and diplomats for allowing such an atrocity to occur, so the case enabled them to claim that Koreans had indeed been plotting subversion: the Pak Yeol/Futeisha case was proof positive of the real danger of Koreans' 'causing trouble' amid the post-earthquake destruction and mass confusion, trying to take advantage of it for their own rebellious ends. Ultimately, Pak's death sentence, like Fumiko's, was reduced to life imprisonment, ostensibly through the 'benevolence' of the Japanese emperor. Nevertheless, it was Pak, not Fumiko, who had always been the main target of the authorities.
  8. The authorities' actions (both lawful and unlawful) with respect to Suga, Noe, and Fumiko underscored a further irony. For such actions revealed a recognition that women, too, could constitute a danger to state and society in their own right. Despite hegemonic constructs of feminine nature as passive, and regardless of woman's lack of a true subjectivity of her own, independent of a male Other (emperor, parents, husband, child), she could still be almost as fearsome a potential force of disorder as a man.[8] In the minds of law—and policy-makers and conservative ideologues—woman was undeniably different, yet still she could be accorded a certain sort of 'equality' when it came to social control through force or through the force of ideas.
  9. In the discussion that follows, I begin with an account of how law in imperial Japan was underscored by the conviction that women, being essentially different, required even fewer rights and freedoms than those granted to men. Indeed, as I shall show, they were singled out for special attention when it came to denying them free political expression, membership and assembly. Their duties to emperor and nation were styled as different, too, though some sought to represent womanly (mothering and other nurturing) duties as equal in national import. Woman's essential difference did not save them, however, when it came to legal or extra-legal punishment for 'thought crimes' that were grave enough when committed by men, but 'unheard of' and treacherous indeed when perpetrated by women. Woman, it seems, was not always a fount of virtuous, ego-less passivity after all: despite the reinforced negative ideal of womanhood that had taken shape by 1912, the end of Meiji, she (still) had her 'yin'/dark and destructive side.[9]
  10. Following this account of government policies on women and dominant gender constructs, I consider how the written and unwritten 'law' on feminine difference, and the limited 'rights' and 'equalities' that went with it, did not go uncontested. Amongst those women who engaged in their own reinventions of feminine subjectivity and interpretations of sexual equality were Suga, Fumiko and Noe, each of whom advocated an 'out-law' equality that laid claim to an independent subjecthood, yet 'sameness' with their men. This included the demand that, being positioned the same politically, they should not receive special treatment due to their womanhood; they should be treated the same by state and society. And that they were ultimately—at least when it came to the political consequences of their resistance. Though some interpreters have found psycho-biographical approaches too tempting to resist, I doubt that any of the three had a 'death wish',[10] even Fumiko who was the most explicit of the three in demanding equality with her partner, especially in death. Perhaps she was not the only one of the three who felt a grim satisfaction at being accorded by the state this rare measure of equality. Unfortunately, however, their battle for equality with their men was continued beyond their deaths by various commentators, some of whom very nearly negated what they had achieved. This constitutes one final irony to be discussed in the concluding pages of the paper—the fact that well-meaning contemporaries and 'sympathetic' scholars alike have continued to gender each woman in terms of an essential feminine difference rather than sexual equality.
  11. The approach I take in this paper has been inspired, in large part, by my reflections on the relationship between the identity politics of these Japanese women and two broad styles of feminism often distinguished as feminisms of (sexual)) 'equality/sameness' and feminisms of (sexual) 'difference'. As used here, the latter category of 'feminisms of difference' does not refer to an emphasis on class, racial, ethnic or other differences between women, but rather to arguments for an essential sexual difference between women and men. An emphasis on an essential difference did not originate with Western 'second-wave' radical feminists and separatists (from the 1960s), though it has often been associated particularly with them—as well as with the 'French feminists', Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigaray, Hélène Cixous, and other post-/neo-Freudians or Lacanians. Their works on psycho-sexual difference and their influence are widely known.[11] Though difference-oriented feminists have added their voices to feminist critiques of traditional gender constructs of feminine/masculine difference, whether they have succeeded in transcending the essentialism that inheres in conventional constructs or have merely inverted the hierarchies involved in such binarisms is open to question. It is a question that is neither within the scope of this paper, however, nor relevant to its particular focus on feminisms of equality.
  12. As already intimated, there is no doubt that Suga, Noe and Fumiko all subscribed to a feminism of equality or 'sameness'. What is not so clear, however, is the question of whether one would necessarily expect anarchists to do so, especially those who adhere to individualistic anarchism. Amongst postwar second-wave feminists the tendency to emphasise women's equality to men to an extent tantamount to claiming that women are at base the same, was common amongst both liberal and socialist feminists. Morwenna Griffiths, author of a work that sets out distinctions between feminisms, especially with regard to conceptions of the self and identity politics,[12] notes that, according to the 'liberal' view, the self is 'not gendered ... [but] individuated by its particular needs and desires'; and these are much 'the same for both sexes'. Thus far, this approach is suggestive of all three women. What would not have been acceptable to them, however, is the latter part of this liberal proposition cited by Griffiths as follows: there being 'no male or female, only persons ... as soon as the playing field is levelled [legal equality achieved], everyone can go ahead and realise their own ambitions, meet their own needs, and have perfect freedom to become unequal individuals'.[13] This is not a revolutionary, nor even particularly radical vision. Even Fumiko, the least convinced of the three that a revolution in Japan (such as had occurred in Russia) would bring social equality in its wake, would have seen this proposition to be a bourgeois cloak for ongoing economic or class inequalities. Like Suga and Noe, Fumiko's was the sort of feminism of 'equality/sameness' rightly associated more with socialism. Socialism in its various forms, however, is left out of the equation by Griffiths because her model of different feminist approaches to the self or individual identity hinges upon modernist versus postmodernist (liberal and post-liberal or poststructuralist) feminisms.[14]
  13. The association between 'equality feminism' and both liberalism and socialism, the latter usually being seen to include anarchism, has been common but not necessarily universal. This, too, is a model. Fumiko might be seen to be an exception to the rule because, despite the fact that she was a more determined and consistent advocate of sexual equality than were Suga or Noe, she was also the least 'socialist' of the three. She and Noe, both, subscribed to a highly individualistic form of anarchism, but unlike Noe, Fumiko was not so concerned with trying to square egoism with collectivist (anarchist) struggles and goals. Fumiko was also less 'socialist' in being less idealistic and utopian than either Noe or Suga in her belief that socialist revolution would bring in its wake a new ruling class and renewed oppression of the masses. The fact that her 'socialism' is in question does not mean that she was less class-conscious than they, nor any less opposed to capitalism. The issue of whether individualistic anarchists are rightly included in the broad ranks of socialists along with collectivistic anarcho-communists or syndicalists, or whether their individualism makes them ultra-radical liberals, is open to debate. Either way, however, the general association between equality feminism and socialism and liberalism still stands: all three of these prewar Japanese advocates of what can now be seen to be a feminism of equality or sameness fit the pattern. Each of them, furthermore, demanded from the state, society, male comrades and partners a sexual equality that, arguably, was tied to a vision of social equality that was more far-reaching and meaningful than that typically held by liberals, feminist or otherwise, then or since.

    The 'Law' on Sexual Difference and 'Equal' Rights
  14. In imperial Japan, as elsewhere, gender constructs rested upon public-private binarisms: the Meiji maxim 'good wife, wise mother' [ryôsai kenbo] hinged upon a public-private dichotomy that was almost as strict as in earlier samurai society. Meiji law standardised restrictions on women's rights to a public voice, to property, and so on, while the State also attempted to force upon Japanese people of all classes, the so-called feudal family, the prototype of which was the rigidly stratified and phallocratic samurai ie. Through the new civil code of 1898, the government sought to lock even peasant women into this strictly patriarchal ie, treating them like legal minors subject to the authority of male family heads and educating them in the ways of premarital and marital chastity.[15] The latter did not apply to men, who under Meiji law could not be divorced on the grounds of adultery. Before Meiji, premarital sex as a prelude to the free choice of spouse was common in peasant society; divorce, too, had often been initiated by peasant women. However, the state's attempts to subject sexual and marital practices to a homogenisation (or 'samuraisation'[16]) both through law and ideological propagation was having some impact on village life even by the end of the period, 1912.[17] Though there had been some legal rights accorded to females—the right since 1872 to at least an elementary education, for example, and some new employment opportunities of varying quality for women of different classes—the question of whether the post-1868 Meiji 'revolution' represented progress for Japanese women of all classes is therefore moot.
  15. Related to such legal changes was the fact that the new 'good wife, wise mother' construct had gained ground particularly after the passage of the Law on Political Associations and Assembly in 1890. Under its Article Five, women were treated as a special case—required symbolically to join the exalted ranks of public servants whose ostensibly non-partisan duty to the State required them to be banned from 'political' activity. Actual and potential good wives and wise mothers were now permitted to dedicate themselves to a selfless service of modern public goals so long as they were those identified as such by the State. The only women who could be politically active in public and remain unmolested by police were those, in the Patriotic Women's Society, for example,[18] who did 'charity' work in support of war efforts from the time of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. Other philanthropic organisations such as Japan's own temperance union, the proto-feminist Kyôfûkai [Women's Society for Moral Reform], also tended to blur the boundaries between charitable work and politics in their fight against prostitution and concubinage.[19]
  16. Paradoxically, then, women who stepped over the line drawn by the state between patriotism and politics or pro- and anti-state activities were accorded equal punishment. Kanno Suga, for example, had begun serving a prison term in 1910 for a publications offence; it was while she was in prison that she was also charged with treasonous conspiracy and sentenced to death with other comrades. What was not equal was the fact that female democrats or socialists did not have the right to be as active politically as their male colleagues, given the provisions of Article Five. According to this legislation women could not join political associations or attend political meetings. In short, the state and conservative ideologues accorded women similar or different treatment, and applied varying constructs of womanly identity—as force of light or darkness, source of disorder or fount of virtue —at their own convenience.
  17. In some respects, the emerging hegemonic ideal of a modern woman appeared to be an advance on traditional gender constructions that had primarily been negative. Now, for example, a mother had the capacity to be wise; indeed, she was encouraged to be so. Through the new universal education system she could receive the sort of education that would enable her to educate the children she bore her husband in the 'moral' duties of modern citizenship. This applied even to his (sic) sons, so it seems that the old samurai idea that too much contact with women would result in the effeminisation of boys was losing its force.[20] Women gained a small measure of equality with the legal right to at least an elementary education; and before long higher education was also available to females—but in special colleges with a specialised feminine curriculum. Yet the new good wife-wise mother was still, essentially, a non-person because the negative logic behind the construct remained unchanged. Her Self was still, as in Confucianism and Buddhism, a non-self. Self-effacement and self-denial continued to be demanded of her, though she was granted a wider field of masculine figures for whom she could sacrifice herself. Gone were the days when a woman had 'no lord but her husband' (and his sons and paternal relatives) to venerate and obey; she could now serve the emperor, as well as his vast array of agents in public authority. In the new patriarchal 'family state' [kazoku kokka], headed symbolically by the emperor in the guise of national father-figure, it seemed that a woman could for the first time have a formal public role. But, whether she be housewife, factory girl, philanthropist or patriot, the role still had to be one of service. In reality, this was still a private role, writ large. Androcentric definitions of feminine (non)identity were now employed to show how the traditionally virtuous (i.e., samurai) woman who was nurturing and self-sacrificing could, in a modern nation, be dutiful daughter, virtuous wife and wise mother even to her national 'family'.[21]

    Resistance to Difference; and Out-law Equalities
  18. Little wonder, then, that feminists from the late nineteenth century in Japan directed much of their social critique at this ideological construct of 'good wife, wise mother' or at its legal counterpart, the family [ie]. They resisted it in practical ways in their everyday lives, too, often with great hardship—by working and living independently of their families, by choosing their own partners, or by stepping outside the realm of the conventional wife and mother in becoming politically active.
  19. Kanno Suga, Itô Noe and Kaneko Fumiko all moved in prewar Japan's small Leftist circle, and they all lived the final years of their lives in Tokyo. Suga's short career as a journalist, then increasingly radical socialist-feminist and finally anarchist was terminated just before Noe's Bluestocking and anarchist career began. Noe and Fumiko were contemporaries in Tokyo in the early 1920s but, while Fumiko appears to have been acquainted with Ösugi through lecture meetings and had probably met Noe, it is unlikely that she knew her well. The two had much in common ideologically, however, in their shared commitment to egoism. Partly through Ôsugi's writings, egoism had become popular in Japan's radical leftist circle in the second decade of the 20th century (after Suga's time), though by the twenties it had partly been displaced in Ôsugi's own thinking by anarcho-syndicalism. Though historians have tended to assume that Noe necessarily followed Ôsugi's lead, perusal of her late writings reveals a primary identification with egoism, particularly in an essay published in a feminist magazine in April 1923, Josei Kaizô , which she entitled 'The Happiness of Revivifying the Ego.'[22] Whilst anarchism was commonly seen to be the State's anthithesis or potential negation, at the individual level Noe and Fumiko could not have embraced a doctrine more absolutely opposed to the dominant gender construct of self-effacing feminine (non)-identity than moral nihilism or egoism.
  20. The insistence of both Noe and Fumiko on what we would now call a feminism of equality/sameness was apparently more inspired by egoism than by feminism.[23] Certainly, both of the two self-proclaimed egoists said as much, though in reality their egoism may not have been easily separable from feminist principles. This was suggested in their writings or testimonies where Noe and Fumiko each went to great lengths to emphasise their equality with their respective male partners: first and foremost, they were their comrades, not mere (common-law) wives, lovers or even friends or companions. The egoist political-personal partnerships they idealised were far from the 'good wife, wise mother' ideal; nor was this the 'bourgeois companionate ideal'[24] of love-matches or marriages. In Fumiko's case this 'comradeship' was extended to claiming to be an equal threat to society and demanding a sentence equal to Pak's, even though she expected it to be the death penalty.
  21. Fumiko let it slip late in the Supreme Court proceedings in 1926 that, in order to receive the same penalty as Pak, she had actually gone so far as to exaggerate her guilt in order to receive the same penalty as Pak.[25] She had not, after all, conspired with him to import bombs to use on the imperial family. He had tried to keep from her the knowledge of his attempts to procure explosives for this purpose. If he did this in an attempt to protect her, it does not suggest that he was in fact treating her as an equal. During the preliminary proceedings in 1923, Pak agreed with interrogators that Fumiko had been involved in the conspiracy only after being made aware of how she had implicated herself in it. There was good reason, therefore, for the authorities to doubt Fumiko's equal guilt of the lese majesty charge. Yet still she achieved her aim; and the fact that she was sentenced to death and then to life imprisonment together with Pak probably had much to do with her behaviour and threats whilst in custody. For example, when she finally admitted her lack of guilt with respect to the specific charge, she nevertheless added that she would have wholeheartedly supported Pak's plans to assassinate members of the imperial family (the prime symbols of class and racial inequalities), had she known of them. Fumiko was often scathing in her condemnation of social inequalities and injustice, class and racial discrimination, the authorities and even the imperial family, and she warned her captors more than once that they would come to regret it if they released her from prison. In fact, she was so impassioned in her stand, hostile and cynical toward figures of authority that the authorities subjected her to a psychological examination. Yet she was found to be quite sane.
  22. The claim to equality/sameness on the part of both Fumiko and Noe also extended to de-emphasising specifically female aspects of their experience. Noe was unlike Fumiko in being self-consciously a feminist and the mother of several children, yet in her late writings Noe styled herself as 'essentially' an egoist and partly for that reason, perhaps, seemed to want to avoid the subject of motherhood. She discussed the children mostly in relation to Ôsugi's ('ideal anarchist') fatherhood and their ideal revolutionary partnership. Partly, this avoidance may have been due to a desire to dissociate herself from either the conservative ideal of the 'good wife, wise mother' or from feminist maternalists whose demands for state welfare protection for working mothers she had already opposed. As Vera Mackie has pointed out, for some maternalists mother's love was so creative and powerful that it was 'the fount of all that is good, the seedbed of human compassion', and even 'the source of patriotism [and] the source of social order'.[26] Noe may have wanted to avoid being associated with this (patriotic) claim to maternal/feminine difference and superiority, but what was clearer was her apparent need as an egoist to lay claim to a selfhood independent of state and society, husband and children. The 'difference' from Ôsugi that she underlined was in the area of contributing to the Cause differently, and was the product of radical individualistic notions of the unique 'I': it did not hinge upon notions of sexual difference. The same can be said of the other self-styled nihilistic egoist, Fumiko. She recounted in one testimony that at the beginning of her political-personal partnership with Pak she had insisted that their relationship be based on mutual respect: he was to forget she was a woman and treat her just as he would any comrade.[27]
  23. As for Suga, it would seem that she had not always been consistent in laying claim to an equality with Kôtoku and other male comrades. Though it seems out of character for her, according to one of the defendants' lawyers, in Suga's final statement in court she attributed the conspirators' failure to realise their plans for rebellion to her 'womanly lack of spirit'.[28] If the lawyer did faithfully reproduce her words, it would seem that she was suffering from the humility expected of a woman in such a situation, especially one presuming to speak for male comrades. Elsewhere, however, her emphasis was on the commitment to anarchist struggle they shared and on the victory they would share even amidst apparent defeat. Their 'sacrifice' or their martyrdom would serve to help the Cause live on. Together with this recourse to a shared and equal triumph, Suga underlined her own personal victory, for her character was such. She said in her prison diary on January 1911, that she had 'never been prepared to accept defeat.' Furthermore, like Noe later, the one area in which Suga emphasised her difference from her sexual partner, Kôtoku, was in their different but equal contributions to the Cause. This was a difference based on her inclination to radical 'direct action' rather than theorising (this being what Kôtoku was suited for: proselytising, including communicating the news of their struggle and the trial to comrades in the international anarchist movement); it had not stemmed from her womanhood.[29]
  24. In their individual ways, Suga, Noe and Fumiko each resisted dominant essentialist notions of male/female difference. In the first instance, they did this by belonging to political associations and by working for radical social change together with male partners and other comrades. It should be recalled that this was against the law for women whose higher 'service' to the public or national good placed them above the divided world of politics. Women, it seems, were to be 'equal' in their contributions as modern citizens, so long as they contributed to the hegemonic notion that Japan was uniquely endowed with social 'harmony'. In addition, however, Suga, Noe and Fumiko all responded directly in their writings and testimonies to an androcentric view of women that held that in order to be true women they should sacrifice them (already non-) selves to the interests of a range of paternal figures, as well as to the welfare of their children. At this time, in this 'family state' the name of woman had to be effaced because, despite the fact that the state's antitheses or enemies could now conceivably be female, woman's identity was 'up for grabs' by anyone but woman herself.
  25. Those who attempted to define or, more, to assert their own 'true' selves risked being dismissed as 'hysterics' or worse. Witness the court's doubts about Fumiko's sanity, as well as the tendency during the earlier treason trial for even the defendants' lawyers to be unsympathetic to Suga, the so-called 'ringleader' of the plot, and to blame her for the plight of her comrades. She was the archetypal feminine figure of evil and destruction, it seems, while others who were equally guilty (excluding Kôtoku) would doubtless have been seen as 'sincere men of will'. It was common then and later in Japan for people to admire at least the 'sincerity' demonstrated in acts of violence, political assassinations and the like, even if they were carried out by political rivals or enemies. Being a woman, however, Suga could not share in this samurai-style popular heroism.
  26. It must be noted that this lack of sympathy for Suga long extended to her treatment in works of history—where her romantic liaisons and even her chastity or, rather, her lack of it, have too often been of more interest to scholars than her political writings, ideas and actions.[30] Perhaps they should have heeded Suga's own retort about men of her time which was basically a comment on hypocritical sexual double standards: they would do well to look to their own chastity and become 'good husbands and wise fathers', she said, before harping on chastity and virtue just for women.[31] To my mind, whilst each woman's representation of her sexual partnership is justifiably of interest, scholars have overlooked the part that such a representation played in her positioning of herself politically and her contestation of gendered discourses of difference. Even in relatively recent sources,[32] the romances of these anarchist women are the main focus. What this has meant is that these women have been represented in ways that diametrically oppose the political ends to which they presented themselves in relation to male partners they claimed as comrades and equals.
  27. Representations of Fumiko as the Japanese 'woman who sacrificed herself for Pak and Korea' are perhaps the most glaring examples of gendered constructions of her character, motives and political stand that directly contradict her own political project. On the one hand her socialist lawyer eulogises about the 'pure womanly self-sacrifice' that led her to 'die for Pak and Korea';[33] on the other Fumiko herself denies, in her prison memoir and testimonies, that the struggle for Korean liberation was her own, heaping scorn in egoistic fashion on any sort of self-sacrifice and, on a number of occasions, putting a Stirneresque view that 'the own will of me is the State's destroyer.'[34] Often, she indicated a rejection of altruistic self-sacrifice for anyone or anything (e.g., the masses), just as Noe had done a few years earlier. Yet, as noted above, Fumiko was even more sceptical than Noe of standard altruistic and utopian ideals of (communist or anarchist) revolution, and the elitism involved in them. For Fumiko, resistance constituted 'jiga shuchô', the assertion of the individual ego or will, which was the only way to counter state and ruling class power. Thus, she styled herself in the mode recommended by Stirner or Nietzsche: living life to the full (through resistance), and dying proudly in the knowledge that death, too, was for oneself and 'one's own free choice':

    One's limbs
    may not be free
    and yet—
    if one has but the will to die,
    death is freedom.[35]

    This was one of Fumiko's prison tanka, traditional short poems of 31 syllables. The 'glorious, pure self-sacrifice of woman' indeed!

  28. In denying that they were different because of their sex and in laying claim to an 'out-law' equality that was beyond the imagination of most contemporaries, Suga, Noe and Fumiko played a part in determining their own destinies. They put themselves outside the 'law' on feminine difference in a variety of ways and, by so doing, risked more than losing a contest over their true identities—more than mere social censure anyway. Noe put herself at risk by becoming the partner of the most infamous anarchist of the day and, worse, by publicising her pride in their revolutionary partnership, commitment and achievements. Both she and Fumiko set up a contrast between their own sexual/familial relationships and conventional relationships that were 'warped' by society and relations of power. To cite another of Fumiko's poems:

    Bent over,
    watching others from beneath
    my thighs—
    the state of the world
    I need to look at, upside-down.[36]

    In Fumiko's writings the inverted, or distorted, or warped nature of modern society was a common theme.[37] This may have derived from a Marxian-style assumption of the social alienation suffered under capitalism, or perhaps from an anarchist tendency to counterpose this to a true, original way of Nature in which people could be fully human and free. Similarly, a couple of years earlier, Noe had noted in a journalistic article entitled 'A Couple's Life of Love,' that the same society that saw her and Ôsugi's anarchist life together as abnormal accepted the sort of family in which people were raised 'cowering and warped' as if in a prison.[38]
  29. The two 'traitors', Suga and Fumiko, refused to give the authorities the satisfaction of throwing themselves on their mercy and begging for forgiveness. The same can be said of Noe who more than once expressed fears in her writings for Ôsugi in particular, but also for the family as a whole. The two 'traitors', Suga and Fumiko, refused to give the authorities the satisfaction of throwing themselves on their mercy and begging for forgiveness. All three remained committed and defiant despite the real dangers they faced. Naturally, there were other women in their time who also demanded to be treated as equal both by comrades and political antagonists in various struggles for social justice and change. However, Suga and Fumiko took this demand to its logical conclusion when they were in prison facing the death penalty. To save themselves they might have gone the way of claiming an essential sexual difference, even the 'feminism of difference' that then existed in Japan, namely, the maternalism that emphasised, among other things, woman's intrinsic and superior peace-loving qualities. They could have thrown themselves on the sort of paternalism that might bring mercy to individuals whose prime contribution to the state was seen to be biological. ('Fancy executing actual or potential "mothers of the nation"!') To do so, however, would endanger the sort of equality to which each laid claim—an anarchistic position that ruled out special protections for women, especially those granted by a State. This, moreover, was a state whose pretensions to 'benevolence' all were sceptical of, but none more so than Fumiko, egoist par excellence.[39]
  30. Fumiko was, undeniably, the most dismissive of any difference in essentials between men and women and the most determined advocate of an out-law equality that would extend even to death, with her Korean ('outlaw') male partner. But she had had the examples of Suga and Noe to follow. She must have known of Suga's execution in the Meiji high treason case along with her lover and ten other comrades, and she certainly knew of the fate of Ôsugi and Noe. The following poem may have been dedicated to them:

    I recall the vow
    I made
    to the spirits of departed friends.
    It's September 1st![40]

    September 1 was the day of the earthquake in 1923 and it was shortly after it that Noe and Ôsugi were murdered and Fumiko herself arrested. Whether the reference was to them or to murdered Korean friends, one wonders what sort of 'vow' she might have made on this day of commemoration. It is impossible to know for certain. It would be consistent with her declarations elsewhere if it were a pledge to avenge those murdered, or to ensure that her destiny/death would be of her own choosing. Alternatively, it could have been a vow to die, one way or another, like Suga and Kôtoku or Noe and Ôsugi, together with her equal partner in 'crime' or, rather, in out-law passions and (identity) politics.
  31. Enemies and sympathisers alike would seem to have been intent on effacing not the proper names[41] but the political identities so painstakingly constructed by these three women. Yet still their own voices can be heard through all the gendered hype about 'woman' in their own time and since. One might recall that Suga-the-'woman' necessarily lacked a true will or rebellious spirit (read: manly 'sincerity'). The same defence lawyer who reported Suga's (?) words about her failure stemming from her 'womanly lack of spirit' was generally very sympathetic toward the Meiji high treason defendants, but saw her as 'absurd'. Noe-as-'woman' apparently had a passive follower-mentality, even if she was attracted to anarchism and acquainted with egoism before meeting Ôsugi and retained more of a commitment to egoism than he did—possibly because it had a particular utility for her feminism of equality. Overshadowed, no doubt, by the in/famous Ôsugi and too busy with the children to spend as much time on her own political career as she would have liked, Noe was still intent on carving out an egoist identity of her own in 1923—the year of her death.[42] Finally, and most laughably, perhaps, there was the 'Fumiko' to whose pure womanhood her lawyer attributed her capacity for self-sacrifice for her man and his country.
  32. The socialist lawyer, Fuse Tatsuji, made these remarks to a welcoming committee of comrades on the day Pak was finally released from prison at the close of the war in 1945, nearly twenty years after Fumiko's death. On that day Fumiko, the nihilistic egoist, would have been turning in her grave (which was, by the way, in Korea, her ashes having been taken there by comrades!) to hear his well-meant but very inventive eulogy to her. His assessment of the two's relative contributions to the struggle might appear to be near-equal. After all, even if Pak had battled his destiny and emerged victorious, as indicated in the title of Fuse's biography of him,[43] he was merely to be congratulated on his 'wonderful, farsighted survival', while all were to pay 'homage' to Fumiko's 'pure-hearted and stubborn' death in prison. According to Fuse, her taking what she saw as her own life whilst in prison symbolised a 'glorious love of her comrades that crossed ... national boundaries.' As is often the way with constructs of feminine nature, this 'homage' to woman was double-edged. Not only was Fumiko being enlisted as a martyr to a Cause (Korean nationalism) she had specifically rejected as not her own, and gendered in terms of self-sacrifice which went against the grain of her egoism; she was also being represented in terms of a sexual difference from Pak that she herself had denied. Yet, for Fuse, Fumiko's difference from Pak was apparently based on more than merely her 'womanly' impulse to self-sacrifice. Pak's 'farsighted' political stand of opting to survive his prison term was, it would seem, the more pragmatic and therefore rational of the two. One need hardly ask what it was, according to this picture of Fumiko, that lay behind her 'purehearted and stubborn' preference for death over surviving, as Pak had done, in order to carry on the struggle. If in doing so he was able to resist his 'destiny', did it mean that Fumiko had submitted to her fate? Is it 'woman's' fate to be ruled by the emotions? To return in closing to an observation I made at the beginning of the paper, in imperial Japan sexual equality had almost as many definitions as champions. Few of its champions, however, had the capacity to comprehend how far-reaching, indeed how farsighted women such as Fumiko, Noe or Suga were in their advocacy of it.


    [1] This essay is similar, in part, to a recent paper on Itô Noe entitled 'Anarcho-Feminist Discourse in Prewar Japan: Itô Noe's Autobiographical Social Criticism' which I contributed to Anarchist Studies (U.K.) 9, 2 (October 2001): 97-125. This was focussed upon her egoistic resistance in her late writings and her 'autobiographical' style as itself egoistic resistance. A full-length work on the other two women discussed here, Kanno Suga and Kaneko Fumiko is: Hélène Bowen Raddeker, Treacherous Women of Imperial Japan: Patriarchal Fictions, Patricidal Fantasies, London and New York: Routledge, 1997.

    [2] Kanno Suga's prison diary, 'Shide no michikusa' (A Pause on the Way to Death) has been translated in Hane Mikiso, ed., Reflections on the Way to the Gallows: Rebel Women in Prewar Japan, New York: Pantheon, 1988, pp. 58-74. Cf. Bowen Raddeker, 'Death as Life: Political Metaphor in the Testimonial Prison Literature of Kanno Suga,' Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars 29, 4 (1997): 3-12.

    [3] Kaneko Fumiko, Nani ga watashi o kôsaseta ka [What made me like this?], Tokyo: Chikuma Shobô, 1984, p. 53. This prison autobiography is available in English translation: Jean Inglis, trans., Kaneko Fumiko: The Prison Memoirs of a Japanese Woman, New York and London: M.E. Sharpe, 1991. Cf. Bowen Raddeker, 'The Past Through Telescopic Sights—Reading the Prison-Life-Story of Kaneko Fumiko,' Japan Forum 7, 2 (Autumn 1995): 155-69.

    [4] Cited in Setouchi Harumi, Yohaku no haru [Blank Spring], Tokyo: Chûkô Bunko, 1975, pp. 335-36.

    [5] On the Bluestockings see Sharon Sievers, Flowers in Salt: The Beginnings of Feminist Consciousness in Modern Japan, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1983.

    [6] This was according to Kanno's police interrogations and trial testimonies, for example: Kanno's Sixth Preliminary Court Interrogation, 13 June 1910, reproduced in Kanno Sugako Zenshû [The Collected Works of Kanno Sugako], III, Shimizu Unosuke, ed., Tokyo: Kôryûsha, 1984, pp. 248-50.

    [7] Fumiko, certainly, and possibly also Pak tended to exaggerate their guilt, so it is difficult to separate bravado from reality. However, their and the group's testimonies (the authenticity of which were not questioned by defence lawyers then or later) show that there were such plans afoot. See, for example, Kaneko Fumiko, 'Tokyo District Court Preliminary Interrogation,' no. 3 (22 January 1924), in Pak Yeol, Kaneko Fumiko Saiban Kiroku [Records from the trial of...], Tokyo: Kokushoku Sensensha, 1977, pp. 15-19.

    [8] Sharon H. Nolte & Sally Ann Hastings, 'The Meiji State's Policy Toward Women, 1890-1910,' in Recreating Japanese Women, 1600-1945,ed. Gail Lee Bernstein, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1991, pp. 151-74.

    [9] This sort of point was made in Nolte and Hastings, 'The Meiji State's Policy Toward Women, 1890-1910.'

    [10] Hane Mikiso (Reflections on the Way to the Gallows) has taken a psychobiographical approach to Fumiko's character, suggesting that she had a 'death wish' and was somewhat unbalanced. However, this ignores her determination to resist and to be accorded the same treatment as her male, Korean partner.

    [11] Different feminisms (liberal, socialist, radical, and also the 'poststructuralist'/psychoanalytic feminism of Kristeva, Irigaray and Cixous) are discussed in: Chris Weedon, Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory, Cambridge MA and Oxford UK: Blackwell, 1987. See, especially, pp. 14-19, 63-73.

    [12] Morwenna Griffiths, Feminisms and the Self: The Web of Identity, London and New York: Routledge, 1995.

    [13] Griffiths, Feminisms and the Self , p. 77.

    [14] Griffiths' model of two broad types of feminism, modernist and postmodernist, is based upon different conceptions of the Self as either an essentialised, 'core' or centred Self inspired by liberal-humanist individualism or an acentric/decentred Self (or multiple/dispersed Selves) inspired by theorists associated with poststructuralism such as Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida. Her liberal vs 'post-liberal' approach leads her to overlook socialist feminism, as noted. Even more problematic is where a brand of 'socialist' feminism such as individualistic anarchism/egoism might fit into her schema. This is alluded to below, and I have discussed it in more detail in connection with Itô Noe in Bowen Raddeker, 'Anarcho-Feminist Discourse in Prewar Japan,' pp. 115-20.

    [15] Cf. Robert J. Smith, 'Making Village Women into "Good Wives and Wise Mothers" in Prewar Japan,' in Journal of Family History 8, 1 (Spring 1983): 70-84; Mariko Asano Tamanoi, 'Songs as Weapons: The Culture and History of Komori [Nursemaids] in Modern Japan,' Journal of Asian Studies 50, 4 (November 1991): 793-817.

    [16] Jean-Pierre Lehmann, The Roots of Modern Japan, Houndmills and London: Macmillan, 1982, pp. 97-8.

    [17] Such trends notwithstanding, ethnographic studies of village life much later in the 1930s still revealed more independence for peasant women in the area of sexual and marital practices: see Ella Lury Wiswell and Robert J. Smith, The Women of Suye Mura, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983; and Smith, 'Making Village Women into "Good Wives and Wise Mothers" in Prewar Japan.'

    [18] Sheldon Garon, 'Women's Groups and the Japanese State: Contending Approaches to Political Integration, 1890-1945,' in Journal of Japanese Studies 19, 1 (Winter 1993): 5-41.

    [19] As Christian opponents of concubinage and prostitution, these moral reformers had sometimes moved in the same circles as early Christian socialists, inviting state suspicion. On the Kyôfûkai, see Sievers, Flowers in Salt: Beginnings of Feminist Consciousness (especially Chapter Five, 'The Women's Reform Society'), pp. 87-113.

    [20] Winston L. King, Zen and the Way of the Sword: Arming the Samurai Psyche, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, pp. 144-48.

    [21] Nolte and Hastings, 'Meiji State's Policy toward Women.'

    [22] Itô Noe, 'Jiko o Ikasu koto no Kôfuku,' reprinted in Itô Noe Zenshû II [Collected Works, in 2 vols], Tokyo: Gakugei Shorin, 1986, pp. 495-505.

    [23] Bowen Raddeker, 'Anarcho-Feminist Discourse in Prewar Japan,' pp. 114-15.

    [24] Vera Mackie, Creating Socialist Women in Japan, 1900-1937, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997, p. 52.

    [25] A copy of this statement made on 26 February 1926 in the Supreme Court in Fumiko's handwriting is included in Trial Records, pp. 739-48.

    [26] Yamada Waka, one of the more conservative of the 'Bluestockings,' cited in Mackie, Creating Socialist Women, p. 190.

    [27] Kaneko, Preliminary Court Interrogation, no. 4 (23 January 1924), in Trial Records, p. 20.

    [28] Defence lawyer, Hiraide Shû, cited in Itoya Toshio, Kanno Suga: Heiminsha no Fujin Kakumeika Zô [Kanno Suga: Portrait of a Woman Revolutionary of the Commoners' Society], Tokyo: Iwanami Shinsho, 1970, p. 197.

    [29] Kanno's Sixth Preliminary Court Interrogation (13 June 1910), in Collected Works, III, pp. 248-50.

    [30] Earlier sources were often over-influenced by the dismissive and judgmental treatment of Suga by a jilted lover, Arahata Kanson. An exception to this rule, fortunately, is the editor of the above-cited edition of her collected works, Shimizu Unosuke.

    [31] Kanno Suga, 'Hiji Deppô' ['Rebuff,' published 15 April 1906], reproduced in Kanno's Collected Works, II, pp. 111-14.

    [32] Sources in Japanese on Suga, Noe or Fumiko have often sported titles such as 'Hangyaku to Ai to' (Treason and Love), in Shisô no Kai e (Kaihô to Kakumei), 21, Josei—Hangyaku to Kakumei to Teiko to, ed. Suzuki Yûko, Tokyo: Shakai Hyôronsha, 1990, pp. 30-52.

    [33] Fuse Tatsuji, Unmei no Shôrisha, Pak Yeol [Victor over Destiny, Pak Yeol], Tokyo: Seiki Shobô, 1956, pp. 25-27.

    [34] Max Stirner, The Ego and His Own, London: Jonathan Cape, 1971.

    [35] Akai Tsutsuji no Hana: Kaneko Fumiko no Omoide to Kashû [Red Azaleas: Reminiscences of Kaneko Fumiko and her Collected Poetry], Tokyo: Kokushoku Sensensha, 1984, p. 39

    [36] Akai Tsutsuji no Hana: Kaneko Fumiko no Omoide to Kashû, p. 29.

    [37] Kaneko, Nani ga Watashi o kôsaseta ka? [Prison autobiography], pp. 91-95.

    [38] Itô Noe, 'Ai no Fûfu Seikatsu—Watashitomo o musubitsukeru mono' ['A Couple's Life of Love—What Binds us Together,' first published in Josei Kaizô, April 1923], in Collected Works, II, pp. 475-80.

    [39] Even before her arrest Fumiko had criticised Japanese pretensions to paternalistic benevolence toward Koreans. She wrote in one of the group's newspapers that those assimilationists who were so 'showy' in parading their 'love of humanity' needed first to transform Japanese colonists and the colonial authorites in Korea (where she had lived for some years as a child) into humans with whom Koreans could assimilate. Later during the trial she emphasised that under the supposedly 'godly' imperial rule by the loving 'father of the nation', children in Japan were crying with hunger, suffocating in the coal mines, being crushed to death by factory machines. 'Fumiko,' 'Omotta koto, Futatsu-Mittsu' [A Few Things on My Mind'], in Kokutô, 2 (10 August 1922): (full page numbers of article please, p. 1 reprinted in Trial Records, p. 810; and her 12th testimony (14 May 1924), in Trial Records, pp. 57-62.

    [40] Kaneko, Red Azaleas, p. 33.

    [41] Re 'proper names', it should be noted that Fumiko had even before her arrest signed her name as 'Pak Fumiko', doubtless as a political statement against discrimination against Koreans and probably also against the father who had disowned her for living with a 'base' Korean. She also legally married Pak while in prison and wore Korean national dress into the Supreme Court, as he did, to show their contempt for the legal proceedings of Japan's imperialist state. I doubt that nationality, per se, would have been important to her, however, since she had distanced her more radical 'nihilism' from the movement merely for Korean independence.

    [42] Bowen Raddeker, 'Anarcho-feminist Discourse in Prewar Japan,' pp. 114-15.

    [43] Fuse Tatsuji, Unmei no Shôrisha, Pak Yeol (readers are reminded that the title of Fuse's biography of Pak was 'Victor over Destiny').


This paper was originally published in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, with the assistance of Murdoch University.

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