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Reflections on the Way to the Gallows: Rebel Women in Prewar Japan

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In this book, for the first time, we can hear the startling, moving voices of adventurous and rebellious Japanese women as they eloquently challenged the social repression of prewar Japan. The extraordinary women whose memoirs, recollections, and essays are presented here constitute a strong current in the history of modern Japanese life from the 1880s to the outbreak of t In this book, for the first time, we can hear the startling, moving voices of adventurous and rebellious Japanese women as they eloquently challenged the social repression of prewar Japan. The extraordinary women whose memoirs, recollections, and essays are presented here constitute a strong current in the history of modern Japanese life from the 1880s to the outbreak of the Pacific War.


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In this book, for the first time, we can hear the startling, moving voices of adventurous and rebellious Japanese women as they eloquently challenged the social repression of prewar Japan. The extraordinary women whose memoirs, recollections, and essays are presented here constitute a strong current in the history of modern Japanese life from the 1880s to the outbreak of t In this book, for the first time, we can hear the startling, moving voices of adventurous and rebellious Japanese women as they eloquently challenged the social repression of prewar Japan. The extraordinary women whose memoirs, recollections, and essays are presented here constitute a strong current in the history of modern Japanese life from the 1880s to the outbreak of the Pacific War.

30 review for Reflections on the Way to the Gallows: Rebel Women in Prewar Japan

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    As it happens, only one of these pieces, the one that inspired the title, was composed on the way to the gallows, but they are nonetheless heartbreaking. This is the largely untold story of Japanese women demonstrating and organizing for workers' rights in the early part of the last century, including the rise of the ultra-nationalists. These women are forthright and refreshingly opinionated, most of them rose from deep poverty, of both the rural and the urban varieties. They were variously inte As it happens, only one of these pieces, the one that inspired the title, was composed on the way to the gallows, but they are nonetheless heartbreaking. This is the largely untold story of Japanese women demonstrating and organizing for workers' rights in the early part of the last century, including the rise of the ultra-nationalists. These women are forthright and refreshingly opinionated, most of them rose from deep poverty, of both the rural and the urban varieties. They were variously interested by Socialist, Anarchist and Communist currents from the mainland, Russian and Korean, and Christianity, as well as native labor organization, and a number of them arrived at the conclusion that dethroning the monarchy, even assassinating the Emperor, was necessary. They came from seriously hard times: Kaneko Fumiko tells a harrowing tale of urban exploitation, Dickens without the sunshine at the end, and there are a number of entries of backbreaking farm labor. The men are generally feckless, thinking nothing of betraying or abandoning their partners. Christians fare little better, although credited for campaigns against the brothels. Kaneko's reward for prayer and service, to the point of cleaning toilets, was to have a Christian man choose his religion over his feelings for her. The male rural agitators generally exhibit a different kind of betrayal in the service of a different calling, choosing organization and prison over the needs of their families. Even Ikeda Seki's story, which includes touching, though highly censored, letters between the spouses in separate prisons, shows reveals her working, cooking and keeping house while he pursues study. The Imperial police, prosecutors and jailers show clear signs of what they would inflict on their opponents during the following war. And still, despite the brutal economic conditions, the labor, the misogyny, the persecution, these women come off as tough without sacrificing their commitment to improving conditions, and often possessed of a finely-honed and enduring anger, as when Kanno Sugako, she of the gallows, writes of her prosecutor: "If I could return as a ghost, there are so many people, beginning with the judge of the Court of Cassation, that I would like to terrify. It would be wonderful to scare them witless and make them grovel."

  2. 4 out of 5

    Noreen

    I'm only half through with the book and it's knocking my socks off. Page 122 Chapter 4: Fumiko Kaneko : The Road to Nihilism. In her death row interview. What is your opinion concerning the Japanese state and social system? Paraphrasing, her answer. I divide the Japanese state-social system into three levels: The first class is the royal-clan members. The second class is the government ministers and other wielders of political power. The third class in the masses in general. The royal clan lives I'm only half through with the book and it's knocking my socks off. Page 122 Chapter 4: Fumiko Kaneko : The Road to Nihilism. In her death row interview. What is your opinion concerning the Japanese state and social system? Paraphrasing, her answer. I divide the Japanese state-social system into three levels: The first class is the royal-clan members. The second class is the government ministers and other wielders of political power. The third class in the masses in general. The royal clan lives as pitiful puppets. The third class is ignorant beyond salvation. The second class, the wielders of political power, are the ones who have the real power to persecute the weak, like myself. The second class is the real wielder of power. The first class is the formal wielder of power. Fumiko expects to be executed. We all have to die eventually. But I cannot destroy my current self so that my future self can survive. page 119: My parents bestowed no love on me and yet sought to get whatever benefit they could out of me. Theirs is a truly selfish love, a form of greed. So I, an object of greed, fail to understand the meaning of filial piety. The so called morality is based on the relationship between the strong and the weak, and is manipulated to serve the convenience of the strong. pg 121 I imagined the socialists were people who rose above the meaningless customs and morality of society. Even though they denounce the irrational and hypocritical aspects of society and pretend that they are indifferent to social criticism and to fame and reputation, they in fact are governed by and are concerned about the standards of the mundane society. They seek to adorn themselves with conventional ornaments and take conventional values. Just as generals take pride in the medals on their chests, socialists covet records of arrests in order to ear their bread. I came to appalled at the somnolence of the peasants, who are mired in pain but feel no pain, and the ignorance of the workers, who work diligently while they are being devoured to their bones. Page 79 She was hardly 20, had a limited education, and formulated a heretical philosophy, refused to grovel before authority, be mealy mouthed and cower before her persecutors. After her arrest and death sentence conviction, her death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. She tore up the reprieve. Assigned to prison in Utsunomiya, she refused to do any work. Three months later she asked to be assigned to a hemp rope weaving detail, the next day she hanged herself with a rope she had woven. Thank you Mikiso Hane for your translations, I will be reading more of your work.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Aubrey

    "During that time, we were all under the impression that we would get promoted if we killed some socialists. I almost got myself in trouble." -A would be assassin of Yamakawa Kikue, realist social critic, communist, and women's rights advocate Disclaimer: if my writing seems somewhat wired in this review, I just got an especially sugary boba drink after a participating in a rather exacting interview. So, there you have it. This is the kind of book that, when I look at it, I can't imagine anyone "During that time, we were all under the impression that we would get promoted if we killed some socialists. I almost got myself in trouble." -A would be assassin of Yamakawa Kikue, realist social critic, communist, and women's rights advocate Disclaimer: if my writing seems somewhat wired in this review, I just got an especially sugary boba drink after a participating in a rather exacting interview. So, there you have it. This is the kind of book that, when I look at it, I can't imagine anyone not being interesting in reading it. Despite this, I acknowledge that, given my interests both well intentioned and otherwise, it's no wonder that such a work is so little read in this corner of the Internet. The topic, the history, the non-white women, the not so great picture of the non-white men, the translation, the manner in which all this diverges so much from the picture of Japan built up by white Anglo types: in many ways, it's just asking to be banned. Now, it's true that the number and variety of authors means that the writing is not of a consistent quality throughout, and if you survive the brief historical introductions of each participating author, it's still very easy to get bowled over by the tens of names and end note references that riddle some of the pieces. However, every piece, however brief, has its own moments of intriguing engagement and stirring action, and three of the longer main sections are so impactful in their context, force of argument, and quality of writing that they are worth reading the entire book for alone. Coupled with the fact that the emeritus professor who put together the work is a Japanese man who lived in both Japan and the US and returned to the latter just in time to be thrown into an internment camp, you have a work with an unparalleled amount of credibility in terms of both academia and the editor's personal experience with being considered a 'dangerous element.' This isn't always the case, but I'd like to think that, in this regard, there was less incentive to sanitize history in the actions of one who has been on the other side of the fence. Fukuda Hideko, Kanno Sugako, Kaneko Fumiko, Sakai Magara, Hashiura Haruko, Kutsumi Fusako, Yamakawa Kikue, Tanno Setsu, Takizawa Mii, Ikeda Seki, Sato Tsugi, and Yamashiro Tomoe. The first three names and the last belong to anarchists, communists, socialists, and nihilists who left behind a text that was both sizable and noteworthy enough to merit an entire section of its own. The fourth, Sakai Magara, to the seventh, Yamakawa Kikue, all contributed to the Seitō (Bluestocking) literary magazine and formed an active part of the Sekirankai (Red Wave Society), a socialist women's group that formed in response to police blocking of membership in the larger Japanese Socialist Federation. The eighth, Tanno Setsu, to the eleventh, Satō Tsugi, in contrast to the largely middle class women that preceded them, were all involved in various unionization activities in the factories and on tenant farms. Of all of the pieces included, it is no surprise that I found Kanno Sugako's "Reflections on the Way to the Gallows," the context of which is easy to interpret, one of the strongest of the bunch. I also found Kaneko Fumiko's "The Road to Nihilism" to be an especially powerful piece, both in the blunt clarity of her activist knowledge developed through experiences rather than theory texts as well as the fact that, after ripping up the certificate of execution reprieve given to her by a government official, she ended her own life rather work the rest of it in prison. Last, but certainly not least, is Yamashiro Tomoe's "The World of the Stars", a slightly fictionalized (she changes the names) recounting of the years she and her husband spent in separate prisons together, interspersed with the letters they carefully navigated the censors to send to each other, flashbacks to their individual lives and eventually shared development of political consciousness, and intimations of a future where he would die in prison in 1945 and she would leave prison after WWII. I'm not overstating things when I say that the narrative structure, the detail, the vivid imagery of the cells, the factories, the springtime transformation of the prison grounds at the very end of the tale, and everything else would make for a quality film in the right hands. Given the subject material, I imagine it's more likely to be picked up by indie productions than anything else, but stranger things have happened. Slowly but surely, I'm finishing up the works started during Women in Translation Month 2020 and changing over to less concentrated literary pursuits. This was definitely one of the more sensational pieces read during that time, and I can just imagine some rando on the Internet getting pissingly angry over not being able to comment on this review with "You're on the side of people who wanted to assassinate others?!? How dare you!!!!!" and all that liberal hegemonying that legally strips people of every peaceful way to defend against state enacted assault murder and then throws a tantrum when destruction of property and key authority figures proves, time and time again, to be the most effective, and often most essential, survival mechanism of the people in the war against capitalist/fascist (it's pre WWII Japan, people who think dictionary definitions trump critical observations of lived experiences) bureaucracies and military industrial complexes. Fortunately for me, more than one of the narratives this work contains painstakingly lays out the reasons for each women's commitment to their respective causes, which will keep the armchair critics trapped in their mutually assured Twitter cancellations long enough for the protesters on the streets to get some real work done. All in all, this is no introductory piece to pretty much all of the topics covered by this work, but you don't have to be an expert to revel in this works by brave, critically aware, committed, and revolutionary women who faced police agitation, prison terms, and fascist executions both secretly enacted in foreign countries and publicly conducted by popular appeal in pursuit of their belief that women are people, poor people are people, and there are things more important than dying like a dog in the service of a government that treats you as subhuman. It's been a long time since the days before WWII, and much of what has been written here has been forgotten (or suppressed) by the general knowledge base that thinks it knows something about humanizing revolution. Might be good for a great deal of the louder folks to read up on this or something else like it (e.g. something queerer would be nice cause I refuse to believe that wasn't happening to some extent) and get a sense of what really went down in history, yes? "I was afraid that the supporters of the emperor and champions of patriotism might dig up my corpse and hack it to bits. I did not want to look too shabby when this happened." -Kanno Sugako, written six days before she was executed for plotting to assassinate the emperor P.S. The more I read about anarchist/communist/socialist work outside of the US/Europe, the more I'm rather fed up with how little attention Emma Goldman paid to such in her autobiography, but that doesn't mean I can't make use of her material when it is highly appropriate to do so. [T]here had never been an ideal, however humane and peaceful, which in its time had been considered "within the law."

  4. 5 out of 5

    Chelsea Szendi

    Important primary materials on women figures who often get dropped from social, cultural, and intellectual histories of modern Japan. In a discipline where Kotoku Shusui remains the name invoked in narratives on the Great Treason Incident (while Kanno Suga' testimony is where the meat is), this is a necessary work. Now, if only we could construct a history of radical critique in Japan that synthesizes men and women. After all, many were intimate (oh yes, very intimate) comrades at the time. Proba Important primary materials on women figures who often get dropped from social, cultural, and intellectual histories of modern Japan. In a discipline where Kotoku Shusui remains the name invoked in narratives on the Great Treason Incident (while Kanno Suga' testimony is where the meat is), this is a necessary work. Now, if only we could construct a history of radical critique in Japan that synthesizes men and women. After all, many were intimate (oh yes, very intimate) comrades at the time. Probably an incredible resource for teaching.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Bill Johnston

    Every book needs a dissenting opinion. While I am glad I read this book, I think its shortcomings overshadow its strengths. Hane's introductions and summaries of the lives of the women featured in this book are the best parts, because they are concise. The tedious parts are reading the diaries themselves; the gems in them few and far between. I think Hane should have selected more women to cover, written more bios, and more aggressively edited their diaries.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kylee Ehmann

    These were interesting and important primary sources, but unfortunately I had a hard time maintaining interest. I’d get into one woman’s story and then it would be done and gone. I would say it’s a good starting point and the translation is really good, but is strongly recommend reading the memoirs of each woman themselves if you have time.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Enrique Mora Roás

    Un libro necesario que comete algún error conceptual. Hane está obsesionado con el matriarcado e introduce el libro así. También, como bien dice Helene Raddeker, asumir como verdaderas las palabras de señores relacionados con las autoras es engañoso en el caso de Kanno Sugako. Con todo, las traducciones son geniales, son necesarias y son de una profundidad y variedad que admiro mucho. Más sabiendo que este libro tiene décadas encima.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Burton-Rose

    Rich use of primary sources to allow the voices of early twentieth century anarchist and social martyrs to be heard again.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Zoe

    Excellent!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Leah Smith

    A rare look into the socialist movement in Japan in the early twentieth century and the women who went o prison or even gave their lives for their beliefs.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Michael Daines

  12. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Disneyq

  13. 5 out of 5

    Parker Brown

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ivan

  16. 4 out of 5

    sedmunds

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Elizabeth

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sophiaannamaria

  19. 4 out of 5

    Annika

  20. 4 out of 5

    Soo Na

  21. 4 out of 5

    Katherine Hubbard

  22. 5 out of 5

    Philip Gayle

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ruby McGuire

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nina

  25. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

  26. 5 out of 5

    Christina

  27. 4 out of 5

    xDEAD ENDx

  28. 4 out of 5

    Natalie S

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany

  30. 4 out of 5

    Holden Wesley

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