|Editor||Raichō Hiratsuka; Noe Ito; Seitō-sha|
|First issue||September 1911|
|Final issue||February 1916|
Bluestocking (青鞜 Seitō) was Japan’s first all-women literary magazine created in 1911 by a group of five women. Haru Raichō Hiratsuka, Yasumochi Yoshiko, Mozume Kazuko, Kiuchi Teiko, and Nakano Hatsuko founded the Japanese Bluestocking Society (青鞜社 Seitō-sha) to promote the equal rights of women through literature and education. The magazine they developed was designed to articulate women’s self-awareness and the gender-based societal limitations they faced, but its promotion of early feminist beliefs through controversial publications caused it to be banned by Japanese kokutai for being “disruptive to society”. Bluestocking was in print only in Japan from 1911–1916 but the response it caused is credited as prompting the pioneering movement of Japanese feminism.
The name of the publication is a reference to the informal Bluestocking society of mid-18th century England, where women would gather for academic discussions about literature and philosophy to forgo social evenings spent playing cards and dancing, and would often invite intellectual men to join them. The original English Bluestocking Society is credited with starting first-wave feminism and its name has been adopted to represent various feminist movements all over the world. Universally, the term is associated with feminist theory, women's education, and intelligent debate.
The founders of the Bluestocking publication were recent graduates of the newly established Japan Women's University. Led by Raicho Hiratsuka, Japan’s first all-women literary magazine was developed out of inspiration from the writings of Swedish feminist author Ellen Key and the intelligent and domestic heroine of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Nora Helmer. Haru Hiratsuka originally started the publication under the pen name “Raichō” which means “Thunderbird”. Her intent was to start a women’s spiritual revolution by examining how women had lost their spiritual independence over time.
Raicho penned a manifesto for the society publication, spelling out its purpose:
"Our group has as its objective the birth of a feminine literature. We are animated by an ardent sincerity and our ambition is to express and produce feminine genius; we will succeed through a concentration of spirit. That genius, which is of mysterious essence is an important part of universal genius, which has no sex! When Japan was born, woman was the sun, the true human being. Now she is the moon! She lives in the light on a mother star. This is the first cry of the Bluestockings! We are the mind and the hand of the woman of new Japan. We expose ourselves to men’s laughter, but know that which is hidden that mockery. Let us reveal our hidden sun, our recognized genius! Let it come from behind the clouds! That is the cry of our faith, of our personality, of our instinct, which is the master of all the instincts. At that moment, we will see the shining throne of our divinity."
Bluestocking's first edition was released in September 1911. The first issue sold 1,000 copies in the first month and the editorial office received over 3,000 letters in that time asking for subscriptions and personal advice. Raichō's introduction opened with, “In the beginning, woman was the sun” (「元始、女性は太陽であった」) a reference many readers incorrectly assumed was about the goddess Amaterasu and the Shinto creation myth, concluding that Raichō was supporting the belief that prehistoric societies were led by the matriarch and that society has fallen away from that. Rather, Hiratsuka, who was a well-known critic of modern philosophers, challenged Nietzsche's assertion that women were inferior.
"The day has arrived when the mountains are about to become active. People do not believe me when I say this: The mountains have simply been dormant for awhile … Believe only this: Now all the women who lay dormant are rousing themselves."
The first years of the magazine were groundbreaking for both the feminist movement and women's literature. Many members referred to themselves as "New Women" (shin-fujin；新婦人). This term referred to women who lived according to Western standards through fashion choices, public socialization with men, and defying the marriage arrangement tradition by choosing their own partners. While many used this term negatively, the Bluestocking society women embraced their identity as feminist leaders.
Though originally focusing on women's literature, the magazine soon shifted focus towards women’s liberation, and the pages of Bluestocking were filled with essays and editorials on the question of gender equality and gender-based social problems, written in every genre: experimental modern poetry; sketches, classical waka, stories and the popular kanso, impressionistic essays; and a large amount of dramatic criticism. In many of these, members of the group air their differing opinions on issues of the day, such as the importance of a woman maintaining her virginity before marriage. Poverty, Geisha prostitution, women's suffrage, unemployment, Miai arranged marriage tradition, and desire for independence from family and men were also the subject of animated discussion. The articles became centered around the fujin mondai, or “the Woman Question", which drew attention to the hypocrisies of society. Adultery, abortion, and divorce were popular topics linked with social shame.
The publication received a steady increase in governmental pushback and threats from the kokutai. Despite attempts to censor the magazine, Bluestocking continued to publish unfiltered social commentaries. At its height in 1915, the magazine was selling 3,000 copies a month.
An exhausted Hiratsuka turned over the reins to Noe Itō in 1915. Ito produced the journal with little assistance for almost another year. Its last issue was published in February 1916. The journal folded in 1916 due to a lack of sales, which was caused by the Japanese Home Ministry threatening to fine any distributors for carrying the magazine, which was deemed a threat to the kokutai.
The publication was forced to close, but not before establishing itself as a leading light in Japan’s women's movement.
The writings of Bluestocking quickly caught the attention of the Japanese Home Ministry because of the magazine's explicit criticism of Japan's private capital system. The government censored the magazine for its upfront depiction of female sexuality, going as far as to ban and remove the magazine from the shelves. The private behavior of the core members of the Bluestocking society drew just as much public criticism as the content of the publication itself. Several members engaged in sexual and romantic affairs with married men, and their loose sexuality was loudly commented on by the press.
The September 1911 issue was banned for a short story dealing with the break-up of arranged marriage and the April 1912 edition was banned for an erotic short story where a woman remembered having sex the previous night with a man she met at a tavern. These were the first Japanese pieces written by women that included such explicit content and the outright expression of female sexuality shocked its audience. After learning one of their alumni was contributing to the magazine, the Japan Women's College removed her name from their alumni list in 1912, not reinstating her as an official graduate until 1992.
The April 1913 edition of Bluestocking was banned for an article calling for women to marry for love and the February 1914 edition was banned for a short story where a woman flees an arranged marriage, only to be betrayed by her lover. Exaggerated stories of their love affairs and nonconformism spread by Japan's mainstream press turned public opinion against the magazine and prompted Raichō to publish several fierce defenses of her ideals. Printed in the April 1913 issue of Bluestocking, Raichō's essay "To the Women of the World" (「世の婦人たちに」) rejected the traditional role of women as ryōsai kenbo (良妻賢母, good wife and wise mother): "I wonder how many women have, for the sake of financial security in their lives, entered into loveless marriages to become one man’s lifelong servant and prostitute." This nonconformist attitude opposed that of the kokutai, contributing heavily to the strict censorship of literature that was accused of disturbing public order.
The June 1915 edition of Bluestocking was banned for an article calling for abortion to be legalized in Japan and the authorities' restriction of the magazine became much more harsh. Local bookstores were pressured by the kokutai to stop carrying Bluestocking all together after censors banned entire publishing runs as "injurious to public morals". To make such charges stick, the authorities provoked public attention, which in turn resulted in police inquiries, which brought shame to the member's families and instigated fear of losing marriage proposals and employment opportunities.
The magazine was never translated into English during the time of its publication as international works were highly censored. The kokutai believed the controversial content of Bluestocking would bring shame to the Japanese male establishment if published abroad.
While the publication was never revamped, out of it developed the New Japan Women’s Organization (新日本婦人の会), which remains active to this day. Inspired by the actions of the women who created Bluestocking, other activist groups have adopted their name and even the Japanese artwork included in the magazine to carry on the spirit of Japan's first feminist movement.
- Japanese Feminism — the full history of the Feminist movement in Japan to give context to how Bluestocking fits in.
- Bluestocking society — the 18th century English namesake origin of the Japanese Bluestocking society and literary magazine.
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