Fukuda Hideko (née Kageyama Hideko) was a prominent figure in the Freedom and People's Rights Movement in Japan during the 1880s. Often referred to in newspaper articles after her 1885 arrest and in later accounts of her life as "Japan's Joan of Arc", Fukuda Hideko began her active involvement in the Movement after hearing speeches given in 1882 by Kishida Toshiko, a popular orator dedicated to the rights of people, particularly women.
In 1885, Fukuda Hideko and Oi Kentaro, amongst other Liberal reformers, began advocating a plot to “sail to Korea and create a disturbance large enough to undo the Sino-Japanese accord, Convention of Tientsin, concluded by Ito Hirobumi and Li Hung-chang in 1885”; this later became known as the Osaka Incident of 1885. Fukuda Hideko, having joined the political society aspect of the People’s Rights Movement wrote in her autobiography entitled Half of My Lifetime (Warawa no Hanseigai), of her reasons to join the plot for a reformist movement in Korea:
The tranquility of my studies was disrupted by reports of disturbances in Korea and the beginning of Sino-Japanese negotiations over that country. , My sense of outrage and indignation was aroused by the pusillanimous behavior of [Japanese] government officials. They were bent on oppressing the people at home but were cowardly in dealing with foreign affairs. They were willing to sully our national honor while pursuing their own ephemeral honor. They concentrated on enhancing their personal ease and comfort while they ignored developments destined to plague the nation for a century.
For these reasons, the Liberals began to respond to Japan’s “refusal to help Korea” by hoping to reinstall the Independence party. The old members of the dissolved Liberal party proclaimed that Korea had been an independent since the establishment of the Yi Dynasty, and that no other countries could interfere with its rights and “principle of freedom.” Speeches were given in which Fukuda Hideko stated she was “welcomed with open arms” as people greatly respected her and what she was trying to accomplish. They began trying to raise money, which was difficult as Japan was facing a period of depression, and several members resorted to stealing. Isoyama Seibei was angry at the inability to raise funds and was discouraged with what funds they did have. His negative attitude resulted in him being removed as commander of the plot and being replaced by Arai Shogo, leading to further problems as Inagaki Ryunosuke refused to listen to him. However, they succeeded in raising money and gathering weaponry, including guns and bombs. The party then traveled to Nagasaki on November 20, 1885, from where they planned to depart for Korea. However, the police had already been investigating the large number of robberies in the Osaka area, and before the party could travel to Seoul, on November 23, 1885, the roughly 130 members were arrested and charged with the illegal possession of guns and bombs, encouraging riots, and some with robbery.
The reformist movement had been intercepted before they had reached Korea, and reflected the disorganization of the group and the ending of the Political party movement within Japan. The incident also coincided with the signing of several treaties between Japan and Korea that began a period of stalemated aggression—the worst time for the Osaka Incident to have been planned. Fukuda Hideko was an integral part of the Freedom and Popular Rights movement, not only in the political movement, but also in the Women’s movement of this time.
Fukuda Hideko spent roughly 10 months in prison as a state criminal. In subsequent decades, she became involved in the socialist movement and published her own journal.
One hundred years after her birth in 1965, a group of activists erected a memorial in her honor in Okayama. The memorial includes a quotation from her autobiography: “My life has been one adversity upon another. But I always fought back. Not once, not even once, did I flinch from adversity.”
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