Shidzue Katō

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Shidzue Katō
Kato Shidzue headshot.jpg
Shidzue Hirota

March 2, 1897
Tokyo, Japan
DiedDecember 22, 2001(2001-12-22) (aged 104)
TitleMember of the Diet of Japan
MovementBirth Control Movement
Spouse(s)Keikichi Ishimoto (married 1914-1944), Kanjū Katō (married 1944- 2001 )

Shidzue Katō (加藤 シヅエ, Katō Shizue, March 2, 1897 – December 22, 2001), also published as Shidzue Ishimoto, was a 20th-century Japanese feminist and one of the first women elected to the Diet of Japan, best known as a pioneer in the birth control movement.

Early life[edit]

Shidzue Katō was born on March 2, 1897 in Japan to a wealthy ex-samurai family. Her father, Hirota Ritarô [ja] was a successful engineer who received his education and training at the Tokyo Imperial University. Her mother, Tsurumi Toshiko, came from a notable and highly educated family.[1] Hirota travelled frequently to the West for work, and because of this Katō and her family grew up familiar with Western things[2] At age 17, Katō was married to Baron Keikichi Ishimoto (石本恵吉), a Christian humanist interested in social reforms.[3] He was the son of Ishimoto Shinroku.

Move to United States[edit]

Shortly after their marriage, Katō (then Ishimoto) and her husband moved to the Miike coalfield in Kyūshū. For three years, they witnessed the horrendous conditions under which the men and women there worked. This experience resulted in Katō and her husband suffering from a breakdown of health, which prompted the couple to move to the United States in 1919.[3] In the United States, Baron Ishimoto began to veer from Christian humanism toward a more radical Communist position.[3] Katō began to live a more independent life as her husband went off to Washington D.C. to act as a consultant and interpreter for the Japanese delegation to a conference of the International Labor Organization.[2] During this time, Katō lived in a tenement apartment and enrolled in secretarial and English courses.[2] It was during this time that Katō began to socialize with the socialist acquaintances of her husband, which eventually led her to meet Margaret Sanger. It was this meeting with Sanger that inspired Katō's decision to form a birth control movement on her return to Japan.[2]

Return to Japan and Activism[edit]

On her return to Japan in 1921, Katō continued to strive for economic independence, and began her mission to propagate birth control education. She got a job as a private secretary for the Y.W.C.A, which primarily consisted of introducing Western visitors of Japanese culture and people.[1] She also opened a yarn shop called the Minerva Yarn Store, where she sold imported wool products.[1]

During this time Katō published many writings in support of easier access to birth control for women. She argued that Japan's growing population problem could be solved by women. She believed that giving women control of their own reproduction would allow women to achieve greater independence, as well as allow there to be a public issue in which women took a leadership role.[2] Another part of her argument was that birth control would help the people of Japan to raise better children. She thought that by having fewer children, women could create better educational and economic opportunities for the children that they did have.[2]

It is around this time that Kato met Kanjū Katō, who would later become her second husband. They met in 1923, when Kanjū Katō, a labor organizer, arranged for her to speak to miners at Ashio copper mine.[2] She was later granted a divorce from her first husband, Baron Ishimoto, and married Katō in 1944.[2]

In keeping with the "influence and respectability of eugenics" in the first part of the twentieth century, Katō Shidzue too supported eugenics, believing that children born to two healthy parents would be better off than children born to sick or weak parents.[2]

The right-wing pro-natalist Japanese government arrested Kato in 1937 for her promotion of "dangerous thoughts," specifically her advocacy of birth control and abortion rights, and she spent two weeks in prison.[2] This temporarily ended the birth control movement in Japan until after World War II.[4]

Diet of Japan (1946-1974)[edit]

Katō was the first woman to campaign for office in Japan, campaigning under a Socialist platform with and emphasis on American-style democracy.[5] In 1946, Shidzue Katō was elected to the Japanese Diet. Her campaign platform was based on family planning and improving the economic prospects of women.[1] In 1946 she wrote concerning the link between the birth control movement and Japanese democracy:

Giving birth to many, and letting many die—repeating such an unwise way of life for Japanese women will result in exhaustion of the maternal body, as well as mental damage and material loss for the family.… Without the liberation and improvement of women, it is impossible to build democracy in Japan.[6]

Although Katō was initially hopeful of women's growing political role, she was soon marginalized in the mostly male Diet. Despite this, she looked for other ways to achieve her political reforms. In 1946 she was instrumental in organizing the first "women only" rally in Tokyo. This rally protested for greater economic resources for women.[5]

Katō was later elected to four six-year terms in the Upper House. She continued to advocate for reforms affecting women's rights and family planning. Katō championed many causes during this time, including birth control legislation, the abolition of the feudal family code, the establishment of the Women's and Minors Bureau of the Department of Labor, and environmental issues.[5] She was also helped to establish the Family Planning Federation of Japan, which works to achieve "a society where everyone in the country can have access to voluntary reproductive health services".[7]


Even after Katō retired from politics, she continued her political activism. She continued to lecture on feminist issues, as well as continued to chair the Family Planning Federation of Japan.[8]

In 1988, Katō received the United Nations Population Award.

In 1996, The Katō Shizdue Award was established by Dr. Attiya Inayatullah to commemorate her work. The Katō Shizue Award "targets women's groups, women's organizations and/or individual women who are active in the movement toward improvement of sexual and reproductive health/rights of women as well as empowerment of women (i.e., social, economic, political and legal empowerment) in developing countries and/or in Japan."

Death and Legacy[edit]

Shidzue Kato died December 22, 2001 at the age of 104. In an obituary at the Web site of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the writer noted that her efforts "have continued to bear fruits for Japanese society, bringing down the number of abortions, infant mortality, and maternal death rates, while increasing contraceptive usage to 80 percent. Japan's family planning model has been so successful that it attracts attention from other countries as a working model."[4]


  • Facing Two Ways: The Story of My Life, published by Farrar and Rinehard (New York, NY), 1935. An edited version for children called East Way, West Way: A Modern Japanese Girlhood, illustrated by Fuji Nakamizo, was published by Farrar and Rinehard (New York, NY), in 1936.
  • Straight Road, 1956.
  • Katō Shizue Hyakusai, c. 1997.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d M., Hopper, Helen (1996) [1995]. A new woman of Japan : a political biography of Katō Shidzue. Boulder: Westview Press. ISBN 0813389712. OCLC 33048252.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Tipton, Elise (1997). "Ishimoto Shizue: The Margaret Sanger of Japan". Women's History Review. 6:3: 337–355.
  3. ^ a b c Blacker, Carmen (1 February 2002). "Shizue Kato". The Guardian.
  4. ^ a b c "Kato, Shidzue 1897-2001 - Dictionary definition of Kato, Shidzue 1897-2001 | FREE online dictionary". Retrieved 2018-02-15.
  5. ^ a b c Gelb, Joyce (1997). "Review of A "New Woman" of Japan: A Political Biography of Kato Shidzue". The Journal of Asian Studies. 56 (1): 208–209. doi:10.2307/2646389. JSTOR 2646389.
  6. ^ 1966-, Kano, Ayako (November 2017). Japanese feminist debates : a century of contention on sex, love, and labor (Paperback ed.). Honolulu. ISBN 9780824873813. OCLC 992540964.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ "Japan Family Planning Association, Inc. | IPPF". IPPF. 2016-03-31. Retrieved 2018-02-20.
  8. ^ Anonymous (June 1996). "Feminism Reaches Japan". The Economist. 339: 81–82.

Further reading[edit]