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Yajima Kajiko (矢嶋 楫子, 1833–1925) was the founder of the Women's Reform Society and president of Japan's Woman's Christian Temperance Union. An educator and Christian activist, she vigorously advanced the cause for the education of women in Japan.
Yajima worked with Toyoju Sasaki, the secretary of Japan's WCTU. Together they attempted to advocate the reform of feudalistic customs which subjugated Japan to the West and women to men. Yajima in particular advocated for temperance due to her brief marriage to an alcoholic. Both worked towards the elimination of prostitution, as well as the elimination of Geishas and Concubines.
Yajima was born in 1833, in Kumamoto, Japan and was the sixth child and fifth daughter of an influential farmer's family. As a girl instead of a boy her parents had little interest in her. Elizabeth Dorn Lublin wrote “the ideology of danson johi (respect men and despise women) that informed this reception remained the dominant shaping force in Yajima’s early years.” She had a traditional female education and it wasn’t until she was twenty-five that she was married to a samurai named Hayashi Shichiro. Hayashi enjoyed sake and would become abusive when drunk. Yajima later left her husband and returned to her family, refusing to return and cutting her hair. Eventually she would move to Tokyo to take care of her brother. Since teaching was one of the few paying jobs available to women of her time, she became a teacher for the newly established public school system in Tokyo following her divorce. She later transferred to the Presbyterian mission school because it provided her with twice the income as her position with the Tokyo school system. It was during this time that she was drawn to Christianity and would eventually begin working with a Presbyterian missionary by the name of Maria True.
While in Tokyo, Yajima had a baby out of wedlock. Instead of marrying the father, she kept the birth a secret, giving the baby to a farming family before adopting the child back later and raising her as an adopted daughter on her own with her own salary. This part of her life was kept a secret until after her death.
Women’s Christian Temperance Movement
In June 1886, the missionary Mary Clement Leavitt came to Japan. Her lectures were standing-room-only and influenced Yajima to start a union. In late 1886, Yajima helped create the Tokyo Woman’s Christian Temperance Movement (WCTU) along with twenty-eight other women and was appointed president along with Sasaki Toyoju as secretary.
The abuse at the hands of her husband and witnessing struggles of students with alcoholic fathers instilled in Yajima a strong dislike of alcohol and an interest in temperance. She pushed for the word temperance (kinshu) should be in the name of the Tokyo WCTU as a result of her past. The different histories of the secretary and Yajima was a source of conflict between the two. Yajima was more traditional in her views and believed that temperance was the most important problem the WCTU needed to address. She maintained that the members should “assist their husbands in the home [and] help gentlemen in society.” Sasaki, on the other hand, thought that prostitution should be the focus of the union, causing the two to fight for control instead of work together.
Yajima maintained the presidency until an accident forced her to resign in 1889. Three years later she was able to be reelected and stepped back into her role until 1903 she was forced to leave position yet again, this time because she didn’t receive enough votes from union members. This only lasted a matter of months as the woman who replaced her died and Yajima took her place. It wasn’t until 1921 that Yajima left the presidency permanently.
- Yasutake, R. (2004). Transnational women's activism: the United States, Japan, and Japanese Immigrant Communities in California, 1859-1920. New York: NYU Press.
- Lublin, Elizabeth Dorn (2006). "Wearing the White Ribbon of Reform and the Banner of Civic Duty: Yajima Kajiko and the Japan Woman's Christian Temperance Union in the Meiji Period". U.S.-Japan Women's Journal 2006, No. 30/31. JSTOR 42771944.
- Lublin, Elizabeth Dorn (2010). Reforming Japan. Hawai'i: University of Hawai'i Press. p. 52.