Yamakawa Kikue

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Yamakawa Kikue
photographed in 1920
photographed in 1920
Native name
Born(1890-11-03)3 November 1890
 Japan, Tokyo
Died2 November 1980(1980-11-02) (aged 89)
 Japan, Tokyo
Notable workWomen of the Mito domain : recollections of samurai family life
PartnerYamakawa Hitoshi

Yamakawa Kikue (山川菊栄) (1890 in Tokyo, Japan – 1980) was an essayist, activist, and socialist feminist who contributed to the development of feminism in modern Japan.

Born in Tokyo "as the daughter of a scholarly and progressive-minded samurai family.[1]" Yamakawa graduated from the private women's college Joshi Eigaku Juku (renamed TsudaJuku University in 1948) in 1912.[2] In 1916, she married "the communist activist and theoretician Yamakawa Hitoshi who in 1922 founded the short-lived prewar Japanese Communist Party and was a leader of the Labor-Farmer faction.[3]"

In prewar times, she contributed to the development of feminism as a founding member of the Red Wave Society (Sekirankai), Japan's first socialist women's organization, and she was one of the most visible socialist women.[4] She is famous for "her position in debates on prostitution and motherhood, in which she consistently challenged liberal feminists (who she termed "bourgeois feminists") on the possibility of women achieving full rights within a capitalist system.[5]" While she is perhaps better known for these debates, "her participation in male-dominant socialist organizations and her interventionist writings on behalf of women within those organizations directed toward her male socialist peers were equally substantial.[6]"

After the end of WWII, she became the first head of the Women's and Minors' Bureau of the Ministry of Labor from 1947 to 1951.[7] In addition, she engaged in activism of women's and workers' rights.[8]

Early life[edit]

Yamakawa Kikue was born on November 3, 1890 in Kouji town, Tokyo.[9] Her father Morita Ryunosuke, was born to the family of samurai of the lowest rank in the Matsue Domain (present Matsue City, Shimane Prefecture) and worked his way through language school in Yokohama City in Kanagawa Prefecture and mastered French.[10] With his language skills, he became an interpreter in the army, and later he managed a meat business.[11] Her mother, Morita Chiyo, was the daughter of Aoyama Enju who was a Confucian scholar in the Mito Domain.[12] Chiyo had a passion for learning and graduated from Tokyo Women's Higher Normal School (present Ochanomizu University) as a first-generation student of the school. [13] Yamakawa Kikue had an older sister (Matsue), brother (Toshio), and younger sister (Shizue). The older sister Matsue was a pioneer of female esperantists, and the older brother Toshio was a scholar of German Literature in Japan.[14]

In 1908, Yamakawa Kikue attended the private women's college Joshi Eigaku Juku (present TsudaJuku University) in Tokyo. According to one of her teachers, she almost failed college because when she took the entrance exam, she wrote a resolution that she would work for the liberation of women.[15] In the first year of the college, Yamakawa Kikue visited a spinning mill factory with her Christian acquaintances and was shocked to see female workers work in terrible working conditions.[16] When she heard Christian lecturers worship the work there, she was outraged about the lecture because she did not understand the idea that people still should appreciate work even if they work in the terrible conditions.[17] This experience made her realize that religion could not solve the factory women's poor lives, women's issues, and social problems.[18] This experience fueled her future course of action and awakened her to socialism and social science.[19] After her graduation in 1912, Yamakawa worked in a publishing company as a part-time worker, engaging in making an English dictionary and translation.[20]

As a feminist thinker and critic[edit]

Controversy over the abolition of prostitution (1915–1916)[edit]

From 1915 through 1916, Yamakawa Kikue made a debut in the world of criticism within the larger debate on the abolition of prostitution with a Japanese feminist Itou Noe on Seito, the first female literary magazine in Japan.[21] Itou Noe criticized the Christian female organization's movement to abolish the prostitution licensed by the government because the organization's movement was "hypocritical" in that the organization tried to abolish the public prostitution form the viewpoints of valuing "virginity" and "chastity".[22] Itou Noe blamed the way of the Christian movement which looked down the sex industry and tried to solve the issue just by taking the jobs away from sex workers. Itou Noe also said, ″the sex industry is acknowledged by the public because, as everyone says, the industry has been strengthened by men's natural demands and a long history of the industry.[23]″ Unlike Itou Noe who totally disagreed to the movements, Yamakawa Kikue, to some extent, agreed to the Christian movement aiming at abolishing the public prostitution.[24] However, on the one hand, Yamakawa agreed to Itou's argument about the movement of Christian women's organizations in that the movement divided women into two categories: "clean" and "unclean" women.[25] On the other hand, Yamakawa argued that against Itou Noe that the long history of prostitution could not justify the existence of the industry, and that the licensed prostitution was not the system created by men's natural demands but created according to the social system that internalized unnatural power balance between men and women.[26] Moreover, Yamakawa said that she would disagree to the system from which women suffer even if the system was needed by the men's "instinctive" desire.[27] Yamakawa Kikue also mentioned the private prostitution and contended that the system of the prostitution was based on the disparity between the rich and poor produced by the establishment of the private ownership system and the domination of women by men.[28] Furthermore, Yamakawa pointed out that the double standards of female sxuality in a male-dominant and patriarchal society.[29] In sum, Yamakawa Kikue did not think the Christian movement, that encouraged women to follow the sexual norm mainly created by men's selfish desire, would lead to the abolishment of the licensed prostitution.[30] Rather, Yamakawa thought it would be realized by the abolishment of capitalism and the dominance of women by men.[31]

Controversy over maternity protection (1918–1919)[edit]

From 1918 to 1919, two magazines Fujin Koron (Women's forum) and Taiyou (The Sun) hosted a controversial debate over maternity protection. Famous Japanese feminists, such as Yosano Akiko, Hiratsuka Raicho, Yamakawa Kikue, and Yamada Waka, took part in the debate.[32] The debates had broadly two standpoints. On the one hand, Yosano argued that the liberation of women required the economic independence of women.[33] On the other hand, Hiratsuka argued that it was impossible or difficult to do both work and parenting. Hiratsuka also viewed women's childbirth and parenting as a national and social project, and thus argued that women deserved the protection of motherhood by the government.[34] They had different opinions in terms of whether women can do both work and family-life, and their arguments did not overlap at all. In order to organize these argument Yamakawa Kikue named Yosano "Japanese Mary Wollstonecraft" and Hiratsuka "Japanese Ellen Key.[35]" As with the argument of Yosano, Yamakawa said, "Yosano emphasizes women's individualism. She started by demanding freedom of education, an expansion of the selection of work, and financial independence and eventually demanded suffrage.″ Yamakawa partly agreed with Yosano but criticized her opinion for thinking only about the female bourgeois.[36] Moreover, Yamakawa disagreed with Yosano that the protection of motherhood by the nation was a shame because it was the same as the government's care of the elderly and the disable. In this respect, Yamakawa said that Yosano's view was biased on a class society because Yosano only criticized old and disabled people depending on the public assistance while she did not mention soldiers and public servants who also depended on the assistance in the same way.[37] For Hiratsuka's opinion, Yamakawa argued that it was more advanced than that of Yosano in that it took a more critical attitude towards capitalism. However, Yamakawa criticized Hiratsuka for too much emphasis on motherhood. Yamakawa said that Hiratsuka viewed women's ultimate goal as childbirth and parenting, and that it led women to obey male-centered society's idea that women should sacrifice their work in compensation for completing the ultimate goal.[38] Yamakawa summarized these arguments and argued that financial independence and protection of motherhood were compatible and natural demands f women. As a social feminist, Yamakawa argued that female workers should play an active role in winning both economic equality and the protection of motherhood, and that the liberation of women required the reform of capitalist society which exploited workers.[39] Moreover, Yamakawa Kikue made an objection to present society which left household labor unpaid work. Furthermore, Yamakawa was distinct from Yosano and Hiratsuka in that she mentioned welfare for the elderly as rights.[40]

Multiple viewpoints against discrimination[edit]

Yamakawa Kikue, as a social feminist, had multiple viewpoints against discrimination (sexism, racism, and classism) and took position against colonialism and imperialism.[41] In 1925, the legislation of the Universal Manhood Suffrage Act abolished the restriction of voting rights based on tax payment and granted the right to all man aged over 25 years old. However, women were not allowed to participate in politics. Later, the movement headed by Shin Fujin Kyokai (The New Women's Association) led the government to change the law, which banned women from joining political assemblies.[42] As a result, women were given only the right to participate in political assemblies. Accompanied by the legislation of the Universal Manhood Suffrage Act (1925), a political study group was organized for re-establishing the Japanese Communist Party]. A few women, including Yamakawa Kikue, participated in the study group.[43] However, the policy directions the men-dominant study group made were not sufficient about women's issues. Therefore, Yamakawa submitted the following eight -point demand for equal gender rights[44]:

  1. Abolish the patriarchal household system.
  2. Abolish all laws that view a women as an incompetent person, regardless of marital status. Give equal rights between men and women regarding marriage and divorce.
  3. Equal rights of educational institutions and work for women and the residents in colonies to Japanese men.
  4. Guarantee an equal minimum wage, regardless of sex or ethnicity.
  5. Equal pay for equal work among men, women, and the residents in colonies.
  6. Give female workers, who has a baby, a room and an overt thirty minutes recess per three hours for feeding.
  7. Ban firing women because of her marriage, pregnancy, and childbirth.
  8. Abolish the licensed prostitution.

In the first and two points, Yamakawa had much common with her women's suffrage colleagues.[45] Yamakawa shared much with the leadership of the Women's Suffrage League in that both ″argued throughout the prewar period that Japan's legally codified family system, which designated a usually male head-of-household and excluded other family members (including wives) from owning property, denied women legal decision-making capacity.[46]″ In points three, four, and five, Yamakawa was substantially different from her Suffrage League colleagues who did not take issues of equality and inclusion for Japan's colonized peoples into consideration of suffrage or other rights for Japanese women.[47] her final three demands came from the core of her concern for women's rights as workers' rights.[48] Here, Yamakawa represented working-class women by pointing to the most basic issues for them.

Communist male leaders disagreed to the first and second proposals for the reason that they have already acknowledged that women were equal to men.[49] On the other hand, Yamakawa argued that it was not a problem of their perception but a social problem, that in , whether the society accepted the law which approved of gender inequality.[50] Communist male boards also disagreed the third proposal Yamakawa questioned why they approved of educational restriction for residents in colonies which was obviously the part of imperialistic policies whereas they , as Communist, disagreed to imperialistic policies.[51] The Communist leaders disagreed to the equal right of work for women and residents in colonies to Japanese men, arguing that their cheap labor had already taken jobs away for Japanese men. on the other hand, Yamakawa said that capitalists hired women, Chinese, and Koreans because of their cheap labor had already taken jobs away from Japanese men, and that equal pay for equal work in addition to the equal rights in education and work would solve the problem the leaders concerned. Moreover, Yamakawa argued that women and residents in colonies demanded equal pay and open occupational opportunities as equal human to Japanese men, and that they demanded not Japanese male workers but the bourgeoisie to approve the proposal.[52] By emphasizing women's issues within male-dominant socialist organizations, Yamakawa ″shifted socialist discourse in significant ways that forced a consideration of women and their relation to class[53]″ while her proposals were not always adopted.

During wartime: criticism of colonialism and imperialist feminism[edit]

In 1923, a big earthquake, Great Kanto Earthquake, hit the Kanto area, including Tokyo. After the earthquake, the rumor that Koreans had poisoned a well was spread. A lot of Koreans, Chinese, and Taiwanese were killed by the military police and vigilantes who believed the rumor.[54] Not only did Yamakawa criticized the military police and vigilantes for these actions, but she also denounced the Japanese who internalized anti-foreignism as a result of imperial and colonial education.[55] During wartime, famous Japanese feminists and suffragists appeared to abandon their oppositional stance and embrace nationalism, aiming at getting women's rights and improving women's status. However, ″Yamakawa was one of the few prewar women's rights activists who did not support state actions or the state mobilization of women.[56]″ She continued to criticize the government, but the onset of the Pacific War made it impossible for her to openly criticize the government.[57]

The head of the Women's and Minors' Bureau (1947–1951)[edit]

After the Second World War, Yamakawa Kikue and her husband Hitoshi both joined the Japan Socialist Party. When the cabinet of Katayama Tetsu newly organized the Ministry of Labor and established the Women's and Minors' Bureau under the Ministry, Yamakawa was asked to be the first head of the Bureau. She served from 1947 to 1951.[58] After the service, she engaged in research of the liberation of women and women's issues with younger researchers in addition to publishing and organizing committees for women's issues.[59] She died of a stroke at the age of 90 in 1980. After she passed away, women cherishing her established the Yamakawa Kikue Memorial Organization which still exists today.[60]

List of works[61][edit]

  • From the Standpoint of Women (女の立場から) 1919
  • The Modern Life of Women (現代の生活と婦人) 1919
  • Women's Rebellion (女性の反逆) 1922
  • May Day (メーデー) 1923
  • Women's issues and Movements (婦人問題と婦人運動) 1925
  • Liebknechit and Luxembourg (リープクネヒトとルクセンブルク) 1925
  • Proletarian Feminist Movements (無産階級の婦人運動) 1928
  • Women's Fifty Lessons (女性五十講) 1933
  • Women and Social Conditions: Collection of Commentaries (婦人と世相 評論集) 1937
  • Women Are Working (女は働いてゐる) 1940
  • Autumn and Pigs in a Village (村の秋と豚 随筆集) 1943
  • The Village I Live in (わが住む村) 1943
  • Women of Samurai Family (武家の女性)1943
  • For the Women of Tomorrow (明日の女性のために)1947
  • Japanese Democratization and Women (日本の民主化と女性)1947
  • Comments on the Liberation of Women (婦人解放論)1947
  • New Principle of Wage, Beatrice Webb, Research of Gender Pay Equality Systems (新しい賃金原則 ピアトリス・ウエップ 男女平等賃銀制の研究)1948
  • For the New Women (新しき女性のために)1949
  • Mill and Babel: Theories of the Liberation of Women (ミル ベーベル 婦人解放論)1949
  • The Country of Peaceful Revolution: the U.K. (平和革命の国 イギリス)1954
  • A Record of Two Generations of Women (女二代の記 私の半自叙伝)1956
  • Memos of the Mito Domain in the Last Days of the Tokugawa Shogunate(覚書 幕末の水戸藩) 1974
  • For the Liberation of Women: Theories of Socialist Feminist Movements(女性解放へ 社会主義婦人運動論) 1977
  • Footprints of A Women Walking in the 20th Century (二十世紀をあゆむ ある女の足あと)1978
  • A Short History of Japanese Feminist movements (日本婦人運動小史)1979

Collection of Commentaries by Yamakawa Kikue

  • Yamakawa, Kikue, 1890-1980. (1981). Collection of Yamakawa Kikue's Works.(山川菊栄集) Tokyo, Iwanami Shoten Publishers.
  • Yamakawa, Kikue, 1890-1980. (1984). Collection of Commentaries on Women's Liberation by Yamakawa Kikue.(山川菊栄女性解放論集) Tokyo, Iwanami Shoten Publishers.
  • Yamakawa, Kikue, 1890-1980. (1990). Collection of Commentaries by Yamakawa Kikue.(山川菊栄評論集) Tokyo, Iwanami Shoten Publishers.
  • Yamakawa, Kikue, 1890-1980. (2011). Yamakawa Kikue shu hyouronhen (山川菊栄集 評論篇), Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten Publishers.


  • Yamakawa, Kikue, 1956. (2014). Onnna Nidai no Ki (A Record of Two Generations of Women). Tokyo, Iwanami Shoten publishers.
  • Yamakawa, Kikue, 1890-1980. (2011). Yamakawa kikue shu hyouronhen. Tokyo; Iwanami Shoten Publishers.
  • Suzuki, Yuko. (2012). The Significance of Yamakawa Kikue (1890-1980) for Today. Tokyo, Waseda University Gender Studies Institute.
  • Yamakawa Kikue, 1890-1980. (1990). Collection of Commentaries by Yamakawa Kikue. Tokyo, Iwanami Shoten, Publishers.
  • Faison, E. (2018). Women's Rights as Proletarian Rights: Yamakawa Kikue, Suffrage, and the "Dawn of Liberation". In Bullock J., Kano A., & Welker J. (Eds.), Rethinking Japanese Feminisms (pp. 15-33). Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv3zp07j.6. (12/3/2018).


  1. ^ Faison, 2018, p. 18
  2. ^ Faison, 2018, p, 12
  3. ^ Faison, 2018, p. 18
  4. ^ Faison, 2018, p. 17
  5. ^ Faison, 2018, p. 18
  6. ^ Faison, 2018, p. 17
  7. ^ Yamakawa, 2014, p. 420
  8. ^ Faison, 2018, p. 18
  9. ^ Yamakawa, 2014, p. 420
  10. ^ Yamakawa, 2014, p. 420
  11. ^ Yamakawa, 2014, p. 420
  12. ^ Yamakawa, 2014, p. 420
  13. ^ Suzuki, 2014, p. 31
  14. ^ Yamakawa, 2014, p. 420
  15. ^ Yamakawa, 2014, p. 168
  16. ^ Suzuki, 2012, pp32-33
  17. ^ Yamakawa, 2014, p. 180
  18. ^ Suzuki, 2012, p. 33
  19. ^ Suzuki, 2012, p. 33
  20. ^ Yamakawa, 2014, p. 420
  21. ^ Suzuki, 2012, p. 35
  22. ^ Suzuki, 2012, p. 35
  23. ^ Suzuki, 2012, p. 35
  24. ^ Suzuki, 2012, p. 38
  25. ^ Suzuki, 2012, p. 38
  26. ^ Yamakawa, 2011, pp. 7-8
  27. ^ Yamakawa, 2011, p. 8
  28. ^ Suzuki, 2012, p. 37
  29. ^ Suzuki, 2012, p. 37
  30. ^ Yamakawa, 2014, p. 425
  31. ^ Yamakawa 2014, p. 425
  32. ^ Suzuki, 2012, p. 40
  33. ^ Yamakawa, 2014, p. 426
  34. ^ Yamakawa, 2014, p. 426
  35. ^ Yamakawa, 2014, p. 426
  36. ^ Yamakawa, 2014, pp. 426-427
  37. ^ Yamakawa, 212, p. 429
  38. ^ Yamakawa, 2014, p. 427
  39. ^ Suzuki, 2012, p. 40
  40. ^ Suzuki, 2012, p. 41
  41. ^ Yamakawa, 2014, p. 438
  42. ^ Suzuki, 2012, p. 41
  43. ^ Suzuki, 2012, p. 41
  44. ^ Yamakawa 1990
  45. ^ Faison, 2018, p. 22
  46. ^ Faison, 2018, p. 22
  47. ^ Faison, 2018, p. 23
  48. ^ Faison, 2018, p. 23
  49. ^ Yamakawa, 1990
  50. ^ Yamakawa, 1990
  51. ^ Yamakawa, 1990
  52. ^ Yamakawa, 1990
  53. ^ Faison, 2018, p. 17
  54. ^ Yamakawa, 2014, p. 433
  55. ^ Yamakawa, 2014, p. 433
  56. ^ Faison, 2018, p. 26
  57. ^ Yamakawa, 2014, pp. 438-439
  58. ^ Yamakawa, 2014, p. 440
  59. ^ Yamakawa, 2014, p. 440
  60. ^ Yamakawa, 2014, p. 440
  61. ^ Wikipedia Japanese ver. Retrieved from https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/山川菊栄.