In the recent Ellen Sheeley's blog "Emperor's new clothes," I wrote the following comment:
"I just read a Japanese Wikipedia site and learned that in 1880, Japanese women who were the head of household gained the right to vote. It said this was one of very few such examples in the world then. But four years later, it was taken away from them. After that, the laws liming women's right such as prohibiting practically all political activities went into effect. Talking of backward and forward, it was like a jet coaster's ride."
I didn't know all this before. As I write blogs, I learn so much. Fukuzawa Yukichi was an instrumental in making the constitution of the Meiji Japan that denied the women's right to vote and all the political rights to women including studying political science in school. The laws went into effect in 1889.
I asked some people around me like a librarian and a retiree from the public service if they knew the fact that in the beginning of Meiji period, Japanese women gained the right to vote and that was only among a few nations in the world then. ( According to Japanese Wikipedia, others were Wyoming in the U.S. and some place in Australia.) They all said they didn't know which surprised me because they lived in Japan all their lives unlike me. Also, they didn't seem surprised about not knowing the fact. So I researched. I found very few books, but I finally found two books about the woman who initiated the movement for women's right to vote.
Her name is Kususe Kita (1836 -1920). Her father was a rice merchant, and she married a samurai. In 1870s, the freedom movement was active in Kouchi, and she went to listen to the speeches of the freedom movement. I don't know during this time or it happened before, but her husband died, and she became the head of household. She didn't have children, and she was 42. In response to a tax bill she received, she sent an inquiry letter to the department of the Home Affair in September 1878.
According to the book "A Sequel: The Women of the Restoration" by Kusuto Yoshiaki and Iwao Mitsuyo, Kususe Kita's inquiry letter was written as follows.
"I have been satisfying all my legal obligations as the head of the household, but my right to vote was denied because I'm a woman. So I didn't think I have to pay taxes, but I was asked to pay. I expressed this unfairness to the local public office. They replied that women do not go to wars, so the rights cannot be the same as men's. But the male heads of households are all exempted from the military service, so this makes no sense. What should I do?"
The above argument is in page 167 of the above mentioned book, and right after it, a sentence in new paragraph follows: "Kita is for people's right. Her argument was, of course, an ideological crime (kakushinhan 確信犯)." Crime? I often get stuck with the prejudice behind sentences, but I wanted to show just one example coming from the editors. They are probably unaware of the fact. We use such words like "a brain crime (Chinouhan 知能犯)" as very smart," so the editors are using such word loosely, perhaps. Nevertheless, I am very disappointed. The book was the only one of two I found in the central library in Yokohama which included a short biography of Kususe Kita.
Two years after Kususe Kita's inquiry letter was sent, the women's right to vote passed in 1880 in Shoutakasaka village and Kamimachi town in Kouchi. And it lasted not one month or one year, but four years. I read that Itagaki Taisuke ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Itagaki_Taisuke) praised her. And her fine memorial stone was built by an influential man Touyama Mitsuru 頭山満and the tribute was written by Kouno Hironaka河野広中, a freedom activist and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.