2003, Volume 1, Number 6
Works of Uno Chiyo Prior to and Following World War II
be learned about a culture from sources other than the usual
history books. Take for example the African American spiritual, "Get
gospel train's a-comin', I hear it close at hand.
I hear the wheels a-rumblin', And rollin' through the land.
Get on board, little children, Get on board, little children,
Get on board, little children, There's room for many-a more."
slaves sang this spiritual as a way to let other slaves know
that a group was about to head north for freedom. It (the spiritual)
was a medium for African American slaves to express their feelings
without being held responsible for those feelings. A plantation
owner might not think his slaves were escaping when he heard
this spiritual because to him, it was just a song. What this
plantation owner didn't realize was that the songs, artwork and
literature of a culture are quite revealing. (1)
In this way,
the autobiographical and semi-autobiographical writings of Japanese
women parallel spirituals because through the stories, their
thoughts and dreams are expressed. A carefully analyzed piece
of literature from a specific time period can also reveal what
the social norms were and how different groups of people (such
as men and women and the youth and elderly, etc.) felt about
those norms. In my opinion, it would be interesting to analyze
the writings of Uno Chiyo, a prominent Japanese writer before
and after the Second World War. Because of advances made after
World War II regarding women's rights were radical for the times
yet didn't completely change the roles of women in Japanese society,
I feel the author's works will reflect a change in ideas regarding
topics such as marriage and independence, but will also stress
a need to continue on a path of reform.
autobiographical essay, "A Genius of Imitation" was
written before the Second World War and provides the reader with
accurate information regarding the status of women during this
time in history. The essay focuses on the first thirty-eight
years of her life and he feelings about her family and lovers
as well as herself. From her early childhood, Uno Chiyo had aspirations
that didn't fit into the typical Japanese woman mold. As she
explains in the beginning paragraphs of her essay, Chiyo's dreams
can be partially attributed to the militaristic propaganda of
the times: "I grew up a child who wanted to go to the battlefields
despite my sex... All the songs we learned at school were about
war...It was these war songs, now that I think about it, that
introduced me to literature." (2)
time in Japanese history, the Japanese, in an attempt to rid
the country of captivity by Western nations, successfully fought
wars against China and Russia. (3) As a result, it was natural
for institutions such as schools to promote honor and service
for the country. Chiyo's essay then goes on to explain how some
men, her father and teacher for example, were against her getting
pleasure from reading. Even though an 1872 law was established
mandating 4 years of elementary education for all male and female
children, there was "continued dominance for the notion
that females need not be literate or learned and that childbearing
and child rearing were the only activities worthy of them." (4)
of education, "providing skills required for military and
economic development, promoting a common sense of nationhood,
and opening the way to the full realization of the intellectual
resources of the country" (5) were not meant for female
students and it was feared that if women became educated and
could make decisions without the help of a man, the country's
social order would be wrongly altered. (6)
these anti-enlightening ideas, Chiyo suffered beatings from her
father, a man who according to the essay was never associated
with happiness or admiration. (7)
with her father seems to be one that is typical of the pre-World
War II era. The ie system which has the father as head of the
and all others subject to his orders was common at this time. There was no
mutual respect between husbands and wives or between fathers and daughters
and acting out the duties given by the father was how a daughter expressed
It is quite
obvious that Chiyo favored neither the ie system nor her relationship
with her father. His disapproval didn't make her more loyal to
her family as he had hoped; instead it made her want to pursue
what he forbade even more. The true feelings of women who lived
with men such as Chiyo's father came out after his death. These
feelings are best expressed by the actual words of the author: "But
I'm sure your life will be a lot easier now,” and they
even congratulated themselves on his death.... I cried bitterly,
but somehow I was happy at the same time, thinking that I could
now do whatever I wanted." (9)
high school, Uno Chiyo began what she referred to as her "independent
life". (10) This new phase in her life had her dressing
ornately, energetically teaching at an elementary school, living
on her own, managing her income, and falling in love, all of
which brought her great happiness. After a few years, Chiyo was
not satisfied with her life, particularly with the love aspect,
and decided to move to Tokyo, a place which "symbolized
a chance to succeed, to put one's aspirations into action." (11)
By this time, Chiyo was 26 and it was very uncommon for a woman
her age to be single and have such freedoms. (12) In Tokyo, she
worked many jobs, among them was a position as a waitress. This
was considered a typical job for women who "Had nothing
but their able bodies to work" (13), illustrating the opinion
that women should focus their lives on serving and not on developing
was not in Tokyo for long when she moved to Sapporo to get married.
The diction used by Chiyo subtly suggests she was not in love
with her future husband; that she was merely getting married
because he sent for her and because his stable job meant she
wouldn't have to work odd jobs anymore. (14) Chiyo's marriage
coincides with the traditional Japanese ideas regarding marriage.
For example, financial stability and not necessarily love was
an important and valid reason for a couple to get married. (15)
Chiyo also says she "became a good housewife" (16),
which means she did all of the housework, helped her husband
dress, served tea and prepared meals for him (17), stayed home
and didn't second guess her husband's choices, such as choosing
to play pool after work instead of coming home. (18)
In this and
many other marriages at the time, the husband was always right.
Take for example, the following excerpt from the essay:
returned home late one night and looked at my work (a collection
of essays). "What's a 'Sukopenhuauer'?" he asked. I
told him it was the name of a person, Schopenhauer, and he laughed,
loudly, for a long time. I put my pen down and sighed.... I drew
all the curtains and knitted socks again. (19)
husband does not know the meaning of a work and instead of appreciating
her explanation, he merely laughs it off, belittling her project
and her knowledge and causing her to stop her writing and to
continue her wifely duties. Fortunately, Chiyo didn't stop writing
completely for, a few months later, she left her life as a wife
and moved back to Tokyo to find out what happened to a manuscript
she submitted to a publisher. The story was a success and was
to be published, causing Chiyo to believe she is now a "significant
Life to her
was marvelous and she now saw being a woman as an advantage as
opposed to a curse. According to Chiyo, being a woman was what
provoked the publisher to read her story and a woman waitress
turned author and ultimately women in general who make dreams
a reality are a rarity that should be cherished and given opportunities.
ends with Chiyo's account of her marriage to a writer named Ozaki
Shiro. While Chiyo doesn't mention performing the typical wifely
duties as she did with her first husband, she still lives by
the notion that the husband continues to control his wife's actions
When I wrote
a line, I'd turn to my new husband and ask how e would have written
it.... When the result seemed to fit his taste more than mine,
I felt relieved.... the pieces I wrote sat still.... how ludicrous
it is that I act like a wife in my career as a writer. I should,
at least, have borrowed a telescope from my husband once in awhile
instead of always using his glasses. (22)
As she states
in the final, highly metaphoric sentence, she is clearly disgusted
with her writing because the ideas are not as broad and personal
as she wants them to be; they are the narrow-minded opinions
of her husband. The author is once again struggling to think
on her own without the ideas of her husband shadowing her.
this short autobiographical essay gives the reader accurate information
regarding women's status prior to the Second World War. "A
Genius of Imitation" exemplifies the traditional roles of
fathers and how they dominated the family, schools and how they
failed to promote female intellect, and wives and their struggle
with self-motivation and independence.
Genius of Imitation" focused on the author in her younger
years, "Happiness" looks at Uno Chiyo's senior years.
This semi-autobiographical story won the Women's Literature Award
in 1970 (23) and is one of the many stories that brought Chiyo
financial success and "contributed to a more positive image
of women writers in pre-war Japan." (24)
with the main character, Kazue, an aging women, getting out of
the bathtub. From this introduction, the reader begins to see
Kazue as a woman who, despite not taking the traditional road,
is quite happy with the life she has lived. She has been separated
from her husband for five years and in reminiscing about Kazue's
thirty-year marriage, the narrator gives some interesting opinions
about the institution of marriage. For example, the narrator
explains that Kazue's husband had left her for a younger woman
he had known for many years. (25)
A man or
woman leaving a spouse for another with whom he or she is having
a long-term relationship gained popularity after World War II.
(26) And while this case involves the man leaving his wife, acceptance
toward women leaving their husbands grew as the country began
to see marriage as a "respect for individual dignity and
equality of both sexes." (27)
that is illustrated in this story that was common in both pre-
and post-war Japan is the notion that in a marriage, the couple
doesn't necessarily have to be compatible. As the narrator points
out: "When you live with someone for such a lengthy period,
you start to ignore the other person, almost as if the other
person were not theirs. Not only did she think her husband lived
by himself, but Kazue also sometimes thought of herself as living
alone." (28) Uno Chiyo experienced the same loneliness and
lack of meaningful conversation during her first marriage when
her husband stayed out after work to play pool and she was left
to work on her writing. (29)
difference between the two marriages however lies in the author's
presentation of the husbands and wives. While Chiyo, in A Genius
of Imitation dutifully does things for her husband, Kazue, in
Happiness, "without giving consideration to her husband's
preferences, sometimes calmly went about doing what she wanted....
She always approached matters from her point of view and unconsciously
selected only those activities which pleased her or which she
thought would be interesting or fun." (30)
In the latter
marriage, Kazue's opinion mattered. After receiving work about
possible bombings (this “flashback" part of the story
puts the characters in the midst of World War II) Kazue and her
husband look for a new home. When they get to the house they
were interested in, the husband asked her opinion on the living
conditions and was concerned if they, not just he, would be best
suited in this house. This is quite a change from the husband
in A Genius of Imitation who scoffed at Chiyo's answer to a question.
of marriage that both time periods shared is the idea of the
wife becoming part of her husband’s family and therefore
taking care of his aging parents. While the previously mentioned
ie system had been abolished after the second world war some
aspects lingered, such as the eldest son taking care of his parents
until their deaths. (31) Kazue became caregiver to her in-laws
because "In Japan the patriarchal family system--which stressed
obedience of women to men, the young to the old, and the daughter-in-law
to the mother-in-law--exerts strong pressure for the daughter-in-law
to take on the role of caregiver." (32) A Genius of Imitation
fails to deal with the daughter-in-law as caregiver to her in-laws,
not because the notion didn't exist, but possibly because Chiyo's
husbands weren't the eldest sons, his parents were already dead,
or the marriage was a very unconventional one.
continues to explain the marriage of Kazue and her husband, this
time dealing with his departure from their home to fight in the
war, a change that undoubtedly changed their lives as well as
the many families that lived through World War II. This war killed
over 660,000 civilians, decreased the surplus of consumer goods
and caused a lowering of the people's morale, all while the heads
of households (fathers, husbands, sons) were serving their country.
(33) As a result, the women of these families had to assume the
leadership role temporarily; a task which they proved could be
handled by a woman.
had to deal with her husband’s departure. At first she
marked off each day he was gone on a calendar. Eventually she
stopped doing this, symbolizing, in my opinion, an acceptance
of the fact that she no longer had to think of her husband's
reactions to her choices. It was at this time that she began
to take on projects: "Kazue did not just sit around and
wait for her husband, but did something positive even thought
the thought might annoy him." (34)
with classic female hobbies such as doll making and gardening,
but after her husband returned home from the war, she eventually
moved on to larger projects like moving into new homes she had
designed. This latter project is one that takes great planning
and requires the homeowner to give instructions to those building
the home, both of which were usually handled by the man in the
In my opinion,
Kazue actually took on the role traditionally assumed by husbands
by building these homes and it was this reversing of roles that
caused the men in her life to leave. Instead of portraying this
as a failure, the narrator rationalizes, "She is not now
living with anyone, and so as soon as she has an idea, she can
implement it the very next day because she does not have to worry
about talking to that person and having him tell her to stop
doing such and such. (35)
In this way,
Kazue and the post-war woman is acting out the dream to be self-motivated.
However, in Happiness, Chiyo and the pre-war woman focus on the
advantages of the unpredictable life and stress the fact that
despite going against the norms of society, as Kazue did, a woman
can be quite happy and satisfied. (36)
Uno Chiyo's writings before and after World War II, one can see
how some aspects of life remained while other notions gained
acceptance. Prior to the war, the traditional patriarchal system
of total control by the father or husband of a family was predominant.
A woman was obligated to follow the commands of her father or
husband and even if the woman was as radical as Chiyo, she still
found herself forced into the norms of society. After the war,
women were beginning to see how they could act independently
from their fathers and husbands and they came to realize how
fulfilling this could be. It was writings like A Genius of Imitation
and Happiness that got some women to reconsider the current status
of women during their time period. The dreams and objections
of pre-war Japanese women were published and were altered by
women in post- war Japan, and while there are still dreams and
objections to be dealt with among the women of Japan, literature
has helped pave the way toward a greater respect for women.
Hackett and Carolynn A. Lindeman, The Musical Clasroom (New Jersey:
Prentice Hall, 1955) 310.
2. Yukiko Tanaka, To Live and To Write: Selections by Japanese Women Writers
1913-1938 (Seattle: Seal Press, 1987) 189.
3. Edwin O. Reischauer and Marius B. Jansen, The Japanese Today: Change and
Continuity (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University press, 1995) 89-90.
4. Kumiko Fujimura-Fanselow and Atsuko Kameda, Japanese Women: New Feminist
Perspectives on the Past, Present, and Future (New York: The Feminist Press,
7.op.cit To Live, 190.
8. op.cit Japanese Women, 186-187.
9.op.cit. To Live, 190.
10. Ibid., 191.
12.Sumiko Iwao, The Japanese Woman: Traditional Image and Changing Reality (Cambridge,
Mass: Harvard University Press, 1993) 59.
13.op.cit. To Live, 192.
15.op.cit. The Japanese Woman, 69.
16.op.cit. To Live, 193.
17.op.cit. The Japanese Woman, 89.
18.op.cit. To Live, 193.
19. Ibid., 193.
20. Ibid., 194.
23. Phyllis Birnbaum, Rabbits, Crabs, Etc.: Stories by Japanese Women (Honolulu:
University of Hawaii Press, 1982) 131.
24.op.cit. To Live, 183.
26.op.cit. The Japanese Woman, 108.
27.op.cit. Japanesee Women, 189.
28. Op.cit. Rabbits, 135.
29. op.cit. To Live, 193.
30. Op.cit. Rabbits, 135.
31. Op.cit. Japanese Women, 221.
33.op.cit. The Japanese Today, 103.
34. Op.cit. Rabbits, 141.
36. ibid., 131.
Phyllis. Rabbits, Crabs, Etc.: Stories by japanese Women. Honolulu:
University of Hawaii Press, 1982.
2. Fujimura-Fanselow, Kumiko, and Atsuko kameda. Japanese women: New Feminist
Perspectives on the Past, Present, and Future. New York: The Feminist Press,
3. Hackett, Patricia, and Carolynn A. Lindeman. The Musical Classroom. New Jersey:
Prentice Hall, 1995.
4. Iwao, Sumiko. The Japanese Woman: Traditional Image and Changing Reality.
Cambridge, Mass: harvard university Press, 1993.
5. Reischauer, Edwin O., and Marius B. Jansen. The Japanese Today: Change and
Continuity. Cambridge, Mass: harvard university press, 1995.
6. Tanaka, Yukiko. To Live and To Write: Selections by Japanese Women Writers
1913-1938. Seattle: Seal press, 1987.
M. Mendes is a native resident of Warren, Rhode Island. She has
been teaching elementary education for 4 years and is currently
teaching fourth grade at Mary V. Quirk School, also in Warren.
Her work was written in 1998 for a Rhode Island College course,
Women in Japan, taught by Dr. Laurie Pamental. It is her first
published piece. She credits her success to the educators she
has had throughout life: "I have been blessed with a terrific
education right from the start from my parents, Terry and John.
I thank them and the many wonderful teachers I have had the pleasure
of learning from over the years."
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