Kato, Shidzue 1897-2001

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KATO, Shidzue 1897-2001

PERSONAL: Born March 2, 1897, in Japan; died of respiratory failure, December, 22, 2001, in Tokyo, Japan; married Keikichi Ishimoto (a baron and mining engineer; divorced); married Kato Kanju (a trade union leader), 1944 (died, 1978); children: (first marriage) two sons, (second marriage) one daughter. Education: Graduate of the Peeresses School. Politics: Socialist.

CAREER: Feminist and activist. Founder of Women's Research Institute and Birth Control Consultation Centre, Tokyo, Japan, 1932; elected to Japanese diet, 1946, and House of Councillors (senate), 1950-74. Cofounder and president of Family Planning Federation of Japan, 1954; Japanese Organization for International Cooperation in Family Planning, president.

AWARDS, HONORS: United Nations Population Award, 1988; Avon Grand Award, 1990; Shidzue Kato Award created in her honor by the Japanese Organization for International Cooperation in Family Planning, 1996, to recognize achievements by women in the fields of population and reproductive health.


East Way, West Way: A Modern Japanese Girlhood (autobiography), illustrated by Fuji Nakamizo, Farrar and Rinehard (New York, NY), 1936, published as Facing Two Ways: The Story of My Life, Stanford University Press (Stanford, CA), 1984.

The Face of Women in Japanese History, 1953.

Straight Road (autobiography), 1956.

A Fight for Women's Happiness: Pioneering the Family Planning Movement in Japan, Japanese Organization for International Cooperation in Family Planning (Tokyo, Japan), 1984.

Kato Shidzue Hyakusai (autobiography; title means "Kato Shidzue at Age 100"), Fujin Gahosha, c. 1997.

SIDELIGHTS: Kato Shidzue was a Japanese feminist who pioneered for women's rights for more than seventy years. She was persecuted and imprisoned, but she prevailed in her fight for reproductive rights and was recognized for her achievements by the United Nations and Japanese groups.

Kato was born Hirota Shidzue into a privileged samurai family. Her father was a mining engineer, and her mother, who had been educated at a missionary school, brought Western ideas into their home during the period in which Japan was changing from a feudal to a more contemporary society. Although women were afforded equality under the law, in reality, their lives had not changed significantly.

After graduating from an exclusive school, Kato married Baron Keikichi Ishimoto, like her father, a mining engineer. She was appalled on viewing the small mining town to which they relocated—the poverty and the unhealthy conditions under which people were living. She and her husband worked for social reform and to improve the lives of the laborers who spent twelve hours a day in the mines, and particularly the women, who then went home to care for their large families.

In 1919 Kato came to the United States and enrolled in secretarial school in order to acquire the skills that would make her independent. While here, she met Margaret Sanger, founder of this country's family planning movement. This first meeting inspired Kato to bring birth control to Japan, but on her return, she caused a great stir for being a woman of the samurai class involved in social causes. Birth control was an unpopular idea, as the country wanted higher birth rates to produce the boys and men needed for war.

Kato also owned a woolen shop and sold clothes and held knitting classes. This, too, was unheard of—a woman of her class being involved in the mercantile trade. But her movement within communities gave her the opportunity to promote the idea of birth control to Japanese women. In 1922 Kato hosted Sanger's visit to her country, made possible by the press coverage that overrode government policy. The Japan Birth Control Study Group resulted, which published a Japanese-language version of Family Limitation, Sanger's controversial pamphlet on contraception.

The earthquake of 1923 destroyed Kato's shop, but the movement was growing rapidly, and she established the Women's Research Institute, which studied women's issues. She was, as yet, unable to offer methods of contraception, and so she spent time in the United States and studied under Sanger. In 1932 she founded the Birth Control Consultation Centre, which was staffed with doctors and nurses, and which she stocked with contraceptive creams and jellies, the manufacture and distribution of which she personally arranged.

Now an international figure dubbed the "Margaret Sanger of Japan," Kato was asked by American publishers to write her first autobiography, which was published in 1935. It became a bestseller, and following World War II, it was used by the American occupation forces as a textbook on Japanese culture. The right-wing Japanese government arrested Kato in 1937 for her promotion of "dangerous thoughts," and she spent two weeks in prison. The records of the Birth Control Consultation Centre were confiscated and the clinic shut down, temporarily ending the birth control movement in Japan until after World War II.

Over the next years, Kato divorced her husband and lost a son. She remarried, and in an effort to take an active leadership role, she ran for and was elected to the lower house of the Japanese Diet, or Parliament, in 1946, the year after women were given the right to vote and the right to hold political office. Her husband, Kanju Kato was also elected, although they represented different wings of the Socialist Party. In 1947, at the age of forty-eight, Kato gave birth to her third child, and first daughter. Kato was elected to the upper house, or senate, in 1950, where she served until her retirement in 1974.

In 1950 Japan legalized the manufacture and sale of contraceptive drugs, and family planning was encouraged by the Ministry of Health and Welfare. Sanger visited Japan in 1952. In 1954, Kato cofounded the Family Planning Federation of Japan, which became affiliated with the International Planned Parenthood Federation. Tokyo hosted the International Conference on Planned Parenthood in 1955, which supported the movement in Japan and the idea of smaller families.

Kato's leadership was not limited to family planning. "By the mid 1950s," noted the writer of Kato's obituary in the London Times, "Japan had still not resumed normal relations with countries it had occupied during the war. At a conference in the Philippines in 1957, Kato and Niro Hoshijima, chairman of the Japan-Korea Society, won the confidence of Korean delegates by apologizing for Japan's harsh treatment of their country during more than thirty years' occupation. On their return to Tokyo, they persuaded Nobusuke Kishi, the prime minister, to revoke Japanese claims on Korea, paving the way for fresh negotiations towards a peace treaty between the two countries." As a member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Kato offered opposition support to Kishi if he would apologize on behalf of the Japanese people as he traveled to other countries promoting trade. Kato herself apologized to England and The Netherlands when she visited London in 1971.

After her husband's death in 1978, Kato left the Socialist Party so that she could speak more independently, and she was active in public life until she was 100 years old. She published Kato Shidzue Hyakusai, another autobiography, in her centennial year. A writer for Asahi Shimbun noted that Kato was born in the Meiji Era and was a young woman and wife during the Taisho Era, during which signs of democracy were evident. Her most active period was during the turbulent Showa Era, and her later and more settled life was during the present Heisei Era. The writer said that "she strikes me as someone who fed on the best part of each of these eras she passed through, even in the worst times." The writer noted that in this last book Kato writes about losing her second son to tuberculosis when he was a young man. Kato said that after recovering from his death, her own advice to herself was, "In a sad moment, let yourself be saddened deeply. In a joyous moment, let yourself explode in celebration."

Kato died in 2001 at the age of 104. Her life was itself a celebration of the power to make change. 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."

In a message of condolence, Alexander Sanger said, "Madame Kato has now joined her good friend and my grandmother, Margaret Sanger, in eternity; together . . . they worked for the betterment of the status of women in Japan, America, and around the world."



Kato Shidzue, East Way, West Way: A Modern Japanese Girlhood, illustrated by Fuji Nakamizo, Farrar and Rinehard (New York, NY), 1936, published as Facing Two Ways: The Story of My Life, Stanford University Press (Stanford, CA), 1984.

Kato Shidzue, Straight Road, 1956.

Kato Shidzue, Kato Shidzue Hyakusai, Fujin Gaho-sha (Tokyo, Japan), c. 1997.


WIN News, summer, 1997, "Japan: Pioneer Feminist Lawmaker Still a Leader at 100," p. 58.



Asahi Shimbun, December, 24, 2001, "Kato Worked for Women," and "Centenarian May Have Meiji Women to Thank."

Times (London, England), January 1, 2002, p. 15.


International Planned Parenthood Federation,http://www.ippf.org/ (July 11, 2002).*