Hani Motoko (1873–1957)

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Hani Motoko (1873–1957)

Japan's first female newspaper reporter, who was editor and publisher of Fujin no tomo (Woman's Friend) ,Japan's longest-surviving woman's publication, and co-founder of Jiyū Gakuen, a private, co-educational school. Name variations: Matsuoka Moto (birth name). Pronunciation: HA-nee Moe-toe-koe. Born Matsuoka Moto on September 8, 1873, in Hachinobe, Aomori Prefecture, Japan; died in 1957; granddaughter of Matsuoka Tadataka (a former samurai); her father, a lawyer, was adopted into her mother's family, taking the name Matsuoka; attended elementary school in Hachinobe, Aomori; Daiichi Kōtō Jogakkō (Tokyo First Higher Girls' School); Meiji Jogakkō (Meiji Girls' School); married in 1896 and divorced in less than a year; married Hani Yoshikazu (1880–1955); children: Setsuko (daughter, 1903–1987); Keiko (daughter, b. 1908).

Was a member of the premiere graduating class of the Tokyo First Higher Girls' School (1891); was first female newspaper reporter in Japan (1897); edited and published Fujin no tomo (Woman's Friend), Japan's longest-surviving women's publication (1906–57); co-founded a private, co-educational school, Jiyū Gakuen (1921).

Periodicals published by Hani Motoko and Hani Yoshikazu: Katei no tomo (Household Friend, 1903, renamed Katei jogaku kogi [Homestudy for Women], 1906, renamed Fujin no tomo [Woman's Friend], 1908—); Kodomo no tomo (Children's Friend, 1914–29); Shin shōjo (New Girls, 1915–20); Manabi no tomo (Learning Companion, 1920).

Hani Motoko was born on September 8, 1873, in Hachinobe, Aomori Prefecture, Japan, only five years after the establishment of a government which promised to transform the country into a modern nation state. In this rapidly changing society, Hani was in the first generation of women who sought to shape their own lives and the destiny of Japan. She had the character traits of a trailblazer: moral courage, self-reliance, competence, and unfettered ambition. As is the case with women who succeed in "being the first," Hani had mentors, both female and male, who shaped her dreams and gave her opportunities. Over the course of a long career, she developed lasting institutions which have molded Japanese women's values in the 20th century.

Hani Motoko often recalled the disadvantages of the old, traditional society in which she grew up. Specifically, she regretted that she had not received moral guidance from her family. "My family was not uncaring nor negligent," she wrote, "but in those days no one, even in the more educated families, knew better." Although she was the descendant of samurai and her family was comfortably well-off, neither her grandmother nor her mother was literate, and Hani considered them naive. Her father, a lawyer, had been adopted into her mother's family as heir. He was, however, a ne'er-do-well, who was divorced from her mother and disinherited, following an extramarital affair and suspicious business dealings that tarnished the family's reputation. Hani's estrangement from her father was a deeply felt loss.

In her telling, Hani "clung tenaciously" to her "own ideas and beliefs." She was a stubborn perfectionist and not a well-liked child. Looking back, she continued to rue incidents in which she failed to act on her moral convictions and remembered, with some pleasure, when she took the initiative, particularly when she showed up the boys. Though not competitive when it came to her class standing, she had a growing intellectual curiosity and, in 1884, won an award for academic excellence, presented by the Ministry of Education.

The year of Hani's birth, 1873, was the same year in which Japan's modern public-school system was established. While elementary school was compulsory, only 16% of Japanese girls were in school at the time Hani was a student. It was her maternal grandfather—the family member with whom she most identified—that enabled Hani to continue her education in Tokyo. Nationwide, there were only nine women's schools. In 1891, Hani enrolled in the first graduating class of the Daiichi Kōtō Jogakkō (Tokyo First Higher Girls' School).

Tokyo was intellectually heady for a young woman from rural Japan. "I was still a good student," she recalled, "but my earlier enthusiasm had waned, while my interest and curiosity were captured by the metropolis around me." The first session of the Imperial Diet (national legislature) was about to begin and street circulars announced a wide variety of public lectures. Said Hani: "I went to listen to the speeches, but less often after the school advised us not to attend political gatherings." At the time, women were prohibited by law from participating in political organizations. Hani was a regular reader of Jogaku zasshi (Magazine of Women's Learning), the first major women's magazine in Japan, which published articles with the intention of enlightening women about education, foreign affairs, and culture. During this time, she also attended Christian churches and was baptized.

Hani completed her secondary education with high objectives but limited opportunities. At the time, no college in Japan admitted women. "My ambition… was to go on to higher normal school and eventually become a teacher," said Hani, "the only meaningful way of life that I knew." Most young women who were employed outside their parental homes worked as textile-mill operatives or domestic servants. Schoolteaching, however, had become a possible career after the establishment of compulsory education, though only 5.9% of teachers in Japan were women. It was not mere coincidence that most of the first generation of professional women in Japan, like Hani, began their careers as elementary school teachers, even though they later moved into other endeavors. Teaching was the most prestigious and lucrative career opportunity available. As Hani surveyed the landscape, she saw that only Christian women's schools were opening their doors to women for post-secondary education. She set her mind on attending one of them—Meiji Jogakkō (Meiji Women's School)—because its male president, Iwamoto Yoshiharu, was the editor of Jogaku zasshi, and the school embodied the progressive intellectual goals of the magazine. Hani's family, however, could not afford the tuition. Thus, she plucked up her courage, presented herself in Iwamoto's office for an interview, and persuaded him to admit her with a tuition waiver and a job as a copy editor for Jogaku zasshi. This enabled her to pay for her dormitory room and board. She had also found, in Iwamoto, her first mentor.

Meiji Women's School afforded Hani a stimulating intellectual and social environment. As a copy editor, she met prominent people in the fields of literature, religion, and education who wrote for the magazine. Hani's memoirs indicate that living in the dormitory with other women students, under the guidance of wise and gracious "mother figures," was perhaps, ultimately, more influential than the actual lectures she attended. This setting provided Hani with the moral guidance which she had missed in her own family. In Japan, these Christian women's schools were unprecedented, because they trained students in the discipline of daily living as well as in academic subjects. Unlike public elementary and secondary schools for women, which still espoused traditional feminine virtues like docility and submission to authority, Christian schools aspired to mold "modern" women and advance their social status by preparing them for leadership roles in society. Christian schools cultivated women's identity as individuals. While the values they espoused—dedication to socially useful work, self-reliance, and a sense of mission—were not incompatible with traditional samurai values, the teaching of these values to women, was, indeed, revolutionary. The school's stated intent was "to educate women by providing them with a model of ideal womanhood in which both the Western concept of women's rights and Japan's own traditional female virtues are embodied." If Hani was typical of its graduates, however, it might more accurately be said that the school developed in its women students the character traits and values which had enabled men to be successful in both Western and Japanese societies.

For reasons which Hani does not make clear in her autobiography, she withdrew from Meiji Women's School in 1892 and returned to her hometown to teach elementary school. But she found no intellectual satisfaction teaching there, in a public school, nor spiritual satisfaction in teaching in a Catholic girls' school, where she worked in the company of Western nuns. For Hani, Christianity had become an inspiring set of moral values, rather than a source of spiritual fulfillment. "At Meiji Women's School we had been taught Christian thought, but not faith," she wrote. That Christian morality continued to be the standard by which she lived her life was perhaps most clear in her decision to marry the man she loved as a means of saving him from a lifestyle which she found vulgar. (Hers was not, as was most frequently the case, a marriage arranged by her family.) The marriage was unsuccessful, however, and within a year she sought a divorce. After the dissolution of her parents' marriage, her own divorce was the second emotional crisis of her life. Later, she wrote: "I have always feared that this painful episode of my life, of which I am ashamed even today, might jeopardize the effectiveness of my public service. Not for a moment, however, do I regret my decision to liberate myself from the enslaving hold of emotion, for my life had been rendered meaningless by the selfish and profane love of another." For Hani, as was the case with many of the educated women of her generation, divorce was the beginning of a self-directed life, finding satisfaction in public service.

Keeping her divorce a secret from family and friends, Hani returned to Tokyo to make her way in the world. Once more, she was fortunate to find a mentor. "Opportunity always reached out before suffering could claim me," she wrote. She obtained a position, first as a maid, later as a live-in student, in the household of Dr. Yoshioka Yayoi , one of Japan's first female doctors, founder and president of Tokyo Women's Medical School, and publisher of the schools newspaper, Joikai (Women Doctors' World). In the Yoshioka household, which included Dr. Yoshioka, her husband, Yoshioka Arita, director of a German-language academy, as well as women medical students and a woman pharmacist, Hani's professional ambitions were nurtured, and she was introduced to a dual-career marriage in which professional work and personal lives were mutually supportive and beneficial.

In the challenging environment of the household, Hani developed the dream of becoming a writer. Armed with her experience as a copy editor for Jogaku zasshi, she sought a staff position on a newspaper. At first, the doors to employment were closed to her—the only position open to a woman in a newspaper office was as a receptionist. But again, with perseverance, she was allowed a trial run as a copy editor at the prestigious Hōchi newspaper. Since her work was deemed more accurate than that of the men with whom she worked, she was given the job with the proviso that, "as the first woman to work in the editing room, you will have to prove yourself." Hani appears to have been the victim of some verbal harassment, but she claimed to have been too pleased with her job to have taken notice of it.

But her dream was to write, not merely edit, and she eagerly looked for an opportunity. The Hōchi ran a popular column entitled, "Fujin no sugao" (Portraits of Leading Women). Although male writers were already assigned to the column, Hani seized the initiative, used her contacts from her former school, Tokyo First Women's Higher School, and wangled an interview with a prominent aristocrat. Her article was immediately accepted, and, within six months of having come to Tokyo, she realized her dream of becoming a newspaper reporter—the first woman reporter in Japan. Hani was convinced that women should not be limited to the society page. She wrote articles about women, education, and religions, and even police reports yielded subjects that required a woman's perspective. She was gratified when readers' responses backed her up. One of her favorite interviews was with a prominent Zen Buddhist monk, Nishiari. Hani described him not only as an open, cooperative subject, but also one who extended sympathy and understanding about the pain which still lingered after her divorce. Hani continued to have conversations with Nishiari and, for a time, contemplated becoming a Buddhist nun—particularly after learning from Nishiari that, historically, Buddhist nuns had been moral counselors as well as political advisors to government officials. Of her journalistic style, it has been said that she endeavored to find wisdom in mundane settings. Thorough research was her hallmark, and her writing was clear and straightforward, a refreshing contrast to the overblown rhetoric that characterized the popular press of the day.

During her tenure as a reporter at the Hōchi, Hani Motoko met and married a fellow reporter, Hani Yoshikazu. It appears to have been a love match between equally independent writers who were devoted to their careers. Initially, their marriage was disruptive. While progressive with respect to hiring a woman, the Hōchi staff was not prepared to employ both a husband and wife in the same offices. Hani felt pressured to resign, and Yoshikazu was transferred. In the long run, however, their marriage was the basis of a professional partnership that mirrored the one which Hani had earlier witnessed in the Yoshioka household.

After leaving the Hōchi, Hani embarked on her career in magazine publishing, becoming, in 1903, the editor, clerk, and manager of a journal published by the Fujin Kyōikukai (Women's Education Association), the most influential women's organization of the day. That same year, she launched her own project, Katei no tomo (Friend of the Home), serving as sole editor and writer. The first issue, which she had totally written, was published the day after the birth of her first child. In 1906, due to mergers at the Hōchi newspaper, Yoshikazu joined Hani at Katei no tomo; in 1908, they parted with their publisher, renamed the magazine Fujin no tomo (Woman's Friend), and began publishing it themselves. It is the longest surviving women's magazine in Japan.

It might be said that the model for Fujin no tomo was the magazine for which Hani had worked as a copy editor, Jogaku zasshi. No longer in print when the couple began publishing Fujin no tomo, the earlier magazine had differed from other women's monthlies of the late-19th century because it denounced customary feminine roles. While Fujin no tomo urged women to develop their own identities, the magazine was politically neutral. In contrast to a number of short-lived, early 20th-century women's magazines, particularly those published by socialist groups, Fujin no tomo never advocated women's rights or the revision of the social and political order. True to Hani's own values, the magazine urged self-transformation. Appealing to an audience of lower- and middleclass housewives, the magazine put forth the idea that the home was the most important social unit and its improvement would result in significant social reform and progress. With the motto, "education in daily life," experts addressed issues of marriage, education of children, health concerns, and household finance. Hani used the magazine to initiate popular campaigns for reform, such as Western clothing for children, that she thought would bring reason and efficiency to matters of daily life. In an implied criticism of the more theoretical and political women's magazines, she said, "The world needs social critics and commentators, but the mission of our magazine, Fujin no tomo, lies somewhere beyond mere theorizing. It is our ultimate goal to give concrete form to our visions and to substantiate our theories in practice."

In 1921, Hani and her husband established Jiyū Gakuen (Freedom School), a private school as a means of developing the values they championed in their magazine. As was the case with Hani's early mentors, Hani Motoko and Hani Yoshikazu expressed their unique social vision by simultaneously publishing a magazine and administering a private school. The goal of the school (initially a girls' school, later it would become co-educational) was to foster a totally free individual—free as a result of her capacity to make her own way in the world. The representation of values designed to achieve this goal was drawn both from Confucian classics and the Bible. In practical terms for the education of young girls, the result of this combination of values was to develop the "good wife, wise mother" (a traditional Confucian formulation) who could efficiently manage a household without the assistance of servants. Over the years, the school became known for its success in combining the practical lessons of self-sufficiency (e.g. growing and preparing the food the students ate) with an academic curriculum. In the sense of combining a residential community, which developed lessons on daily living, with intellectual pursuits, the school was modeled on the Christian women's school which Hani had attended.

While there were many women of her generation who became professionals and rose to positions of leadership, Hani Motoko was in many ways unique among them. Unlike most, Hani had a profoundly spiritual, rather than a political, perspective. Consistent with this view, she believed in the capacity of a woman to transform herself, her family, and ultimately, society; individual transformation, rather than legal reform or the overthrow of the existing political economy was, to her, the key to human liberation. For these reasons, Hani appeared to be more optimistic about improving the status of women than others. Perhaps it was this relatively optimistic message that best explains Hani's popularity and the success of her projects.


Mulhern, Chieko Irie, ed. "Hani Motoko: The Journalist Educator," in Heroic with Grace: Legendary Women of Japan. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1991.

Linda L. Johnson , Professor of History, Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota