Ichikawa Fusae (1893–1981)

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Ichikawa Fusae (1893–1981)

Japanese suffragist, feminist, and politician, who was one of the most outstanding women in 20th-century Japan. Name variations: Ichikawa Fusaye. Pronunciation: ITCH-EE-ka-wa FOO-sa-ae. Born Ichikawa Fusae on May 15, 1893, in Asahi Village, Aichi Prefecture, Japan; died in Tokyo, Japan, in 1981; daughter of Ichikawa Fujikurō (a farmer) and Ichikawa Tatsu; attended public elementary and higher elementary schools, briefly attended Joshi Gakuin (Girls' Academy) in Tokyo, and graduated from Aichi Prefectural Women's Normal School in 1913; never married; no children.

Taught elementary school (1913–16); was first woman newspaper reporter in Nagoya, Japan (1917–19); moved to Tokyo to become the secretary of the women's section of the Yūaikai (Friendly Society), Japan's first labor organization (1919); founded Shin Fujin Kyōkai (New Woman's Association, 1919–21); networked with women's rights leaders in the U.S. (1921–23); returned to Tokyo, where she worked for the International Labor Organizations (1924–27); founded the Fusen Kakutoku Dōmei (Women's Suffrage League, 1924–40); appointed to the advisory board of the government's organization, Dai Nihon Fujinkai (Greater Japan Women's Association, 1942–44); organized the Sengo Taisaku Fujin Iinkai (Women's Committee on Postwar Countermeasures) to work for women's suffrage (1945); purged by the American occupation (1947–50); served in the House of Councillors (the upper house of the national legislature, 1953–71 and 1974–81).


(in Japanese) Ichikawa Fusawa no jiden—senzen hen (The Autobiography of Ichikawa Fusae—The Prewar Period, 1974); Watakushi no fujin undō (My Women's Movement, 1972); Watakushi no seiji shōron (My Views of Politics, 1972); Sengo fujikai no dōkō (Trends of Women's Circles in the Postwar Period, 1969).

During Ichikawa Fusae's almost 90 years, the status of Japanese women changed dramatically; women progressed from being subordinate to men, in both the private and public sphere, to being their legal equal, and she was one of those most responsible for this change. Remarkably, despite being a militant feminist, at the time of her death in 1981 Ichikawa Fusae was perhaps the most respected politician in Japan.

Born to a farm family at the end of the 19th century, Ichikawa's childhood reflected both the weight of traditions which had oppressed Japanese women and the opportunities which modernization afforded them. As the head of his family, Ichikawa Fujikurō faced no censure for beating his wife; Fusae recalled seeing her mother Ichikawa Tatsu whimpering in a corner, unable to defend herself against his blows. But her father was progressive on the issue of education, schooling his daughters, as well as his sons. For this, he tolerated the ridicule of his fellow villagers. Fusae claimed that she was raised to be "bold or aggressive," to ignore conventional propriety—a trait she would exhibit throughout her life.

After attending elementary school, she was briefly enrolled at one of the most progressive girls' schools in Tokyo, Joshi Gakuin (Girls' Academy), whose director, Yajima Kajiko, was an outspoken advocate of women's rights. Between 1909 and 1913, Ichikawa attended public schools of higher education to prepare for what was then the only respectable profession for women—teaching. Following her graduation, she taught girls in a public elementary school. While her own schooling had been pleasant, Ichikawa became critical of the constraints placed upon young women in public schools. "Curiosity and self-consciousness have been ignored in the name of femininity," she complained. "For no reason we are forced to be submissive, to sacrifice ourselves, and to be chaste…. We aremolded into human beings who lack dignity, are inflexible, and cannot even manage our own lives." Despite the satisfaction she received from earning a salary, Ichikawa quit her teaching job in 1916.

Undoubtedly receiving some pressure to marry, Ichikawa wrote of her confusion:

Whom should I try to please in this world? Society at large? Women? Myself? If I am prevented from doing what I want to do, I will not have confidence in myself or in my abilities. I know that I will be extremely lonely in the future. Yet, I am most content when I sit alone in my dark room or when I take an evening walk by myself.

In the midst of this exploration, Ichikawa became the first woman reporter for the Nagoya shimbun (Nagoya News). Working for an editor who advanced women's issues, Ichikawa covered women's organizations and educational opportunities for women. She became restless, however, and moved to Tokyo, hoping to be more intellectually and politically challenged.

Now in her mid-20s, Ichikawa used professional and family contacts to become immersed in the liberal circles of young intellectuals and social activists who were most interested in women's issues. In 1919, she was appointed secretary of the women's section of the Yūaikai (Friendly Society), Japan's first labor organization. Disenchanted, however, with the discrimination against women in the fledgling labor movement, Ichikawa reached the conclusion that "before I worked in a labor movement for women, I would have to work in a woman's movement for male-female equality. Although I tried very hard to raise the position of working women within the federation, I resigned when I realized that the consciousness of Japan's workers was extremely low."

She turned from the labor movement to the women's movement and embarked upon the organizational building which characterized her career. Shortly after arriving in Tokyo, Ichikawa had been introduced to Japan's most prominent feminist, Hiratsuka Raichō , leader of the organization Seito (Bluestockings) and editor of their literary journal. Although Ichikawa was by no means one of the refined, upper-class Tokyo intellectuals with whom Hiratsuka was accustomed to working, the two developed a relationship of mutual respect. Together, in 1919, they launched the Shin Fujin Kyōkai (New Woman's Association), which envisioned a different program for Japanese feminism. In contrast to the Bluestockings, the New Woman's Association sought to organize a broad cross-section of women, for political, rather than cultural purposes.

The group's objective was to achieve equal rights for all women and men. In order to realize their aim, the association set out to obtain a higher standard of education for women, co-education in primary schools, women's suffrage, a revision of laws unfavorable to women, and the protection of motherhood. The association would undertake research on women's issues, convene conferences for women activists, and offer personal consultation for women with problems. Ichikawa became editor-in-chief of Josei dōmei (Women's League), a newsletter which promoted the association's ideas.

The story of her life is the modern history of Japanese women in their country's political life…. Her dedication made her in her final years the lodestar of all women—even more, an admired and trusted national figure.

—Dorothy Robins-Mowry

Within months, Ichikawa and other association leaders submitted a petition to the Diet (the national legislature), signed by more than 1,500 women, to repeal the section of the Peace Preservation Law which denied women the freedom of assembly. Unless this legislation was revoked, it would be illegal for women to organize and attend political meetings. A second petition, more clearly reflecting the commitments of Hiratsuka than Ichikawa, sought to prohibit men with venereal disease from marrying and to provide women with recourse to divorce husbands with a sexually transmitted disease. The second petition was immediately and overwhelmingly rejected by the Diet because it was not in "accord with the standard of Japanese custom which gave predominance to men over women." Thereafter, association members diligently lobbied the Diet for their initial petition. Hoping to exert pressure, they were conspicuously present in the small women's section of the visitors' gallery where they sat behind wire netting, prompting one woman to say that they "listened to the Diet men quietly, like tiny animals in a cage." They also submitted appeals to Diet members on pink and lavender name cards. The arrest of Ichikawa and Hiratsuka for violation of the Peace Preservation Law at a YMCA meeting was said to have strengthened public support for women's right of assembly. After several failed attempts, the petition was finally approved on February 25, 1922; women had won the legal right to organize and participate in public meetings.

Soon after their victory, the New Woman's Association disbanded. In part, this was the result of an ideological rift within the leadership of the organization. Ichikawa had concluded that Hiratsuka envisioned the association solely as a means of promoting the interests of married women, or, "principle of mothers' rights," while Ichikawa came to identify her own views more clearly with the broader "principle of women's rights."

Disillusioned with this conflict at home, Ichikawa sailed to the United States, where she spent two years meeting with leaders of the women's movement. While there, she discussed labor issues with women trade-union leaders, met with Jane Addams to learn about her federation of women for peace and freedom, and followed the work of Carrie Chapman Catt , who established the League of Women Voters and developed a women's movement for war prevention. Most important, Ichikawa established a lifelong friendship with Alice Paul , who led the radical wing of the U.S. suffrage movement and established the National Women's Party.

From these experiences, Ichikawa drew inspiration and organizational models and returned to Japan in 1924 to what she later termed, "the period of hope," with a focused commitment to work exclusively for Japan's suffrage—the single means by which she thought women's interests might best be served. In personal terms, Ichikawa had a lucrative, fulfilling job in the Tokyo office of the International Labor Organization (ILO), where she investigated women's labor conditions and proposed strategies for improvement. This allowed her to strengthen her credibility with women industrial workers and the leftist organizations which supported them. In organizational terms, Ichikawa established the Fusen Kakutoku Dōmei (Women's Suffrage League), the association most responsible, in the prewar era, for advocating the political rights of women. In 1927, Ichikawa resigned her position from the ILO to work full-time for the League. After the general election of 1928, women's suffrage had become an issue for all political parties, and there was the expectation that with the gradual expansion of the electorate, women would eventually be included.

While Ichikawa sought to bring individuals with different ideological perspectives into the League, her efforts to educate women about political issues were frustrated by criticism from both the right and the left. Conservatives criticized Ichikawa for lacking sensitivity and womanly virtue. "The conservative public opposed women's suffrage," she wrote, "believing that a woman's place was in the family, for the ideal of Japanese womanhood was to be a good wife and mother, and if a woman should have equal rights politically with men, conflicts would probably arise within the family, thereby destroying the traditional family system which had been the center of Japanese life since ancient times." On the left, the communists and socialists were critical of the women's suffrage movement because it did not oppose the political and economic institutions of capitalism. In addition to criticisms from the right and left, Ichikawa suffered from disaffection in her own ranks, as members of the League grew weary of her demands for tireless devotion and personal financial sacrifice for the cause. Ultimately, Ichikawa and the League were unable to capitalize on the apparent momentum of the "period of hope" to achieve women's suffrage.

By the early 1930s, women's suffrage was no longer on the political agenda. Concerned with economic problems associated with the depression and the escalating militarism following the Manchurian Incident in 1931, politicians concluded that the "women problem" could be forgotten. During this time, the rising tide of political crisis forced the women's movement to shift its emphasis from political rights, the tact which Ichikawa had championed, to issues explicitly affecting women's daily lives as housewives and mothers.

In retrospect, there have been questions about Ichikawa's politics during the totalitarian period of the 1930s and 1940s. Certainly, she soft-pedaled her pursuit of the vote for women in favor of more politically acceptable campaigns. In 1933, Ichikawa organized representatives of various non-government women's groups for community-based political activities. This organization, the Tokyo Fujin Shisei Jōka Renmei (Tokyo Women's Alliance for Honest City Government), was designed to involve women in "clean government" activities, including tax reform, opposition to price hikes for home fuel, the decentralization of Tokyo wholesale markets, and efficient garbage collection. In 1934, members of the Women's Suffrage League formed the Bosei Hogo Renmei (Motherhood Protection League) to work for welfare programs for single mothers. Ichikawa saw these campaigns as laboratories for women's political education, in which they would learn to articulate goals and work together to achieve them at the local level, where it was reasoned that government would be responsive to their efforts. While it was a less militant approach to winning women's political rights, it was, nevertheless, a viable alternative to women acting in the role of supplicants, pleading with men to give them their rights.

Despite Ichikawa's efforts to organize women for politically acceptable goals, it became increasingly difficult in the '30s. The government, which sought to organize women for its own purposes, created a number of women's organizations, and expected their members to sacrifice their personal well-being for the good of the country, to uphold the "natural order" of society, to maintain the sanctity of the traditional family, and to support the troops fighting in China.

In the context of national crisis, Ichikawa was determined to remain a critic of the government; but the government's grudging tolerance of Ichikawa changed after the escalation of the war in 1936, when she continued to oppose the war with China. Although they were not physically harmed, women leaders, such as Ichikawa, were subjected to surveillance and police interrogations. In the midst of war, Ichikawa stressed that women must confront the problems of the home front by viewing them from the "women's perspective." In 1937, Ichikawa convinced prominent women from several organizations to join her in establishing the Nihon Fujin Dantai Renmei (Japan Federation of Women's Organizations) to develop programs addressing the problems that women faced during the war: the hardships of women-headed households, the conscription of women laborers, and the shortages of consumer items. In 1938, Ichikawa was one of 30 national figures who recommended that all civilian organizations should encourage their members to engage in practices of civic and personal responsibility, including emperor worship, fiscal restraint in household budgets, personal austerity with respect to appearance, devotion to the well-being of their neighbors, and the judicious disciplining of children. Ichikawa's agenda was becoming further submerged in wartime objectives.

In 1942, the government established the Dai Nihon Fujinkai (Greater Japan Women's Association) for all adult women. War Minister Tōjō Hideki explained that this new organization would be a means of restoring "the fundamental nature of women that has been harmed by Western ideas." Given the organization's objective, Ichikawa was surprised to have been appointed to its advisory board. Later viewed as an illustration of her collaboration with the government during the war, Ichikawa maintained that she remained a critic of the organization (she was the only member of the advisory board to have been fired by the government) while staying politically active because, she later said, "I had been a leader of women and I could not retire abruptly from them. I decided to go with the people, not to encourage the war, but to take care of the people who were made unhappy by the war." Ultimately, the bombing of Tokyo drove Ichikawa from the city to her family's farm where, as was the case with other Japanese, her only objective was survival.

As the war drew to a close, the 30-year campaign for women's political rights had not been successful. The only victory had been the reform of the Peace Preservation Law in 1922, enabling women to organize and participate in political meetings. Women could not, however, join political parties, vote, participate in government, or hold political office. But the American military occupation that followed the war brought about a change in politics which ultimately made these reforms possible. Only ten days after the emperor's surrender, Ichikawa organized the Sengo Taisaku Fujin Iinkai (Women's Committee on Postwar Countermeasures) to work for women's suffrage. This organization maintained that, "suffrage is not something to be granted, but something to be attained by the hands of women themselves." Pressured by the American occupation forces, the Japanese Diet granted women the vote in 1945.

That year, Ichikawa founded the Nihon Fujin Yūkensha Dōmei (Japan League of Women Voters) and the Fusen Kaikan (Women's Suffrage Hall), a research institute designed to increase women's political consciousness. She embarked on an ambitious national tour to promote democratic principles and encourage women's participation in the political process. Ichikawa was, herself, a candidate for the House of Councillors (the upper house of the Diet, the national legislature).

On the verge of what appeared to be the great triumph of her career, Ichikawa was faced with the most painful setback of her life. One month before the first national election held after the war, Ichikawa was purged from public life by American occupation officials. Ironically, the Americans accomplished what the Japanese militarists had never been able to do—they silenced Ichikawa Fusae. Deemed to have been a government collaborator, she was barred from the Women's Suffrage Hall, prohibited from participation in any political activity, and her efforts to publish were censored. Friends and colleagues ceased their contact with her. In effect, prevented from earning a living, Ichikawa returned again to her family's farm where she scratched out an existence by raising vegetables and chickens, while she began writing a history of Japan's women's movement. The purge of Ichikawa Fusae was a tremendous irony; arguably the strongest living advocate for democracy in Japan, and the woman most responsible for women's participation in the political process, was banned from public life. A petition with more than 170,000 signatures protesting Ichikawa's purge was to no avail; the purge was not lifted until 1950.

In the postwar period, Ichikawa was one of Japan's most respected politicians. Beginning in 1953, she was elected to five terms in the House of Councillors; by the 1970s, she was winning the largest percentage of the nationwide vote. One of the keys to her political success was her aversion to political party affiliation. Her success in running as an independent was, in large part, due to the years she devoted to campaigning in the women's movement, but in the postwar period her constituencies expanded to include consumers, peace advocates, and environmentalists.

Ichikawa consistently ran as an anti-establishment candidate, nationally recognized as a critic of political corruption and excessive spending in political campaigns. As president of the Japan League of Women Voters, she urged her membership to be advocates for world peace. A critic of the Japan-U.S. alliance, in 1967 Ichikawa sought an end of the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam and the reversion of Okinawa. On the 25th anniversary of women's suffrage in Japan in 1970, Ichikawa identified peace, pollution, and prices as the most important issues for the women's movement to address. Campaigning on these issues until her death in 1981, Ichikawa laid the foundation for the anti-establishment fervor which swept Japanese politics in the 1980s and 1990s.


Molony, Kathleen. "One Woman Who Dared: Ichikawa Fusae and the Japanese Women's Suffrage Movement." Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan, 1980.

Murray, Patricia. "Ichikawa Fusae and the Lonely Red Carpet," in Japan Interpreter. Vol. 10. Autumn 1975, p. 2.

Takeda Kiyoko. "Ichikawa Fusae: Pioneer for Women's Rights in Japan," in Japan Quarterly. Vol. 31, p. 4.

Vavich, Dee Ann. "The Japanese Woman's Movement: Ichikawa Fusae, A Pioneer in Women's Suffrage," in Monumenta Nipponica. Vol. 22, 1967, pp. 3–4.

suggested reading:

Robins-Mowry, Dorothy. The Hidden Sun: Women of Modern Japan. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1983.

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