Books | WORKS BY JAPANESE WOMEN

Bluestocking magazine: A call for women's empowerment, still resonant today

by Kris Kosaka

Contributing Writer

One of the most important contributions to women’s rights and literature in Japan in the 20th century was the nation’s first all-women’s literary magazine, Bluestocking, or Seito.

The Bluestockings of Japan, Translated by Jan Bardsley.
320 pages
UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN PRESS, Nonfiction.

Launched in September 1911 with its first issue selling more than 1,000 copies, the magazine averaged 3,000 copies per month at its height before it was forced to shut down in 1916 after the government threatened the magazine’s distributors with fines.

Bluestocking has been credited with starting Japanese feminism and stood in direct opposition to the traditional ideal of womanhood espoused by ryōsai kenbo (good wife, wise mother) that was popular during the Meiji Era (1868-1912).

Covering issues such as poverty and unemployment, geisha prostitution, arranged marriages, legalizing abortion and women’s suffrage, the controversial magazine engendered the birth of the “new women” (shin-fujin) in Japan, and became a battle cry for wider reform. Started by five women and led by Raicho Hiratsuka (1886-1971), the founders were recent graduates of Japan Women’s University.

Never translated during its active years, the University of Michigan’s Center for Japanese Studies published a selection of essays in 2007 as, “The Bluestockings of Japan: New Woman Essays and Fiction from Seito, 1911-16.” Translated by Jan Bardsley and showcasing the diversity of literature offered by the women — from haiku to investigative journalism to short stories — the volume collects the most famous of the Bluestocking works over its run.

You can also get a taste of the magazine from “In the Beginning, Woman Was the Sun,” Hiratsuka’s autobiography. The title is a reference to her manifesto written in the magazine’s debut issue. Translated into English by Teruko Craig, Hiratsuka’s autobiography is worth the read not only for its information on Bluestocking, but also to travel alongside an inimitable woman who made such an impact on modern Japanese womanhood.

Another famous writer associated with Bluestocking is Noe Ito (1895-1923). A biography on her life and death by Harumi Setouchi, “Beauty in Disarray,” was translated in 1993 by Sanford Goldstein. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the social persecution the women faced for their literary activities as their private lives were attacked in the media.

Out of all the Bluestocking writers, Ito suffered the most: Ito and her socialist-sympathizing partner, Sakae Osugi, were tragically beaten to death by police along with Osugi’s young nephew in the aftermath of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake.

Bluestocking writings remain an historic call to action to women by women, calling on women everywhere to “recapture the sun hidden within us.”

This is the eighth installment of the series “Works by Japanese Women,” which explores notable female writers of Japan. Read more at jtimes.jp/womenwriters.

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