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Japanese American Midwives

Japanese American Midwives: Culture, Community, and Health Politics, 1880-1950

SUSAN L. SMITH
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 296
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt1xcj45
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  • Book Info
    Japanese American Midwives
    Book Description:

    In the late nineteenth century, midwifery was transformed into a new woman's profession as part of Japan's modernizing quest for empire. With the rise of Japanese immigration to the United States, Japanese midwives (sanba) served as cultural brokers as well as birth attendants for Issei women. They actively participated in the creation of Japanese American community and culture as preservers of Japanese birthing customs and agents of cultural change._x000B_ The history of Japanese American midwifery reveals the dynamic relationship between this welfare state and the history of women and health. Midwives' individual stories, coupled with Susan L. Smith's astute analysis, demonstrate the impossibility of clearly separating domestic policy from foreign policy, public health from racial politics, medical care from women's care giving, and the history of women and health from national and international politics. By setting the history of Japanese American midwives in this larger context, Smith reveals little-known ethnic, racial, and regional aspects of women's history and the history of medicine._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09243-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: JAPANESE AMERICAN WOMEN, RACIAL POLITICS, AND THE MEANINGS OF MIDWIFERY
    (pp. 1-12)

    Japanese American midwives were women who established their expertise as childbirth attendants in Japan but spent most of their working lives in the United States. Midwives, almost all of whom were women, and doctors, most of whom were men, were the predominant formal health-care providers among Japanese immigrants. This project explores the experiences of Japanese immigrant midwives and the shifting meanings of midwifery from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century.

    This study examines the lives of women such as Toku Shimomura,¹ who kept a diary for over fifty years. Toku’s diary is one of the few surviving firsthand...

  5. 1 CREATION OF THE SANBA IN MEIJI JAPAN
    (pp. 13-30)

    At the beginning of the twentieth century, many women in Japan gave birth without assistance, although a few women had access to the aid of traditional midwives. Gradually Japanese cultural practices changed and more women turned to the services of the modern midwife, orsanba,especially for difficult births. In 1907, for instance, thirteen-year-old Shin Tanaka¹ watched as asanbasaved her mother’s life in their village in Kanagawa prefecture (or province) in central Japan. The midwife’s help made a deep impression on Shin. Shin’s mother had called on a midwife after two long days of labor with her fifth...

  6. 2 RACE RELATIONS, MIDWIFE REGULATIONS, AND THE SANBA IN THE AMERICAN WEST
    (pp. 31-59)

    Hundreds of Japanese midwives, orsanba,immigrated to the United States in the early twentieth century at a time when the nation grappled with concerns about both the “Japanese problem” and the “midwife problem.” As immigrants from Japan, thesanbawere proud subjects of the emperor, leader of a rising imperial power. Nevertheless, they had to contend with antagonism from a growing anti-Japanese movement in the American West. As modern midwives, they were part of an established health-care occupation for women in Japan. In moving to the United States, in contrast, they attended birthing women in a nation engaged in...

  7. 3 SEATTLE SANBA AND THE CREATION OF ISSEI COMMUNITY
    (pp. 60-103)

    At 10:00 A.M. on a rainy January day in 1927, Toku Shimomura drove the family Ford to the house of Mrs. Okiyama, who safely gave birth to a baby boy five hours later.¹ It was a typical, uneventful birth for Toku, asanbawho delivered about twenty babies that year in her hometown of Seattle, Washington. The birth of a baby, however, accounted for only a fraction of Toku’s time. She also spent many hours every day making house calls, during which she would check on clients and perform various aspects of prenatal and postnatal care. Most of her days...

  8. 4 MIDWIFE SUPERVISION IN HAWAI’I
    (pp. 104-141)

    In 1937 the Territorial Board of Health in Hawai’i selected public health nurse Alice Young to become its first supervisor of midwives. Alice, a Chinese American born in Honolulu, was in charge of the licensed midwives, most of whom were Japanese immigrants. Although Alice spoke English, Cantonese, and the Hawaiian Creole English or pidgin language of many islanders, she did not speak Japanese.¹ She was therefore dependent on the help of Japanese translators, especially her friend and colleague, the Japanese American nurse Luella Ekern.² Alice’s appointment was influenced, at least in part, by island racial politics. According to Esther Stubblefield,...

  9. 5 MILITARIZATION, MIDWIFERY, AND WORLD WAR II
    (pp. 142-184)

    On 7 December 1941, midwife Misao Tanji was not at home. Misao had left the night before to deliver a baby at a plantation near Pearl Harbor, not far from Honolulu. “In the morning when I prepared to leave,” she recalled, “I heard machine guns. I thought the military was practicing.” But “when I returned home, bullets sprayed the corrugated iron roof tops; then I knew something was very wrong.”¹ War had come to Hawai’i.

    A month later and more than 2,000 miles away, midwife Toku Shimomura of Seattle wrote in her diary of the “horrible war” between Japan and...

  10. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 185-188)

    Throughout the early twentieth century, Japanese American midwives responded to the health-care needs of their communities. They played a vital role as health-care providers for Issei women, a few Nisei women, and sometimes women of other ethnic backgrounds. Nonetheless, their healthcare work was transformed over time, sometimes by choice and, especially in time of war, by decree.

    This study began with the question of what the impact of American health politics on Japanese American midwives was. To answer that question required an understanding of how health work was shaped by gender relations, racial politics, international relations, and militarization. When the...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 189-252)
  12. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 253-270)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 271-280)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 281-284)