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Telling Lives

Telling Lives: Women's Self-Writing in Modern Japan

Ronald P. Loftus
Copyright Date: 2004
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  • Book Info
    Telling Lives
    Book Description:

    In this fascinating collection of translations, Telling Lives looks at the self-writing of five Japanese women who came of age during the decades leading up to World War II. Following an introduction that situates women’s self-writing against the backdrop of Japan during the 1920s and 1930s, Loftus takes up the autobiographies of Oku Mumeo, a leader of the prewar women’s movement, and Takai Toshio, a textile worker who later became a well-known labor activist. Next is the moving story of Nishi Kyoko, whose Reminiscences tells of her life as a young woman who escapes the oppression of her family and establishes her financial independence. Nishi’s narrative precedes a detailed look at the autobiography of Sata Ineko. Sata’s Between the Lines of My Personal Chronology recounts her years as a member of a proletarian arts circle and her struggle to become a writer. The collection ends with the Marxist Fukunaga Misao’s frank and explosive text Memoirs of a Female Communist, which is examined as a manifesto condemning the male chauvinism of the prewar Japanese Communist Party.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6456-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    Some critics believe that the age of autobiography is over, that autobiography is no longer relevant to our postmodern world. Others contend that all writing must be taken as autobiographical. Regardless of what critics proclaim, however, autobiography remains a remarkably popular and resilient mode of reading—and writing. Why is the act of reading autobiographies so appealing? Obviously, it affords the reader a unique insight into the “times” and into the worldview of the narrator. For the historian, the appeal of self-representational narratives may be rooted in what new historicist Stephen Greenblatt refers to as a “desire to speak with...

  5. 1 Producing Writing Subjects: Women in the Interwar Years
    (pp. 15-31)

    Telling Livesis a study of five Japanese women who wrote and published their autobiographies in the late twentieth century. Although these women were born toward the end of the Meiji period and came of age during the years around World War I, they did not record their lives until the 1980s, after the second wave of Japanese feminism—often referred to as the women’s liberation movement—had stimulated a sustained interest in women’s narratives. Oku Mumeo, a cofounder of the New Women’s Association, was born in 1895; she publishedFires Burning Brightly (Nobi aka aka to),her account of...

  6. 2 Politics Rooted in Everyday Life: Oku Mumeo’s Fires Burning Brightly (Nobi aka aka to)
    (pp. 32-81)

    The house in which I was born was a little outside the Fukui city limits. In the fall, the Echizen plain, which surrounds the city, is a sea of waving, golden rice stalks as far as the eye can see. But in the winter, the homes are buried deeply in snow.

    I was born in this environment on Oct. 24 in the 28th year of Meiji (1895). The name on the family register is Wada Umeo but my father did not use Chinese characters, electing to write Mumeo in katakana instead; so I always wrote it that way until I...

  7. 3 Changing Consciousness: Takai Toshio’s My Own Sad History of Female Textile Workers (Watashi no jokō aishi)
    (pp. 82-131)

    The next year, my little brother was born and I became a lot busier taking care of children. Then one summer’s eve Shizue, my little sister whom I adored, became suddenly ill, and the next morning, when I awoke, she was already dead. It was the first time for me to experience the sadness of being separated from another human being by death. Worried about my poor younger sister being buried in the village cemetery, I bolted out of the house in the middle of the night to go see her. When my parents realized that I was gone and...

  8. 4 Her Mother’s Voice: Nishi Kiyoko’s Reminiscences (Tsuioku)
    (pp. 132-184)

    Among my childhood memories, the most prominent are memories of my mother. In reality, though, it boils down to a single memory. Beyond that, there is virtually nothing else to recall. Yet, remaining within these memories are various mysteries that continually resurface from the deepest recesses of my mind. It all has to do with the happenings on a summer day when I was about seven years old. . . .

    My mother was an only child, so my father had married into the family and adopted their name. Since he would not be inheriting the rice business my grandfather...

  9. 5 Re-presenting the Self: Sata Ineko’s Between the Lines of My Personal Chronology (Nen’pu no gyōkan)
    (pp. 185-228)

    Whenever the name Nagasaki comes up, the image that comes to mind is of a landscape drenched in sunlight. It is not so much a transparent light as a thick, yellow brightness heavy with humidity.

    And if one were to say something particular about my birth, it would be that my parents were so young, caught up in all the heat and passion of first love. And then I was born.

    My father, Tajima Masafumi, was eighteen years old, in his fifth year at Saga Middle School. My mother, Takayanagi Yuki, was fifteen years old, a second-year student at the...

  10. 6 Resisting Authority: Fukunaga Misao’s Recollections of a Female Communist (Aru onna kyōsanshugisha no kaisō)
    (pp. 229-269)

    I was just a rank-and-file party member without a record in the movement of any particular significance. What is special about my recollections, I believe, is the fact that I am a woman. Engels pointed out that in modern society, men were the bourgeoisie while women were the proletariat. To build upon what Engels wrote, one might say that in prewar Japan men were the slave masters and women were the slaves. We believed that the Japan Communist Party was the party that would fight for women’s liberation, so we were willing to dedicate ourselves to the party. But whether...

  11. 7 Conclusion
    (pp. 270-276)

    Self-writing is a marvelous place for readers and writers alike to explore the spaces that exist between the narrator and the narrated, between memory and experience, and between genre and gender. Autobiographies are able to offer valuable insights into the experiences of people who lived through tumultuous times, but since women’s historical experiences have been so often omitted from the historical record, female self-writing is particularly useful for enhancing our understanding of how women lived their lives and of the kinds of choices with which they were confronted in a given era. It is in this sense that the texts...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 277-294)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 295-304)
  14. Index
    (pp. 305-310)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 311-316)