Document 12A: Toyojyu Sasaki, "Sekinen no shukan o yaburubeshi [We Need to Break the Long-standing Customs]," Part I, Jogaku zasshi 48 (22 January 1887): 154-55. Translated by Rumi Yasutake and Kazuhiro Oharazeki.


   Although Tokyo fujin kyofukai [Tokyo woman's reform society, Tokyo WCTU] was finally inaugurated on 6 December 1886, it functioned more as a women's auxiliary to the male-led Kyofukai [Reform society] than as an independent organization. At the inaugural meeting of the Tokyo WCTU, male ministers first spoke on women's social activism, followed by the election of the officers for the new organization. Toyojyu Sasaki had intended to give a speech at the meeting but decided against it because she was concerned about the tight schedule of the day. Instead, she contributed an essay to Jogaku zasshi, in which she argued that women should break away from what were considered female virtues but were in actuality "evil," "obsequious," and "barbarian" customs. One such custom was women's keeping silence.

Sasaki published her thoughts in three installments. For the continuation of the argument here, see Document 12B and Document 12C.

Japanese-language original

[p. 154]

   I was about to make the following statement on the day when the Tokyo WCTU was inaugurated and the election for its officers was conducted. Unfortunately, however, it was a short winter day and the cloudy weather in the morning turned cold as if it were likely to sleet. Furthermore, the Reverends Ebina and Tamura preached sermons, which were followed by the election, and thus there was no extra time from two to four o'clock (sunset). Considering possible troubles that my statement would cause the chairperson and attendants, I decided not to make it. But not uttering words in my mind is not true to myself and unkind; therefore, I took up my pen and wrote down the summary of my statement after coming back home.

   Fish do not look at water in the water and humans do not look at air in the air. This is how things are for all human beings and animals. In fact, our eyes and ears often do not sense what surrounds us. Human beings have the five senses [of seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting], but they sometimes cannot feel pain, itch, good or bad.

   For the past hundred years, several billions of people have been caught in a net. Their [false] senses of perceptions have led them to move in the wrong direction. Certainly, there are wise and brilliant persons among them. Caught in a net, however, their excellent ideas and good insight sometimes do not allow them to make relevant remarks. This [net] is what I call long-standing customs.

   Long-standing customs have dominated the thinking of people, regardless of their class and intelligence, and have often caused serious damage with their enormous power, from the last years of the Roman Empire and our dynasty in the ancient days, through the period of the last Tokugawa shogun in the recent past. Long-standing customs became natural things and have caused people to mistake right for wrong and evil for just, and deplore what they should welcome. Such harmful customs cannot be fully described in words.

   Dear Japanese women of 1887, let's expel the evil effects of the hundred-year-long customs from our minds, and accept the righteous way that God gave women. Accepting the righteous way is just like asking for the direction when you lose bearings while walking in the cloud or fog.

   Such [harmful] customs have persisted in our women's society for a long time, and we cannot utter words although we have mouths; neither can we express our ideas even if we have something to say. If women say or do what people consider uncommon [for women], their parents, relatives, and society will repudiate them. It is as if women were reduced to the status of earthen figures or paper dolls. We can never deplore this enough.

   Women, without knowing the harmful effects of customs, believe that keeping silence is a model of virtue and that not taking actions is a model of good behavior. They just accept their husbands' notions of right and wrong or sympathize with the husbands' feelings. They have now turned into the handicapped who do not know their own feelings.

[p. 155]

   The duties that God gave women are not at all different from those of men, and their numbers are great. Women should cooperate with men in [solving] the issues in their families, villages, and nation. They should take active roles in elevating the character of the nation by helping men in all the fields of society including education, agriculture, industry, and production. This is the time that Japanese women must be the busiest in the world. But the-hundred-year-old evil customs deprive Japanese women of their five senses and reduce them to the conditions of clay figures or wooden idols (if not dead bodies) that cannot tell good from bad or right from wrong.

   If we are endowed by nature with the five senses to understand advantages and disadvantages, we first have to refresh our minds and break the hundred-year-old customs. Now Japanese public opinion has already begun to desire to elevate the status of women. This is a golden opportunity [for Japanese women]. Happy times for [Japanese] women have just arrived!

   However, breaking women's customs is very onerous. It is very difficult to change long-standing customs; however, things that women have been accustomed to for many years are the most difficult to alter. Among the sayings of Napoleon I of France is that changing women's customs was the most difficult. Napoleon I was the hero who was feared by the great European powers. He once stated that there was nothing impossible for him in the world and that the word "impossible" could only be found in a fool's dictionary but not in his. As included in the sayings of this Napoleon I, it must be awfully difficult to change women's behaviors.

   Napoleon made a statement referring to the case in which someone else was attempting to change women's conduct. But women of today in the nineteenth century desire to take an initiative in changing their own conduct. Thus, the word "impossible" is, as Napoleon said, unnecessary for us in reforming women.

   There is a plenty of administrative work to be executed by the newly established Tokyo WCTU. However, unless the customs that surround us are broken first, we are like speaking to the deaf and explaining five colors to the blind. Thus, the most urgent work for us is to break these customs.

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