In the previous article [Document 12A], I wrote that when people were surrounded by long-standing customs, they would have a prejudice against what they saw and heard, lose their five senses, and be reduced to the conditions of blind, dumb, deaf, and mentally retarded people. Now I would like to begin this article [with the following story]. Once upon a time, Minamoto Wataru [a samurai-officer in the Heian Period (794-1192)] had a beautiful wife named Kesajo. One day, Endo Morito [Wataru's fellow officer], threatened Kesajo's mother with a knife to hand Kesajo over, suggesting that if she refused to do so, he would kill her. Terrified, the mother told Kesajo the intruder's demand with tears in her eyes. Then, Kesajo thought: "If I don't accept his demand, my mother will be killed. If I accept his demand, I will lose my chastity. Then I would rather choose to kill myself." She, then, decided to give her life [for her mother and husband].[A] Her story has been highly fictionalized and lionized in various kinds of popular short novels (kusazōshi). But the point [of this story] is simply that a thoughtless woman wished to protect her mother and husband. Although scholars and intellectuals have praised her [Kesajo] as a model of a faithful wife for a long period, I think that it is a serious misinterpretation. Think for a moment, [Morito] threatened the mother with his knife to hand over a woman who had a husband; he is nothing except a dangerous robber. If a woman is threatened by such a villain intending to rape her, she should consult her husband and make every effort to capture him. If she thought that it was beyond her power, she could report to the police and seek protection, or cooperate with her servants to seize him. If she had no other choice, it was also perfectly fine to stab him to death with a dagger. Why did her husband exist? I must call this [Kesajo's decision to kill herself] a too-hasty decision. If she was determined to die, she should have stabbed Morito to death. Even if by any chance she was killed by Morito, it would have been much better than making thorough preparations and committing suicide.
Also, think about the consequence [of what she did]. Would her mother and husband have been pleased because Kesajo killed herself? No, it would have left them utterly dejected. She shouldn't have been so servile and weak-minded. Two heads are better than one. She died without working out a scheme to survive and consoling her mother and husband. There is nothing I can call it but an arbitrary decision.
If we assume what was on Kesajo's mind, there are certainly things with which we can sympathize. Morito was a robust man, and if she had not obeyed his order, the mother would have been killed. If she had decided to report this [incident] to her husband, it would have been useless to rely on that cowardly and weak Wataru; she would have committed herself anyway. [In any event] she was the most outrageous woman.
She did not benefit from killing herself this way, and [her death] left [subsequent generations of women] a bad custom of thinking little and making light of life. [Today] many women are ready to say that if unavoidable circumstances lead them to commit suicide, every matter will be settled; [what makes these women say so] might also be the long-lasting customs. In the first article, I wrote that the persistence of customs was a serious matter affecting people's lives and that the whole generation would lose their lives because of it. This [Kesajo's case] is one example of how a custom took a person's life, and a person's mistake will have a harmful influence on the whole public and society. I am going to explain another problem of what people consider filial piety or a woman's virtue. I am not sure when this [practice] became established, but it probably has existed for about a hundred years. It is customary for lower-class women to sell themselves to brothels in order to save their families from poverty, when one of their parents or siblings gets sick and is unable to work, or when their families cannot pay the taxes and have no other means to solve the problem. [These women] should consider this [situation in which they have to sell themselves to brothels] a tragic affair and bewail their misfortune. In reality, however, they think that they distinguish themselves by helping their parents. This story is too odious to tell. Moreover, the strangest thing is that many scholars, who call themselves literary men, do not denounce brothel-keepers; rather, they speak highly of [prostitutes] by saying that "this girl of that brothel is a devoted daughter." Furthermore, I don't understand why they praise the work of these women engaged in shameful business (shugyofu) in journals written in archaic languages, including Yanagi River Journal and Shinbashi Journal. They [the scholars] are bound by long-lasting customs, and I must call them the same class as mean people in the sex industry. They have already established themselves as literary men of good judgment. How come they don't try to break the long-lasting customs among lower-class women and evil customs among themselves?
Luckily or unluckily, we are facing a period of decadence. To correct women's morality, should we first advance public opinion from the level of indecency to the higher one? No, we must [first] break the long-lasting customs in brothels and move the whole society to break [other] long-lasting customs. This is the duty of our Tokyo WCTU.
A. Kesajo pretended to obey Morito's will and proposed that they would cooperate with each other to kill Wataru, She asked him to steal into Wataru's bedroom and kill him while sleeping. Kesajo, then, wore man's clothes, disguised herself as her husband, and went to his bed. As directed, Morito entered the bedroom and severed the head of a person lying on the bed. He realized that he had the head of Kesajo in his hand. James Murdoch, A History of Japan. Volume 1: From the Origins to the Arrival of the Portuguese in 1643 A.D., Part 2 (New York: Frederick Ungar, 1964), p. 338.
Back to Text