Quaker missionary Elizabeth Coleman wrote to Margaret Sanger a few days after she attended a birth control discussion group held in Tokyo on 10 May 1921 at the home of Baron and Baroness Ishimoto. The Ishimotos had recently returned from a year abroad during which they had met Sanger. Anxious to spread the gospel of birth control in Japan, Baroness Ishimoto organized the informal meeting that led to the formation of the Birth Control League of Japan in summer 1922. The role of Western women in the Japanese birth control movement is addressed here as Coleman's comments make it clear that the Ishimotos desired to link their nascent movement with birth control work in the United States and England.
[unpaginated p. 1]
10 Hinokicho, Akasaka, Tokyo, Japan.
May 16, 1921.
My dear Mrs. Sanger:-
I think you will be interested in our very first birth control conference here in Japan. Baron and Baroness Ishimoto called this group together for last Tuesday. We had lunch, and discussed what was the best thing to do in Japan. The Ishimotos have very decided ideas, Baroness Ishimoto herself having had an article in two numbers of one of the daily papers recently, and she told us the other day that her brother who is at the University says the students call her "control." She is such a charming young person, that one feels very glad to have a leader like her. We asked them if they would rather have the movement entirely without the foreign help, but they thot it would be a decided advantage, and of course there are some of us who are only too glad to cooperate in any way. Of course if we really are wanted, we are only too glad to do whatever we can.
We appointed a small [group] to draw up some sort of a statement that could easily be circulated, and each of us were to enlist the cooperation of people who would be willing really to come in caring honestly for the movement, and when we have 50 such people, we are going to have a meeting and put out some sort of formal propaganda. It is all very interesting, and one felt quite like a pioneer.
The Ishimotos are so unusually radical and progressive for Japan. I had taken down that statement of the
[unpaginated p. 2]League thinking that something English would be a better pattern for Japan than American, and I think it will be so.[A]
A good many of us out here know Dr. Stopes as she was out here a good many years ago, and started our Women's Club which is now doing such good work, and her books are being very much read in Japan to our pleasure. One of the men in our group the other day [was] Mr. Saito who has secured permission of Dr. Fielding to translate a book which you had in your list of recommended books. I thot you would just be interested in knowing about this very beginning, and I will try to keep you informed from time to time of the progress of the movement. There are among the foreigners here some people who are tremendously interested as well as some who think that it is all a very foolish thing.
With the very best wishes and appreciation of your courage as well as tact,