Document 9: "Nothing Against Birth Control in Japan's Tradition or Religion," Japan Advertiser, 5 March 1922, pp. 1-2.


Margaret Sanger with Shidzue Ishimoto and likely Keikichi Ishimoto, ca. March-April 1922.
Source: The Margaret Sanger Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Mass.
Courtesy of The Margaret Sanger Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Mass.

   Only twenty-five years old, the English-speaking, aristocratic Baroness Ishimoto represented the "new woman" of Japan: Western-influenced, independent-minded and thoroughly modern in attitude (see Document 2). Committed to independence for women, she was also from a wealthy family with samurai roots and steeped in Japanese tradition, and she had married a member of the House of Peers. In many respects, she was the ideal spokesperson for birth control in that she bridged the traditional and the new, while her high standing in society gave legitimacy to birth control activism. Inspired by her visit with Sanger, Ishimoto echoed Sanger's feminist, economic, population and eugenic arguments for birth control, but couched her beliefs comfortably within Japanese traditions to address Japanese concerns. For instance, she advocated birth control to improve the health and well-being of women and their position in society, but did not go as far as Sanger, in asserting that each woman should have the right to choose if and when to have a child.

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Baroness Ishimoto Tells Why Her Country
Should Adopt Doctrine--Hopes
Ambassador Will Receive Mrs. Sanger.


   There is nothing in the ancient traditions nor in the religions of Japan to defeat the movement for birth control in this country, according to Baroness K. Ishimoto, leader among the women advocates of birth control in Japan. Baroness Ishimoto is a friend of Mrs. Margaret Sanger and expects to entertain the president of the American Birth Control League when she arrives in Japan next week.

   The Baroness, youthful and pretty, had been discussing the problem of Japan's excess population and the possibility of its being solved by widespread propaganda on birth control. Thoughtful and serious, and careful and precise in her English terms, she broke frequently into a charming smile when she noted that her argument had met a responsive chord in her listener or when, infrequently, she hesitated over choosing the exact word in the foreign language to fit her meaning.

   The liberal feminine leader has four points upon which she rests her case for the adoption of birth control in her country; these she checked off with her fingers as she went carefully over them. The first and most important in her mind is the welfare and happiness of the child. "The child," she said, "should be conceived in love and should be born to be loved by its parents. This is possible only when the parents have good health and sufficient income to care for the child properly. On the economical side there are three important things to consider. The parents must have assurance of the ability of providing the child with a sound education, with sufficient and proper food, and they must be able to clothe it well and nicely."

Would Free the Women.

   Secondly, she believes, birth control is very necessary from the standpoint of "the emancipation of women." "Since the Meiji Revolution," she said, "the men have been enabled to develop greatly and go far toward attaining modern civilization, but the women have not. The first necessity is strong health and the second better education. The girls attend schools of lower standards than those for boys, and the girls usually go only as far as middle school. Then they go home to work, and then comes marriage at a very young age. The constant bearing of children, year after year, from early womanhood spoils their health early in life.

   "Factories have adopted the law of eight hours of labor a day, but in fact women of the lower classes have to endure 12, 13 or 14 hours of work a day. They work in the factories during the day and then have to come home, do the house work, care for their children and wait on their husbands. It is a great pity that women have to wear themselves out in this manner and to bear many children which they have great difficulty in taking care of. The emancipation of women in Japan means the freeing of them from so much hard work, giving them a better education, like the men receive and making the families smaller so that the standard of living can be raised."

   Baroness Ishimoto's third point was the problem presented by the increasing population of Japan pressing upon the already inadequate food supply. This, she said, was covered in the article which her husband wrote and which appeared on page two of yesterdays issue.

   The fourth point was that birth control and mothers' clinics, such as have been established in England, and especially in Holland, will prove a solution to the labor question which is ever becoming more acute in Japan. The process by which the laboring class increases so fast that the maintenance of

[p. 2]

a high or the creation of a higher standard of living is impossible is well known, she said. The labor difficulties will increase, she predicted, until some way is found to limit the population so that the average laborer can earn sufficient to maintain a proper standard of living for himself and his family.

   "The majority of the people in Japan are in favor of birth control," the Baroness affirmed. "They are beginning to talk a great deal about it, too, and to inquire for information. My husband overheard a brief conversation between two men on the tram car recently, and one of them said that such people as himself were not interested in the Washington conference, which did not affect them directly, but that they were greatly interested in birth control."

   But, she was asked, it has often been said that birth control is contrary to the traditions and to the religious beliefs of Japanese; is this true? "Oh, no," she replied quickly. "The idea does not contradict religious beliefs with us as it does, especially with Catholics, in Western countries. As a matter of fact birth control was widely practiced during the Tokugawa Shogunate, when the country shut itself in from outside influences and had to limit its population. The practice was much less scientific and--more, ah,--crude ("Barbaric" was suggested and accepted as the term) than is advocated now."[A]

Children Needed for Armies.

   It was when the country was opened to outside influences and the aims of the leaders became more imperialistic, she explained, that the doctrine of big families and many children began to be urged. More children were needed for bigger armies, she said, and the idea has come from the officials and military leaders rather than developed among the people.

   "I do not look upon birth control as an eternal truth," she said slowly and seriously. "It is rather a matter of expediency, a solution to meet the present situation. If Japanese parents could afford to have large families and could properly care for, educate and clothe many children, and if in each case the woman was strong enough to bear a large number of children, why I think that would be lovely. But I think it is terrible that parents are kept in such a low state of living and that women are so forced to ruin their health for the sake of many children which they cannot care for.

   "I believe that whether it is moral or not, Japan will have to adopt birth control. Spreading practical information through mothers' clinics or by other means is contrary to the opinions of the Government authorities now, but I think the officials will be forced to change their ideas for the welfare of the people. There is no law against birth control propaganda, but it is forbidden under the police regulations."

   "I am so glad to hear it," the Baroness said, smiling, when told that it had been ascertained that Mrs. Sanger probably would be permitted to speak in public in Tokyo. "Do you think the Ambassador will receive her?" she asked eagerly. "I do hope he will, for it will mean so much to us who are trying to promote the movement in Japan."

   Baron and Baroness Ishimoto have two children, little boys 3 and 4 years old respectively.


A. The Tokugawa Shogunate was the last of Japan's warrior governments, lasting from 1603-1867. At first, the population continued increasing, but after 1720, it leveled out, the result of conscious effort to limit the number of offspring and improve living standards. Methods employed were abstinence, delayed marriage, and infanticide. ("Tokugawa Shogunate," Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan Online ; Jack A. Goldstone, Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993], p. 407.)
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