Document 13: Shirō Kawata, "On Birth Control, Part I," published as "Ikuji seigen ni tsuite (jō)," Tokyo Asahi Shinbun, 9 March 1922, p. 6. Translated by Kazuhiro Oharazeki.


   As Baron Ishimoto and others had noted, younger government officials were more likely to welcome Sanger's arrival and entertain a debate over birth control, while older officials and militarists at the highest levels of government tried to forbid her landing. In the following article, socialist economist Shirō Kawata appealed to more conservative elements in the government by addressing the potential for social improvement while trying to mitigate fears of population decline.

   By arguing that birth control, in limiting the number of children families had to those they could adequately care for, could improve the health of the nation, and subsequently reduce the death rate, and therefore could lead to an increase in population, Kawata attempted to convince militarists, who desired more soldiers, that birth control had some merits. While the 1910s and 1920s are known as the period of Taisho "democracy," during these decades military leaders pushed the government to secure Japan's interests overseas. At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, Japanese delegates persuaded the victorious allies to confirm Japanese control over Shandong, a former German territory in China. After the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917, Japan sent troops to Siberia as part of the allied powers' effort to protect their war supplies, but even after British, American, and French troops withdrew from the region, Japan kept its troops there, and supported counterrevolutionary movements in Vladivostok. Three thousand Japanese lives were lost there by 1922.[19]

[p. 6]


   As everyone knows, the problem of birth control has been a widely discussed issue since the appearance of Malthus, who explained primarily his theory of population. He argued, from a demographic perspective, that because population increased faster than subsistence did, overpopulation would be inevitable. He also explained various social problems that would be caused by overpopulation. As for the practical issue of birth control, his theory simply put emphasis on moral restraint. The discussion of birth control developed thereafter, and the focus gradually shifted to practical issues. A neo-Malthusian theory began to take shape from these discussions, and [new] kinds of social movements emerged. Mrs. Sanger's movement, for example, put greater emphasis on practical issues rather than theories, and she does not necessarily draw upon Malthus's theory of population. Rather, her movement takes on a form of social work. Mrs. Sanger had worked as a nurse among the poor for a long time, during which she saw poor people's living conditions and various problems caused by the excess in the number of family members at firsthand. She then acutely felt, from a public health and eugenic perspective, the need for birth control and started her movement.

   Therefore, Mrs. Sanger's intention is to prevent unnecessary deaths of mothers and children caused by unlimited reproduction, not to mention widespread economic losses and hygienic problems caused by high infant death rates. After seeing poor people's living conditions, she acutely felt that [poor people] were making vain efforts, and strengthened her determination to eliminate various problems [caused by unlimited reproduction].

   Certainly, the birth rate can be controlled to some extent even if people are left to do what they think necessary [to prevent conception]. Yet, that method always involves a physiological risk of abortion, which will cause various problems. [Mrs. Sanger] is attempting to decrease such problems by teaching [people] scientific methods [to practice birth control].

   Moreover, she believes that when the birth rate is controlled, each family will have an appropriate number of children to raise, and when a society has an appropriate population, then culture will improve, the economy will improve, and people will have stronger bodies and health.

   If this type of [scientific] method is used to control the birth rate, the death rate will decrease, and accordingly it is possible that the actual population will increase more rapidly than when nothing is done to control the birth rate. In this sense, [Mrs. Sanger's] idea is quite different from the theories aimed at limiting population growth. It is believed that the birth control movement, which Mrs. Sanger and her collaborators are promoting, is a form of social work, and if it is, there is no reason to oppose the movement. It is ridiculous to attack it just for moral reasons without carefully examining what they are actually arguing for. In other words, [this opposition] may even put an end to the work dedicated to social improvement.

   Rumor has it that [the Japanese government] is planning to prevent the landing of Mrs. Sanger who will soon visit our country. The idea must have come from bigots and militarists bound by old moral rules. Really, those militarists are just thinking of increasing the population and regarding the production of soldiers as the country's most important agenda. From a humanitarian point of view, which opinion, that of Mrs. Sanger or that of militarists, is worse? I think that is an important subject to be considered.

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