Document 32: Margaret Sanger, "Brief Impressions of Japan," Japan, ca. 10 April 1922, pp. 89-99 (Margaret Sanger Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, The Margaret Sanger Papers Microfilm Edition: Smith College Collection, reel S70, frames 110-20).


   The following "impressions" appear to be an extension of Sanger's journal entries on Japan. She reincorporated some of this material into her two autobiographies. Here Sanger condenses her general observations and insights that run through all her writings on the 1922 tour. She comments on the crowded conditions and the multitudes of children, the manners and customs that endeared the Japanese people to her, and her frustration with Japanese women's inhibited nature even as a significant feminist movement was underway.

[p. 89]

Brief Impressions of Japan.

   It is of course impossible to have received more than fleeting impressions from March 10 to April 10. But during these days I have come in contact with all classes of people and in various Cities & Stations.

   Naturally the first fact which impresses itself upon anyone is the closeness of the houses, so small one & two stories and the lack of space for play or for leisure. The children play on the streets, the streets are narrow & not paved. There seems to be no room for vehicles and I doubt seriously if those few who will benefit by the advance to be made in Japans Industrial development can greatly enjoy its fruits. There is no space for automobiles or new luxurious homes in this land. I believe the only solution

[p. 90]

lies in the sky scraper or modern apartment house built in steel. Expensive? yes no doubt but it will likely be done for the future of the people.

   The thousands of children one sees is amazing-- Children carry children on their backs, women do the same, men old & young do like wise, everyone carries these happy smiling youngsters and I have never seen anyone strike or even slap a child, seldom does one hear a child cry either. The young boys carry the babies. So do the young girls--even in play they stay on their backs, and when in danger of traffic the baby is the first concern.

   The children of Kyoto are noticably happier & freer than those of Tokyo. They call out & wave to strangers & all together impress one as being free & happy.

   All day they play on the streets.[A]

[p. 91]

   The women are very polite & low voiced. They bow from the waist line in a beautiful way. They remain silent unless spoken to. The mother bows as beautifully to her daughters as to a stranger. Some of their dresses are entrancing. One notices that the brightest colors are inside while only the dark drab colors are worn outside. This may be characteristic & symbolic of the Japanese womans nature. She is certainly a charming creature but I have not found them to unfold or "open up" they respond to your questions & conversation, but in a limited way. I think there is a deep seated conventionality in their natures.

   At last the Diet has passed the bill allowing the women of Japan to attend Political meetings.[B]

March 25 or 30.

[p. 92]

   This is a reform that has come to pass at last. Women are going into Industry & this will change the character of the Japanese woman very rapidly. I was surprised to find so many women writers and women magazines. Those who interviewed me were intelligent but had very old & domesticated views of life.

   There was a strike in one of the cotton mills where it is said the women were so loyal to the men strikers that the strike was won.

   I was impressed by the low tones of the women's voices. They are too shy to speak up. One could scarcely hear a womans voice in a small hall.

   The men do not take a womans opinion seriously & partly I believe because they do not speak up.

[p. 93]

I was not impressed with any quality in the Japanese women which leads me to believe they will for years to come go forth to fight for their emancipation. That quality is absent in the present generation of Japanese women. Industry may develop it but with that love of Royalty and the desire to copy the "ladys" manner it seems doubtful that even industry will break through that consciousness to give the Individual the freedom necessary to step forth on her own. Again the woman is handicapped because of overcrowding. Even when she is married, she is usually compelled to live with the mans parents and to be under the mother-in-laws control. So there seems to be little hope for her to be herself ever.

[p. 94]

   I believe that the woman will be emancipated indirectly through the men of Japan rather than through her own activities or efforts.

   I can see that ambition is the leading impulse in his life today. He wants to learn, he wants to be something better, he wants more power and he will be the one to practice birth control for his own use and benefit Thereby helping the woman to emancipate herself.

   Today she must wash a Kamona by taking it entirely apart, after it is washed it must be put together again. Think of this laborious process with primative conditions! Think of it with a dozen children to feed & wash besides.

[p. 95]

   One man told me he wanted to have twenty children. He said he already had two. He was stunned when I suggested that perhaps his wife had had the two!

   The women are far behind the men in thinking and in agressiveness. It is said there is an organization which stands for "free love" and many of the modern ideas of the New Woman, but these practices are transitory and are not fundamental enough to bring a great change in womans life. There is perhaps one well known woman who has defied convention sufficiently to live freely with a man, and to make it decidedly unconventional she took a man ten years younger than herself.

[p. 96]

   The average Japanese is very polite & civil. I have seen them go out of the way considerably to accomodate a fellow passerby. For instance I stopped in a store to ask where another store was. I had it written in Japanese no one seemed to know where this place was & I left the shop & walked on-- Soon--fully three minutes later the man I had asked was following me & said he would show me the way. He went ahead a long distance to show me the store I had enquired about. He did not want a tip either only a thank you and he smiled & bowed as if it was his pleasure.

   That was the general impression I had everywhere.

[p. 97]

   I was treated royally. Everyone tried to help me and wanted to entertain me the fact that the Government was against the idea of birth control threw the sympathy of the people everywhere decidedly for it and for me. Everyone who had to pay me any money for private lectures did the paying part beautifully. Usually a call was made the next day by the President or some high officials of the organization. They came to thank you for the lecture & then incedentially a package is given you wrapped in white soft paper & tied with gift cord. Later when you open it you find your money inside. That is not all. Before you leave that city another call is

[p. 98]

made and another gift is brought to speed the parting guest. One Physician made an early trip from Tokyo to Yokohama arriving at my hotel at seven Oclock in the morning to bring me a box of choice silk handkerchiefs. He came early believing I was leaving for Nagoya on the eight Oclock train. He must have had to get up at five Oclock to make that trip.

   Again on the boat leaving Kobe for the Inland Sea I was surprised to find on board the editor of the Kaizo & Mr Kawaga who had come to the boat to see me off.

   This custom is very touching and charming. It leaves one with a bit of another world when people & friendships are worth a little time & consideration.

[p. 99]

   While the customs & manners of the Japanese people are delightful and lovely one wishes they would take their government more seriously. They are like the Spanish in many ways. They laugh at the wrongs the Government perpetrates. Every where I went & talked about the action of the Government in suppressing the birth control lecture I noticed that each man, while deploring the action & condemning yet laughed at the action as if to convey to me its rediculousness. No one ever got indignant like an Englishman would.

   It seems to be the nature of the Japanese man to treat the government and the women not in a serious manner.


A. The preceding three paragraphs were used in My Fight for Birth Control (New York, N.Y.: Farrar & Rinehart, 1931), p. 247; a more heavily edited version appears in Autobiography (New York, N.Y.: W.W. Norton, 1938), pp. 325-26.
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B. First passed in 1890 as the Law on Associations and Meetings (Shukai Oyobi Kessha Ho), and redrafted in 1900 as the Security Police Law (Chian Keisatsu Ho), the law prohibited women from attending political meetings or joining political parties. In 1922, the ban on attending meetings was overturned, but the ban on joining political organization remained in force until 1945 (Bernstein, Recreating Japanese Women, pp. 154-55.)
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