Document 36: Isoo Abe, "The Birth Control Movement in Japan," lecture delivered on 13 July 1922, published in the Report of the Fifth International Neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference, Raymond Pierpont, ed. (London, 1922), pp. 192-95.


   Isoo Abe had become increasingly identified with birth control in Japan, having written two books on the subject by May 1922 and several articles. Identified as a leader of Japanese Christians and active in the labor movement, Abe played a significant role in extending interest in birth control beyond women's groups. He was one of four activists who represented Japan at the Fifth International Neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference in London in July 1922. H. Kano briefly summarized the burgeoning movement in Japan following Sanger's visit, Baron Ishimoto read a paper on population problems in Japan, while Tokijiro Kaji discussed birth control methods known and used in Japan, and Isoo Abe gave the following address, describing Japan's position.[25]

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By Professor Isoo Abe

   The population of Japan has multiplied itself three times since the Meiji registration (1894).[A] Before that period Japan was entirely cut off from the outer world, having a completely undeveloped economic system. Therefore, it is not difficult to understand that the Japanese population, threatened with shortage of food supply, was always regulated by voluntary Birth Control. Of course, the methods of control, at that time, were not so developed as those which are adopted in Europe and America, or even to some extent in Japan to-day, these latter being blameless to morality and harmless to health. In other words, abortion and infant sacrifice quite widely prevailed in Japan at that time. However, the Shinshu, one sect of Buddhism,[B] was bitterly against abortion and infant sacrifice, but without result; just as the Roman Catholics are against any means of Birth Control, and abortion was very often carried out by midwives,

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or committed by women themselves. Moreover, there were several medicines for the purpose of procuring abortion, which seemed to have quite a big circulation among the people. The infant sacrifice, having no danger to the mother's body, as in the case of abortion, was much used in certain districts.

   After the Meiji registration, the Japanese Government took very strong means to abolish these cruel Birth Control methods. The development of the moral idea also succeeded in driving these methods out of practice.

   Necessity, however, knows no law. There are many cases of abortion and infant sacrifice still being practised in Japan at present. We are surprised to discover that two country communities are practising Birth Control systematically. These two villages, called Takayama and Tsukigase are in the Kyoto province. According to the report, there are 360 families in Takayama village, having a population of 1,679, with 868 male, and 811 female.[C] These villages have the following four interesting characteristics:--

1. There are only four families which have more than three children.
2. The born children are mostly boys and girls alternately; in other words, after the boy, the girl is likely to be born.
3. No example of a birth occurring year after year.
4. The average numbers of children in one family are very few compared with those of Japan.

Moreover, according to the report, the physique of the youth of this village is wonderful. At the time of military conscription in 1919, sixteen were admitted out of seventeen. In 1920, fourteen were selected out of nineteen. In 1921, eleven out of fourteen. The standard of intelligence in the common school is far superior to that of others.

   It is only during the last two or three years that the Birth Control question has begun to be discussed among Japanese people. Japan had, however, several pioneers among scholars. The first writer on Birth Control in Japan was Mr. Sadao Oguri. He was the brother of the late Mr. Fumio Yano, a well-known writer and Socialist. Mr. Oguri's work was published in October, 1903, entitled "Shakai Kaizo Jitsuron" (Key of Social Reformation). But there was little response to this book, because Japan

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was not sufficiently developed to estimate its value. But after about twelve years Dr. Kazutami Ukita, Professor of the Waseda University, commenced strongly advocating Birth Control in magazines or in speeches. By this time people had just begun to become interested in the subject. There were not a few who followed Dr. Ukita's teaching, but, at the same time, there was very strong opposition, especially from the militarists; among whom was General K. Sato. Hot discussion was carried on between Dr. Ukita and General Sato, and Dr. Ukita was even sometimes called a traitor to his country. Both Mr. Oguri and Dr. Ukita, however, only dealt with the theory of Birth Control to the Japanese; they did not launch any real popular movement. Naturally, the Japanese people began to lose interest. But Dr. T. Kaji's effort to forward Birth Control in these dark days cannot be overlooked. He had studied this principle and method when he was in Germany. Returning to Japan, he devised a suitable method for Japanese customs and conditions, and taught freely any who consulted him. Finally, he established the "People's Hospital," especially for poor women. Mrs. Sanger, during her stay in Tokyo, visited this hospital and studied the doctor's methods adapted for the Japanese.

   Japan is now making a big change spiritually and materially, and is likely to become a strong supporter of Birth Control. In 1920, neo-Malthusianism began to be discussed among the people; after that, nearly all the magazines published in Japan opened their columns for the discussion of this subject freely. By this time the Japanese people began to consider the problem from the point of view of their own economic interest, as well as from the international standpoint. Nobody now accuses the advocates of Birth Control of being traitors. From the end of the last year to the March of this year, three publications on this problem appeared. One is the translation of Mrs. Sanger's work, "Women and the New Race," the second is by the writer of this article, and the third a pamphlet by Baroness Ishimoto. In view of the fact that these works have a large circulation among the people, we must believe that Birth Control has attracted a great amount of attention among the Japanese. Mrs. Margaret Sanger visited Japan in March of this year. The Japanese Government was much worried about it, and without openly giving any reason, suppressed her lecture

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to the public. This action, however, stimulated public interest on the subject, contrary to the intention of the Japanese Government. Mrs. Sanger, though having no freedom to address the public, addressed more than ten private meetings. As a result, the Japanese Birth Control Association was organized (address: To Daido-Yoko, Kajimabank Building, Nihonbashi, Tokyo, Japan), and the first magazine of this association appeared on May 15th, 1922.[D] The founders of this association are Dr. Tokijiro Kaji, the owner of the People's Hospital, Professor Isoo Abe, of the Waseda University, and Baron and Baroness Keikichi Ishimoto, friends of Mrs. Sanger.[E]

   Japan has no definite law against Birth Control as some of the States of North America have. This is a great help to the future of this movement. The police are generous towards written discussion of this movement, but very severe against the teaching of any practical methods, which is supposed to be a crime against morality.

   The future of the Birth Control movement in Japan is largely dependent upon the attitude of the Government, but much more upon the courage of, and spread of education amongst, the people.


A. Under the Meiji government (1868-1912), improvements in public health and living standards led to a dramatic increase in the population, but not to the extent that Abe indicates. The population in 1922 was 57,390,000, an increase of 16 million over the 1894 population of 41,000,000, not close to the tripling that he claimed. The Meiji government changed the way that the census was taken in 1871 with the Household Registration Law that counted people living in a domicile rather than by caste status. ("Progress of Japan," San Francisco Chronicle, 12 October 1894, p. 4; Brian R. Mitchell, International Historical Statistics, Africa, Asia, and Oceania, 1750-2000 [New York, N.Y.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001], p. 59; Michael Smitka, The Japanese Economy in the Tokugawa Era, 1600-1868 [New York, N.Y.: Garland, 1998], p. 95.)
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B. Jodo Shinshu was a popular school of Japanese "Pure Land" Buddhism that believed that people could not reach buddhahood without the intercession of the deity Amida. Buddhist teaching holds that human life begins at fertilization, and that abortion is tantamount to killing an adult, save in cases where the procedure is needed to save the life of the mother. (Encyclopedia Britannica Online; Peter A. Singer and Adrian M. Viens, The Cambridge Textbook of Bioethics [Cambridge, 2008], p. 393.)
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C. This report has not been found. At least in the case of Takayama there are remarkably detailed and complete census records that have been used in numerous demographic studies (Yôichirô Sasaki, "Urban Migration and Fertility in Tokugawa Japan: The City of Takayama, 1773-1871," in Family and Population in East Asian History, ed. Susan B. Hanley and Arthur P. Wolf [Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1985], pp. 133-53.)
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D. The magazine, Small Family was only published once, in May 1922 (Hopper, A New Woman of Japan, p. 26.)
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E. Isoo Abe, "Sanji seigen wa mushiro katei kôfuku no motoi (Birth control is the source of family happiness)," Fujin gahô (Lady's Pictorial) 197 (March 1922), pp. 22-24; Shidzue Ishimoto, Sanji seigen: Igi hitsuyô kekka hôhô (Birth control: Its significance, necessity, results, and methods) (Tokyo: Ôshima Gi Sei Kan, 1922). See Callahan, "Dangerous Devices," pp. 62, 66.
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