Documents selected and interpreted by
Esther Katz, Peter C. Engelman, Cathy Moran Hajo
Margaret Sanger Papers Project, New York University,
and Kazuhiro Oharazeki (Independent Scholar).
Documents translated by Kazuhiro Oharazeki.
From 10 March to 4 April 1922, American birth control leader, Margaret Sanger (1879-1966), toured Japan, giving a dozen public lectures and meeting with women's groups, medical professionals, industrial leaders, members of the House of Peers and scores of newspaper reporters in one of the most publicized visits by a westerner up to that time. This supplement to the document project, "How Did Margaret Sanger's 1922 Tour of Japan Help Spread the Idea of Birth Control and Inspire the Formation of a Japanese Birth Control Movement?," draws upon a cache of documents chronicling Sanger's tour from the perspective of the Japanese government recently found among the records of the Japanese Foreign Ministry Archival Documents (JFMAD), Diplomatic Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, Tokyo. These materials were mostly written in Japanese, have been translated by Kazuhiro Oharazeki, and gathered and contextualized in this supplement.
The new documents center on the negotiations and discussions between Japanese officials at the San Francisco Consulate, where Margaret Sanger presented herself, and in Tokyo, and on activities pertaining to her arrival in Japan on March 10, 1922. They complement the earlier group by focusing on the Japanese government, its reluctance to allow Sanger to enter the country, and its final decision to admit her.
Faced with a rapidly growing population and limited arable land, one of Japan's goals during World War I was to expand its holdings and influence in Asia. After declaring war on Germany in August 1914, the Japanese occupied German-leased territories in the Pacific, and negotiated greater hegemony over northern China, Manchuria, and Inner Mongolia. By 1920, Japan had become a major economic influence in the Far East and aspired to the status of a world power.
Japan was also undergoing significant changes, establishing a two-party political system in 1918 and electing the first commoner, Takashi Hara (1856 1921), as prime minister. In the wake of the war, Japan faced a serious recession, inflation and other economic problems, at the same that it was adjusting to its new international role. The old elitist political networks were being challenged by a new array of political parties fueled by an influx of Western ideas, a growing labor movement, and new calls for universal suffrage. With the voices of students, the press, labor unions, and an emergent feminist movement calling for liberalization, many Japanese politicians dug in, resisting social and political change, especially those inspired or influenced by Western culture. When Prime Minister Hara was assassinated in 1921, Japan's internal struggles grew even more divisive.
In February 1922 Japan's Home and Justice Ministries were in the midst of drafting a "Law to Control Radical Social Movements," better known as the "Dangerous Thoughts Bill," an effort to control the spread of socialism, anarchism and Bolshevism in Japan (see Document 46). This new law, introduced into the House of Peers in February 1922, was intended to give officials the power to silence propaganda and keep out foreigners they believed threatened the moral order and polity of Japan. Although the bill did not specifically include birth control, its vague language and broad scope influenced authorities to crack down on ideas they found repugnant, inflammatory or subversive. And while the Taishō-era Takahashi government was more progressive than its predecessors, birth control threatened a long-standing policy that linked population growth with military and political expansion. And though in the end, the "Dangerous Thoughts bill" failed to pass, the controversy reflected a lack of consensus on the issue that was evident in the Japanese government's wavering response to admitting Sanger.
This supplement also documents Sanger's skillful use of diplomacy to secure her entry, especially her positioning birth control as a scientific, rather than a radical movement, supported by the educated and elite in the United States and Europe. She demonstrated a growing ability to advance her cause in incremental steps, winning people over one by one. Still a novice in international affairs, Sanger left Japan with a far better understanding of how best to appeal to and work with government officials.
*All the documents, except # 44 are from Volume No. 18.104.22.168-4, "Miscellaneous Documents Related to the Visits of Foreigners" (Gaikoku-jin torai kankei zakken), Japanese Foreign Ministry Archival Documents (JFMAD), Diplomatic Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, Tokyo.