Suffrage Pioneer – Komako Kimura
Suffrage Pioneer – Komako Kimura
The deeply-seated constitution of Japanese women can not be denied.
One may have a preconceived notion about women and their place in Japanese society.
Perhaps the image of the feminine Japanese women covering their mouth while tittering.
Or, as a dedicated housewife on a mama chari charging around with her kids grocery shopping.
As clearly pointed out by Koizumi Yakumo in one of his seminal works, Japanese men and women are indeed of a different species.
Komako Kimura was born in Tokyo on July 29, 1887, she was an innovative Japanese suffragist, actress, dancer, theatre manager, and magazine editor before World War II.
A notable Japanese women of extraordinary vision and power, Komako Kimura is now a mostly forgotten historical figure in the earliest global women’s suffrage movement.
This incredible Japanese woman was responsible for some of the most important, and arduous work, as one of the first advocates of women rights in the early 20th century, in particular, coming from the samurai roots of the male dominated Japanese culture.
Her work shaped the women’s rights and women’s suffrage movement in Japan and the West.
Inspiration came to Komako from the likes of Oscar Wilde and Ralph Waldo Emerson, having studied them in school, and one can not think of better examples to have informed Komako as to the ways of the Occidental Anglophone.
She was also deeply influenced by the ideas of Ellen Key, the seminal Swedish feminist and extraordinary figure in the earliest women’s suffrage movement.
Ms. Key penned epoch-making works:
Century of the Child (1908)
The Women Movement (1909)
Love and Marriage (1911)
Click on the above-links to read these important books for free at Project Gutenberg.
Unsurprisingly, Komako Kimura was a highly controversial figure of her time for her defiant actions both in her theatrical life and in her work to advance the women’s suffrage movement.
She loved the stage as it was one of the only ways women could flourish in the male-dominated society of Japan, and it was said:
“Only women of the stage can talk to men of affairs.
She developed her powerful presence by speaking to and associating with powerful men, and these men of influence would listen to her, and were influenced in turn by her opinions.
Komako Kimura also created the movement entitled:
“The True New Women’s Association” (Shin-shinfujinkai) in 1912 with two other women, Nishikawa Fumiko and Miyazaki Mitsuko.
The first speech that Komako gave was in 1913.
“Love and Self-Realization for Women”
Komako circulate “The New True Woman” magazine in America, Japan, and Europe.
In her first article, Komako described how she did not merely want to change the law and give men and women equal rights, but her goal was to educate women to be strong willed and thoughtful feminists who are provided with an education equal to that of men, and no longer have to refer to the men in their lives to make decisions for themselves.
However, by the time she visited America in 1917, she had been working toward achieving suffrage in Japan for about five years, to no avail.
There were issues about funding, government opposition, and a lack of Japanese precedent concerning the women’s rights movement that prevented Komako from making any real progress in Japan.
She left for America to gain inspiration from American women, whom she admired due to the fact that they could use their clothing and makeup to express themselves as individuals.
Perhaps it is here where one can ponder how the perceived connection between clothing and makeup, and women expressing themselves is in anyway related, whatsoever.
Indeed, this false narrative of makeup and clothing has ensnared women into wasting their precious time and talents on the shallow notion of beauty, and what it means to be a woman.
During her second visit to America, she met with the first female member of Congress, Jeanette Rankin and President Woodrow Wilson.
Also, she famously marched in the October 27, 1917 suffrage march in New York, and what a sight to behold for the Americans seeing Komako Kimura dressed in the full Japanese regalia.
“The New True Woman” magazine lasted until January 1918, before it was suppressed by the Japanese government.
The magazine was well known for its radical topics for the time, as it criticized marriage and was the first Japanese publication to frankly talk about the use of birth control.
This suppression also extended to her public lectures, and she was no longer permitted to hold meetings in public areas.
In response to the Japanese government’s actions, Komako wrote and acted as the lead in a play entitled “Ignorance.”
As expected, the Japanese government was not happy with this action, and advised her to return to playing meek women, or else be censured by closing her theatres.
Instead of doing as the government requested, she defied it and made all of the performances at her theatre free.
Can anyone say PIONEER!!!
In response, the government arrested her.
In her trial, she acted as her own defence, and did so well that instead of hindering her cause, the government unwittingly promoted it, as her message was spread via the trial, making her fight for women’s rights and suffrage known throughout the country.
The imaginative mind of a great woman knows no limits, and more often than not, the path to success and glory resides in the adversity.
Komako Kimura’s writing, speeches, and performances were integral to the Japanese suffrage movement, culminating in the 1945 change of election law that allowed Japanese women to vote.
Make no mistake about it, the historic woman’s suffrage pioneer Komako Kimura, and her global counterparts petitioning on behalf of the sisters of the world are the true pioneers of the woman’s suffrage movement.
These women laid the necessary groundwork paving the future of womanhood, and those who are now carrying the torch must recognize they stand on the shoulders of these epoch-making giants of the women’s suffrage movement.