Woman and Her Work
Against Overdrinking and Domestic Immoralities
July 17, 1886 — Kōseikan Hall, Tokyo, Japan
Having met you today, I would like to talk about something that is useful for women and is interesting to listen to. As you know I am representing a temperance union in America. It was twelve years ago that the temperance union was organized, and the union is thriving today. I hope it will be the same in your country, too. The reason for organizing the union was to abolish evils caused by strong drink, which was spreading to various countries. In America, people quit drinking and support our organization because once they stop drinking, they will live longer without suffering from the evils caused by drinking. Reading newspapers, I am unable to find any country where the government prohibited drinking, but I think that liquor drinking should be prohibited as well as opium smoking. In our country, it was once customary for government officers and upper-class people to drink a small amount of spirits when they socialized with friends. However, by now, these high-class people gradually stopped consuming it. Today it is not considered to be rude not serving liquor to guests, because it will shorten people’s lives. For your country, I feel deep regret that your country now imports liquor from abroad and people started drinking foreign liquor. It will cause evils as it did in Europe and America.
The Japanese government had been promoting things beneficial to its people. If it also promote beautiful things concerning women, there would be further progress. I think there are many things for women to do in your country. I think if they are carried out by women, it will be more effective than being done by men. It is because a woman becomes a mother and raises her children by herself. She, before anybody else, starts speaking to her children when they reach one, two, or three years old. The mother’s words, when well understood by children, will be influential. Whether the children grow into respectable persons or not all depends on how the mother raises them. I wish I could travel all over your country and talk to women in your country. Please keep in mind that I give this speech to expand women’s knowledge. Some of you who have gathered here today might hear something new. If you are one such person, please do not take it for granted that it is something good but give it some thought. I think it should be practiced only after you judge that it is a good idea. So please give thorough consideration, and convey your thoughts to your friends, maids, and even to those who earn their livings day by day so that they will think as you do.
Please do not use anything harmful like liquor about which I talked about. What I mean is tobacco. I have seen only one woman smoking in my country. I encountered so many people smoking tobacco in your country. I heard that not only lower-class women but also upper-class women smoke tobacco. I am not sure if it is true or not, but if it is, you need to stop it. Otherwise, it will hamper children’s growth and make people smaller and weaker through the ages. Therefore, I recommend that mothers teach their children not to touch stimulant drinks and such things as tobacco. A few days ago, I read in the newspaper in your country that there was a case of death from smoking. A child smoked tobacco while hiding from the parents. I think it is desirable that your government prohibits people from smoking tobacco.
I would like to talk about harmful things other than liquor and tobacco. It is about not being pure.
Once you are married with one person, it is not pure or right to marry another person. It is also unacceptable that you do not mind exposing your body. This is especially true for women. Women should not show their skin not only in front of men but also in their everyday lives. A few days ago, I saw a person bathing in a tub in public. I have never come across such a scene. I request the ladies who are here today to speak not only to upper-class people but also to those who are day laborers. How poor they may be, they should not do such things. Also children should be disciplined on these matters from an early age. We keep customs that we acquire in our youth. When you teach your children, it is not recommended to threaten them that they will be scolded by a policeman if they take off their clothes as they wish. Rather, tell them that it is shameful to have one’s body seen even by one’s own brothers or sisters. Also, when you change their clothes, you mothers need to tell your children that changing one’s clothes should be done where people are not around rather than where people are around. Then, your children will believe that to be the correct way. As children grow older, they should be taught about purity. It is best to implant the idea that a thoughtful person should be pure.
I would like to ask you ladies who are present today that you do women’s duty and that you advise your government to do whatever you think is good and to stop what you find are bad customs. Never be afraid of petitioning the government.
I have so many things that I would like to talk about today, and will not be able to discuss everything in detail since we are pressed for time. I think our body is important and we need to take good care of it. For that purpose, I recommend that you live where the air is clean. If the air contains bad odor, it will have a bad effect on people who live in it. I would like you to recommend others to live where the air is good. When you stay in clear air and then go into a crowded room, you will not be able to stay in that room for a long time. It will not only defile your body but also harm your health as you breathe. I stayed in a Japanese inn the day before yesterday, but the air circulation of the inn was bad and the screen doors in all four directions were closed, making the circulation even worse. At places such as this, windows should be opened for air circulation. In my country, I live with fresh air, and I could not sleep well when I stayed at this inn. Even when I fell asleep, I woke up in an hour or so. I clapped my hands and tried to have someone open the windows, but nobody came, probably because of the language barrier. I was in trouble. I think none of you should live in such a place, but if any of you ever does, I hope you will be guided to move to an area with clean air.
Let me talk about kimonos for a while. The kimonos you are wearing are very beautiful, but you will eventually reform them. In case you do, I would like to give you a word of caution so that you will have good reformed clothes. Your clothes are joined together only at the front and can not cover your legs nor your arms. I recommend that you have the kimonos cover you from the neck to the ankles and the sleeves to be tight. That will be more convenient for you to work in and better for your body and health.
As for shoes, heels that are lower and wider are better. High and narrow heels will be harmful for your health. Furthermore, unlike Western clothes, Japanese clothes are fastened at the waist, which is also bad to one’s health. Western clothes also cover waists, but they are not tightened there as much as yours. . . . It is not proper to fasten your body or to tighten your toes forcefully. Also I saw a pregnant woman who had her belly tightly fastened by a string. I think this is quite harmful. It also is not desirable to have one’s belly wrapped with a wide obi (belt). I understand that there is a difference between strings for pregnant women and obi. As for the obi, from my point of view, you have too big a portion on your backside. I heard from a Japanese doctor that wearing such a large item will keep the heat inside and will cause unexpected health problems. Don’t you think that the knot section is quite thick? I recommend that you reform obi.
Now I will take a short break, and consult with you on a temperance union. If you are interested in it, please come forward and take the front seats.
Translated by Rumi Yasutake.
Source: “Kain oyobi kanai sho-fudotokuni taisuru fujin no gimu,” Jogaku-Zasshi, August 5, 1886, pp. 1-3.