Daughters in Boxes
October 12, 1883 — Ōtsu, Japan
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, I am Kishida Shun. As I am easily given to illness and feeling unwell, I had thought to cancel my appearance this evening, but, not wishing to disappoint our organizer, I have come after all. I do worry that I may need to excuse myself midway, however. Ah, whom does heaven hate to make it rain so tonight? With the rain, the congestion in the streets outside could not have been worse. And yet, in this world of ours, it is through inconvenience that we come to appreciate convenience. The inconvenience of tonight’s rain-congested thoroughfares may just be the conduit to tomorrow’s easy passage. And today’s lack of freedom just may become the catalyst for tomorrow’s liberty. Heaven subjected Kishida Shun to this inconvenience tonight to allow me the pleasure of seeing so many of you come to hear my talk. Two words sum up my response to your dedication: abundant joy.
I cannot think of a single soul who enjoys listening to an academic address! Still, having made these speeches a woman’s task, I have accepted speaking engagements far and wide. There are those who deplore my activities, saying that a woman who once dressed in brocade has now taken to the variety stage in a cheap bid to entertain. Naturally, I pay their criticism no heed. But let us consider the two ideograms used to write the word “entertain.” Taken in turn, do they not mean “to raise” and “to achieve”? I may be the one who stands before you “entertaining” for the sake of our country. But that is not to suggest that I alone am gifted with extensive knowledge or blessed with abundant talent. Without you in the audience, this speech would go unheard and would be meaningless. Together we share in this exchange of knowledge, and together we teach each other, with the mutual goal of raising the level of learning throughout the land. Surely it is not inappropriate to say therefore that my “entertainment” benefits the country.
But, to turn to the topic of this evening’s lecture, the expression “daughters in boxes” is a popular one, heard with frequency in the regions of Kyoto and Osaka. It is the daughters of middle-class families and above who are often referred to as such. Why such an expression? Because these girls are like creatures kept in a box. They may have hands and feet and a voice — but all to no avail, because their freedom is restricted. Unable to move, their hands and feet are useless. Unable to speak, their voice has no purpose. Hence the expression.
It is only for daughters that such boxes are constructed. Parents who make these boxes do not mean to restrict their daughters’ freedom. Rather, they hope to guide their daughters along the correct path toward acquiring womanly virtues. Therefore it is out of love for their daughters that these parents construct these boxes. Or so we are told, but, if we look at the situation more closely, we cannot help questioning whether it is truly love that these parents have for their daughters. For do they not cause their daughters to suffer? I should like to gather a few students — perhaps only two or three — and make of them true daughters in a box. But the box I would construct would not be a box with walls. Rather, it would be a formless box. For a box with walls visible to the human eye is cramped and does not allow one to cultivate truly bright and healthy children. Sisters crowd each other, competing for space, and end up developing warped personalities. And so I intend to create a box without walls.
A box without walls is one that allows its occupants to tread wherever their feet might lead and stretch their arms as wide as they wish. Some may object and say: is your box not one that encourages dissipation and willfulness? No, it is not so at all. My box without walls is made of heaven and earth — its lid I would fashion out of the transparent blue of the sky and at its bottom would be the fathomless depths of the earth upon which we stand. My box would not be cramped, allowing its occupants such a tiny space that whenever they attempt to move, their arms and legs strike against one another, causing them to suffer. It may seem biased to say so, but constructing this box is above all a woman’s task and an important task at that. A hastily made box will not do. A woman should carry with her into marriage a box filled with a good education. Upon giving birth to a daughter, she should raise her in the box she has herself carefully constructed. Thus she will nurture a bright daughter of good character. But if she forces her daughter into a box she has hastily constructed, the child will chafe at the narrowness of the structure and resent being placed inside. Far better to build the box before the birth of the child, for indeed a woman’s ability to produce good children for the propagation of the family and to encourage domestic harmony depends on how carefully she has built this box.
I do not know anything about the world beyond my own small frame of reference, but I think it safe to say that all Japanese families raise their daughters in boxes. Certainly the kind of boxes we create and the way we raise our daughters in them vary in degree from household to household. Among these, I can identify approximately three different types of boxes. Of these three, which one would I select? I would select the one in which the parents value the teachings of the wise and holy men of the past and, through the lessons imparted in classics such as the Great Learning for Women and the Small Learning for Women, pass on to their daughters an appreciation for knowledge. Compared to the other two boxes, this one is far more cultivated. But then, which box comes next? Next, we have a box that upon the birth of a daughter is fitted with a secluded room deep in its interior; this is where the daughter is kept. The entrance to this room is barricaded by a long blind, and she must not leave the room. Nor may she lift the blind. And so she stays deep in her room behind her blind. The parents of the daughter in this box treat her not with affection; rather, they bring her only harm. And then, as for the third: in this box the parents refuse to recognize their responsibility to their daughter and teach her naught. They make no effort to shower her with love and instead expect her to obey their every word without complaint. The mother abusively wields her power over her daughter and is otherwise hateful in her treatment of her child. Such is the third box. Of the three boxes I have just introduced this evening, I consider the first commendable in its cultivation. But the second and third are not satisfactory and are not to be recommended.
Next, I would like to take up an extremely practical matter, and that is the way mothers today raise their daughters. There are some who argue, with exceedingly boorish logic, that learning is an obstacle to a woman’s successful marriage. This argument is particularly specious. Women need learning. But if you think by learning that I am referring only to the Four Books and the Five Classics or the eight great writers of the Tang and Song–Han Yü in particular — or recitations of the great Chinese poets, then you are greatly mistaken. Nor am I advocating the composition of wakapoetry or the extemporaneous recitation of short verses. A romantic ramble while enjoying the elegant diversions of moon or flower viewing does not to my mind constitute learning, either. Now, a daughter might display a natural talent for letters and be able to gladden her readers with her many compositions. Then let her become a writer. But those without talent should not waste their time in elegant diversions with moon and flowers or in dabbling with mountains and streams as though they were some revered recluse. No, what I call learning requires that a woman recognize, at least, the responsibility that she must shoulder as a woman; so long as she lives in this precious country of ours, she should refrain from squandering her talents. What I desire most is for a woman to prepare herself for marriage by assembling appropriate knowledge as the most essential item in her trousseau.
Eight or nine out of ten mothers in our society today believe that they have accomplished their duty if their daughters, once married, are not sent home in divorce. It does not even occur to them that their daughters might deserve higher goals. How can these mothers successfully accomplish their tasks when their expectations for their daughters are so low? What then is the appropriate way to raise a daughter?
What I deem appropriate is to allow daughters to study first and then have them marry. Education is the most essential item in a woman’s wedding trousseau. And what are the subjects she should study? Economics and ethics. Although a woman lives under her husband’s protection for most of her life, the day may come when he should die. Then she should fortify herself with her moral training and plan her future with her financial knowledge. Thus these subjects, when taken together, form the most important item a woman will bring to her marriage. Her kimono cabinet and bedding chest are vulnerable to theft and easily lost to fire. They cannot be trusted to last with absolute certainty. Even so, those who do not appreciate the fact that a daughter, too, should be educated, dismiss their maids and servants as soon as their daughter comes of age. Their rationale for this is that their daughter will soon be sent in marriage to a stranger’s house, where she must know the ins and outs of cleaning. What better time to learn than now? And so they set her to work in the absence of the servants and maids. Truly, can we say that these parents know how to raise a daughter?
Occasionally, parents will let their daughters study the arts, in which case they have them practice the tea ceremony or flower arrangement or waka composition or the opening line to a linked verse. Other than these accomplishments, they enjoy having their daughters learn the three-stringed shamisen. And so these parents take great delight in showing off their daughters in front of others and feel not the slightest twinge of remorse in pushing their daughters to these displays. Is it because these parents are themselves the product of ancient customs? How truly regrettable it is that they do not even think to consider the merits and demerits of their choices. Can they possibly produce talented daughters with training such as this? No, they cannot. True parents are those who impart to their children an appreciation of moral virtue. Yet these parents think they can educate their daughters by teaching them to dance and twirl. They train them to lift their arms, tap their feet, and bend their bodies as gracefully as a willow branch swaying in the wind and rain. But what models do these daughters follow with their lifted arms and lithe feet? And will even their own brothers be able to speak candidly of their sisters? Daughters who know a little shame will blush. Come now, can you parents actually claim to be innocent of the meaning of the song lyrics that you have your daughters sing? Do your daughters have no choice but to continue, cheeks burning with embarrassment?
Daughters taught to sing lascivious songs and display their bodies in suggestive dances cannot be comfortably placed in the kind of box where they would be trained in appropriate virtues, even if their parents should later wish to do so. Perhaps this point can be explained by comparing daughters trained in lascivious arts to flowers. When the cold of winter departs, the flowers welcome the warmth of spring. In the mountains, the purple buds begin to open and throughout the valley red blossoms laugh. Everywhere we turn there are flowers. Everywhere we go, the cherry trees bloom. When all the flowers are in full blossom, suppose we put one in a box. We set it beside an open window and surround it with lowered blinds. How the flower will envy the others. “Here I am in a box,” it will say. “But the flowers on the plain bloom freely. They laugh freely. They spread their fragrant scents freely. But look at me, how miserable I am!” Up to this point, no box had been prepared for this flower, and now, just as spring has arrived, a box is built and the flower forced inside. Overwhelmed with grief and resentment, the flower slips from its box by the window and flees. Even as the parents try to capture the flower, it is blown by the wind and pelted by the rain, and those who try to restrain it are unable to do so easily. We humans are like this flower, are we not? Far better, I should think, to destroy the box that restricts the flow of air and denies freedom, and to do so immediately. For this is not a box designed to cherish a daughter but rather one that brings about her suffering. Daughters raised in these boxes grow sickly, their personalities warped, and so they run away. And yet, even though parents can see these boxes with their own eyes, they still do not recognize how detrimental they are, and they warn: “Daughter, dear, you must not leave this box for if you do, even you, a good person, will be corrupted.” These parents do not realize how they warp their daughter by placing her in such a box. Such parents hardly warrant the title of “parent” in the true sense of the word. For true parents long to broaden their daughter’s knowledge and seek the appropriate means to do so. In ancient times it may have been sufficient to keep daughters sealed in boxes this way. But now that our daughters know perfectly well that God the Creator has endowed them with liberty, we ought to be constructing boxes that permit them their liberty.
Consider this: the word “to parent” does not mean “to torment,” and so parents today should take the interests of their daughters to heart when they construct their boxes and reflect on the merits and demerits, the pluses and minuses of their actions when doing so. Today’s boxes, which torment daughters, are not constructed in their best interests. Similarly, there are a number of words in currency today that mean “daughter.” One is created with the ideograph for woman on the left and goodness on the right. Another has woman on the left and wealth on the right. Both are used to mean “daughter.” This may be why in the Kyoto region daughters from respectable families are addressed with the title “Miss,” which is constructed with the latter word for daughter [woman plus wealth]. But regardless of the ideograph used to write the word “daughter,” all daughters are also young maidens who should protect their womanly virtue by obeying thoughtful advice and by conceding what it is they should concede. But some people do not understand even these basic virtues and refuse to do for their daughters what it is they should do. How greatly mistaken they are.
At a time when knowledge progresses as it does now, learning and freedom should be encouraged. Without such encouragement, parents who put their daughter in the box they have built, believing that it is for her own good, are like a gardener who tries to grow flowers behind a fence. Flowers that are grown within a wattled fence are restricted beyond measure. Caught in the meshes of the law imposed upon them by the fence, they cannot freely bloom or spread their fragrance even if they do display a slight tinge of color. If we replace these flowers with the human spirit, imagine how restricted it would be! Many of you may know of a gardener who cultivates blossoms by limiting the space for their growth. See how he constructs his wattled fences. He cuts this branch here and snips those leaves there so should a tree wish to burst forth in blooms, it is prevented from doing so, and all because the gardener is as mindful of his fence as he is his flowers. Naturally, a gardener is not intent on damaging his flowers, since they are his profit, after all. But those who grow flowers are unaware of the feelings of the flowers they grow, and so they end up gazing at the faces of these oppressed blossoms without a second thought. Those who wish to grow beautiful, healthy flowers should try to appreciate the feeling of the flowers they grow and should set out their fences in a way that nurtures their proper growth. For to produce magnificent blooms, the gardener must imagine himself to be the flower he is tending. Yet what encourages gardeners to cause their flowers to suffer? Is it the promise of profit that leads them to treat their flowers cruelly rather than tenderly? Indeed, what a truly unfortunate, pitiful reason this must be for the flowers who must suffer for it.
But to return to the subject at hand, we humans are like these flowers. Therefore we cannot cultivate the human spirit to its full and brilliant potential if we restrict its freedom as would a gardener his flowers. To take the analogy further, let us compare these flowers to humanity and more particularly to daughters. If we enclose them in boxes, if we capture them when they try to escape and bind them in place, then just as the petals of the bound flower will scatter and fall, so, too, the bounty of the human mind will wither. And so I say to you, before you put your daughters in a box, try to imagine how she will feel once inside and thus construct the box to be as broad as the world is wide so that she might feel free. Should you do so, I guarantee that you will produce a true and virtuous daughter. But if you do not — if you force your daughter inside a narrow box and restrict her freedom — I have no doubt that your daughter will either escape or elope, and you will have to send your servants and maids out to search high and low to find her and drag her back. On the contrary, if the daughters in boxes today are allowed to feel as free as those outside the box, then the need to keep them tucked away in restrictive boxes loses its currency. And if we no longer need restrictive boxes, then daughters will no longer need to escape them, and servants and maids will no longer need to spend their time chasing after them. Their energy can be more appropriately applied to the management of the house, thus better utilizing household resources!
I had intended to address one more topic this evening. But owing to my illness, which I mentioned at the start of my lecture tonight, I am unable to continue. I hope to have an opportunity to continue at our next meeting. Until then, I solicit your kind understanding.
Translation by Rebecca L. Copeland and Aiko Okamoto MacPhail.
Source: Jiyu shinbun (Liberty Times), no. 411-412 (November 20-21, 1883).
Also: The Modern Murasaki: Writing by Women of Meiji Japan, eds. Rebecca L. Copeland and Melek Ortabasi (New York: Columbia University Press) 2006, pp. 62-71.