Family or State?

Nation, War, and Gender in Japan, 1937-45

Author: Sandra Wilson

Abstract:

Nationalist ideology and nationalist practice in Japan between 1937 and 1945 were fundamentally conditioned by gender. For women, the proper roles of the subject were most fully elaborated through the patriotic women's associations, principally Aikoku fujinkai (Patriotic Women's Association), Kokubō fujinkai (Women's National Defense Association), and Dai Nippon fujinkai (Greater Japan Women's Association). The last of these claimed 27 million members throughout the empire. The women's associations attempted to define the ideal relation between women and the nation, primarily through an emphasis on home and motherhood. Yet, by 1945, wartime requirements had exposed basic flaws in their ideology from the state's point of view. Not only did the emphasis on home and motherhood impede the use of women in the labor force, more fundamentally, leaders of the women's associations and others realized that devotion to family might also lead to women failing to encourage their young sons to join the military. In these circumstances, a strong focus on the family, which had earlier been positively evaluated as the major part of women's gendered contribution to the war effort, came to be redefined as a form of “individualism,” which had to be resisted for the national good. By this stage, “family” and “state” could no longer be taken for granted in official rhetoric as mutually reinforcing entities.
Regions: East Asia
Countries: Japan

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June 2006
© Jeff Kingston