To Live and to Write: Selections by Japanese Women Writers, 1913-1938 – Yukiko Tanaka

To Live and to Write: Selections by Japanese Women Writers, 1913-1938
Little by little like stinging currents, streams of piercing pain scurried all over my back. Sullen fingers cringing at the mere sight of fluttering pages, drowsy eyelids succumbing to the warpath of the recurring prose and the poor chair cumbersome under my weight. I wasn’t yet ready to let go the book. The faint sound of a nib impregnated by flowing ink scribbling over the coarseness of paper filled the clammy air in my room; women writing to emancipate their souls, women writing to feed their stomachs,women writing to mend their broken hearts, women writing to find their mislaid voice, to challenge the codes of patriarchy, to unshackle the literary seclusion, to silence their social critics and male counterparts; women writing to live. The stray voices in my head tumbled to several teary yawns, my eyes still locked on the repetition of prose embellishing every word with eternal imagery. Yukiko Tanaka’s marvellous assembly of nine remarkable women authors captivated my acumen with an addictive indulgence akin to unearthing of infinite treasure.


“These writers , many who came from impoverished families in rural regions, showed a tenacity and honesty rarely seen among male writers; they observed and wrote about a society run by men and recorder their personal battles against traditional mores with unprecedented candour.”

Tamura Toshiko

Miyamoto Yuriko

Hirabayashi Taiko

Hayashi Fumiko

Nakamoto Takako

Nogami Yaeko

Sata Ineko

Uno Chiyo

Okamoto Kanoko


TO EAT and TO WRITE are the two reasons for living.

Nine courageous women, each trouncing the obstacles of a domineering society and personal regressions whilst overpowering the prevalent chauvinistic supremacy with their astounding vigour for creativity. The path to freedom through writing charted by the political vestiges of anarchist ideologies and communism revealed the creative aptitudes of the women flaunting a boundless imagination revolutionizing social and family mores. The romanticism of proletarian prose,the nationalistic march for the “pen squadron”(Pen Butai – writers as war correspondents) , the congenial narcissistic conflicts,overwhelming bourgeois conventions, cannibalism of self-confessions,the rationalization of literary realism and above all the everlasting ambition to publish the written work in a liberal socio-cultural milieu; celebrated the embarked rigorous path where the productivity of living and writing were problematic entities to separate for these modern Japanese women writers. Thus, the resounding reciprocation of Hayashi Fumiko’s words enunciating the magnitude of ‘eating’ and ‘writing’ for the humanity of their livelihood.

The powdery masquerades of Tamura Toshiko’s Woman writer consciously enveloping her distressing vulnerabilities under pale layers of face powder equates the woman’s addiction of her snowy make-up as a mask for her ailing vulnerabilities. The Glory of a single mother misplaced between the diminished luxurious past and a prevalent impoverished present. The strokes of runny watercolours sketch the diaries of a young woman and her audacious resistance to the drudgery of a non-creative life tinting the melancholic tunes of Hayashi Fumiko’s Vagabond Song. “The way we live is precisely like selling mourning bands”, the deepening cynicism indulging in Self-mockery envisioning Hirabayashi Taiko’s nonchalant bravado. Comprehending the mistreatment of the workers from the Caramel Factory and Sata Ineko’s exhilarating Crimson shades, brings immense appreciation when delved on the prosaic style sensual ‘The Female Bell-Cricket’, Nakamoto Takako’s fantastical depiction of a wilful woman who takes advantage of her feeble idealistic lover. From the kitschy manoeuvre of Kanoko’s A Floral Pageant, Nobuko’s retaliation to overbearing matrimonial suffocation and openly embracing sexuality, paralleling Miyamoto Yuriko’s personal predicament to the paradox of Yaeko’s A Story of Missing Leg, depicts a conscious effort promoting artistic maturity in women who were until then narrowly defined as “good wives and wise mothers”. The literary art of these contemporary women writers who were drawn towards fiction to seek self-discovery and self-expression found its solidarity in the very first publication and enterprise of Japanese women’s magazine – ‘Seito-sha’(Bluestocking) founded by Hiratsuka Raicho in 1911. Socio-political debates ranging from abortion to prostitution found a refuge in the pages of Seitō until 1916 when it crumbled under bureaucratic pressure.


“Even the tiniest of flowers expresses the life and character of all of its kind. How vigorous is the force that enables a flower to bloom under the sun, transforming all earthly filth into nutrients for itself. Mighty is the flower.”

Like a wildflower it blossoms emitting an anonymous fragrance, the tiniest of expressions, the tiniest molecule of an overwhelming life, the tiniest poignant hue ,the budding strings of words clenching the elegiac appendages of a dormant power hidden within these women, sweetening the elusive feminist nectar reciting the fierce zeal of the encircling literary whorls and transforming the earthly bedlam into an inspiring celestial inflorescence blooming under the autonomous luminosity defining new rising horizons. Mighty is the pen. Mighty are the women who own it.

5/5*****

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