Monday, May 02, 2005

Ayako Ishigaki - Communist and feminist

There's a review in the Japan Times of the memoirs of Ayako Ishigaki -- Restless Wave: My Life in Two Worlds -- Communist and feminist activist in Japan and the US in the first half of the twentieth century.


First among the incidents that would jar her out of her complacency were the rice riots of 1918. Ishigaki's wealthy aunt felt that it would be better if the hungry "would request things quietly" rather than throwing stones and kicking in the doors of rice warehouses. "In our house," this aunt complained, "we always contribute to charity and are kind to the people, but still an increasing number of them return evil for good." Ishigaki, who had earlier described her placid family life as "a quiet world, like the mirrored surface of an ancient pool; without motion, without flow, reflecting the clear blue sky," experienced, while listening to her aunt, "the faintly ominous feeling one has . . . when in a corner of the sky the rain clouds boil up suddenly and everything is dark."

It was probably this new awareness that lead her, a year later, to enter Jiyu Gakuen. Although Jiyu Gakuen was the most progressive Japanese high school of its time, Ishigaki was soon disillusioned with the mushy liberalism it offered. "It was the purpose of Jiyu Gakuen to produce women rich in interests, intelligent and cultured," she explains. "Any serious consideration of what to do about the social setup was left to other people." As this was unsatisfactory to Ishigaki, she soon embarked on the radical activism that would fill much of her life.

Ishigaki's activism, however, made things uncomfortable for her in Japan. She became involved with Japan's Farmer-Labor Party (banned by the government three hours after it was founded) and, thanks to that affiliation, spent a night in jail. One imagines that it was the threat of further persecution that made joining relatives in the United States seem like a good idea.

In America her activism continued, most notably in Japanese immigrant communities. Ishigaki was an opponent of the Japanese occupation of Manchuria and the increasing militarism that followed. One sees her trying desperately to believe that the Japanese immigrants she worked among "wanted to defend their motherland from being trampled upon and ruined by the militarists," and one shares her heartbreak when she realizes, observing the response to a speech from a visiting militarist, that "these honest, quiet, working people were engulfed in war spirit." She comforts herself with the notion that they were only "for the moment carried away." That they were so easily carried away, however, suggests that their distaste for the war had never run very deep.

"Restless Wave" was written in English and published in 1940. To demonstrate how unfortunate the situation then was, Ishigaki concludes her book with a chapter made up largely of entries from a notebook that had fallen into her hands, the diary of a Japanese soldier in China. Ishigaki reports that when she read the diary, she felt that her "heart was being gouged out and tortured." One understands, and remembers, that before things got better they got worse.


Read the complete article

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