ASCJ 2009
Session 28: Room 11-411

All for the Empire: Our Learning, Our Body, Our Labor, and All!

Organizer/Chair: Helen Lee, Yonsei University

This panel investigates the women of the Kōminka era of imperial Japan (1937–1945). The locus for this examination is colonial Korea contextualized within the Empire; the primary subject of inquiry is women, both Japanese and Korean, of a wide range of age groups—from elementary school children and high school girls to childbearing wives and child-rearing mothers. The sweeping mobilization of all women and the increasing collaboration between Japanese and Koreans under Kōminka meant a thorough incorporation of all female bodies into Imperial projects. By examining the specificities of state apparatuses of mobilization, along with women’s writings, all four presenters argue how women’s intimate involvement with Kōminka satisfied political goals—including those of the self-serving. Puja Kim’s paper discusses how the imperial state came to recognize the importance of educating Korean female children in the late 1930s, through a curriculum that nourished Japanese mannerisms and lifestyle. Taeyoon Ahn shows how Japanese schoolgirls carved out a political position within the discourse of imperial women by developing an image of a “big sister” vis--vis their Korean counterparts. Helen Lee examines how reproductive health was presented as one of the key concerns for future mothers, and how it in turn provided a platform on which both Japanese and Korean women collaborated (though aiming at incongruous political purposes). Through a comparative study Reiko Hirose argues how the Patriotic Women’s Association of Korea was the most noticeably active branch throughout the imperial territories, documenting Japan’s tumultuous colonial governance in Korea.

Making of Imperial Women in Korean Girls: The Elementary School Curriculum under Kōminka

Puja Kim, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies

This paper examines the elementary school education of Korean girls during wartime Japan (1937—1945). The curriculum for colonial education had been instituted during the early phase of the colonial administration of Korea, but it carried little significance due to the low rate of Korean female children entering elementary school. This trend dramatically changed in the late 1930s. The colonial administration recognized the urgency to educate Korean girls in order to mobilize them in support of the war effort. Koreans, though for a different reason, also saw the need to send their children to elementary school—primarily to ensure better employment opportunities.

By analyzing elementary school textbooks and documents released by the colonial government of Korea, this paper addresses areas of the curriculum that were stressed upon female students. For example, the 1939 state guidelines emphasized home economics—including cooking Japanese meals and sewing—and provided cleaning instructions for the Japanese-style tatami rooms. Ethics was another core area of emphasis to foster loyalty and virtue in female pupils. In other words, the curriculum was intended to inculcate the Japanese lifestyle and values in Korean girls. Educating Korean girls also had larger implications—they were expected to “Japanize” their homes as daughters and as future mothers, fulfilling the role of the imperial women.

Playing ‘Imperial Sisters’

Taeyoon Ahn, Ewha Womans University 

This paper explores the ways in which Japanese and Korean schoolgirls constructed their self-identity as Imperial subjects (kōmin or shinmin) of the Japanese Empire during the Pacific War (1941-1945) in colonial Korea. To the colonial government both Japanese and Korean women were crucial resources to serve Imperial goals. The monthly women's magazine New Woman (Shinjosei), published in the early 1940s, featured numerous articles authored by both Korean and Japanese schoolgirls, documenting their overflowing devotion and tireless loyalty to the Empire. Distinctively characteristic in these articles is the rhetoric that constructs Japanese schoolgirls as "big sisters" who shoulder the responsibility to "lead and enlighten" Korean schoolgirls. Investigating the ways in which wartime Japan created the category of “schoolgirls,” this paper demonstrates how the Japanese schoolgirls themselves attempted to negotiate their position within the increasingly militarized empire. The rhetoric of sisterhood was one of the central venues that enabled Japanese schoolgirls to define their place vis--vis their Korean counterparts within the discourse of “imperial women.”

Birthing Imperial Children: The Womb Improvement Project in Colonial Korea

Helen Lee, Yonsei University

By the early 1940s, women’s health was no longer a personal matter in Imperial Japan; it was an issue of national policy and a duty of the citizenry. A growing emphasis on healthy bodies resulted in a modification of the discourse regarding the “ideal mother” of the 1920s—the ryōsai kenbo, the good wife, the wise mother. The new “ideal mother” in the 1940s was the kenbo, the “healthy mother”, who was capable of giving birth to healthy children. Despite a notable reduction in advertisements for women’s vanity items in the print media, the marketing of products related to women’s reproductive health actually persisted with greater vigor throughout the early 1940s. From ointments for scarred nipples and supplements intended to prevent miscarriages to recruitment announcements for midwives, advertisements for wide range of woman’s products and services peppered the print media.

In colonial Korea, Japanese and Korean women collaborated to promote a variety of campaigns devoted to improving the health of “the womb,” a womb claimed by the Imperial state. Through an examination of women’s magazines and propaganda texts published in colonial Korea, this paper argues how the issue of reproductive health anchored the collaboration between Japanese and Korean women. A careful reading of these sources, which were published under heightened censorship, further reveals how this seemingly potent ground for Japan-Korea collaboration generated responses that suggest variegated meanings and purposes for participation.

Warriors on the Home Front

Hirose Reiko, Hokkaido Information University

Armed Imperial soldiers went to the front in order to secure and expand the territorial borders of Japan’s empire; equally armed, in ideological armor, were the women who backed the Imperial state’s agenda from home. Launched in 1901 in the home islands, the Patriotic Women’s Association was one of the most active organizations that carried out concrete actions in service of the Empire. Its twin Korean organization was founded in 1906, with the ostensible goal of bringing Japan and Korea into harmony, the naisen yūwa, by promoting collaborative work with Korean women.

This paper examines some of the critical tasks of the Patriotic Women’s Association of Korea (Association hereafter), in order to discern its strategic importance within the empire. The Association’s activities can be divided into three broad categories. In times of need Association members promoted campaigns to collect cash and household items, such as copperware, to support the ongoing war effort. From mending military uniforms to farming, the labors of the Association’s women were harnessed to clothe and feed the Japanese people. Community support programs were perhaps the most noteworthy activity of the Association, through which they visited, commiserated with, and even policed widows or other remaining family members of the military. In other words, the Association functioned as a civilian organ for providing cheerleading and surveillance in colonial Korea. The Korean branch ranked at the top in organizing assembly meetings that brought thousands of Association members together to reinforce their collective will to serve the imperial goals—a testament to Korea’s geopolitical importance within the Empire.

Discussant: Leslie Winston, Waseda University