Among all the changes wrought in postwar Japan none have been more fundamental socially than the emancipation of women. In her career, spanning more than six decades, FUSAYE ICHIKAWA mirrors this transformation.
In the traditional rural villages in Aichi Prefecture where she was born in 1893, her parents were simple farmers, cultivating and tending silkworms on the less than one hectare of land on which they strove to raise six offspring. Although determined his children must have the education he lacked, her father was harsh; watching her mother beaten left an indelible imprint on the girl, as did the repeated lament, “What a misery it is to have been born a woman…. ”
From a village schoolteacher, Miss ICHIKAWA became in turn a news reporter, stockbroker’s clerk and labor union worker. She moved in 1918 to the national arena as a founder of the pioneering New Women’s Association that sought, as a first step in raising women’s status, an amendment to the law prohibiting women from listening to, making or sponsoring political speeches. Helped again by her elder brother who had sent money from the United States for her secondary and normal school education, she studied two and a half years in America before returning to join the newly opened Tokyo branch of the International Labor Organization (ILO).
Daytimes at the ILO she directed the Women’s Committee in winning prohibition against female labor on factory night shifts and in underground mines. After hours, working often until midnight, she was the mainstay of the League of Winning Women’s Suffrage and the Women’s Problems Research Council.
As reaction and militarism settled heavily upon Japan, beginning with the army’s invasion of Manchuria in 1931, Miss ICHIKAWA and her co-workers protested the fascist trends and addressed themselves to solutions of problems created for women by the war. Following Japan’s surrender, she was elected leader of the New Japan Women’s League that became the League of Women Voters after women’s suffrage was granted under directive of the Allied Occupation. Ironically purged from leadership in March 1947 on a false accusation of militarism, her clearance was won in October 1950 through repeated protests by women’s organizations in Japan and abroad.
Quickly reinstated as head of the League, she led the successful campaign against licensed prostitution and helped found a Fair and Clean Elections Association to safeguard the franchise. In 1952 she won election as an independent to the House of Councilors, the upper house in the Diet, in a campaign modeled strictly on the “ideal election code” she had advocated.
Serving 18 years in the Diet, she consistently opposed pay raises for members and lived frugally, donating all increases plus a portion of her salary each month, to women’s causes. She made public reports yearly on Diet sessions and on her own activities, attendance record, income, expenses and donations. Out of office for three years, she yielded in July 1974 to the insistence of supporters—particularly the young—and was returned to the Diet—with minimal campaign expenditure and by a large majority—in recognition of her service to Japan’s women, conscience and political morality.
In electing FUSAYE ICHIKAWA to receive the 1974 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, the Board of Trustees recognizes her lifetime labors advancing with exemplary political integrity her countrywomen’s public and personal freedom.
Called upon so unexpectedly to this occasion commemorating the late President Ramon Magsaysay, I am filled with shame and deep regret as a Japanese, thinking how my people caused you and your country indescribable loss and pain in the past. To those of you who, over the last three decades, have had to live with incurable wounds of war, I offer my sincere apologies and beg to be forgiven.
Taking this opportunity, I also would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to you for your generosity in sending home without censure a Japanese army officer who persisted in fighting “his war” for 30 long years on the Island of Lubang against the peace-loving people. And I thank the many Philippine individuals and families who took in Japanese children—who had been orphaned during the war—as their own, and brought them up with love and care through all these years.
The Ramon Magsaysay Award, I believe, manifests the late President Magsaysay’s devotion to his people and to his ideal of the “Politics of the Tao”—or ordinary man. It is an undue honor conferred on me. Being a Japanese, I particularly would like to extend my deep respect and admiration to the Board of Trustees of the Foundation for its spirit of generosity and fairness exemplified in the fact that Japanese have been honored repeatedly by this Foundation.
As of last May, I reached the age of 81. Ever since my childhood the harsh discrimination against women was one thing I could not tolerate, and for 60 years, with friends and colleagues, I carried on my fight to abolish that discrimination. If you had been born in a society like ours, I am sure that you would have done just as I did.
After the prolonged war years during which we also suffered misery and disasters, we, at long last, attained almost complete legal equality of men and women.
Today, many Japanese think that this equality was the gift of the Allied Occupation Forces—an outcome of Japan’s defeat in the war. But I would like you to know that we in Japan, too, have a history of struggle for the equality which was withheld so unreasonably from women, that many people fought against the discrimination since the turn of the century. It was extremely difficult to continue such a “radical” movement in face of the rising militarism. However, I must add for the credit of Japanese men, that we had a few friends among them who confidentially extended their benign support to our movement over the years.
Through our movement for equality between men and women, my conviction deepened that unless women won political rights on an equal footing with men, we could not hope for true equality. My creed, “Women’s suffrage is the key,” is now inscribed on the wall of the Women’s Suffrage Hall which we built after the war, reminding those who pass there of the long, hard struggle for women’s equality which we had to carry.
We envy the status of women in your country with the long established tradition of equality of men and women that preceded contact with the West. In our history, too, we had a period of matriarchy, and, contrary to the commonly accepted notion, the subordination of women to men was established only a few centuries ago.
In Japan today women outnumber men as voters and their voting rate is higher than men’s at every election. Numerically, we can say, women dominate.
However, throughout the long years of my movement, I have come to realize how difficult and time-consuming a process it is to change firmly established and time-honored concepts and practices in a society. Winning the right to vote is one thing. To use it effectively is another. The right itself did not change Japanese women overnight. Even today, three decades after the realization of suffrage, no marked change is recognizable. Not that I have given up; I am hopeful. In the latest election to the House of Councilors many people, particularly youths, voluntarily and actively worked to achieve my successful return by practicing my formula of “ideal election.” At long last, though gradually, a pattern of individual awakening, followed by positive action, is spreading among the grassroots. Watching such a development, I would very much like to solicit your help and cooperation for the younger generations of Japanese so that they may develop to be your reliable co-workers for the betterment of the Asian community.