Distinguished Women of Past and Present

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Yosano Akiko

(1868-1942)

This woman of modern ideas, a counterpart of Mary Wollstonecraft, a "bluestocking", was born near Osaka, Japan in 1868 just as the country restored the emperor to power. The times, along with the ideas, were changing rapidly and Akiko was in the center of change.

Born into a prosperous family of confectioners, she graduated from the Sakai School for Women where she was the foremost poet, evolving into a social critic. She fell in love and openly lived with Yosano Tekkan, a married man and publisher of Myojo, a publication featuring new concepts: the new 31 syllable waka poetry, as well as traditional forms. Akiko was not a woman to restrain her emotions or her voice. She openly criticized the government for entrance into the Russo-Japanese war and, with her colorful vocabulary, condemned them in her writing. Here are two verses of a longer poem, O my Brother, You Must not Die:

O my young brother, I cry for you
Don't you understand you must not die!
You who were born the last of all
Command a special store of parents' love
Would parents place a blade in children's hands
Teaching them to murder other men
Teaching them to kill and then to die?
Have you so learned and grown to twenty-four?

O my brother, you must not die!
Could it be the Emperor His Grace
Exposeth not to jeopardy of war
But urgeth men to spilling human blood
And dying in the way of wild beasts,
Calling such death the path to glory?
If His Grace possesseth noble heart
What must be the thoughts that linger there?

Despite much criticism, she influenced many women to become more open in their views. Akiko was the queen of Myojo the publication, using it as a platform to criticize the government and to foster social changes and rights for women. Many of her poems were unabashedly lusty.

She ultimately married Tekkan and together they had, it is said, a dozen children. In 1912 she went to Paris along with her husband and brought more ideas to plague the government. Although others were put in jail, Akiko was not touched. Akiko continued to write her views concerning politics, economics and women's rights until her death just after the beginning of World War II. Her children were all successful, including doctors and lawyers. Her son, Shigeru, was organizational head of the 1964 Olympics held in Tokyo.

Contributed by Florence Prusmack, author of Khan: a romantic historical novel based on the early life of Ghenghis Khan in 1998.

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