Susan L. Burns, Barbara J. Brooks, eds. Gender and Law in the Japanese Imperium. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2014. 301 pp. $45.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8248-3715-0.
Reviewed by Michiko Suzuki (Indiana University)
Published on H-Histsex (September, 2015)
Commissioned by Chiara Beccalossi (University of Lincoln)
This volume, consisting of an introduction and nine essays, makes an important contribution to studies of Japanese law and society. As coeditor Susan L. Burns notes in the introduction, historical studies focusing on law and gender were scarce until the late 1990s, when such landmark works as Fujime Yuki’s Sei no rekishigaku (History of sex ) were published, inspiring “much new interest in law in relation to issues of reproduction, prostitution, labor, and marriage” (p. 6). Following the publication of recent monographs in English by such scholars as Marnie S. Anderson (A Place in Public: Women's Rights in Meiji Japan ), Harald Fuess (Divorce in Japan: Family, Gender, and the State, 1600-2000 ), Tiana Norgren (Abortion before Birth Control: The Politics of Reproduction in Postwar Japan ), and Mark D. West (Law in Everyday Japan: Sex, Sumo, Suicide, and Statues  and Lovesick Japan: Sex, Marriage, Romance, Law ), the current volume further expands lines of inquiry into Japanese law, society, and gender.
By focusing on the framework of nationhood and empire and by presenting the law as “a contested set of discourses and practices” rather than only as a means of state control, this collection offers new ways of seeing gender and law in the Japanese imperium (p. 7). The book covers a broad period from the nineteenth century to the 1950s with essays organized in three sections: “Prostitution, Law, and Human Rights,” “Crime, Punishment, and Gender,” and “Colonial Law and the Problem of the Family.” Some essays engage with well-known historical events or laws while others discuss lesser-known topics. There is much to learn from the chapters in this volume for readers focusing on Japan and Asian studies or issues in gender and society in general, as well as for those already familiar with this specific field. The book also provides rich information and comparative perspectives for those with an interest in the global modern history of sexuality, gender, and law (on such issues as prostitution, abortion, adultery, imprisonment, and female criminality) and gender and law in colonial contexts (on topics pertaining to family and subjectivity within the empire).
The opening essays in the first section cover two prominent legal events in the history of modern prostitution. Douglas Howland’s “The Maria Luz Incident: Personal Rights and International Justice for Chinese Coolies and Japanese Prostitutes” discusses an 1872 incident concerning individual rights for Chinese coolies being transported on a Peruvian ship docked in Japan. This incident prompted the recognition that indentured prostitution was similar to the coolie trade as a type of personal rights violation. The laws that resulted from this did not stop prostitution in Japan but achieved some improvement in conceptualizing prostitutes’ rights and reflected “Japan’s eagerness to attain an international standard of civilization” (p. 39). The essay by Sally A. Hastings, “Disputing Rights: The Debate over Anti-Prostitution Legislation in 1950s Japan,” examines the discussions and processes that resulted in the 1956 Prostitution Prevention Law. Hastings particularly focuses on “the concern of women legislators for human rights” and describes this law as “a limited symbolic victory”; it “criminalized solicitation, procurement, and contracts for prostitution but not the act of prostitution itself” (pp. 49, 72). Prostitution was allowed to continue, and the reformers were not successful in changing social attitudes toward it.
There are four essays on crime, punishment, and gender. Burns’s “Gender in the Arena of the Courts: The Prosecution of Abortion and Infanticide in Early Meiji Japan” examines laws regarding abortion and infanticide, particularly focusing on court records from the 1870s and 1880s. Although Japan was “the first country in the world to legalize abortion based on socioeconomic grounds,” this legalization in 1949 was also a significant departure from prior domestic laws (p. 81). Rather than viewing these earlier Japanese laws criminalizing abortion simply as a reflection of the state’s pro-natalist system of control over female reproduction, Burns shows the complex ways that the laws were enforced during this period, due to ideas about gender, sexuality, family, and individual agency. In “Adultery and Gender Equality in Modern Japan, 1868-1948,” Harald Fuess discusses adultery laws that reflected sexual double standards. The article on adultery in the 1908 Criminal Code, for example, stipulated that an extramarital affair was a criminal offense for a married woman and her partner, and prosecution would only be carried out on the request of the husband; it was not a crime for a married man to have an affair with an unmarried woman. Fuess explores the various influences that shaped such laws, including European legal models, and notes that laws about adultery in the early twentieth century became part of greater debates and ideas about monogamous marriage and male sexuality, as well as social progress.
In “Of Pity and Poison: Imprisoning Women in Modern Japan,” Daniel Botsman examines the punishments for women from the eighteenth century to the 1930s, including Japan’s first “specialist women’s prison” that opened in Tokyo in 1903 (p. 146). Practices and ideas regarding female incarceration from the late nineteenth century to the 1930s were influenced in part by Western theories of criminality and eugenics as well as actual prisons. The decrease in numbers of female prisoners during the early twentieth century parallels similar trends in the West, and Botsman suggests that in Japan, too, the “medicalization of female crime” may have been a factor (p. 151). Darryl Flaherty’s “Burning Down the House: Gender and Jury in a Tokyo Courtroom, 1928” closely presents the court case of a woman charged with arson. In this trial, the first jury trial to be held in Tokyo, the woman’s gender and identity as wife and mother played a central role in court discussions as well as the final judgment.
The three essays on colonial law under the Japanese Empire focus on the family; they highlight the complexities and tensions of empire and the construction of its subjects. Chen Chao-ju’s “Sim-pua under the Colonial Gaze: Gender, ‘Old Customs,’ and the Law in Taiwan under Japanese Imperialism” explores the sim-pua practice in Taiwan. The sim-pua is a girl who is adopted into a household to be raised as a future daughter-in-law. However, this status “did not define her ultimate position” and she could end up instead becoming an adopted daughter, a servant-slave, or a commodity to be sold into prostitution (p. 191). Chen discusses this practice, recognized as a traditional local custom, in light of colonial assimilation policy and shows how the courts empowered or disempowered the sim-pua.
In “Japanese Colonialism, Gender, and Household Registration: Legal Reconstruction of Boundaries,” the late coeditor Barbara J. Brooks examines the household registration system under the empire, which categorized “subjects into metropolitan (naichi) and colonial (gaichi) household registers,” and points to how this particularly affected those of mixed parentage (p. 235). Legal handbooks, published in both the metropole and the colonies, were consulted by bureaucrats who had to navigate this system. Matsutani Motokazu’s “A New Perspective on the ‘Name-Changing Policy’ in Korea” provides new insight into the 1939 “name-changing policy ... that forced Koreans to adopt Japanese names” (p. 240). By explaining distinctions between Korean family and clan names, and the family policy that was fused with the name-changing policy, Matsutani argues that the empire’s primary goal for these policies was to “weaken the traditional Korean lineage system and replace it with the Japanese family system” (p. 241). He also discusses how the name-changing policy affected Korean women differently from the way it affected men.
The essays gathered here provide detailed historical explorations of Japanese law, gender, and society from the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, and enhance our understanding of these issues within a still-developing field. The volume, useful for both historians and non-historians alike, will no doubt stimulate further multidisciplinary research and comparative work in analyzing the intersection of law and gender in the context of modernity.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-histsex.
Michiko Suzuki. Review of Burns, Susan L.; Brooks, Barbara J., eds., Gender and Law in the Japanese Imperium.
H-Histsex, H-Net Reviews.
|This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.|