Woman and Progress ... a history of unhappiness
Mitsuko’s story is heart wrenching and especially interesting because it captures so many issues of her day… the soul crushing poverty of Japanese farmers, the plight of women, the Japanese work ethic.
"No one came to see her in prison. She sat there huddled against the cold and the wind and comforted herself with songs about rhubarb shoots pushing through the snow—the same shoots she once picked for her own mother when she was a little child and her mother in her illness got comfort from them.
Her son Mii wrote her only once: a family that brutalizes its women does not make men of virtue and gratitude. " (Landes, 1998)
A short story written by Yamashiro Tomoe around 1950.
The story is quite heartbreaking and it was of special relevance to me because it echoed some of the stories I had heard from my grandmother about India in the early 1900’s. Apparently Yamashiro was involved in social reform movements in Japan in the 1940’s and spent some jail time for her efforts.
All these stories appeared in Mikiso's Hane (1988) Reflections on the Way to the Gallows: Rebel Women in Prewar Japan
Hane's final woman is a college-educated factory worker, Yamashiro. Tomoe, active with her husband in the communist movement. Her account, for the first time, we can hear the startling, moving voices of adventurous and rebellious Japanese women as they eloquently challenged the social repression of prewar Japan. The extraordinary women whose memoirs, recollections, and essays are presented here constitute a strong current in the history of modern Japanese life from the 1880s to the outbreak of the Pacific War.
The book is probably one of the most cited works on early-20th century Japanese feminism available in the English language. And with good reason! For reader's comments, here.
While in jail, Yamashiro. Tomoe met a woman whose circumstances caught her attention and so she made this woman, Mitsuko, the subject of her story.... Bog rhubarb shoots.
So here is a synopsis of the Bog rhubarb shoots:
Mitsuko was orphaned at the age of seven when her poor peasant mother died. Her relatives got together and sent her to work as a nursemaid for a wealthy family. This family treated her well and when her term of service was over they married her into a suitable family.
The Japanese had a joint family system so this meant Mitsuko shared a small home with 9 other inhabitants. After 3 yrs of marriage she has a son, works from dawn to dusk in the family business and does not have a say in any of the family affairs. Her husband decides to leave the village to serve in the Korean war, ostensibly to make more money for the family.
However, he did always say that he did not want to spend his whole life being a dirt farmer. So he gets to pursue his dreams while she must live out this prescribed life. Well, the man is gone and she is left to fend for herself in this family who, having discovered her talents at the weaving loom, work her to the bone. She is not allowed to spend time with her son or attend his school dramas.
Basically the family just uses her talents to make money to pay for the improvements on the family home without giving her either monetary or verbal credit for her labor. The husband finally decides to come back 20 yrs later and installs a concubine in the house relegating poor Miksuto to the status of a servant.
He beats and abuses her and she, thrown to the edge of crazy, sets fire to the newly renovated house! And after setting fire to the house she tries to drown herself in the family well…unsuccessfully. The village elders give her a prison sentence of 8 yrs and in prison is where she meets the author of this story.