Following the Meiji Restoration (1868) and the new policies of modernization (kindaika) and Westernization (seiyōka), Japan began to import much more than material goods from the Western imperial powers. New concepts and ideologies soon made their way across the Pacific and freely entered the once “closed country.” Riding this wave were Christian values and models of Western feminism, which in part were proselytized by the American teacher and temperance crusader Mary Greenleaf Clement Leavitt (1830-1912).
Inspired by Christian sermons about the destructive nature of alcohol, Leavitt helped found the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in New York and Ohio in 1873. Soon thereafter, her global crusade led her as far as Japan and other countries including New Zealand, Burma, India, and Turkey, where female allies launched new chapters of the World WCTU. Tired of the ill effects of alcohol on their domestic lives, women worldwide were drawn to the message of temperance and created an unprecedented transnational movement “for God, home and country.”
This women’s group eventually became the inspiration for the production of a colorful series of Japanese woodblock prints on temperance, sponsored and published by Sasaki Toyoju, the first secretary of the Japan WCTU. Printed in 1888, this rare set of prints, now at the Libraries, offers a unique window in to the evolution of organized Japanese feminism in the late nineteenth century. Interestingly, the prints depict a scene that is set not in Japan but in the United States; the publication appears to be inspired by the 1846 lithograph (of the same title), “The Drunkard’s Progress,” by Nathaniel Currier, who highlights “the eight steps of drinking.”
While the anti-alcohol message is front and center, the creation of this work also underscores the kinetic interaction between Japan and the West during the Meiji period. Framed around Christian virtues, the beginnings of female-led organizations in Japan tackled domestic issues that seemed to affect women similarly around the world. Yajima Kajiko, the founder of the Japan WCTU, hoped that the Japanese women’s movement would make temperance its foremost priority, but Sasaki Toyoju disagreed with her, preferring to focus their energies on abolishing prostitution, another social ill that disrupted the sphere of female domesticity.
The illustrations in this series reveal how the first “step” in drinking, a jolly glass with a friend, inevitably leads to increasingly violent and dramatic steps, culminating in the drunkard’s “death by suicide.” One could say that these Japanese prints bemoan foreign culture as much as they borrow willingly from Western thought. While they warn the Japanese reader not to drink like this American subject in the prints, they simultaneously welcome the Christian virtues of temperance advocated by a burgeoning world feminism.
To inquire about viewing these prints, entitled “Inshu no Nariyuki,” Woodblock Print Leaves Illustrated by Sasaki Toyoju, please contact Japanese Studies Librarian, Dr. Ann Marie Davis.
To find out more about the temperance and women’s rights movements in Japan, check out these books in the Libraries’ collection:
Reforming Japan: the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in the Meiji period by Elizabeth Dorn Lublin (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010)
Woman’s world/Woman’s empire: the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in international perspective, 1880-1930 by Ian R. Tyrrell (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991)
Women and public life in early Meiji Japan: the development of the feminist movement by Mara Patessio (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2011)
Selling women: prostitution, markets, and the household in early modern Japan by Amy Stanley (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012)
Transnational women’s activism: the United States, Japan, and Japanese immigrant communities in California, 1859-1920 by Rumi Yasutake (New York: New York University Press, 2004)