Margaret Sanger, "Margaret Sanger in Japan," Jun 1922.

Published article. Source: Birth Control Review Jun 1922, 102-3 , MSM S70:934 .


Margaret Sanger in Japan

As soon as the Taiyo Maru came in sight of Yokohama and before I had even a glimpse of the shore, I was overwhelmed by interviewers and photographers.

My first visitors with whom I was privately closeted for an hour were Japanese government officials, stenographers and interpreters. I was asked various questions concerning my visit to Japan, the reasons for my coming here, who my arrangements were made through, how I knew these people, etc., etc. Through it all there was a fine courtesy, and an evident desire to ascertain the real facts underlying my visit, intentions and desires.

I was asked to make a formal request to enter Japan. This was to be made to the American Ambassador and the Japanese official despatched one of his men to the Embassy to hasten the government's decision that I would not be kept waiting longer than was necessary. I was obliged to wait until seven o'clock P.M., but in the meantime my time was well occupied with interviewers and in receiving delegations from various organizations and clubs.

One of the most interesting groups, who sent seven women to welcome me, represented the New Women's Movement of Japan. These little doll-like women came in native costume to present their greetings and to extend their welcome. Their pale faces, gorgeous costumes, white stockinged feet, absorbed one's attention. I felt I was being ushered into a new world of womankind. I was deeply touched by this representation, by their soft low voices, their courteous bows to each other, bending from the waistline almost to the floor. They said they came to tell me that the women of Japan were in sympathy with the idea of Birth Control and greatly desired to learn its methods.

I was also impressed by similar expressions of opinion from the reporters. There were at least forty to greet me from all over Japan, representing papers as far away as Osaka and Kobe.

Those who could speak English spoke for the others who said to tell me that the "government was acting against the popular opinion of the people in its attitude on Birth Control, but that the people all over Japan were more interested in the coming of Margaret Sanger than in the visit of the Prince of Wales." We all laughed heartily at this and I took it as an Oriental compliment.

After hours of interviews and flash lights, I was greeted by the returned official who brought from the Governor of the Province a special permit for me to go ashore.

Baron and Baroness Ishimoto had already come on board the Taiyo, as had the editors of the Kaizo Magazine, under whose auspices I was engaged to lecture in Japan. They now took charge of my luggage and we -- my son Grant and I--were motored to the Customs House to have our belongings inspected. One goes through various customs during one's travels, but I had never had such an overhauling in my life before -- not even during the war in Europe did any inspectors examine so minutely my belongings. I began to think it was curiosity more than inspection, especially when I had to explain in detail how I wore a string of crystal beads.

Some of my books were taken, "held while in Japan," but I expect them to be returned on my leaving the country. It was pouring rain in Yokohama and while I was waiting for my bags to be piled into the car, several rickshaw men gathered around the car in the rain and finally got one of their men to come up to speak to me. He said "Madam Sanger we likes your Birth Control ideas. We poor working mens like that ideas much. We thanks you for coming to Japan." The spokesman then produced a fountain pen and paper and I had to write my name "for my's memory" he said.

Needless for me to say I had been surprised when I learned from the Consul General at San Francisco that the Japanese government had issued orders that my passport should not be vis and that I could not lecture on Birth Control in Japan.

It is not easy to surprise anyone who had worked for long in the Birth Control movement. We get accustomed to the unexpected happening. In this case, however, my surprise was real, because I was led to believe by Japanese in the U.S.A. that there was a general interest in the Birth Control subject on the part of the younger members of the government. Then, too, I was under agreement to deliver five public lectures on the subject, with the Kaizo group, whose magazine stands as one of the most respected in Japan, and, as Bertrand Russell had visited Japan under the same auspices, there was every reason to believe that the Kaizo group knew the laws of their country and were acquainted with the possibilities and limitations under these laws.

In neither of these assumptions was I mistaken. There is a younger group in the Government, and a very large group, resented by the minority, a military party. Many of these more progressive men came to the receptions and meetings where I was the guest of honor and expressed their disapproval of the government's action, and also expressed their belief in the principle of Birth Control and their desire to help forward the movement in Japan. While these sympathizers can be numbered in the hundreds, they seem to be powerless in special departments.

I was desirous to find out the real cause of the objection to my speaking on the principle of Birth Control, for I had no intention or desire to give the methods nor to treat that aspect of the subject.

My first step was to see the Chief of Police, for it was the Police Department from which the objection had come.

My intention was to call upon the Chief of Police the day immediately following my arrival, but from the time I arose until late in the evening I was so besieged with callers and reporters that it was impossible to leave the house of Baroness Ishimoto until the next day. It was amusing to me to find upon my arrival at the Police Department that everyone from the hall porter to the interpreter seemed to know I was arriving, although I myself did not know when I should be able to go until an hour before we started. We were ushered into a special room and tea was served, though it was only a little after ten o'clock in the morning.

One of the attendants called my attention to my book, "Woman and the New Race" which he said he had read with great interest and much pleasure. He then presented me with a Japanese translation of the book, much to my surprise for I had no knowledge that it had been translated or published until I saw it in the Police office that day.

Soon the Chief's assistant arrived. He greeted me in the most courteous manner and apologized for the absence of the head official, Mr. Yuchi, whose arrival at headquarters was uncertain. Any message I cared to leave would, however, be delivered to him.

The interview last about half and hour, and ended by his saying that I would be permitted to speak in private, or under private auspices on Birth Control, but it was not possible to discuss the subject in public meetings. I was to be allowed to speak publicly on any other subject I desired. Before I had left the room we were again photographed and interviewed many times.

Previous to my leaving San Francisco the press was full of the subject, and upon my arrival, the discussion was in full swing. Every paper throughout Japan had something to say concerning the government's action in banning the public discussion of a subject of such popular interest.

The first public meeting was held at Tokyo in the Y.M.C.A. building. The subject was Population and War. I endeavored to avoid Birth Control and tried to show the cause of Germany's desire for war as a population problem. Most of the audience understood English. The reception of the address by the audience was most enthusiastic. The press, too, was generous and fair. At the meeting, when I began to speak, there must have been at least twenty flashlights. I never saw anything like the passion the Japanese press has for photographing.

From that day on there was an address made every day and some days two meetings. We found it far easier to accommodate small groups of one or two hundred, and to discuss the subject frankly, than to have large public meetings.

Among the groups where greatest interest was expressed, was a meeting the Peers' Club organized by Count Cowamura. At no time in my life have I given a more intimate address. I can say also that it was received with the finest spirit of respect and understanding and desire to know more. It was one of the most encouraging events of my stay in Japan. One feels conscious of the position of women here. The men do not seem to take the woman's movement seriously, and the fact that men of all stations came eagerly to hear a woman speak on any subject is considered a victorious event by the women here.

My lectures have been given before the most intelligent people in Japan. The Industrial Organization consisted of men at the head of practically every industry in Japan. They gave a Japanese dinner in my honor and being seated on the floor as we were seemed to create an atmosphere conducive to conversation. The questions asked by these men indicated much thought along the lines of population.

Perhaps the most enthusiastic meeting that was held was that given in the Imperial Hotel at Tokyo on March 20 th by a prominent commercial organization. Again it was a dinner, but not Japanese ("foreign" so called here) and men from the Home Office, Foreign Office, and various other departments of the government attended. While many of them understood English, it was necessary to have Baron Ishimoto interpret the address for me. He did this exceedingly well and I considered this to be the most important and successful meeting held anywhere.

The doctors of Tokyo, about one hundred, asked me to give an address on Practical Methods. The interpreter, a young doctor recently returned from America, was not very good and I felt at a great disadvantage through the lack of a good interpreter. The medical association of Kyoto on the other hand turned out four hundred strong at only a few hours notice and, in the midst of a national convention, filled the Congregational Church to its fullest capacity. The minister of the Church interpreted and did it amazingly well. All the organizations which requested me to speak before them were represented by distinguished and prominent people. They were all, except the New Women's Organization, composed of the so-called well-to-do. This organization is the most advanced and intellectual group of women in Japan. Many of its members are working in various trades and occupations. The government fears a falling off in the birth rate among the well-to-do and cultured, but so far in Japan this has not been the case.

The following statement published by the Japan Chronicle March 23rd gives the case exactly: "The authorities have evidently got themselves into a hard tangle over the question of Birth Control. Mrs. Sanger is to be allowed to address private gatherings but not public meetings. That is to say she is to be allowed to address the well-to-do classes, but not the "lower" classes. Yet Mr. Yuchi, the Director of the Police Affairs Bureau of the Metropolitan Police Department, stated to the press that personally he thought there was every reason for encouraging Birth Control among people of the "lower classes"; what they were afraid of was that the propagation of the methods advanced by her would encourage Birth Control in the "well-to-do" classes. Mrs. Sanger must feel very perplexed. The only point which is clear is that the authorities regard her as an inculcator of dangerous thoughts, but do not know exactly in what way they are dangerous. Evidently a case of intuition. It is the opinion of everyone in Japan today that Birth Control has been more prominently discussed because of the action of the Police than it otherwise would have been."

The two principal reasons I have been able to find, upon which the Police Department based its objection were first, that the police in New York forbade my speaking in that city, as cabled here concerning the Town Hall meeting on November 13. They did not hear that another meeting was held, or any of the proceedings which followed. The only fact which stood out prominently in the mind of these officials was that our meeting was closed by the Police--that was sufficient evidence to prevent such a meeting here.

Then the other reason is because of a pending bill called "The Dangerous Thoughts Bill" or "The Thought Control Bill," making it a crime for foreigners to bring to Japan a foreign thought! This bill has not been passes up to the present time, but it was under discussion at the time of my arrival and was backed by the same reactionary group as influenced the Police Department.

Nevertheless Japan has now a Birth Control League. It had for its officers four most intelligent men representing four branches of civic life, Medicine, Science, Labor and Commerce.

From Yokohama to Kobe, and again across the Inland Sea to Fuzan, the interest has been tremendous and the reception accorded me has been beyond my hopes or dreams. The opposition of the government threw the sympathy of the people with me and I believe I have accomplished more, established more centers and aroused more discussion in one month than I could ordinarily have done in a year.

It is the general opinion that the agitation came just on time. While women were slowly advancing in emancipating themselves and labor also is just taking its first flight, neither of them had included Birth Control in their programs. Now they see their problems in a different light, and by its general adoption will cut short their struggles and hasten their victories.


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