Housewife Movement

Grassroots politics and the Housewife Movement in Japan

The Mothers' Movement for Peace


From the moment of their liberation from the traditional ie (household) system under the American occupation in 1945, Japanese women began to form their own political organizations on the grassroots level. The focus of these movements was promoting peace and opposing rearmament of Japan. The end result was a movement of mothers of Japan that petitioned and rallied for peace. Issues ranged from the American occupation and the Korean War to atomic and hydrogen bomb testing. This movement was at first relatively non-partisan, with women of both conservative and liberal persuasions cooperating to achieve common goals of peace. Depending on whom you ask cooperation failed for any number of reasons. According to the Leftists, conservative women were too averse to politicizing the issues out of a reluctance to directly challenge the government. Conservatives cited anger at liberals for allegedly forcing the theory of class struggle into the women’s peace movement.


The Bikini Atoll h-bomb test galvanized thousands of housewives into political action. Before this event, many housewives who became involved in peace activism thought of these issues only in terms of their own personal stake in the issue. Mothers protested against war out of fear that their own children and their own livelihoods would be threatened. The Mothers' Congress was one organization that helped to increade the level of ploitical consciousness among housewives by educating women on the intrinsic connections between economic hardship and sexual inequality and the fundamental structure of Japanese politics and society.



Chronology of Mothers' Movement


“Mothers of Japan, be strong. Aspire to become a member of world motherhood. If each woman possesses the qualities of a mother, she will follow her instincts to nurture her child and protest from the bottom of her heart the forces that destroy peace.” (Fujin Minshu Shimbun, 12 August 1948)
In August conservatives and liberals plan to hold a joint peace rally, but a conflict over leadershop leads to the withdrawal of the left-wing activists. The two camps subsequently hold separate rallies.








The Third Peace Declaration by Women of an Unarmed Japan (abridged)


  1. Japan has rediscovered at the price of phenomenal sacrifices mad through the war the idealism of a war-renouncing and unarmed nation dedicated to absolute pacifism, which is codified by the Constitution. This is the identity of the new Japan, its goal and its moral underpinning. But ig we can not live up to this idealism, even if we avert foreign aggression by not practising this idealism, we will lose the meaning of the nations's existence and suffer moral decay.
  2. For the sake of world peace, Japan and all of Asia should belong to neither the US nor the Soviet bloc but should form a neutral third force. ... Although the third force that exists in Asia today (author's note: this means countries such as India, Pakistan and Burma) is still quite weak, its strength lies in its act of doing the right thing. There is no alternative for Japan but to join the third force after signing a peace treaty if it is to work for Asia's independence and world peace. If Asian nations cooperate to strengthen the third force, it will help resolve crises that emerge both for Asia and the whole world. A great task of humankind has been assigned to Asia.
  3. It is clear that Japan should pay compensation for the damage it has caused the Asian nations it invaded, and lack of economic means should not be used as an excuse for not doing so. Although we are extremely poor, we should pay reparations as an act of atonement.
  4. It goes without saying that the proposed Japan-US military agreement, which involves the continuing existence of a US military presence in Japan, use of military bases by the US and Japan's rearmament, would violate the peace Constitution. An anti-communist military accord, that presupposes Soviet invasion and justifies itself by the pretext of countering the threat such a contingency would pose, would heighten the tensions between the two adversarial camps in Japan and throughout the Far East region, and could ignite another war. The history of humankind demonstrates that an attempt to preserve peace through armament will eventually pave the way for another war. We do not fear a so-called military vacuum. We believe that the human spirit emanating from truth is mightier than 10 million troops or any state-of-the-art weapon. We earnestly desire that peace and security should be preserved through efforts to transform the United Nations, which embodies the conscience of the world, into a better organization for world peace.
  5. The phrase Japan-US economic cooperation sounds pleasant and promising. But if it means that Japan will collaborate with the IS to assist its global policy and vast military expansion, the meaning og the phrase is essentially military, which darkens our hearts because then we can not hope for the development of Japan's peacetime industry, prosperity, resumption of trade with Asian nations and a rise in our living standard.


We are not politicians, diplomats or businesspeople. Such people might think our ideas and desires are unrealistic. But people who view things only from their professional standpoint tend to lose sight of humanism. We, as women and mothers, who protect the invaluable lives of people, hope to think and act from the standpoint of humanism.



Signed on 15 August 1951 by Jodai Tano, Ichikawa Fusae, Fujita Taki, Hiratsuka Raicho, Hirabayashi Taiko, Nogami Yaeko, Gauntlett Tsuneko, Kamichika Ichiko and others.


(Yamamoto 224)


Women's Peace Movements in Rural Areas


Women in rural communities faced a very different situation from women in urban centers. While urban women might be "hosuewives" or "working women," either of which would tend to have a certain amount of free time and independence, rural women tended to stay locked into the traditional ie. This, combined with continued economic hardships in the countryside, meant that there was less opportunity for rural women to take direct political action. Local governments sought to improve women's status by providing adult education and initiating living standards improvement movements in the late 1940s.


From the early 1950s rural women's lives began to get somewhat easier, and they were able to further educate themselves and get involved in campaigns like the mothers' movement. Many women attended local meetings of the Mothers' Congress, where they were able to vent their frustrations. Campaigners were especially successful in mobilizing women in small rural communities against the large number of military bases that remained within the country even after the occupation ended. Women were motivated to fight these bases because of the very real threat they posed to their own families and livelihoods.


One route for women in farming communities into activism was through the practice of essay writing. Writing allowed women both escape from their daily lives and the opportunity to gain new perspective on their problems. Essay writing became a group activity which gave rise to collective action. All of this served to raise consciousness and encourage women who previously might not have to stand up to husbands and in-laws.


In the end, the heavy workload and general conservatism of the countryside meant that women in rural areas could not organize their own movement for peace. Many women stated that they were personally in favor of peace but could not say so publicly because their husbands held opposing views. After the economy began to grow rapidly, grassroots movements faded from the scene in rural Japan.



The Debate over the Status of the Housewife


The "housewife Debate" refers to a public discussion held through a series of articles published in Fujin Koron and the Asahi Journal from 1955 to 1972. The authors sought to evaluate the current status of the Japanese housewife and also to find the best way to more fully achieve equality between men and women. The articles are concerned mostly with the nature of housework, especially whether it had productive value. Other points of debate were how women should view work outside the home, and the fundamental nature of work itself.


The first article in the debate was Ishigaki Ayako's "Housewifery as a Second Career," published in Fujin Koron in February 1955. Ishigaki came out forcefully in favor of women actively entering the workforce. Ishigaki seems to force a double role on women as both working women and housewives, while not requiring a similar doubling of work for men. Still, Ishigaki's argument was important as a starting point for thinking of women as more than just wives. Sakanishi Shiho responded to Ishigaki in her own article, "The Blindspots of 'On Housewifery as a Second Career." Sakanishi criticizes Ishigaki for devaluing the meaning of the unpaid labor of the housewife. While Sakanishi is careful to point out that she is not in favor of women "living the easy life" on their husbands' paychecks, she thinks it is unreasonable to insist that all married women must have jobs outside the home. A third article by Shimazu Chitose rejects the value of housework as a fulfilling task. She notes that most women are very serious about making a living, and many of those who do not work outside the home simply cannot find jobs. In the end, she argues that housework must eventually be socialized so that both huband and wife do an equal (and minimal) amount of housework.


A second round of debates was touched off in April 1960 by Isono Fujiko's "The Confusion of Women's Liberation." Isono applied Marxist economics to argue that housework has real economic value, and so should be recognized. Considering that the work of the housewife supports the acknowledged labor of the husband. She is, then, in a sense, an employee within the household, and not a dependent. Mizuta Tamae takes up this argument and says that housewives could gain economic independence through payment for housework and/or a pension plan. She also stresses that the labor of the husband is dependent on that of the housewife, and so housework (including child-rearing) are undeniably value-producing.


The third stage of the debates began in 1972 when, partially in response to the Women's Lib movement (See Women's Lib in Japan) Takeda Kyoko declared that the housewife was already liberated in her article "The Housewife as the Epitome of the Liberated Human." Takeda's argument is based on the rejection of productive labor as the sole source of value in society. Instead, it is the housewife who is completely absorbed in daily life that is a "100% living human being." Takeda writes that all people should aspire to live as housewives by absorbing themselves in sports, hobbies, their families, and their communities. She calls on housewives to sacrifice some of their precious leisure time by entering the workforce on a part-time basis such that all people could work reduced hours without lowering Japan's GNP. Murakami Masuko responded that while Takeda's position reflected an ideal to strive for, the immediate problem was garnering more leisure time for housewives. For Murakami, housewives still did not have sufficient leisure time to pursue self-fulfillment, which might not necessarily come from housework. Murakami argues that husbands and wives must share housework more equally so that women have the time they need. Also significant was her questioning of Isono's argument that productive work could not be fulfilling. She seems to open the possibility that some people may choose to work more simply because it is more fulfilling for them than "leisure activities."



The Seikatsu Club and the Netto Movement



The Seikatsu Club was formed as a Co-operative for the purchase of milk, eggs, and eventually other foods in bulk. The founder of the organization is Iwane Kunio, a former Leftist activist who began the Seikatsu Club as a way of organizing citizens within a community after he became disillusioned with the traditional labor union-based organization of the Socialist Party. The Co-op is significant to us because its membership is made up almost entirely of housewives, though the top leadership is still dominated by men. Most importantly, the Seikatsu Club has a political arm called the Seikatsusha Nettowaku, or Netto. (Netto is a Japanese transliteration of "network" or "net") Netto elected its first representative to the Nerima Ward Assembly in Tokyo in 1979, and as of 1996 has 117 reps in all levels of local assemblies. All of Netto's elected representatives are women, most of whom identified themselves as "full-time housewives" before they were elected. The campaigns of these representatives were in large part based on the candidates' identities as housewives and their status as political outsiders.


While Iwane refuses to refer to the organization he began as a movement of housewives, this is truly what it is. Leading women withing Netto and Seikatsu Club openly declare that replacing male leadership with women is a top priority, and there seems to be little chance of the Netto movement expanding beyond the spectrum of "housewife politics."


History of Seikatsu Club Co-op

Chronology from the official English language website of the Seikatsu Co-op

















Relevant Links


The official English language website for Shinfujin. The organization lays out a brief hsitory of their founding, a summary of their goals, and provides news updates on women's and peace issues. The site does not appear to have been updated since 2004.


An interview from 1999 with Mataki Kyoko, a leader of the Kanagawa Netto and prefectural assembly member. Mataki describes some of the Netto movement's history, as well as her own path into politics.


An official page of introduction to the Seikatsu Club Co-op, of which the Netto movement is the political arm. The page explains the economic foundations of the co-op system and the advantages it offers for both consumers and producers.


Books and Articles


Gelb, Joyce and Margarita Estevez-Abe. Political women in Japan: a case study of the Seikatsusha network movement. Social Science Japan Journal, Volume 1, Issue 2: October 1998. p263-279.


Leblanc, Robin. Bicycle Citizens: The political world of the Japanese housewife.University of California Press, Los Angeles, 1999.


Peng-er, Lam. Green Politics in Japan. Routledge, New York, 1999.


Yamamoto, Mari. Grassroots Pacifism in Post-war Japan: The rebirth of a nation. Routledge Curzon, New York 2004.