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The Magazine That Started a Feminist Movement in Japan

Haruko Hiratsuka (Raichō), Yoshiko Yasumochi, and Kazuko Mozume founded a women's literary magazine in 1911. It was named Seitō, which translated to Bluestocking, and was targeted to a slowly growing population of educated young Japanese women. Seitō was a hit from its very first printing, and drew widespread interest among the women who bought it and suspicion from their skeptical family members. Although the very idea of a literary magazine for women was radical at the time, the articles were not -at first. But the content evolved to meet the needs of its audience.

Women’s feelings and inner thoughts, however, turned out to be a provocative challenge to the social and legal strictures of this era, when a woman’s role was to be a good wife and mother. The Seitō women imagined much wider and wilder emotional and professional lives for themselves. They fell in love, they indulged in alcohol, they built careers as writers, and they wrote about it all—publicly. The stories were radical enough that the government censored them. The story that prompted policemen to visit the magazine’s office late at night was a piece of fiction about a married women writing to her lover to ask him to meet her while her husband was away.

As they attracted public attention and disapproval, instead of shying away from the controversy they’d created, the editors of Seitō were forced to confront more baldly political questions, and this in turn earned them more banned issues. In the pages of their magazine they came to debate women’s equality, chastity, and abortion. Without originally intending to, they became some of Japan’s pioneering feminists.

The magazine caused outrage when one of the founders wrote about making a cocktail, when several writers visited the brothel, and when they advocated for women's suffrage. Read about the groundbreaking magazine Seitō at Atlas Obscura.

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