Medium Post 2: Tsurumi’s Argument in Contrast to Nationalism

This post will attempt to answer the questions: Why is Tsurumi’s argument about the importance of Japanese women’s labor power to nation-building an important intervention to week 1’s theorizations of nationalism? On the flip side, what experiences might focusing too much on this point occlude?

Tsurumi’s argument about the importance of Japanese women’s labor within the spinning industry to the overall success to the nation building of Japan is something that can not be properly denied. Women of this time had to suffer a great deal for the overall growth and betterment of the nation. From her writing however, we can see that there are some discrepancies regarding the women’s work and the overall understanding of nationalism.

The definition of nationalism according to Benedict Anderson is that, “it is an imagined political community and imagined both inherently limited and sovereign.” Nations are built upon imagined communities to which the people all ascribe feelings of loyalty and pride to. This nation would be the source and cause of sacrificial work by the people. However, based on the writing of Tsurumi and the feelings of the women working in the factories of Meiji era Japan, there was no imagined political community in regards to the nation of Japan. More often than not, the women preferred and wished to be reunited with their families and village communities. These koojo may have understood their impact in the nation, but rarely cared for it in the nationalistic sense.

On the opposite side however, Anne McClintock’s definition of nationalism falls more in line with Tsurumi’s work. McClintock states that, “all nationalisms are gendered, all are invented, and all are dangerous…in the sense of representing relations to political power and to the technologies of violence.” This gendered identity of nationalism can be plainly seen in the difference of treatment between female and male workers in Meiji era factories. With markedly lower pay for the same work, it can be argued that the success of Japan’s development may be due to this discrimination. With this in mind, the idea that the nation was only able to develop as fast and as successfully as it had due to the gendered differences falls in line with McClintock’s definition.

There are problems that occur when looking at this point too closely. For one, Tsurumi also points out that we tend to view the koojo as victims based on our modern day understanding of human rights. We tend to forget the will and thought of people who lived through the time and simply assume their thoughts. This is a dangerous tendency and something that is important to realize exists, especially when dealing with the past. Another problem is that the over generalization of history can lead to the creation of a fabricated one. This can be seen through the work of Tsurumi where people would rightly assume that the nation state of Japan was the abuser to the koojo. This is quickly proven to be false when it is realized that many of the koojo believed their abusers to be at a lower level and not the nation itself. By assuming the history and thoughts of others, we erase the feelings they had. We essentially erase them from history.

Although a bit dramatic at the end, I simply wanted to stress the importance of finding all the possible point of views and pieces that exist from a time before making conclusions. Only then can we gleam a more accurate depiction of our history.

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