I don’t know where to start describing my relationship Kaneko Fumiko.
Fumiko was a nihilist during in early 1920’s Japan. She grew up unwanted and abused – her parents never registered her when she was born, meaning she didn’t legally exist for the first half of her life. Her dad abandoned her; her mom tried to sell her into prostitution; she ended up in Korea as a child servant working for her colonizer grandparents. She dropped out of school to hang out with some anarchists, publish some radical magazines and found the Futeisha (translated as “The Malcontent’s Society,” which was basically just her and her nihilist friends hanging out). Then she was arrested for trying to blow up the emperor, and killed herself in prison at the ripe old age of 23 in a joyous affirmation of her power over her own life.
This chapter from “Treacherous Women of Imperial Japan”, by Helene Bowen Raddeker, looks at the history of a woman, by a woman – a rare and heart-pounding opportunity for those of us who aren’t dudes to maybe connect to something a little more familiar, and all the better for not being seen through a haze of masculine opinions.
Fumiko is presented as bitter, brave and angry, dramatic and emotional; she changes her mind often, while also impossibly stubborn; she’s simultaneously pessimistic and hilarious. Raddeker does us the favor of doubting her and challenging her, while presenting enough of Fumiko’s own words to let her defend herself and impress us a century later.
I know there are more women out there like Fumiko, who slipped through the cracks of history because no one found their words worth preserving. I’m so thankful she made it through. And I’m stoked I get to share a bit of her words and life. In her memoir (written during her final years in prison), Fumiko explained how society and the world had turned her into a nihilist, by giving her no other options. In the final pages, she writes:
“What I had to achieve was my own freedom, my own satisfaction. I had to be myself. I had been the slave of to many people, the plaything of too many men. I had never lived for myself…
I could not accept socialist thought [read: classical anarchism] in its entirety. Socialism seeks to change society for the sake of the oppressed masses, but is what it would accomplish truly for their welfare? Socialism would create a social upheaval “for the masses”, and the masses would stake their lives in the struggle together with those who had risen up on their behalf. But what would ensuing change mean for them? Power would be in the hands of the leaders, and the order of the new society would be based on that power. The masses would become slaves all over again to that power. What is revolution, then, but the replacing of one power with another?
…One member of our group called that view ‘escapism’, but I did not agree. I believed it was impossible to change existing society into one that would be for the benefit of all.”
So lean back, relax, and enjoy the uplifting story of a young woman’s treason and suicide.
Reading, Description, Editing by September
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