Ordinary Woman 平凡な女 

A stream-of-consciousness opinion piece from Hayashi Fumiko , a prominent feminist from the early twentieth century. This serves as a glimpse into the lives of Japanese women nearly a hundred years ago. Quite a lot has changed

Hayashi Fumiko
Translated by Hamish Smith

Ordinary Women

The other day I saw two housewives standing around and talking about their children.

“Oh, it’s been so long! How have you been? Your youngest, hasn’t he grown!”

“Yes, he’s six now and in his first year of school.”

“You don’t say? They grow up so fast, our little one is now in the fourth grade.”

Once I would have walked past these two chatting mothers and thought nothing of a child turning six and starting elementary school. Of course children start school at age six. I would have gotten annoyed at the narrow scope of their conversation. But on that day, as I walked past and happened to hear them, I didn’t get annoyed. I felt a warmth inside, not unlike the gentle warmth of the sun, as I thought about how nice it is to be feminine. The grime of life that builds up over the years had probably started to stain me. I wonder, if I think positively about the grime and have “pleasant” and “enjoyable” feelings about such conversations, would I start to feel like an actress, hamming it up as an ordinary woman around town?

I have read the transcripts of conversations between a few female scholars who had gathered together for a chat. What I read made my skin crawl. One of the them was talking about how hard it is to prepare food for her family morning and night, so she tried ordering pre-packaged meals from a local store, but had to stop as it wasn’t enough to feed everyone. Another was saying that she was living away from her husband in order to write a book, and complained about how boring it is to darn socks and do laundry, how it was like having to work your way through college. It could be argued that it was nothing more than idle chatter, but their words had the kind of emptiness that could only come from a female scholar.

I think the ones who are truly suffering are the men that married them. They tidy up around the house and say that they enjoy chopping carrots and preparing daikon, but I wonder how much we should really expect from women as rough as these.

I guess everyone is different. I prepare all the food for my family and do most of the cleaning and laundry by myself as well. It’s not that hard. Now, I don’t think of it as enjoyable, or some kind of hobby, but I also don’t think there is any honour in a woman forgetting about her kitchen or wash house. Whenever I need to go out, I feel much more at ease knowing that there will be enough food for everyone in the house. I also darn socks one by one, while sitting in the sun. It’s not exactly fun, but I think it beats sitting in front of a desk for years on end. Daydreams are indulgent and good for the soul.

The lives of women and other topics get debated using big words, but how quickly the life of a woman becomes so difficult when there is work to do. No matter where you go, there will always be a woman or two who are stubborn to the point that they would walk around with a moustache.

I used to feel sorry for all the mothers I would see around town with four or five little angels in tow, but now I wonder if that those little angels are really a blessing. Doing the laundry three hundred and sixty five days of the year while voicing your frustration at your children when they home in the evening with filthy clothes. There is nothing wrong with that. I wonder what would be left of those people if you took away the children and the laundry. There was a well known mother who had said that you need to refine your child’s sense of sociability to prepare them for nursery school, but what exactly is a child’s sense of sociality?

On a slightly different topic, I have a lot of books, magazines and guides for raising children and they make me feel bleak, but these children’s magazines, that come free with other purchases, will probably come in handy one day. I wish I could write the kinds of books for ten year olds that Iwanami Publishing House produces. Even their elementary school text books feel like they were made in a prison cell. It’s as if some government department forced someone to write it them in a certain way. Cheerful coloring, bright type setting, fresh paper, wholesome illustrations, those textbooks are being forgotten by everyone. I think that a lot of mothers could learn a lot form their children’s textbooks.

I’m starting to reach the age where I would like children, probably two or three of them. Seeing mothers walking around with children clinging to their backs makes me remember how amazing the women of this country are. I have time to think about the work of women, starting with the birth of their children. People that have children are warm, brave and wise. They don’t make their lives, or the lives of others, turn gloomy. If a woman’s work can be lightened by living away from their husband, ordering dinner from a store or taking your laundry down to a laundromat, then maybe I would like to try it. I wonder how so many shallow people who don’t reach the hearts of their little angel sons and daughters are female scholars. It ridiculous to misunderstand “gentle and warm” as “scorn” and lash out.

Those who travel far and wide
bring with them things so dear,
The laughter and the happiness
is what they all bring near

I like this poem by Eichendorff. It would be great if women were as nice as that. Being kind doesn’t just mean mothering men. I can’t stand well educated women who bother people with their lives, despite they themselves being empty inside.

Original work was taken from the Aozora Bunko and is in the public domain
English translation © 2013 Hamish Smith. All rights reserved.

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