Kanno's Activism

Quote by Kanno Sugako

Quote by Kanno Sugako from Reflections on the Way to the Gallows: Rebel Women in Prewar Japan edited by Mikiso Hane.

This quote captures Kanno’s motivation behind her activism for socialism and feminism. Kanno’s feminist ideas inflamed fear and hatred among male rulers.[1] Along with several other unconventional women like herself, Kanno founded a publication called Women of the World (Sekai Fujin) in 1907.[2] This publication covered a wide range of women’s issues from the conditions of Japanese women workers in mines, textile mills and brothels to news of suffrage and peace movements of women in other countries.[3] I find the title of the publication particularly significant for understanding Kanno’s political stance. The title demonstrates a stark resemblance to the political slogan Workers of the World, Unite! from The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. This connotation of Marx in the title of Kanno’s publication underlines how ideologies such as communism and socialism are integral parts of her feminist advocacy. The government regarded Kanno’s activism as subversive and Women of the World faced constant police harassment until it was shut down in 1909.[4] According to Kōtoku, it had become impossible for socialists to publish anything in Japan.[5] Denied to express herself on print, Kanno turned to violence and focused on the planning of “an act of violence that would shake the entire nation to its symbolic foundations:”[6] the Great Treason Incident of 1911.

Although Kanno was a very vocal and strong women’s rights advocate, feminists who came after her such as Hiratsuka Raichō hardly acknowledged her presence in Japanese feminist trajectory. In fact, she is more commonly condemned by public opinion than praised.[7] Kanno adopted feminism under the radical socialist movement of early 1900s. The feminist movement after Kanno, on the other hand, embraced the ideologies of nationalism and patriotism. Thus, I would argue that Kanno’s socialist ideology estranged her memory from the feminist movement because she asserted that women’s issues would only be eradicated through a socialist revolution,[8] while the feminists after her sought empowerment under the existing regime and the emperor. The fact that Kanno plotted against the emperor, though acknowledging that as an individual his life could be spared but the symbolism of the violence was significant,[9] labeled her as an outlaw to the feminist cause that embraced “loyalty and love for the country.”[10]



[1] Sharon L. Sievers, Flowers in Salt: The Beginnings of Feminist Consciousness in Modern Japan, (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1983), 149.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 157.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Mikiso Hane, "Introduction," Reflections on the Way to the Gallows: Rebel Women in Prewar Japan, ed. Mikiso Hane (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 20.

[8] Sharon L. Sievers, Flowers in Salt: The Beginnings of Feminist Consciousness in Modern Japan, (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1983), 149.

[9] Ibid., 160.

[10] Mikiso Hane, "Introduction," Reflections on the Way to the Gallows: Rebel Women in Prewar Japan, ed. Mikiso Hane (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 20.

Kanno's Activism