Okamoto Ippei – Woman’s Hundred Faces – 1 – Kindai Manga Translation

“Woman’s Hundred Faces” – 「女百面相」

from Woman’s Hundred Faces: Film Stories – 『女百面相:映画小説』(1922)

Pt. 1

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Onna_Hyaku_2_trans

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Pt. 2

Afterword: Women and Men Through the Lens of “Taisho Democracy”

Two words in particular that Ippei makes extensive use of in “Woman’s Hundred Faces” gave me fits as a translator: fujin (夫人) and teishu (亭主).  If you were to completely disregard context and the history of the Japanese language, they would be easy enough to render as “wife” and “husband” respectively, but that convenient simplicity would completely ignore the ongoing debates about the place of women in then “modern” (i.e. kindai not gendai) Japanese society as well as the diminishing status of men as “masters” of their households.  In other words, rendering fujin and teishu in an ordinary way would overlook how Ippei’s work riffs off of and plays into the Zeitgeist of political and social liberalization that in 1954 Shinobu Seizaburō would dub “Taisho Democracy,” after the emperor who reigned from 1912-1926, though Shinobu has a period that begins well before and continues well after in mind.

Modern (as kindai) Japan, prior to the Second World War, prior to the complete takeover of the Japanese government by a military junta in 1936, underwent a period of progressive social development not unlike what one sees in other “modernisms” throughout the world.  Kindai Japan saw the rise of greater pressure for direct democracy, a burgeoning women’s movement focused on issues of universal suffrage and social equality, as well as populist movements in favor of workers’ rights and wealth redistribution.  Especially following the establishment of the Bluestocking Society (青鞜社, after the Blue Stockings Society in England) in 1911, the term fujin (written 婦人) began to take on connotations of the so-called shin-fujin or “new woman” which Hiratsuka Raichō and the other contributors to the Bluestocking journal used to refer to themselves.

In modern Japan the “new woman” (as well as her younger counterpart the modan gāru [“modern girl”] or moga) was something of an ethnographic curiosity in public media, a figure to be depicted as well as interrogated, making her especially apt for the kind of “current affairs” manga that Ippei took such an interest in creating.  Not only that, the artist himself was married to one of the most famous female authors of the 20th century, Okamoto Kanoko, whose work and ideas he actively worked to promote.  Of course, one of the fundamental contradictions of Ippei’s life lies in how he squandered whatever feminist cred he built up by cheating on her constantly, but the point is, Ippei was profoundly invested, for good or ill, in feminist concerns.  His [comic] depictions of domestic dramas, suffragettes, fashionable young women, crazy old ladies, and so forth reflect a palpable ambivalence in Japanese society about what gender roles were becoming in the modern age.  We see this ambivalence elsewhere in Rakuten’s manga, where both the “new” and “traditional” modes of Japanese femininity are set up simultaneously for both valorization and for ridicule.  It is incumbent upon Ippei’s reader, then, to view his depiction of women through a number of sometimes complementary, sometimes mutually exclusive purviews.

One can see this play out in his use of the word fujin, which, though written in the clear sense of “wife” or “Mrs.” (i.e. 夫人), also alludes to that “woman” above who was the object of so much public debate.  In fact, there were strong objections among some women at the time to 婦人 because of how the character 婦, if you break it down into its component kanji, implies someone servile, a woman (女) with a broom (帚).  Many of those women preferred 夫人 instead, not only because it avoided these rather unseemly connotations but also because it put them on an equal footing with their husbands (夫).  And so, Ippei’s female characters find themselves lodged both within the old world of keeping house as well as the new world of equal social standing.  This also means, for the [comic] artist, that they become equal objects of ridicule.

For that reason, I chose to translate fujin as something it cannot mean in Japanese, Ms., but which conveniently reflects without forcing all those contextual factors that play into it.  Ms., like –fujin, functions as well as a title (e.g. Tameko-fujin, “Ms. Tameko”) while also tapping into a feminist discourse in the way 夫人 implies its homophone 婦人.  Pre-war manga, like pre-war modernism, requires us as readers to shed most if not all our presumptions about what Japanese [comics] are, to rethink them from the ground up in a manner than is neither clichéd nor dwells obsessively on well worn tropes, as so much thinking about manga as style does nowadays.  Ippei’s manga is multi-modal and unwieldy–my hope is that you bear this unwieldiness in mind the next time you begin to think of Japanese culture as this or that hackneyed thing.

For more on Ippei, c.f. my post from August 2013 or the more extensive discussion in chapter 2 of [Comics] as Reading.  In part 2, I’ll discuss the peculiar film-like form these comics take and how they reflect/fail to reflect contemporaneous newspaper [comics].

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3 comments

  1. […] As I noted previously in discussing Ippei’s fascination with and representation of women, the “new woman” was an object of nigh anthropological interest in Japanese public discourse of the early 20th century.  The late Miriam Silverberg has written the definitive book on this fascination, Erotic Grotesque Nonsense: The Mass Culture of Japanese Modern Times, so I won’t try to explain the phenomenon at any great length, except to say that Rakuten weds this broader societal interest to a [comic] aesthetic that at once represents the Zeitgeist but also picks at its edges.  What are hard and fast distinctions in that public discourse become, in Rakuten’s work, a mere jumping off point for more multifaceted considerations of what Japanese society was becoming in light of what it had been and in many ways still was.  It is entirely possible that it was Rakuten’s implicit recognition of the numerous vectors one might venture upon that led him to limiting his [comic] expressions to setting the terms of discussion rather than making assertions. […]

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