Ruth Linhart | Japanologie | Biography project Imai Yasuko| Photographs
Imai Yasuko was born on April 25 th 1933 in Tôkyô, but
spent her childhood in Sapporo on the northern island of Hokkaidô. She
was the second of four children of Imai Genshiro and Imai Yae. Yasuko´s
father was veterinarian and descended from a rich landholder-family from the
Gumma prefecture in Honshû. Her mother originated from a samurai family
from Satsuma in Kyûshû. However, she became adopted at the age of
three years by a sister of her mother and her husband, who could not get
children. Yasuko´s mother grew up in Tôkyô and attended a
French mission school. She and her adoptive father admired the culture of "the
West", which took the role of the "Promised Land" also for Imai Yasuko for a
very long time.
According to her narrations Imai Yasuko was educated strictly for the task of "good wife and wise mother " (ryôsai kenbo). Yet she says that she opposed this idea already as a small child and secretly decided at the age of eight to lead a professional life and not to marry, since she never wanted to submit to the will of a man and to be grateful to him for nourishing her. During her school years her career aspirations ranged from painter to pianist and to authoress.
She can hardly remember the Japan-China-War and the Pacific War, which accompanied her life until the age of twelve, but she remembers very well the complete change of atmoshere with the end of the war. Coeducation, introduced to Japanese schools by the American occupation forces, changed her life decisively as she recounts. The intellectual competition and friendships with politically active left-wing oriented schoolmates released her from her outsider role as "difficult child" and "strange woman".
Now, in the atmosphere of fundamental change of the postwar years it seemed possible even for a woman to strive for a self determined life and a profession which made "self expression" realisable. Imai Yasuko studied Japanese literature at the Hokkaidô university and was politically active in the leftist student movement of the national student organisation Zengakuren in the second half of the fifties. In 1960 the national movement against the revised US-Japan security treaty, a part of which was the Zengakuren, broke down. From then on Imai Yasuko immersed herself in her studies and began to publish about the poet of the Meiji period Ishikawa Takuboku (1886-1912).
She worked for two years as a high school teacher in Tôkyô, since still solid barriers opposed the scientific career of a woman. In 1966 she was appointed to the private university Hokkaigakuen daigaku in Sapporo, in 1970 to the prefectural Shizuoka-joshi-tankidaigaku (Shizuoka Women´s College) at Hamamatsu in central Japan where she remained up to her retirement. In postwar Japan only for few women a career on a higher university level was possible.
Her private life seems to have always been reset behind her occupational orientation. She had as she says "five loves". Three of them originated from the left wing student movement. The relations with her last friend ended after the year in Vienna 1976 to 1977.
This year she describes as particularly important, since it aroused her "woman´s consciousness". It was the time of the second women´s movement which was active in Austria as well as in Japan. In the seventies, eighties and nineties of the last century Imai Yasuko strongly criticised the Japanese gender situation and also Japanese women, who according to her opinion were too easily satisfied with only modest and outward progress of their situation in the course of the UNO decade of women. Together with other women she developed a women network in Hamamatsu and published on different levels to the question of women´ s rights. Apart from Japanese literature she also taught "joseigaku" (women´s studies), and her final lecture before retiring on February 4 th 1999 was called: "Why do the Japanese need women´s studies - in comparison with the Chinese (Nihonjin ni joseigaku wa naze hitsuyôka - chûgokujin to no hikaku ni oite)?"
In her later years the contemporary Chinese society and particularly the situation of modern Chinese women took over the model function which before the west held for her. Above all it was Imai Yasuko´s concern to convince young women of the fact, that not marriage but professional activity and to be economically independent was the basis of a satisfactory life for women. Towards the end of the nineties rheumatism and Parkinson as well as other illnesses increasingly hampered her various activities. Today she lives in a Christian home for elderly people in Hamamatsu. Here she published in 2003 a collection of her articles about the woman topic: "Women before daybreak - a collection of my feminist writings (Onnatachi no yoake mae - watashi no joseironshû)".
Imai Yasuko died on August 28 th 2009 in Hamamatsu.
Publications in German and English
Imai Yasuko, Vor dem Tagesanbruch für Frauen- Ein sozialhistorischer Essay, übersetzt v. Ruth Linhart, in: Linhart, Ruth: Onna da kara Weil ich eine Frau bin - Liebe, Ehe und Sexualität in Japan, Reihe Frauenforschung, Bd. 16, Wiener Frauenverlag (jetzt Milena-Verlag), Wien, 1991, 419-444
Imai Yasuko, The Emergence of the Japanese Shufu - Why a Shufu Is More Than a "housewife", translated by Lili Iriye Selden, in: Nichibei-josei-janâru, U.S.-Japan Women´s Journal, English Supplement, Number 6, 1994, 45-65
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