Revisiting “empowered rural women” in postwar Japan

Iwashima, Fumi; Sato, Chizu


In Japan, both rural studies and government policies commonly represent rural women in the same way: as oppressed within their feudalistic family farm system before the Second World War and as successfully empowered by rural democratization policies after the war. This study revisits the often unproblematized representations of the postwar success story of empowered rural women on which these accounts are frequently based. We examined rarely analysed source material of a project that is frequently referred to, the Rural Life Improvement Extension Service (RLIES). This source material consists of essays written by rural women who participated in this project, which was implemented by the US occupational forces and the Japanese state in the 1950s and 1960s, for representations of empowered rural women through the lens of a feminist reading of Foucault's biopower. Our analysis identified three subjective typifications of rural women in the essays: the New Rural Woman, the Rural Professional Housewife, and the Farm Mother. By illuminating these typifications, we show how—even in the source material of unproblematic celebratory accounts—rural women exercised unexpected agency by engaging in the changing power relations that surrounded them. The example provided by our feminine subjectivity study encourages researchers to be more careful with respect to simple celebratory narratives of empowered rural women.