This project showcases student project work from Japan and the World, a modern Japanese history course offered at Kanda University of International Studies. It focuses on important themes and individuals from the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-26) periods, when Japan was beginning to open to the world after centuries of government-enforced isolation.

All submissions are researched, whether in English or Japanese, and references provided. Comments responding to and exploring ideas, suggesting connections or further reading, are most welcome. As entries are written by non-native English speakers, please refrain from non-constructive comments about language use.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Alice Mabel Bacon (1858-1918)

By Satsuki Konno
Alice Mabel Bacon
Alice Mabel Bacon

Can you guess the woman who correctly analyzed Japanese girls and women? Her name is Alice Mabel Bacon. She was an American writer, women’s educator and foreign advisor.

First I would like to introduce her background. When she was 14 years old, Mori Arinori chose her father’s home to host Oyama Sutematsu, who was one of the people who established Gakushuin Women’s School. These girls were like sisters and taught each other their cultures.

In 1888, Bacon was invited to Japan by Oyama Sutematsu to teach English at Gakushuin Women’s School. She went back to America after a year. When she was 42 years old, she was invited to Japan again to help establish the Tokyo Women’s Normal School (Ochanomizu University). In addition, she taught English at this school and Women’s English School (Tsudajuku University (

Second, let me explain about one of her famous books. The title is “Japanese Girls and Women”. It was written about Japanese girls and women in upper class, middle class and lower class at Meiji period. I think this book is important and easy for people all over the world to study Japan because her analyses are very clear. In addition, this is recommended to foreigners as the book which is the most suitable teaching material for learning about Japan.

I will introduce one chapter (“Wife and Mother”) from her book because Bacon wrote the differences and similarities between women in upper class and in lower class / America and Japan.

During the Meiji Period, American society had the individualism, so it was difficult for Americans to understand the Japanese custom in which women received pressure from husband’s family (Bacon, 1891, p77 [p72]). In the next two paragraphs, I would like to talk about the life of women as a wife and mother.

As a wife

In upper class, wives are treated as the person in charge of housework, so they have to render husband a service and built a happy home. If husband lives selfishly, nobody criticizes them. However, if family meets with a misfortune because of husband’s failure, wife is criticized because she should compensate for husband’s weak points. Husband and wife are unequal. “In all things the husband goes first, the wife second” (Bacon, 1891, p79 [p75]). For example, when husband drops his folding fan or handkerchief, wife should pick up it. Bacon (1891, p79-80 [p75-76]) said an ineffectual person serves an able person as servant serves his/her master. In other words, wives depend on their husband. However it doesn’t mean that they are unhappy because they proud of their duties which they handle the housework and bring their child.

On the other hand, Bacon 1891 said:
“The difference between the women of the lower and those of higher classes, in the matter of equality with their husbands, is quiet noticeable. The wife of the peasant or merchant is much nearer to her husband’s level than is the wife if the emperor. Apparently each step in the social scale is a little higher for the man than it is for the women, and lifts him a little father above his wife.” (p92 [p90-91])

In lower class, husband and wife work in the field together, carry same loads and these women are related to the production directly. It makes men and women’s rank become close. Differently from the upper class, strong men protect weak women. This point is similar to American society.

This paragraph is about women’s life as a wife. I want to be in lower class because I want to work with husband and understand each other’s feeling. In addition, depending on husband would make me tired.

Next, I will explain about the women’s life as a mother. Actually, there are no differences between women in upper class and lower class / America and Japan.

As a mother

Women in upper class and the lower class / America and Japan love their children and devote their life to children. Only mother has the responsibility for bringing up children, so father cannot related to disciplines of them. However, mother teaches children that their father is more dignified in the family. I can understand women’s feeling. If I will be a mother, I would like to bring up my children like this.

In conclusion, although Bacon was not Japanese, she analyzed Japanese women at Meiji Period. The reason why could she do this is that she was influenced by Oyama Sutematsu who was her best friend and made effort to women’s education with her. When they were young, they spent all of time together, and when they grew up, Sutematsu invited Bacon to Japan to establish schools for women. For writing “Japanese Girls and Women”, Sutematsu was very important to Bacon.

Reference list

Bacon, A.M. (2001). 明治日本の女たち[Japanese Girls and Women] (revised edition). Boston / Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company

About her background

*Alice Mabel Bacon-Wikipedia, accessed July 13, 2013