“In the Beginning, Woman Was Truly the Sun”: Haikara-san ga Tooru and Emerging Feminism in the Taishou Era

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In the beginning, woman was truly the sun. An authentic person.
Now she is the moon, a wan and sickly moon, dependent on another, reflecting another’s brilliance.
The time has come for us to recapture the sun hidden within us.

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Haikara-san ga Tooru immediately establishes itself as an intrinsically revolutionary curio for the modern girl, protagonist Benio and her cohorts striving to rectify the sense of inequality plaguing Japanese women and their projected fate of growing into the living embodiment of chaste femininity. Once a pejorative couched in derisively slighting those adopting western fashions coined by journalist Ishikawa Yasujiro, eventually the titular ‘haikara’ (ハイカラ; high collar) took on positive connotations [1], comparable to the flapper movement in which social change facilitated girls to go against archaic strictures and regain a highly subversive mode of individualism. Benio herself is a coarse figure representative of the movement, maligned by those of the old guard as she swigs sake at seventeen, engages in skirmishes with thugs, and holds more of an interest in kendo as opposed to perfecting tea ceremonies and passively accepting arranged marriages rooted in tradition; domesticity spurned. Time is instead spent honing distinctive qualities that matter, Benio’s generation blurring boundaries of what the quintessential Japanese woman ought to be through looking beyond the familial institution of the 1920s. Armed with defiance and candour, this new woman paves the way for a form of emerging feminism during the Taishou era.

Such a discrepancy is depicted within the rigid confines of the educational institution for ladies in which Benio attends, governed by an aged crone glorifying regressive gender schools of thought and their restraining underpinnings. Following Benio not having completed her homework, virtuous qualities such as humility and decorum are highlighted with the noble goal of ushering Japan into a radiant era through students eventually becoming good wives and wise mothers touched on; emphasis on a damning sign attesting to femininity stark. In response to this prejudiced grandstanding however another pupil draws on the legacy of pioneering Japanese feminist Hiratsuka Raichou, honouring her highly dissident notions of individualism and expression as a fellow new woman through citing her manifesto (“In the beginning, woman was truly the sun. An authentic person.” [2]). The founder of provocative literary journal Bluestockings, Hiratsuka and her associates were considered to be radical extremists by society as this collective whole through their broaching of contentious matters such as abortion and chastity despite Hiratsuka professing that its goal was to provide a space in which women could express their thoughts sans restriction [3]. As was the case with Haikara-san ga Tooru’s cast openly speaking of the journal’s ground-breaking conceits, women of the day found themselves elevated through its progressive stance; aforementioned sign shattering along with archaic interpretations of gender.

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Demonstrative of the era’s dyed-in-the-wool Bluestockings enthusiasts, Benio resists being subjected to an arranged marriage generations in the making; indifferent to its sweeping origins, shunning romanticism and all its idyllic shoujo conceits through taking matters into her own hands. At just seventeen marriage would mean no longer climbing trees, hitching her hakama up without a care. No longer indulging in kendo face-offs with Ranmaru, his devotees idly criticizing her dismissal of restrictive feminine virtues. In order to become a nurturing caricature ensnared deep within the annals of a loveless union, to become all that society anticipates from a young woman Benio would be required to sacrifice her agency and individualism, all that defines her in this modern age. Rather suggestively upon coming into contact with her betrothed, Benio smacks him, declaring that men of Ijuin’s nature are why the status of Japanese women will never improve as they are belittled at every possible turn. Drawing on Hiratsuka’s prolific call to arms in emphatically reclaiming a woman’s individualism, Benio refuses to be reduced to a “wan and sickly moon” unable to thrive on her own; refusing to let her brilliance be blotted out by a portentous shadow hanging long and heavy over previous generations and indeed, over her own gender.

While passing a flower shop a host of safflowers happens to catch Ijuin’s eye, reminiscent of Benio’s vivaciousness. An otherwise innocuous allusion perhaps, yet safflowers can often represent marriage. Upon sending a carefully chosen bouquet to Benio, an insect emerges and stings her, dying over the halcyon tones of their anticipated union with gloomy shades of adversity; her unwillingness manifest. Similarly known for their scarlet dye safflowers were once used by Japanese women as a form of rouge, the insect further resisting regressive gender roles designed to quell with a noticeable emphasis on pain as opposed to superficial pleasure throughout the sequence. In a fit of fury mustard petals are sent scattering into the wind, stems trampled over; damning all that seeks to subjugate Benio as a new woman, as a ‘haikara’.

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In a matter of just two episodes Haikara-san ga Tooru manages to expertly portray nuanced forms of emerging feminism within the Taishou era, cementing Benio as a rather radical figure worthy of admiration – as was the case with Hiratsuka Raichou and her Bluestockings endeavours. It is rather misfortunate that the series has been overlooked by western fandom as this collective whole however, for it serves as a rather fascinating time capsule, representative of the shoujo demographic’s inherently subversive leanings. Yet with the duology of Haikara-san films released for the franchise’s fiftieth anniversary, I can only hope that Benio gains the acclaim she well and truly deserves on an international level.

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Sources Addressed

[1] ハイカラ. Retrieved from https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/ハイカラ

[2] Hiratsuka, R. (2010). In the Beginning, Woman was the Sun: The Autobiography of a Japanese Feminist. New York: Columbia University Press.

[3] The Banned 1910s Magazine That Started a Feminist Movement in Japan. Retrieved from https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/bluestockings-feminist-magazine-japan-sassy

 

 

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4 thoughts on ““In the Beginning, Woman Was Truly the Sun”: Haikara-san ga Tooru and Emerging Feminism in the Taishou Era

  1. Anonymous says:

    Where do you watch this? I have tried for years to watch Haikara-san ga Tooru, but I haven’t been able to find all episodes. Only one episode is available in KissAnime

    Like

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