Constructing Home Economics in Imperial Japan

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This dissertation explores the life and work of two Japanese women, Miyakawa Sumi (1875-1948) and Inoue Hide (1875-1963), who became pioneers of domestic education in Japan in the first half of the twentieth century. They discovered home economics as a field of study, went to the Western nations in an attempt to explore its contours and possibilities, and returned to Japan where they introduced and institutionalized a distinctly Japanese variant of domestic education. Their life stories reveal two distinctive constructions of home economics specifically due to the distinct purposes of domestic education. Miyakawa, who borrowed the British model of practice-oriented domestic training, aspired to modernize women's technical competence in an attempt to advance women's self-sufficiency in household management. She believed that the individual household was a fundamental unit of state and essential to national economic development. Accordingly, she sought to mobilize women for serving the state through self-sufficient household management. By contrast, Inoue adopted scientific and sociological paradigms for home management that she had discovered at elite educational institutions in the United States. She sought to elevate the scholarly position of home economics in an attempt to legitimatize a gender-specific university education for women. Additionally, she promoted social activism in the hope of demonstrating women's civic leadership. Their life stories illuminate the key roles of home economics in expanding and advancing higher education for women. The emergence of advanced educational opportunities for women with marriage aspirations suggests a shift in public demand for programs that could credential and train ideal bridal candidates and expand their education to include post-secondary educational opportunities. Additionally, the emergence of an interdisciplinary framework for home management, the alternative to scientifically-based curricula, suggests a shift in a focus of domestic education from environmental solutions to social problems to the comprehensive pursuit of familial and social wellbeing. Using biography as a methodology, this study illuminates women's agency in refining the meaning of ideal womanhood, Ryôsai Kenbo (Good Wife, Wise Mother), uncovers the models with a high potential of acceptance specifically by urban middle-class women and suggests an expanded view of the mainstream discourse of ideal Japanese womanhood.