Friday, September 21, 2018

Kusunose Kita - the “minken baasan”- pioneer of the women’s suffrage movement -

Kusunose Kita (1836-1920)
   Kusunose Kita was born in September 1836 in modern-day Kochi City. She married at the age of 21, however her husband died of an illness when she was 38 years old, and she remained single thereon after. They didn’t have or adopt any children, and so she looked after her home as the registered head of the household.

   When the new Meiji era began, heads of households who had paid taxes were given the right to vote for district assembly members, however this right was not extended to women. Not satisfied at being refused a vote, Kita decided to stop paying taxes. After three months of not paying she received a letter from the prefectural government demanding her payment. She replied “it is strange that despite paying taxes, I do not have the right to vote because I am a woman. Rights and responsibilities should work together, and so if I don’t have the right to vote then I won’t pay my taxes”. She submitted the letter to the prefectural government and requested a response.

   However, the prefectural government didn’t accept her demands, and so she decided to submit her opinion to today’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. This was the first means of force used by the women’s suffrage movement, and was announced in the national papers.

   In 1880, two years after Kita began her activities, focus became centered around Sakamoto Namio, the nephew of Sakamoto Ryoma, and other peoples’ rights activists who were engaged in the movement. After three months of back and forth between them and the prefectural government, the very first women’s suffrage in Japan was recognised in modern-day Kamimachi and Kodakasa District. At the time the only other place in the world to recognise women’s suffrage was the state of Wyoming, United States in 1869, and the first country to recognise women’s right to vote was New Zealand in 1893. Therefore it is easy to see how groundbreaking the realisation of women’s suffrage that took place in Kochi Prefecture was.
 
   Despite Kochi being the birthplace of women’s suffrage, in 1884 the government revoked this right. After a brief life of only four years women’s suffrage would not be realised again until 1946.
 
   In addition to this, Kita held discussions about education and fundraising shows for schools for the sight and hearing impaired. Furthermore, she had deep friendships with many of the peoples’ rights activists including Kono Hironaka (member of the House of Representatives from Fukushima Prefecture) and Kataoka Kenkichi (member of the House of Representatives from Kochi Prefecture), who would call her “minken baasan” (peoples’ rights granny). She died in 1920 at the age of 84.
 
 
Commemorative plaque for
 “the birth place of women’s suffrage”
  In April 1990 a commemorative plaque titled “the birthplace of women’s suffrage” was erected outside Kochi City Daishi Elementary School, in Kamimachi 2 Chome, by local women’s organisations to celebrate the achievements of Kita and other pioneers. Furthermore, the “Kochi Liberty and Peoples’ Rights Museum”, which was opened in the same month of that year, displays many materials about Kita. Please go and take a look!

 
 
 
A statue of Kita inside the
museum
〇Kochi Liberty and Peoples’ Rights Museum   Location: 4-14-3 Sanbashi-dori, Kochi City
   Opening times: 9:30 - 17:00
   Closed: Mondays, days after national holidays, and Tuesdays if national holidays fall on a Monday (however it is open over weekends and national holidays), Dec 27- Jan 4.
   Admissions: 320 JPY for those 18 and over (excluding high school students) and 250 JPY per person for groups of 20 or more.
   Website: http://www.i-minken.jp/index.html (Japanese language only)

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