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Paul V. Coates – Confidential File, Oct. 28, 1959

October 28, 2009 |  2:00 pm


Nippon Women Split on Retaining Geisha

Paul Coates    LADIES DAY IN TOKYO:  The flowery era of Madame Butterfly is dying, but not quite dead in the postwar life of Japan.

    Under the democracy dictated to them by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Japanese women got the vote in 1946.

    Since that time, 11 of them have become prominent members of parliament.  There is a very active, very huge, very persuasive League of Women Voters.  Women are beginning to outnumber men at political rallies.

    And women are responsible for pushing through a law that banned prostitution for the first time in Japanese history.  It took them five tries in parliament to get the bill through, but they finally did it.

    So, while a surprising number of them still wear the kimono and still make the pretense of gentle subservience to their men, it's the women who seem to be running things in today's Nippon.

image     Mrs. Satoko Togano, a socialist member of parliament, told me the other day: "We voted out prostitution on practical grounds.  We are women.  And since the war, there are many more of us than there are men.  For a girl to find a husband is difficult enough.  Prostitution only made it more difficult.

    "And," she added, "as socialists, we voted it out on ethical grounds.  Prostitution has no place in modern Japan.  It's feudalistic."

    But, oddly enough, these same socialists didn't consider the system of geisha, where girls from poor families were traditionally sold into training by their parents, to be equally feudalistic.

    "Geisha," Mrs. Togano said, "is part of this country.  It sis cultural.  Not economic.  It doesn't violate our principles of socialist reform.  And the Japanese people - men and women -- would never accept it being banned."

    However, according to her opposite number in the Japanese Diet, Mrs. Masa Nakayama of the conservative Liberal Democrat Party, geisha is merely a more delicate word for prostitute.  And, in practice, it IS an economic menace to the security of the Japanese home.

His Family Still Intact

    "The man who visits a prostitute," she told me, "goes there for an hour or so.  Even though it's morally wrong, it doesn't have to destroy his family life.

    "But the man who takes a geisha may decide to keep her as a mistress.  He must pay her a monthly sum.  If she has children by him he must support them.  And his wife and family, because of that, must suffer.

    "They will tell you," Mrs. Nakayama said, "that the Japanese wife doesn't mind the geisha, because geisha when she meets the wife of a patron always stalks to her politely, in the language of a servant.

    "But that is nonsense," the Japanese lady politician told me.  "No woman wants to share her husband with another.

    "And," she added, "there will be no real progress for women in Japan until we outlaw the geisha girl."