"Once, I was not worthy of standing before you. But I have been reborn. Because I have been resurrected from hell, I have plenty to tell you." -- Waka Yamada
Some readers may find the career move from prostitute to feminist activist a fairly short step, but, for women of Waka's class, both were equally unthinkable. Waka did not choose her first career, but her experiences there made her feminism inevitable. She was born to a respectable Japanese family. At the age of sixteen, she consented to travel to the United States to work as a maid in Seattle. Unfortunately, the woman who hired her did not really desire a maid, but was a procuress. When Waka stepped off the boat she was promptly slapped into a brothel. Her life was hellish.
Luckily, Waka met, and enchanted, a Japanese American journalist and persuaded him to help her escape. Together, they fled to San Francisco. What happened next is unbelievable -- after risking both their lives to get her out of a brothel, the young man decided to "pimp" Waka for himself! Waka put up with this for only a few weeks, before disappearing. She made her way to a Presbyterian mission, and there worked "respectably" for her room and English lessons. While there, she met Kakichi Yamada, who ran a nearby English school . They fell in love, married, and returned together to Japan.
What makes Waka's life especially noteworthy is what happened next. She was home, she was married, and no one knew anything about her past. She could have settled down to a life of respectability. But, because of her past, she could not rest until she was certain that other Japanese women would not share her fate. She became one of the foremost speakers and writers of the women's rights movement in Japan. She contributed regularly to Seito, the "bluestocking" periodical of the movement. She also had a column in Asahi, a major newspaper. She became a popular social critic, and was even invited on a speaking tour of the U.S. in 1937. In 1938, she raised money and opened a shelter for married women and children fleeing domestic violence, unique in Japan at the time.
After Japan's occupation in 1945, Waka was horrified to see young Japanese women (many war widows) walking the streets picking up G.I.'s to make a living. So, once more, she opened a "Girl's School" that taught women valuable industrial skills, enabling them to find a better way of life.
Visit Nara Women's University .
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Here is where you can turn on a pretty Japanese song.