Name: Yoshiya Nobuko
Lived: 1896 – 1973
According to a 1935 article in Hanashi: “There may be women who don’t know who heads the Women’s Patriotic Association, but there is not a single woman alive who doesn’t know who Yoshiya Nobuko is.”
So why has Yoshiya been so ignored by Western scholars? Listen, we like our literature a certain way here in these parts, and we like our short-haired lady authors straight. Shōjo about school girls falling in love? Stories titled Dannasama Muyo (Husbands are Useless)? More like Husbands Are Great Yoshiya, What Are You Talking About by The United States of America. To be fair, Yoshiya couldn’t claim Husbands Are Useless based on lived experience because she was with her partner Monma Chiyo for fifty years. Although Monma and Yoshiya attempted to keep their relationship private, it was no secret to the public, and the gossip columns referred to them as a doseiai fufu (homosexual couple). This didn’t seem to hurt Yoshiya’s career, but society didn’t support such relationships.
One year after they met in their twenties, Monma had to go on a 10 month trip for work. A distraught Yoshiya pined after Monma before proposing in a letter which outlined this plan:
1. We will build a small house for the two of us.
2. I will become the head of household and officially adopt you.
3. We will ask a friend to serve as a go-between, and hold a wedding reception.
(Adoption was the only legal work-around for homosexuals to share property and medical decisions. Incidentally, gay marriage is still illegal in Japan.)
She ended the letter: “I cannot wait for another month or more for your return. Please come back as soon as possible and don’t ever leave me again! I promise I will stay with you until the day that parts us. Oh my dear Monma, how do you feel about this?”
Monma felt pretty great about it and the two moved in together.
Though they enjoyed something of a happy ending, they faced plenty of adversity as women. Both came from samurai families where dahnson-johi (respect for the male, contempt for the female) was abided. When she was young, Monma’s father even said, “Higher education for females is nothing but a waste.” Yoshiya’s parents were no more excited about her interest in writing. As a child she poured over books from her brothers’ bookshelf. Both girls valued education, and Monma went on to become a teacher while Yoshiya went to college and began her writing career.
Though her work was widely read by a female audience, Yoshiya was often dismissed by male critics as an “author for young girls” and a “popular writer.” I wonder why these guys weren’t crazy about titles like Hana Monogatari (Flower Tales—a series of stories featuring positive friendships between girls), Onna no Yujo (Women’s Friendship), or that good old gem Otto no teiso (A Husband’s Chastity). Although I think we can all still agree she really topped her title game with Husbands are Useless. Yoshiya’s writing mainly explored friendships between women and the idea of “ideal” men. Again, which male critic in a society that embraced “respect for the male, contempt for the female” wouldn’t love that?
Yoshiya enjoyed a successful career with a broad readership and amassed wealth. She also led a fairly happy life in no small part due to her supportive and loving partner. Monma became Yoshiya’s secretary, and their house was a social nucleus for female writers and friends for many years. They remained together until Yoshiya’s death from cancer in 1973.
Yoshiya’s work greatly influenced the shōjo genre.
A short story selected from her collection Hana Monogatari.