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Tadano Makuzu - Japanese Culture Research Paper

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Tadano Makuzu was the oldest daughter of Kudō Heisuke an eighteenth-century physician. Makuzu grew up in privilege and was educated in Heian classics and waka poetry and from an early age had been writing. Her father who encouraged her learning, had an extensive knowledge of Russia but whose political fortunes were short-lived because he was an anti-seclusionist. In her life, Makuzu saw her family’s fortunes decline as a result of political changes. She witnessed the decline of the samurai who were required to live off their government stipends. Then in a short period of time she faced many personal losses which  compelled her to write what she’d observed and studied most of her life. In her writing she questioned the Confucian classics that were the orthodoxy of Japan’s social structure. Her unconventional work, Hitori Kangae expressed views about men and women and the economic problems of the samurai class. [pic 1]

The focus of this paper is to explore the motivations behind her work, Hitori Kangae. Where did the courage and motivation come from to express her ideas on politics and gender relations when only men were allowed that privilege in the Edo period?


“Women exist for the sake of men”.        -  Makuzu of the north

I was born Kudō Ayako in 1763 in Sukiyachō, Nihonbashi, Aichi Prefecture. Edo was in full bloom like a sakura tree in spring. The country was experiencing unprecedented growth economically, from its feudal agrarian beginnings to a [pic 2]

commodity economy. Cash crops from the provinces were readily available because of new transportation routes and markets. The merchant class rose, and wealth allowed for a cultural emergence, beginning in Edo and then outward to the provinces. The people developed a national identity and scholars like my father began looking away from Chinese and Buddhist learning to our own indigenous classical learning.

The women of my era could be compared to a butterfly trapped in glass. On one hand, they were prisoners of a patriarchal society that determined their lives from cradle to the grave. A woman is raised by her father to honor his house and to be a beneficial connection to a future household. Then in her husband’s home she cares for his parents, his children and runs his household. [pic 3]

Then on the other hand, it is a new world. Women of the merchant and samurai class families are now responsible for the education of their sons and family heirs. They keep books [pic 4]

and household accounts and run the family business. All over Nihon, women are flourishing in over a hundred occupations of their own, shaped by the needs of their families and within limits, women have autonomy to pursue their desires. We engage in the traditional arts: poetry, literature, music, painting, calligraphy, and other past times. We can attend local temples and shrines, the theatre, and visit our former familial homes (with permission). Thankfully, it is because of this privilege that I make my account of this era known.


 “From the time I was a child I have believed that I should be of benefit to others, … that I should become a model for women, and I resolved in my heart to do so.”      

 -  Makuzu of the north

I spent my childhood and teenage years in the atmosphere of a lively household that welcomed many scholarly guests from all over the country. A friend of my father, Kada no Tamiko was my first teacher and I learned to read and write, specifically Heian classics, likes of Kokinshū and Ise monogatari. Like my mother, I had studied calligraphy and poetic composition. It was she who encouraged me to compose poems every day. Finally, when I turned sixteen, I was sent into the service of Princess Akiko, a daughter of Lord Shigemura, of the Date clan that had established themselves at Sendai as far back as 1600. I was eager to please my family and learn about the world, so I spent ten years as Akiko’s lady in waiting in Edo, even following her when she married into the Ii family of Hikone. [pic 5]

Yet it had always been my father’s plan to arrange a marriage for me when he’d gained a notable rank, but when he lost his political sponsor and our family’s fortunes declined, I was twenty-five with not many prospects. Over the next few years, I went through a hastily arranged marriage that failed and the death of my maternal grandmother, my sisters, Shizuko and Tsuneko, and my brother and my father’s last son and heir, Genshiro. By the time I was in my thirties, my mother too left this world, succumbing to her longtime illness.

As the eldest and an unmarried daughter, I prepared myself to take my mother’s place in my father's household, but it was still my father’s wish that I marry a well-off samurai. He found a new spouse for me named Tadano Iga Tsurayoshi. My new husband had great standing as a retainer for the Date in Edo and although I had fears of another experience like my first marriage, I needn’t have worried. Iga had become interested in me after seeing two of my poems.


“Since the world no longer exists for me, it is as though I am no longer the same person who lived through the past.”                                         -  Makuzu of the north

The cultural growth that Edo and then the provinces were experiencing allowed for the women of my era great privileges, but life was more isolated for provincial women. I left my beloved Edo and went to Tadano Iga’s home near Sendai. I had a difficult time adjusting to the isolation and, “I resigned myself to my life being over at the age of thirty-five and resolved to regard the move here as the road of death, the journey to hell.” [pic 6]

I am reminded of a father’s entreaty to his daughter based on a Chinese poem. Upon her move to the north he wrote, “In the Kamigata region there are too many distractions, so that it is difficult to focus on learning (gakumon). From now on, you should resolve to strive for learning and to embark upon the Way, to cultivate your mind and to behave properly (mi o osamu).”

So, I became a devoted wife and dedicated myself to raising and educating his children from his first marriage, particularly his daughters. After two years, I had almost begun to let go of my old life and then news arrived that my beloved father had died. Unfortunately, he left behind a heavy financial burden and to clear the debts, his new successor sold everything in the household. To my horror, I even found a book with my father' s library seal in a local bookstore here in Sendai.

My rage and sorrow were mine alone. Iga was always away with his duties in Edo so I poured out my heart and mind into writing; travelogues, essays, and so many poems. I wrote to poetry teachers for critiques and soon gained a reputation even in Edo as a remarkable poet. At forty-nine, I started Mukashibanashi for which I am best known today. It is a saga that tells my family’s rise and fall in the social and economic chaos of my time. I’d like to think it would have made my father proud. My husband never got to finish reading it. In 1812, he died suddenly. I was a widow in the far north and inconsolable. The meaning of my life, a life my father had chosen for me, was gone and I began the greatest work of my life, Hitori Kangae.



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