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This talk examines the lives of two reform-minded individuals during Japan’s Meiji period (1868-1912): Nakagawa Yokotarō (1836-1903) and Sumiya Koume (1850-1920). I contend that this era of rapid modernization and social upheaval offered each of them a new start and the chance to create a new identity. In 1868, Nakagawa, a samurai bureaucrat bought out Sumiya’s geisha contract and made her his concubine. After moving in with Nakagawa and his wife, Sumiya gave birth to a daughter. Nakagawa then became interested in Christianity, and he sent Sumiya to Kobe College, an institution run by western missionaries. Ultimately, Sumiya decided that concubinage was sinful, converted to Christianity, and left Nakagawa, leading him to complain that “Jesus stole my mistress.” After their breakup, both played prominent roles as local reformers. Together their stories shed light on how individuals in late nineteenth-century Japan forged new gender roles and created a new world.
Marnie Anderson is Associate Professor of History at Smith College. Her recent publications include “The Forgotten History of Japanese Women’s History and the Rise of Women and Gender History in the Academy,” Journal of Women’s History (2020) and “Critiquing Concubinage: Sumiya Koume (1850-1920) and Changing Gender Roles in Modern Japan,” Japanese Studies (2017). She is completing a book manuscript about Okayama-based activists including Sumiya and Nakagawa entitled In Close Association: Local Activist Networks in the Making of Japanese Modernity, 1868-1920.