KIMURA KOMAKO (木村駒子)
Kimura Komako was born in Kumamoto in 1887 to a mother heavily involved in the arts. By the age of 4 Komako was already following in her mother’s footsteps by taking the stage and training in traditional arts such as the shamisen, dancing, and drama. Whilst studying at schools including Kumamoto Girls School, Kumako was inspired but Swedish feminist Ellen Key, a suffragist and staunch supporter of government-funded child support. This interest in women’s rights was encouraged by her headmaster, Takezaki Juno who pushed the students to stand up for what they believed in. This courage and self-assuredness would have a great impact on Komako’s life.
When she was 14, Komako was sent to marry a man she had never met. Going against the expected cultural norms, she escaped her carriage en route to the ceremony and ran away to the city of Nagoya. Here she sold her wedding clothes and began work as a dancer, flying in the face of societal expectations.
Komako later married a man of her own choosing, Kimura Hideo and after the birth of her son Shouji the family moved to Tokyo where Komako, along with fellow feminists such as Nishikawa Fumiko (西川文子) and Miyazaki Mitsuko (宮崎光子), established the “New Real Women’s Society.” The society’s objective was to call all women across Japan to rise up and demand more than a life living in the shadow of men.
Her theatrical roots stayed with her as Komako managed two theatres in Tokyo (the Kimura Komako theatre and the Tokiwaza theatre) and performed on stage. The Japanese government frowned up these performances, most notable those of Shakespeare’s work. Komako’s response was to throw open the doors to her theatre and admit audience members free of charge. This act was to see her arrested but did not slow her down.
When her colleagues began to fall foul to the pressures from husbands and employers to leave the feminist society and magazine they had created, Komako decided to travel to America. In 1917 she marched on the streets of New York alongside 20,000 other women demanding their right to vote. She eagerly accepted invitations to speak with American newspapers, often finding herself described as a “little lady” or “soft.” This did not deter her as her US following grew. Her theatre career also gained her fans and saw her perform at Carnegie Hall and on Broadway.
Komako and her family returned to Japan in 1925 where she continued her efforts to improve the lives of others. Twenty years later, Japanese women finally earned the right to vote. The legacy of Komako and other feminists of her time lives on in every ballot cast.