The Female Body and Eugenic Thought in Meiji Japan

  • Sumiko Otsubo


Japan is renowned for its “selective adaptation of ideas and institutions.”1 This chapter deals with one example, the transplantation and domestication of “eugenics.”2 “Eugenics” is a term coined in 1883 by British scientist Francis Galton to describe the notion that human genetic stock could be improved by controlling heredity. The boundary between the “fit” who were encouraged to reproduce, and the “unfit” often coincided with boundaries of “race,” gender, and class. It is thus intriguing to ask why some Japanese chose to adopt and adhere to the Western science of eugenics, even though it seemed to prescribe inferior status to the Japanese in a white-dominated international “racial” hierarchy. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Japanese leaders, aspiring to make Japan capable of competing with industrial and “civilized” Western nations, launched comprehensive modernization programs. Scientists were among those who eagerly participated in this process of “building a new era.”3 In this context, eugenics can be seen as a “biological” approach to this far-reaching modernization plan.


Sperm Cell Female Body Scientific Authority Improvement Theory Meiji Period 
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    I would like to thank James Bartholomew, Kevin Doak, Margaret Lock, Morris Low, Matsubara Yōko, Lawrence Sitcawich, Sharon Traweek, Yuki Terazawa, and Rumi Yasutake for generously assisting me during the course of this research. The quote is from Mark B. Adams, “Toward a Comparative History of Eugenics,” in The Wellborn Science: Eugenics in Germany, France, Brazil, and Russia, ed. Mark B. Adams (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), pp. 225–226.Google Scholar
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© Sumiko Otsubo 2005

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  • Sumiko Otsubo

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