Kanno Suga (1881-1911), born Kanno Sugako, was an anarchist, journalist, and socialist activist working against patriarchy in many different realms. Born in Osaka, Kanno faced challenges when her mother died and father married an abusive stepmother. As a teenager, she was raped and eventually found some intellectual solace in writings by socialist Sakai Toshihiko who suggested that rape victims should not feel any guilt or shame. With just an elementary school education, Kanno became a journalist writing in socialist and Christian publications, advocating for the end of red light districts and double standards that allowed men to be sexually promiscuous while condemning women for similar behavior. While writing for the Muro Shinpō and Mainichi Denpo newspapers, she took care of her younger sister, Hide, who died of Tuberculosis in 1907. In June 1908, she became part of what was known as the "Red Flag" incident (赤旗事件), during which socialist protestors were imprisoned and tortured by police. Witnessing this violence pushed Kanno away from her previous pacifism and she joined a group planning to assassinate Emperor Meiji. After a co-conspirator confessed to the police, Kanno and 25 others were put on trial. She was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging, dying in 12 minutes in January 1911. Her grave marker includes something she wrote while imprisoned:
Today too I shall live
Protecting the shifting rays of sunshine
That pour in through the prison window
Her resting place is marked with "Here lies revolutionary pioneer Kanno Suga."
“Among the many annoying things in the world, I think men are the most annoying. When I hear them carrying on interminably about female chastity, I burst out laughing…. I greet with utmost cynicism and unbridled hatred the debauched male of today who rattles on about good wives and wise mothers. Where do all of these depraved men get the right to emphasize chastity? Before they begin stressing women’s chastity, they ought to perfect their own male chastity, and concentrate on becoming wise fathers and good husbands!” Kanno Suga writing in 1906, translation by Sharon Sievers.
"Kanno Suga not only spoke 'from the margins' of society, both for herself and for a group but, as if facing a jury, she "testified" to the need for broad social change in her world. Firstly, she spoke from the margins for herself, for her comrades and, less often (only in these last writings), for women or others who suffered oppression in their struggle for a more just society. As if to a jury, she spoke the 'real truth,' the truth of the high treason affair and of the real condition of Meiji society. She did so in a personal effort not to be silenced or defeated, as part of a collective struggle for social change that would be ongoing after her death." Hélène Bowen Raddeker, 1997.
At age 29, Kanno Sugako was executed due to her part in planning to assassinate Emperor Meiji. Her rage, disapproval, and lack of trust in her surroundings came at an early age when a family member raped her. Kanno believed firmly that “Women in Japan are in a state of slavery” and women were being brainwashed into keeping the peace by pleasing men. After years of activism through writing, Kanno believed anarchist violence was necessary to overthrow the government. Although Kanno’s approach to activism may not align with our beliefs today, we must remember in Japan many people were in a state of turmoil during this time. Korea was annexed by Japan in 1910 and World War II began several years following Kanno’s death.
I share a deep connection with Kanno as she is someone I could have been. I, too, have been a victim of sexual abuse and injustice in the court system. I reflect back on nights when all I could do was think about the hate I had towards those who hurt me and the bystanders of the courts. I am privileged to have the freedom of speech, therapy, and overall acceptance from those around me. Kanno did not. She spent 12 minutes during her execution struggling until she was finally pronounced dead.
For further learning
- Mae Michiko. 2014. "The Nexus of Nation, Culture and Gender in Modern Japan: The resistance of Kanno Sugako and Kaneko Fumiko." In, Gender, Nation and State in Modern Japan, Andrea Germer, Vera Mackie, Ulrike Wöhr, eds. London: Routledge.
- Hélène Bowen Raddeker. 1997. "'Death as Life': Political metaphor in the testimonial prison literature of Kanno Suga." Critical Asian Studies 4:3-12.
- Vera Mackie. 1997. Creating socialist women in Japan: Gender, Labour, and Activism, 1900–1937. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Mikiso Hane. 1988. Reflections on the Way to the Gallows: Voices of Japanese Rebel Women. Berkeley: University of California Press.
- Sievers, Sharon L. 1983. Flowers in Salt: The Beginnings of Feminist Consciousness in Modern Japan. Stanford University Press.
Lisa Taka Miyagi
Lisa Lane (Taka Miyagi) is a self-taught painter from Okinawa, Japan. She moved to the United States in 8th grade and chose painting as an elective. Captivated by painting portraits, she began educating herself on human expression, anatomy, and pigments. Upon graduating high school, she joined the Air Force and spent most of her enlistment in Tampa. Soon after, she relocated to Atlanta where she exhibited solo works and began taking commissions. Today, she calls Walterboro home where she teaches art to homeschooled children at AHABs. She inspires to own a studio for children who pursue an education in fine art, digital art, and immersive arts.