The Market and the Gender Hierarchy: The Rise of the Nurse in Modern Japan

Jamyung Choi, Sungkyunkwan University

After the fall of the hereditary status system, the most important factors that determined the social standing of an individual came to be education and profession, not birth, in modern Japan. And the fall of heredity had a significant impact on women as well as men, shaking the existing gender norms in Japan. Some women took the unprecedented opportunity in education and work to join professions, such as nursing in late-nineteenth-century Japan. Who were Japan’s first nurses and how did Japanese women join the nursing profession? Their presence in the profession challenged or consolidated the gender hierarchy? In answer of these questions, this paper explores the experiences of Ozeki Chika. Ozeki was born as the daughter of a high-rank warrior family and married to a son of another high-rank family in the 1870s, but divorced and in 1887 entered the Tokyo Imperial University Hospital’s nursing school program taught by Agnes Betch from the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. After the completion of the training, became a chief nurse at the Tokyo Imperial University Hospital. But, Ozeki asked managers of the hospital for the better treatment of nurses, whose labor, in her eyes, was not properly appreciated. As managers of the hospital did not respond her argument, Ozeki quit the hospital and joined the Tokyo Visiting Nurse Association to enhance the prestige of the nursing profession in the 1890s. Given the scarcity of nursing services at that time, Ozeki enjoyed the favorable responses from privileged patients on the market, although this favorable market did not last for future generations. By looking at Ozeki’s ascent as a nurse, this essay considers women’s agency and market contingencies in the rise of nursing profession and Japan’s transition to a modern society.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 96. The Political Economy of Gender at Work