Yuriko Miyamoto

Yuriko Miyamoto was a Japanese female writer (1899-1951). In her late 20s, she went to the Soviet Union to study and was greatly influenced by socialism. After returning to Japan, she participated in proletarian literary activities. She also went against the stormy times and found herself in difficult situations.

Life of Yuriko Miyamoto

 Yuriko Miyamoto(宮本 百合子:みやもと ゆりこ)was born in Tokyo into a family of architects. Her real name was Yuri Miyamoto. She studied at a high school for girls attached to Tokyo Women’s Higher Normal School.

 Career as a Novelist: A Genius Girl

 In 1916, Yuriko Miyamoto entered the English Literature Department of Japan Women’s University. She began writing novels. She became acquainted with the novelist Shoyo Tsubouchi. Tsubouchi noticed Miyamoto’s talent and encouraged her to make her debut as a writer. As a result, Miyamoto’s “Poor People’s Group” was published in the magazine “Chuo Koron” in the same year. This was a certain success.

 Encouraged by this success, Miyamoto dropped out of college and began her writing career in earnest. She published novels like “Negisama Miyata” . These were well received. Miyamoto was even regarded as a genius girl.

 In 1918, she and her father moved to the U.S. to study abroad. In 1919, she met a middle-aged Japanese scholar of ancient Oriental languages in New York.Despite the opposition of her parents, she married him. She returned to Japan the same year. But her married life did not work out, and they divorced in 1924. After that, she began writing her best-known novel, “Nobuko”(伸子).


 Miyamoto began living with Yoshiko Yuasa, a Russian literature scholar. She wrote “Nobuko” about the unhappy marriage up to that point and serialized it in the magazine “Kaizo”. This became a book in 1928.
As mentioned above, Miyamoto married in an attempt to escape the life of a middle-class family at her parents’ home and to obtain the life she wanted. However, her husband wanted the old customs of the Japanese family and tried to force Miyamoto to follow them. Miyamoto tried to escape the pain and make a fresh start. The portrayal of Miyamoto herself in “Nobuko” was sympathetic to the Japanese women of the time.

 After the World War II, Miyamoto herself explained the character of this novel as follows. A young woman from a middle-class family in Japan gets married with an intense desire to grow as a woman and a human being. She soon begins to suffer from undeniable doubts about the conventional attitudes toward marriage and family stability in Japan. Her marriage thus comes to fail. This process is depicted in this novel. Miyamoto attempted to depict how suffocating the role of women as daughters and wives is and how suffocating the bonds of the family system framed by Japanese norms of married life are, along with their personality conflicts of the couple. Miyamoto was aware of these social issues when she wrote this work.

 Into the Vortex of Proletarian Literature

 In 1927, Miyamoto and Yuasa went to study in the Soviet Union. During this time, she was greatly influenced by socialism. In 1930, she returned to Japan and joined the proletarian literary movement in Japan, In 1931, she joined the Japanese Communist Party. However, at the time, Japan was facing increasing repression of socialism and communism. Against this backdrop, Miyamoto married Communist Party member Kenji Miyamoto in 1932.

 The repression of the socialist movement grew stronger. Kenji moved to underground activities. However, the Red Hunt led to repeated arrests and detentions. Yuriko continued to write critiques and novels while supporting her husband. She supported the socialist movement in Japan and became one of its central figures.

 Yuriko herself was also subject to repression: in 1937, she was banned from writing. However, she resumed writing in 1939. Around this time, she wrote a critical biography of the famous British nurse and nursing scholar Florence Nightingale. She also published novels like “Sugigaki ” and reviews like “The Course of Literature”. As a result, she was finally imprisoned in 1941 and was unable to write any more. The letters she wrote to her husband in prison were later published as “Letters for Twelve Years”.

 Late Years: Postwar Movement

 After the end of World War II, Japan became a democratic nation. Various opinions were seen about the future of postwar Japan. Miyamoto promoted democratic culture and literary movements. She published novels and critiques such as “Banshu Heiya” and “Two Gardens”. She also wrote a critical biography of Karl Marx.

 In 1948, Miyamoto published “The Two Gardens”. This was a sequel to Miyamoto’s masterpiece “Nobuko”. Miyamoto described the background of this work. After publishing “Nobuko” in 1926, Miyamoto thought that this work would be a springboard for her own career. However, in the 1930s, Japan entered a period of arrests and imprisonment of socialists. During this period, Miyamoto could not help but think about her own life as a human being and as a woman. She began to seek a more humane and reasonable society and to hope for socialism. She thought that the capitalist power in Japan was barbaric and against reason because it tried and imprisoned such people under the law. It was under these circumstances that Miyamoto became interested in writing a sequel to “Nobuko”.
 Miyamoto explains the subject of “The Two Gardens” in this context. According to her, It was a time when Japan was on the verge of enforcing war and depriving the people of their human rights, and the people’s lives were in a downward spiral. The intense friction, resistance, and confusion between defeat and triumph that ensued were the subject of the sequel to “Nobuko”. However, it was impossible to write this work under such social conditions. Therefore, this work was published after the war.
 Nevertheless, “Two Gardens” is set in prewar Japan under such circumstances. The main character, Nobuko, is 27 years old now and is becoming more aware of society. Around Nobuko, various passions swirl, bumping up against each other and diverging from each other, regardless of Nobuko’s intentions. In the midst of this vortex, Nobuko begins to criticize the reality of Japanese society. The fact that Japanese society imposes a heavy and painful reality on all classes of society, especially on women, brings Nobuko, who was born with a love of life, closer to socialism. Nobuko discovers socialism as a result of her reason and benevolence so that she moves toward social action. Miyamoto hoped to see this kind of change in postwar Japanese society.

Yuriko Miyamoto

Source: National Diet Library, Portraits of Modern Japanese (https://www.ndl.go.jp/portrait/)

People associated with Yuriko Miyamoto

Takiji Kobayashi: A writer who led the proletarian literary movement even before Miyamoto Yuriko joined it. But Kobayashi met a tragic fate soon after Yuriko joined the Communist Party.

Recommended or Selected References

佐藤静夫『宮本百合子と同時代の文学 』本の泉社, 2001

宮本顕治『宮本百合子の世界』新日本出版社, 2013(※夫の顕治が著者)

池田啓悟『宮本百合子における女性労働と政治 : 一九三〇年代プロレタリア文学運動の一断面 』風間書房, 2015