The Loneliness of the Female Nihilist

by Ezra Buckley on October 26, 2017

In 1926, a twenty-year-old girl held in the women’s branch of Tokyo’s Utsunomiya Prison asked if she could help weave a length of rope. The girl, Kaneko Fumiko, was an anarchist and a nihilist; she was proud, preternaturally bold, and had been accused of plotting to blow up the Japanese imperial family. After months of defiantly refusing to do any prison work she suddenly changed her mind, and the prison authorities shrugged and agreed that she could be put on the rope-weaving taskforce. She twisted hemp into rope for an entire day; by 6:30 the next morning a guard passing by her cell noticed that she was already back to work. Ten minutes later, she’d be dead.

Fumiko was dirt poor, barely educated, beaten, starved, abused, and yet managed to claw her way to a position of political and historical significance. But very few historians bother to study her, and even fewer readers delve into the anarchical and darkly inspiring depths of her memoir. She came of age during a time when Japan was divided, and heavily policed; the country had annexed Korea in 1910, creating serious tensions between the two nations, and Fumiko—with her own reasons for resenting the authorities of her homeland—fell in with anarchists associated with the Korean independence movement.

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