Prayer

Sata Ineko


Prayer: Religion and Social Activism
alinas@middlebury.edu
The short story titled Prayer was written by Sata Ineko (1994-1998) an award-winning Japanese author who was known for her advocacy for women’s rights and her involvement in the proletarian movement in Japan. The story follows a group of young female factory workers and their strike against the company. The conflict lies in Christian workers’ ... read more

The short story titled Prayer was written by Sata Ineko (1994-1998) an award-winning Japanese author who was known for her advocacy for women's rights and her involvement in the proletarian movement in Japan. The story follows a group of young female factory workers and their strike against the company. The conflict lies in Christian workers' refusal to participate in the strike. Throughout the text, we see examples of a major disconnect between the Christian and non-christian workers, and opposing the majority leads to isolation and resentment of the Christian girls. After a mob of workers attacks the Christian girls' prayer group, the girls leave the factory to stay at a church where they find that the Christian church leaders don't seem to understand or care about the worker's cause. In the end, the main character Tomiyo begins to have doubts about her religion and decides to make a change. All in all, Sata Ineko's Prayer is a captivating read that provides a critical look at religion and social movements.

Personally, I can relate to Tomiyo because I was raised in a Christian family but began to have doubts about religion and no longer consider myself to be Christian. I enjoyed the story because while the text itself was relatively short, Sata Ineko was able to create complex characters and crafted a compelling narrative. The complexity of the characters is emphasized in the inner conflicts they experience.  For example, "Tomiyo comforted herself by thinking of how she had prayed for those who excluded her. It was required of her to do so as a Christian. Nevertheless, for Tomiyo, it felt isolating to oppose the majority in the dorms where everyone did everything together" (p. 77). I would recommend this text to other students and scholars because it gives an interesting perspective on the relationship between religion and the worker's movement in Japan through the lens of young women. The text requires an audience that has some knowledge of Japanese culture and history because the text does not offer much background that is needed to have a complete understanding of the text. I would rate this text 4 out of 5 stars because I found the story to be captivating however I would have liked it to go on longer and perhaps go into more depth with some of the characters. 

 

Bibliography 

 

Revolution : An Anthology of Japanese Proletarian Literature. The University of Chicago Press. 76-91.

 

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gdevries@middlebury.edu
Ineko’s Commentary on the Impact of Communism and Christianity in “Prayer” Sata Ineko, born in 1904 in Nagasaki, Japan, is remembered today for her ability to give a voice to the powerless and poor in her literary works. Her writings reflect “her own experiences as a woman, wife, mother and committed socialist.” “Prayer” is a ... read more

Ineko’s Commentary on the Impact of Communism and Christianity in “Prayer”

Sata Ineko, born in 1904 in Nagasaki, Japan, is remembered today for her ability to give a voice to the powerless and poor in her literary works. Her writings reflect “her own experiences as a woman, wife, mother and committed socialist.” “Prayer” is a short story thoughtfully crafted to shine light on the struggles young female factory workers faced in Japan in the early 20th century. 

The story tells of a labor dispute at the T. Muslin Factory and its relationship with Christianity. Tomiyo is a young Christian factory girl who internally grapples with what her religion teaches and what her heart tells her is right. She believes that if she participates in the strikes then she will have denied the teachings of Christianity (“he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted”), but that if she does nothing she has betrayed her workmates. In the story, the conflict comes to a head when the factory girls interrupt a prayer meeting and forcibly drag the Christian girls from the room because they are traitors and “tools of the company.” This experience leaves Tomiyo uneasy about her stance on the issue. She slowly begins to detach from her church because there is an obvious disconnect with the cheerful laughter and singing of her minister’s wife and the factory girls’ dismissals and hardship. The story ends with Tomiyo having to make the decision to either leave the church to join the labor strike or stay. 

Communism and secularism go hand in hand. Because Sata Ineko herself was a Communist, her bias towards Christianity is very clear in "Prayer." What is most interesting about this story, however, is that when Tomiyo considers separating from the church and her minister she is not suggesting a leave of her faith. This is because she has “not yet realized her doubts about God.” This perhaps gives readers a glimpse into Ineko's own struggles regarding a higher power and her political party. This insight is what drew me to the text; it encourages a deeper look into how Communist ideals shaped the lives and beliefs of women in Japan in the early 20th century. My favorite character was Tomiyo because of her resistance to conformity; in the story, she is constantly striving to do what is right. I respect her love of God and love of her people; she recognizes that the two do not have to be separate concepts. I would recommend this story to those interested in the impact of political parties and religion on Japanese society and what it meant for lower-class female workers like Tomiyo and their families. 

References

Tanaka, Yukiko. To Live and to Write: Selections by Japanese Women Writers, 1913-1938. Seattle, WA: Seal Press, 1987. 

Ineko, Sata. “Prayer.” In For Dignity, Justice, and Revolution: An Anthology of Japanese Proletarian Literature, by Heather Bowen-Struyk and Norma Field, 75-91. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2016.

 

Romans 13:2

 


Faith and Class Consciousness in Sata Ineko's "Prayer"
nquizon@middlebury.edu
“Prayer,” a short story written by Communist woman writer Sata Ineko (1904-1998), highlights the experiences of a young Christian factory worker as she navigates her faith and class consciousness amidst a labor protest against her employer’s sudden layoffs. Inspired by her own personal experiences as a woman, Communist, and former child laborer, Sata manages to ... read more

“Prayer,” a short story written by Communist woman writer Sata Ineko (1904-1998), highlights the experiences of a young Christian factory worker as she navigates her faith and class consciousness amidst a labor protest against her employer’s sudden layoffs. Inspired by her own personal experiences as a woman, Communist, and former child laborer, Sata manages to illustrate class struggles in 20th century Japan and its interconnection with feminist issues, culminating in themes of hope and adversity which the protagonist’s spiritual journey represents.

            The protagonist in question is a young girl named Tomiyo who works at an all-girls’ textile factory that has announced sudden layoffs, sparking an intense labor dispute. At the agitation of their fellow protesting peers, Tomiyo and the other Christian girls find it against their beliefs to participate, sparking multiple conflicts: an external faith-centered conflict between the employees, and an internal one stemming from Tomiyo’s doubt of whether abstaining from the protest is truly the correct decision.   

            While Tomiyo’s struggles with her class identity and faith are presented sympathetically, the story paints a very critical portrait of Christianity and how its overly passive beliefs conflict with the fight for class equality. Nevertheless, Sata still portrays the value of spirituality as a way to cope with oppressive circumstances, exemplified by Tomiyo’s earnest prayers for God to solve the labor dispute. The gendered perspective also exposes the sexism within the labor movement, creating another rift between a woman’s gender and class identities.

            Sata makes the characters, aside from the employers, very relatable by giving them all understandable motivations, with the reader’s view into Tomiyo’s train of consciousness making her most sympathetic. Overall, it was an enjoyable and thought-provoking story that forces the reader to think about these issues in conjunction, contrasting how society tends to present them as separate. The most memorable parts of the text were personally Tomiyo’s prayers, which the reader hears in place of God, exposing not only her vulnerability but also the rest of the working class’. Sata’s uncanny ability to weave these seemingly disconnected subjects together within a very real and underrepresented context makes this short story worthy of a recommendation for its social commentary alone, assisted by her writing style’s effectiveness in portraying the different character’s thoughts and the tensions between them. Overall, this story deserves to be read by anyone seeking a personal perspective to issues regarding spirituality, gender, class, or a combination of the three.

            Through “Prayer,” Sata effectively illustrates the intersectionality of these different issues and the flaws in our disjointed approach to solving them, represented by the several hectic conflicts that arise as consequence. The story ultimately acts as a call to solidarity against oppression— by class and gender— it is a prayer in and of itself.

Work Cited

Ineko, Sata. “Prayer.” For Dignity, Justice, and Revolution: An Anthology of Japanese Proletarian Literature, edited by Heather Bowen-Struyk and Norma Field, University of Chicago Press, 2016, p. 75-91.

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Christianity and the Workers' Rights Movement
rurbina@middlebury.edu
Ineko, Sata. “Prayer.” In For Dignity, Justice, and Revolution: An Anthology of Japanese Proletarian Literature, by Heather Bowen-Struyk and Norma Field, 75-91. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2016. “Prayer,” tells the story of a female Christian factory worker at T. Muslim during a time of protest and strikes. As you read the story, Sata ... read more

Ineko, Sata. “Prayer.” In For Dignity, Justice, and Revolution: An Anthology of Japanese Proletarian Literature, by Heather Bowen-Struyk and Norma Field, 75-91. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2016.

"Prayer," tells the story of a female Christian factory worker at T. Muslim during a time of protest and strikes. As you read the story, Sata Ineko does a great job of letting the reader visualize the confrontational atmosphere that was present between Christian and workers' rights in Japan in the early 1900s. We read about the violent mob surrounding the group of Christian girls who decide not to protest and continue working under unjust working conditions. We hear the shouts and threats that are chanted by hundreds of protesters and feel the fear through the sweat of the Christian girls. Despite the violence perpetrated, we still feel inclined to agree with the protesters as they are fighting for the good of all workers. We get this feeling through the actions of Tomiyo and her doubts about Christianity. She starts thinking about whether Christianity is beneficial and practices what it preaches as she sees that it is causing a rift in her relationship with her coworkers. 

"Prayer" is a must-read story as it writes about Christianity, its disconnect to real-world problems, and obstacles that it has created in the workers' rights movement in early 1900 Japan. The story challenges the idea that in order to be a good Christian, you have to be obedient and not fight for what you deserve. It also hints at Sata Ineko's communistic belief as she depicts how corporate greed has used religion to advocate for profit over welfare, as the T. Muslim Factory manipulates religious principles to treat their workers unjustly. We see the manipulation through the impassive expression of the minister and how the violence that the Christian girls faced was never addressed as it did not work in favor of the bible's teachings. 

With all that being said, I would give "Prayer" a 5 out of 5 rating for its relevance to current political issues. I think that the problems tackled and the lessons that we can learn are vital to understanding how Christianity affects present-day political culture. My advice to future readers is to put yourself in Tomiyo's shoes, as many youths can relate to her conflicts with Christianity. She is coping with the idea that she can still have faith, but it cannot be blind faith; since Christianity cannot advocate for the good of the many if the teachers and lessons learned contradict.

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alinas@middlebury.edu
Daily Question 2/28: Throughout the story of "Prayer" there are examples of a disconnect between Christians and the other non-christian factory workers and in the end, the character Tomiyo has doubts about Christianity and decides that she wants to be a part of the worker's struggle against the company. Sata Ineko's writing is very much influenced by her own experiences which leads me to my question: do you think a parallel could be drawn between Tomiyo's relationship with Christianity and Ineko's relationship with politics (specifically the communist party)?

cetrillard@middlebury.edu
Daily Question 2/28: I was taken aback by Ineko's statement at the beginning of "Prayer"; "Even though only 1% of Japan's population identified as Christian, they were disproportionately important in the early 20th century socialist and labor movements." Taking the United State's "Age of Imperialism" during this time, many Asian countries were influenced with Christianity. I personally can't blame women in the factory for being angry at their Christian colleagues. Of course, I don't agree with addressing these sentiments with violence. However, I understand the betrayal and loss of national and cultural identity these women must feel as it is being erased by Westernization. I wonder if these sentiments still exist today for some and if the introduction of Christianity was a turning point for Japanese identity for what it is today.

gdevries@middlebury.edu
Daily Question 2/28: Communism and secularism go hand in hand. Because Ineko herself was a Communist, her bias towards Christianity is very clear in "Prayer." However, though Tomiyo does not agree with her religion's stance concerning her work, she continues to pray because she is still dependent on God. Does this perhaps give readers a glimpse into Ineko's struggles regarding a higher power and her political party?

nlara@middlebury.edu
  1. In Sata Ineko's story "Prayer" there is an emphasis on Christianity. Why might the author choose to focus on this religion instead of another?

sgregory@middlebury.edu
Hiroko seems to be a woman who defies the duties and responsibilities typical of a women during the time, so much so that she ignores men's comments and is a very independent woman. From this point I am wondering how she developed such a strong belief in communism as it seems like it goes against her independent nature and defiance as a woman during her time?
 

jayhoc@middlebury.edu
How was Sata Ineko's work regarded? The readings suggest and demonstrate her focus on class consciousness, but how popular were thoughts on class and Communist ideals? Prayer also focuses on Christianity, but what was the general attitude towards Christianity at this time (it is described as a "'fake religion'" by one of the characters in the reading)?

mmflores@middlebury.edu
While reading "Prayer" I noticed how repeatedly the word "Christian" or "Christianity" came up. I know that these words would pop up multiple times because Sata Ineko uses them to describe the outcasted workers but I can't help but wonder if she uses these words for different connotations. For example, she could use these repetitively to show the irony of Tomiyo losing faith in her high power because they would not be able to save her from being mob and losing her job: If God can't save us, then we have to save ourselves.

swittig@middlebury.edu
 What I found intriguing about Tomiyo was the evolution of her lack of belonging. In the beginning she noted how she and the other Christian factory workers were treated like outcasts, then upon retreating to the Asakusa church she noted how the factory girls felt awkward and embarrassed even though they were among fellow 'brothers and sisters.' Up until this point in the story, I felt like the Christian factory girls were the unit that didn't fit in. Then in her reflections Tomiyo starts revealing how the girls divided further among themselves of those who had already received dismissal notices, and later confessed to Yasu that she prayed to not go home even if she were the only one. This gave me the impression that Tomiyo, though belonging to various groups didn't actually feel like she did. Her decision in the end to go back to the factory, knowing she would face discomfort, makes me question whether she finally felt content with being with herself rather than relying on outside sources to bring her piece. I know this is a minor story line compared to the broader message, but I still feel like there is a great deal of personal growth going on with Tomiyo that is hinted twords even if the reader may not always agree with her actions or decisions.

nquizon@middlebury.edu
Anti-Christian sentiment seems bizarre as someone from a Western country, and it almost feels as though the employer in "Prayer" deliberately escalates this by protecting its anti-labor Christian employees amidst a labor protest. How did other religions play into these labor movements and where do these movements stand now?

mgromero@middlebury.edu
In Ineko's "Prayer," we see a young woman's experience navigating the work force with the same theme of children not having ownership of their lives. Many girls in the factory depend on this income and were sent at a very young age to help support themselves and their families. Reading about her life, it is clear her experience as a young working child affected her writing focus and it makes me wonder if she used political and religious ties to show how much of an outcast she felt as a young child in a space meant for adults.

egavin@middlebury.edu
I was particularly interested in the perception of Christianity in the story. Based on what Tomiyo says, it seems as though the practice of Christianity is heavily frowned upon in Japan. Given that Japan made such a large push to "westernize," it is surprising to me that Christianity is frowned upon in this way. Why is this the case?

rurbina@middlebury.edu
Daily Question 2/28: In "Prayer" theres an emphasis on the contrast between Christianity and labor disputes. Is this a representation on the country's ideology as a whole or was it just a representation of how Ineko felt herself? 

sabrinak@middlebury.edu
Daily Question 2/28: Do you think that Tomiyo would still devote herself to Christianity even though she knows that the church doesn't care about her and aren't practicing what they preach?

ttanchanco@middlebury.edu
Something I found interesting were the examples and consequences of westernization present in Ineko's story and bio; idustrialization, inflation, Christianity, the formation of unions, etc. In "Prayer," it seems that Tomiyo is starting to hesitate in her devotion to Christianity and I was wondering if there was a time after the Meiji Restoration where Japan wants to reject or revert from the westernization that was occurring.

ayepizmedina@middlebury.edu
 

Do you think that the topic of religious or party beliefs plays a certain role in the depiction of feeling powerless in her writing?



rurbina@middlebury.edu

Citation 1:
Lippit, Noriko Mizuta. "The Dispute Over Socialist Realism in Japan ." JSTOR, Asian Studies Center, Michigan State University, 1992,
www.jstor.org/stable/40874119.

 

With the idea of literature, art, and politics being a prime question during the proletarian literature movement in Japan, there were many obstacles that socialist, communist, and potential radical writers had to overcome or potentially face the consequences of. This article describes the effects that soviet realism had on the shifting Japanese ideologies as the proletarian literature movement was dissolving. Japan's history was aided by the unification of the working-class people against an aggressive government and enforcement agencies; however, with the new age of soviet realism in the 1930s, there was a growing sentiment to justify non-ideological proletarian writing. While this text is not essential to understand Sata Ineko's "Prayer" because there is more information about the failing shift of socialist realism in Japan, there are minor comments that give the reader context as to some problems facing proletarian writing about labor, such as the statement that "most of the proletarian writers were intellectuals, and there was a great gap between workers and farmers." Readers should take caution with some of the comments made when using this text to analyze "Prayer" since Sata Ineko was a writer who came from a working-class, poor background with no higher education rather than from a family that was well connected and financially stable. 

 

 

Citation 2:
Hitoshi, Yamakawa. Trans. by Hrannar Baldvinsson. "A Change of Course for the Proletarian Movement." Revolutionary Thought in Japan: Marxism in Japan, Marxists.org, 1922,
www.marxists.org/subject/japan/yamakawa/change.htm.

 

Translated by: Hrannar Baldvinsson

Despite the multiple mentions of union workers, security, religion, and capitalism in "Prayer," there is a still common thread: the rise of proletarianism in Japan. With this letter from Yamakawa Hitoshi, we understand how there was a shift in reasoning in Japan to form the Japanese Communist Party. Essentially this letter is written to persuade the public entities fighting for more rights, such as union representatives, to follow the trend of proletarians and warn against the growing threat of capitalism. I include this source as a reference to connect the dots of a fictional story by Sata Ineko. As a proletarian literature movement advocate, Sata represents real struggles such as labor rights through the fictional characters, capitalistic greed through the factories, and government intervention through the security guards. However, this text provides the context for the violence in the story. While Sata Ineko is an advocate through writing, actual change happens through revolutionaries and unification. This letter provides a context through the points that Hitoshi highlights: grouping the socialist party and labor unions and establishing that the movement's next and final goal is to mobilize the masses. I would consider this a reliable source, bypassing its English translation, because the writer is the leader and founder of the JCP and a key figure in the movement's progress through the years. 

 

 

Citation 3:

“About the Second Constitutional Movement by the Three Constitutionalists.” Taisho Era Worldwide, https://www.worldwide-transition.info/taisyo/kantosinsai/gokensanpa.html[MO1] .

https://www.worldwide-transition.info/img/tianiti1007.jpg

 

This photograph [MO2] represents the arrest and future prosecution of communist activists. There was a growing sentiment of anti-communist and socialist principles in Japan after the defeat of the Russian Revolution; however, the revolution inspired the rise of a new ideology. The idea that emerged was that there should not just be one elite and that everyone should be treated fairly and just in the workplace. Despite its growing popularity, the Japanese government outlawed the Communist party and created a nationwide search for known members and advocates, which can be seen in this photo. Despite being considered illegal, they were many literary advocates, including Sata Ineko, that progressed the proletarian literature movement in Japan. This photo is helpful in understanding "Prayer" because of its connection to Sata Ineko's story. "Prayer" connects to more people because Sata herself faced prosecution due to her writing. She is relatable and was able to progress worker reform by appealing to more people. There are some cautious alerts with this picture. While I could not find the original source, an accredited professor used it in a lecture presentation. However, through historical facts, countless secondary sources, and the knowledge that there were arrests made based on political ideology, there is a high chance that this photo is credible.

 

Citation 4:

Indulging in Alcohol Ruins Your Health. 1932, http://pinktentacle.com/2010/07/proletarian-posters-from-1930s-japan/

http://pinktentacle.com/images/10/30s_poster_9.jpg

The limitation of this cartoon is that there is a language barrier. Those who are not literate in the present language will have to solely use context clues and writer analysis to dissect the poster and connect it to the primary reading. In this case, the poster is used as supporting evidence to the primary cause that Sata Ineko is writing about, the Communist and Proletarian movement evolving in Japan. As we look through the poster, the vibrant yellow background hints at the hammer and sickle of the communist flag[MO3] . Combine the color with the workers in the iconic blue-collar uniform to signify the working class that Sata Ineko is advocating for; we can grasp the idea that the writing on the poster is an advertisement for the promotion of workers' rights. However, those who understand the writing will read how the poster is discouraging workers from overindulging in alcohol. This is attributed to the communist movement progression of also being involved in social issues like alcoholism. Which supports the communist movement as it is trying to make life better for the working class. This type of media would mainly be targeted towards the grass root supports, like factory workers and farmworkers. The light amount of intense literature and the simple portrayal of the more profound meaning combined with the inexpensive medium make this ad the perfect form of mass propaganda[MO4] .

 

Citation 5:

Flax, Bill. “Do Marxism and Christianity Have Anything in Common?” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 12 May 2011, https://www.forbes.com/sites/billflax/2011/05/12/do-marxism-and-christianity-have-anything-in-common/?sh=4527e4f46877[MO5] .

 

"Prayer" is a story that combines the growing sentiment of Christianity with the present idea of socialism and communism in Japan. Since Marxism was a significant starting point for the continued movement of the Proletarian Era in Japan, I used this article to understand how it relates to Christian values. This article elaborates on Sata Ineko's idea when writing "Prayer." There was an aggressive revolt against the Christian workers because Marxist ideology states that Christianity creates a barrier to a utopic society. There can never be pressure to change the systems at play because Christian values will always put the higher institution over self-desires. You see this play out in the short story, as the main character starts to contemplate what actual progress is made by staying loyal to their religion. While this article is valuable in comparing two ideas, its drawback is that it approaches the idea from a general standpoint and does not go into specifics of the Proletarian movement in Japan. Its target audience is individuals who have just started their research into Marxism or Christianity, making this article a great reference as a starting point to analyze more specialized work in the Japanese Proletarian Movement.