Margaret Sanger, "Address to the Japanese People," 1 Nov 1952.

Source: " Family Planning Movement in Japan (Tokyo, 1953), pp. 2-16Library of Congress Microfilm 128:271."

For earlier drafts see Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections S72:697, 736, 740, 743, 754, and 764 and Library of Congress Microfilm 141:276. The speech was later published as a pamphlet by the Population Problems Research Council and Mainichi Press, along with Some Suggestions for Japanese Future Population Studies, Oct. 31, 1952.


October, 1952

There is an old Egyptian saying that anyone who has drunk the waters of the Nile will want to return and drink of them again. To me this applies to Japan. All who come here once want to return, for as those ancient waters of the Nile refreshed the body so beauty of Japan refreshes the spirit. Perhaps on no other land of this earth is there the same intimate relationship between art and life while each, in turn, is so exquisitely sensitive to the moods and meaning of nature. On few other lands have men and women cared enough to go forth in the evening to hear the grasshopper and the cricket; few have thought to hand the white and colored lanterns to light the way of the visiting dead. This is the essential spirit of Japan.

I remember your courtesy; that innate, abiding sense of honor which one human heart owes to another. I remember the beauty of your homes--the clean, straight lines and the “Tokonoma” where at each day one brought into momentary focus, art, nature, and life. Frank Lloyd Wright says so well: “Spiritual significance is alive and singing in everything concerning the Japanese house. A veritable song.” I remember, too, the playful happiness of your children, the dignity and content of your aged. Very often Western societies have no discipline for the very young and have no place for the old! Your society is wise and true in placing the emphasis on the young-mature. They should bear more of the burdens, more of the restraints and obligations. They can support the weight and grow thereby into wiser adults.

As I read your history I am again and again impressed with the continuity of your domestic history. How, as a nation never under a foreign power, you were able to absorb, blend, and fuse into new strength the many rich strains of Chinese influence, feudal institutions, and the power of various religious; how your people achieved the centuries of peace marked by the Fujiwara period and were again to find the stability and peaceful nourishment of the 17th and 18th centuries to give you the strength and power to meet the challenges of the 19th century.

As I have become interested in water color painters, only the other day I was looking at the work of some of your masters of painting. The beauty of your 15th century painter, Sesshu, struck me with renewed power, and I knew again the truth in Ernest Fenollosa’s remark that he is “the greatest master of straight line and angle in the whole range of world’s art”. I looked again at the famous wave screen by Korin, one of the glories of the Tokugawa period. As you know full well, your national storehouse contains many others; they are all part of your artistic and cultural heritage.

I remember the personal strength of the Japanese mind and heart. You have an ancient schooling in the duties of responsibility; you have learned to take up the “On”, to bear it reverently. Lafcadio Hearn, one who loved your land, expresses this poetically when he writes of this quest of the Japanese mind and heart: “How might he discharge his duty to the infinite concourse of the invisible”. Confucius, Buddha, and Christ are part of your spiritual heritage, and they should be a mighty bulwark as you take up the problems of 20th century Japan in the march with us for World Peace.

You have made all this remarkable heritage be a continuous source of strength in the long course of your domestic history. I do think that the time has come when it may be a source of strength in world history. I do think that the time has come when it may be a source of strength in world history. During the Meiji period you accomplished the most sweeping transformations with relative ease and part of the reason lies in the fact of your social, cultural, and spiritual inheritance. It is true that the meeting with the Western world did result in the horror of war. On all sides there were mistakes of judgment, understanding, and emphasis; the pace was so very rapid and, as Hearn says, you were “evolutionally younger than any modern European nation, by at least twenty-seven hundred years”. U.S.A. is politically younger by the same number of years.

Now there is peace. You of the East and we of the West know that war is no answer to the great problems of our time. I congratulate you for this great adjustment and pay tribute to those leaders who have made it possible. You have made another of your great adjustments, truly a transformation of the nation’s will and action that is the world. You have made the break clean and open; you have a tremendous opportunity to apply your ancient wisdom, your strength of mind and body to the problems of 20th century Japan and you may be a new force, guiding and strengthening the community of nations. That is my deep and heart-felt wish.

My first visit to Japan was in 1922. My ten year old son Grant and I arrived in Yokohama on March 10th in time for the cherry blossoms. I came by invitation of that pioneer group of intellectuals known as the Kaizo group. Some government officials did not agree with that invitation, as many of you remember, and it was with great difficulty that I was finally allowed to accept the invitation and enter your country to speak about the subject of birth control in relation to woman’s health and family happiness.

Later, in 1949, I was again invited to visit your country through the years of friendship of Mrs. Shizue Kato, but my visit was not allowed. This was not due to your officials but to my own countryman, General Douglas MacArthur, who insisted that you did not need foreign advice because you had recent laws superior to our own. This is true.

Now, at long last, I am in Japan. My official host is the great Mainichi press which published the first Japanese daily newspaper in 1872 and is now celebrating its eightieth anniversary of service. I am deeply grateful to them and to the many others who have worked to make this visit possible. I come back to Japan, happily, and I come as one to observe and to confer with your vigilant, progressive workers who have set the idea of birth control aflame in the lives of thousands.

In 1922 the officials in your country did not want me to speak on the main topic of War and Population, but they did allow me to talk privately to some small groups on birth control. The population of your country was then approximately 60,000,000. The density in tillable areas was about 2,000 human beings to 1 square mile from which these human beings must be fed. Naturally, any country with that density of population must depend upon imports for food. This was the message that I had to give to the people of Japan in 1922 and, while your press reports and the people themselves where exceedingly kind, there was no time for the people of Japan to adjust themselves to this new philosophy before the military had control of your lives, and those who wished to teach the people contraceptive practices were thrust into jail. We know well that nowhere in the present world setup does the military authority want the population controlled by any means whatsoever, and it does not take a college degree for any of us to know why.

In this year 1952 your population is approximately 84,000,000. Today, Japan is the most densely crowded country in the world if density is measured by numbers per square mile of arable land. You have 3,131 persons per square mile; Great Britain has 2,421; the United States has 259 persons per square mile. Your population was stationary during the century from 1721 to 1821; since the Meiji Restoration and parallel to the vast period of economic development--the coming of the Industrial Revolution to Japan--it has increased steadily: 33,000.000 in 1872; 73,114,000 in 1940 and now the approximate figure of 85,000,000.

In the 1920-1929 period, Japan’s average birth rate was 34.5 per thousand; the average death rate 21.4 per thousand, giving an excess of 13.1. The figures for Italy were relatively comparable but contrast those of Great Britain: average birth rate, 19.6; average death rate 12.4, an excess of 7.2 per thousand. Her density in relation to arable land is comparable to yours but notice the contrast in birth rate--just over one-half, the death-rate just over one-half and the excess just over one-half. Great Britain had Colonies for her excess population.

What, then, of the actual situation now? Japan’s colonies are gone, so are Britain’s, but they had never answered the basic problem. In 1929 there were only 795,018 Japanese abroad, sixty-two percent of them in Manchuria, U.S. and Hawaii. The lack of migration was due to economic conditions in the Asiatic regions open to the Japanese. It surely is not wise to cry over that spilt milk. Emigration does not solve the problem of population.

What of the possibility of agricultural expansion? There is none, really. The expansion of cities means air-fields and highways which will probably use up equally any increase in tillable land. The yields per acre can be increased “but only at the price of an amount of labor ever greater than that now being employed per unit of production”.

What of the possibility of industrial expansion? Many have felt that Japan must turn to industry and commerce to provide for surplus population and they have pointed to Great Britain as an example. The American population expert, Warren S. Thompson, has demolished that argument by stressing that Japan does not have natural resources equal to Great Britain, that the latter nation developed her industrial strength in a world largely agricultural, that she had a large and increasing body of English-speaking people abroad, that capital and technical knowledge, and skill are more mobile today, and finally, he notes the increase of protective tariffs in every country safeguarding their own industrial output.

This is not just a Japanese problem. It has become a world problem. Rather, yours is intensified because of your small land area and the fact only 15.5 percent is arable. The vast essential problem of all nations today could be greatly alleviated by the national encouragement and practice of birth control (and a world and let live approach to this problem).

Nearly every country in the world today is overtaxed to pay for enormous armament. You, at least, have been freed of that but what of the future? Over the Western world today there is also the tremendous expense of care and maintenance of defective mentalities, morons, insane, congenital criminals, and the army of delinquents who should never have been born. There are the problems of poverty, unemployment, crime and criminals and enormous maintenance of prisons, penitentiaries, asylums. There are the standards of public schools with the demand for more and more of the people’s money, demands to support charities, community chests, Red Cross--all of these mount year by year in nearly every country in the world. There are the problems of child labor and unemployment and everyone who has studied the advance of science and of technical progress is aware that machinery and all industrial pursuits can take the place of man power. More can be produced with less hours and fewer men, and we know that there is not the need of vast populations to hue the wood and draw the water for industry, as in previous years.

None who has a free mind and who has the welfare of the nation at heart will fail to recognize that there is a single solution that should stand first and foremost in the solving of these problems. Obviously, it is birth control. This subject concerns everyone of us in its most intimate aspects, but in its more remote consequences it affects the very life of every man, woman and child of the nation. It is a family problem, and it is a world problem. The time has come when thinking men and women must assume this responsibility, and it is really a category of the “On” which has so long been familiar to you. It may be that “one never repays one-ten-thousandth of the On” but we must begin to make the daily payments. Now!

I do know that you have made progress. You have laws that are framed to enable families to control their size, to improve the genetic quality of the race, to protect mothers in allowing them to space their pregnancies and avoid ill health. My interest is aroused by several wonderful projects going on in your country. One of the most exciting is the test studies of three rural villages conducted by the Research in Population Health, directed by Dr. Y. Koya and four associated workers. They find that the problem population in Japan has shifted from the economic to the Public Health aspects, a shift mainly due to the recent prevalence of induced abortion. This becomes a serous problem of maternal health. The President of the Mainichi, Mr. Chikao Honda, established the Population Problem Institute in July 1949. With the cooperation of more than 30 experts including professors, field workers and politicians, this institute conducted many research programs and disseminated valuable information.

It is admirable and right on the part of officials concerned with maternal health to prevent the necessity of induced abortion. They should do all that possibly can be done to encourage the practice of birth control in prevention of conception rather than abortion. Women must learn not to depend upon the interruption of pregnancies, or abortion, to space the children in the family! Manners and technique of this operation may be injurious to the woman’s health, and she probably will be in a condition to conceive for another pregnancy unless some method of preventing conception is used. The prevention of conception is the only way to do this! Consult your physician and medical advisor. Ask for the modern methods of contraception.

In closing I wish to sketch briefly for you the general direction of the world-wide progress in this fight for intelligent population control, since I was last with you in 1922. The necessary educational campaign of the early years; the organization of clinics; the changing of law--has led to medical acceptance. Birth control is necessary and good for the family unit; it is imperative in national planning if we are to face our national problems. It is necessary in international planning. It strikes at the core of the problem of population pressure; it goes directly to the roots and does not dally with some small branch of the whole, however prominent and exasperating the latter may be. It gives direction, guidance, and real hope.

Basic Principles of the Birth Control Movement.

1. Any adult having a transmissible disease or such tendency from heredity should not have children. Marriage may be contemplated, but only if the person submits willingly to sterilization as a safeguard against propagating offspring carrying such disease as insanity, feeblemindedness, epilepsy, mental and nervous diseases, blindness, cleft palate, and other ailments injurious to the complete functioning of offspring, and to society. Institutions in U.S.A. are overflowing with patients, many of whom have inherited and will transmit such disease. 2. Women afflicted with temporary diseases, which are retarded because of pregnancy, should practice contraception until disease is eradicated and physical body is able to stand the strain of pregnancy. Tuberculosis, heart disease, kidney disease, goiter, and other ailments not transmissible, but a definite strain on a woman’s health when conception has taken place. 3. No more children when parents, though showing no affliction themselves, have given birth to offspring with mental and nervous disease. Morons, cleft palate, mongolian idiots. Somewhere in the heredity there is the cause of this condition. (Adoption is the answer). 4. Spacing of children in a family where husband and wife are in good health--from two to three years. If family is planned for four children, the first two children could be a year or 18 months apart. Then a spacing of two years before another pregnancy is contemplated. Two more children 18 months apart brings both groups together with fair spacing, to consider the mother’s health, the father’s earning capacity, and the standards of living the parents are ambitious to maintain. 5. Early marriage can be helpful to young people, with the postponement of parenthood. Twenty-two years is a good age for a woman to bear her first child. Children born of young mothers in the teen ages are more frequently neglected. Infant mortality is highest where mothers are under twenty-two years of age. 6. Economic conditions should be seriously considered in planning the size of the family. Certainly the father whose wage earning power can properly feed, house and educate three, even four children, should not have eight, ten or twelve children. Records of children in poor large families fill the courts for delinquency and truancy in jails and penitentiaries. 7. Parenthood should be considered a privilege, not a right. It should be considered an assignment, and those about to, or desiring to be parents should be examined physically and mentally as to their responsibility and knowledge of the care of infants. There should be compulsory education year after year by the state for parents to be able to cope with problem children and the changes occurring yearly in childhood and puberty.

The above are the personal health and eugenics principles of the Birth Control Movement. The population problems of every country increase when these principles are ignored.

Now let us look at the larger side of the population question. I humbly present a few suggestions for the consideration of your people.

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Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project