In1926,atwenty-year-oldgirlheldinthewomen’sbranchofTokyo’sUtsunomiyaPrisonaskedifshecouldhelpweavealengthofrope。

Thegirl,KanekoFumiko,wasananarchistandanihilist;shewasproud,preternaturallybold,andhadbeenaccusedofplottingtoblowuptheJapaneseimperialfamily。

Aftermonthsofdefiantlyrefusingtodoanyprisonworkshesuddenlychangedhermind,andtheprisonauthoritiesshruggedandagreedthatshecouldbeputontherope-weavingtaskforce。

Shetwistedhempintoropeforanentireday;by6:30thenextmorningaguardpassingbyhercellnoticedthatshewasalreadybacktowork。

Tenminuteslater,she’dbedead。

Fumikowasdirtpoor,barelyeducated,beaten,starved,abused,andyetmanagedtoclawherwaytoapositionofpoliticalandhistoricalsignificance。

Butveryfewhistoriansbothertostudyher,andevenfewerreadersdelveintotheanarchicalanddarklyinspiringdepthsofhermemoir。

ShecameofageduringatimewhenJapanwasdivided,andheavilypoliced;thecountryhadannexedKoreain1910,creatingserioustensionsbetweenthetwonations,andFumiko—withherownreasonsforresentingtheauthoritiesofherhomeland—fellinwithanarchistsassociatedwiththeKoreanindependencemovement。

Shehadalwaysdistrustedanyformofactivism。

Anihilisticegoist,influencedbyNietzscheandMaxStirner,Fumikobelievedthatassertingtheselfwasthebestmeansofpoliticalresistance,thatanarchycouldbeindividualistic,thatsocietywasahowlingvoidinwhichthestrongdevouredtheweak,andthatpoliticalmovementsofferednorelief。

“Whatisrevolution,then,butthereplacingofonepowerwithanother?

”shewroteinhermemoir。

Theonlyworthyaction,shethought,wasto“stake[her]life”onrebellingagainstauthority。

Injail,shewrotethatdeathwasfreedom—“ifonehasbutthewilltodie。



WhenajudgeaskedFumikotowritehermemoirs,takingadvantageofalesser-knownlawthatsaid“adefendantshouldbeaskednotonlyaboutwhatcanbeusedagainstone,butaboutthingsthatmaystandinone’sfavor,”Fumikodoveintothepainfulmuckofherpastinordertoexplainhowsocietyhad“warped”herintothenihilistshewastoday(theoriginaltitleofhermemoirwas,WhatMadeMeDoWhatIDid)。

Whenthejudgehadfinishedreadingit,sheaskedforthemanuscriptback—shewantedtosendittohercomrades,hopingthattheywouldpublishit,to“helpthemtounderstandmebetter。

”Thissimplewish,sketchedinthepreface,isheartbreakinglyvulnerableforagirlwhoclaimedtobelieveinnothingbuttheself。

Itwentunheeded:herfriendsdidnotimmortalizeher,andherprisonrecordsstayedsealeduntilafterWorldWarII。

Fumiko’schildhoodwasastudyindistrustingauthority。

Shewasbornin1903toanabusive,alcoholicfatherandamotherwhooncetriedtosellherintoprostitution。

“Mother’sdependency[onmen]wassobaditbotheredevenme,youngasIwas,”wroteFumiko。

“Shewasincapableoftakingasteponherownwithoutsomeonetheretosupporther。

”Herparentsweren’tlegallymarried,andsotheychosenottoregisterFumiko’sbirth。

Thismeantthat,intheeyesoftheState,shewassimplynotaperson。

Shewasn’tallowedtoofficiallyattendschool;shecouldonlyaudit。

Teacherswouldopenlyhumiliateherbyhandingoutgraduatingcertificatestoeveryoneintheclassbuther—thelegallynonexistentgirl。

Fumikowasoverjoyedwhenherfather’smother—wholivedwithherchildlessdaughterinaJapanesecommunitylocatedwithinthetownofBugang,Korea—showeduptoadopther。

“GrandmotherfromKorea,”asFumikocalledher,luredthegirlawaywithakimonosostunningthattheneighborsmadeexcusestocomebyandgapeatit。

Butitwasatrap—hergrandmotherwasindeedrich,butFumiko’spoorbackgroundandcountrywaysdispleasedher。

ForthenextsevenyearsshebeatandstarvedFumiko,forcinghertostandoutsideinthefreezingcold,screamingatherifshespoketooutsiders,andyankingheroutofschool。

Inprison,Fumikorecallstheabusewithavoiceclearasabell。

“IbecamewarpedbecauseinsteadofbeinglovedIwasabused,”shewrites。

“IbecamepervertedbecauseIwasrepressedandrobbedofeveryfreedom。

”Itwasn’tsimplythecrueltyoftheauthorityfiguresinherlifethatfedintoherdisgustwithinstitutions,itwasthatshealsosawhowdeeplyhypocriticalthosesamefigureswere。

Hergrandmotherlovedtorailonabouthowchildrenshouldn’treadthenewspaperbutwassocheapthatshepastedovertheholesinFumiko’sroomwithnewspaperarticles—whichFumikothenread,sinceshewasn’tallowedtoreadbooks,either。

Evenintheirhomecountry,KoreanswerediscriminatedagainstandabusedbywealthierJapanese—likeFumiko’sowngrandmother—whosettledthere。

Kumikofeltclosekinshiptohergrandmother’swretchedlyunderpaidKoreanservant,whoonlyownedonepairofclothes,andwassympathetictotheKoreancauseingeneral。

“IthinkIunderstandhowthenationalistsfeel,”shesaid,later,toherKoreanlover。

“ButImyselfamnotKorean。

Ihaven’tsufferedthekindofoppressionbyJapanthatKoreanshave。

”Aftersevenyearsofmisery,shemovedbacktoJapananddriftedbetweenthehomesofherfrustrating,irresponsibleparents,bothofwhomwereunhappilyremarried。

Bytheageofseventeen,she’dhadenough,andmovedtoTokyo。

InTokyo,sheworkedaseriesofmenialjobsinordertotakeEnglishandmathclassesatschoolsformencalledSeisokuandKensūGakkan,becausethecurriculawerebetter,andbecauseshewantedto“getbackatmen…showthemthatIcouldholdmyown。

”Moreimportantly,shemetpeople。

ShefellinfirstwiththeChristians,andthenwiththeSocialists,butwassoonturnedoffbythehypocrisyandmeannessshewitnessed。

Theyoungmenwereespeciallyunderwhelming。

AChristianboy,Itoh,fellinlovewithherandthenmelodramaticallyinsistedthathewouldhaveto“forget[her]andgobacktobeingthepersonIwasbeforewemet”becausehewastooafraidofhisintensefeelings。

Thesocialistboyswereevenworse。

Oneboyfriendinvitedhertosleepoverandtheninthemorningorderedonlyenoughbreakfastforhimself,anddeclaredthatifshegotpregnant,itwasn’thisproblem。

Shelaterconcludedthatall“movementpeople”were,moreorless,fullofshit。

Inhermemoir,FumikoreservesallherpassionandfirefordescribingthecircumstancesofherintroductiontotheKoreananarchistPakYeol。

Longbeforemeetinghim,shereadapoemhe’dpublishedinaneight-pagesocialistpamphletandwasstunnedbythebeautyandforceofhiswords。

“IfeellikeI’vejustdiscoveredhereinthispoemsomethingI’vebeensearchingfor,”shetoldafriend。

Paklivedlikea“straydog,”crashingatadifferentfriend’shomeeverynight,frequentlyill,buthada“powerfulpresence”—Fumikomarveledthathecarriedhimselflikeaking。

“Whatwasatworkwithinthisman?

Whatwasitthatmadehimsostrong?

”shemused。

“Iwantedtofindoutandmakeitmyown。

”Fumikowasinspired,thrilled,andthoroughlyobsessed。

Whateverhewasworkingon—whateverdestructionhewasplotting—shewantedtobeapartofit。

Likemanytroubled,poetry-writingmaleactivists,Pakwasnoncommittal,hardtogetaholdof,andabitawkward。

Fumikohuntedhimdown,eventuallytakinghimtoaChineserestaurantandlayingoutherproposition:shewantedtobehispartnerandhisequal。

“I’vefoundwhatIhavebeenlookingforinyou,”shesays。

“Iwanttoworkwithyou。

”Pakrespondedtoherina“chillingtone,”somewhattheatrically:“It’snogood。

IgoonlivingonlybecauseIdon’tseemtobeabletodie。

”Butsheconvincedhimthattheywerefatedtobetogether。

Hermemoirendsbeforetheirpoliticalactivityreallystarted;inthefinalscene,asshe’swatchingPakheadofftostaywithyetanotherfriend,shethinkstoherself,I’llneverletyousufferfromsicknessorthingslikethat。

Ifyoudie,I’lldiewithyou。

We’lllivetogetherandwe’lldietogether?

PakformedasmallgroupofmostlyKoreannihilistsandanarchistscalledFuteisha(“societyofmalcontents,”anironicreferencetothe“malcontentKoreans”thatJapanesepolicelikedtogripeabout)。

Thisactivityputthelovers—butparticularlyPak—ontheauthorities’radar,aspoliceinTokyokeptasharpeyeonstudentsandpoliticallyactiveKoreans。

Thetensionturnedtobloodshedin1923,whentheGreatKant?

earthquakedevastatedTokyoandthesurroundingareas,killingover100,000people。

Intheensuinghysteria,peoplebecameconvincedthatKoreansweretakingadvantageofthechaostopoisonwellsandplantbombs。

Noneofitwastrue,butitdidn’tmatter;citizenvigilantes,police,andsoldiersbeganmassacringanyKoreantheycouldfind。

Bythetimetheviolencestopped,oversixthousandKoreansweredead。

Thedayaftertheearthquake,PakYeolwasdetainedwithoutchargebyTokyopolice,ostensiblyforhisownsafety。

Twodayslater,thepolicesnaggedFumiko,too。

Atfirstthevagueideawasthatthepoliceweredetainingtheseradicalstoprotectthemfromthemassacringvigilantes,butsoonenoughrealchargesbegantobeleviedagainstthem:firstvagrancy,thenaviolationoftheexplosivescontrollaw,andfinallyhightreason。

TheseaccusationsweredesignedtojustifythesheddingofKoreanblood(“See?

Theywereplottingsomethingterrible。

”)TherewasnohardevidencethattheSocietyofMalcontentswasactuallyplanningtothrowbombsattheimperialfamily,butgovernmentreportsdidclaimthatPakhadtriedtosmuggleexplosivesintoJapanalready。

Really,themostdamningproofcamefromPakandFumikothemselves,whoconfessedtotheplotdespitethelackofevidence,perhapsasanactofdefiance。

“Wehaveinourmidstsomeonewhoissupposedtobealivinggod…yethischildrenarecryingbecauseofhunger,”Fumikodeclaredincourt。

“Sowethoughtofthrowingabombathimtoshowthathetoowilldielikeanyotherhumanbeing。

”Later,sheadmittedthatshehadopenlyexaggeratedherguilt。

FumikowantedtogetthesamepenaltyasPak:death。

Shewantedthetwoofthemtodietogether,butshewasalso“claimingtobeanequalthreattosocietyanddemandingasentenceequaltoPak’s,”ashistorianHeleneBowenRaddekernotedinherbook,TreacherousWomenofImperialJapan。

Inprison,PakandFumikoregisteredtheirmarriage。

Twodayslater,onMarch25,1926,theyweresentencedtodeath;tendaysafterthat,theemperor“mercifully”commutedtheirsentencestolifeinprison。

Whenthecommutedsentencewashandeddown,thelovers’pathsdiverged。

Pakacceptedthesentence,butFumikotorethepapertopieces,saying,“Youtoywithpeople’slives,killingorallowingtoliveasitsuitsyou。

AmItobedisposedofaccordingtoyourwhims?

”PakservedhissentencequietlyandwasreleasedafterWorldWarII,butFumikorefusedtorotincaptivity。

Fourmonthsafterreceivingthelessenedsentence,shehungherselfwiththehempropeshe’daskedtoweave。

At6:30A。

M。

aguardsawhertwistingit,diligently;whenhewalkedpasthercelltenminuteslater,hesawherhangingfromit,unconscious。

Thedoctorswhoperformedherautopsymarveledatthe“determined,carefullypremeditated,andcalmmannerofsuicide。



Determinedasshewas,Fumikocouldneverachievetrueequalitywithherlover。

Bothinthecourtroomandafterherdeath,shewasdepictedastheselflessfemalesidekickwholaiditallonthelineforanoblemaleanarchist;herlawyertriedtosaythatitwas“purewomanlyself-sacrifice”thatcausedherto“dieforPakandKorea。

”Fumikowouldhavebeenappalledtohearherlifereducedtoasingleactofsupposedaltruism,especiallywhenshe’dpledgedherselftonocausebutthe“meansofone’sownwill。

”AsStirnerputit,“TheownwillofMeistheState’sdestroyer。

”ThatwasFumiko’sphilosophy—womanlyself-sacrificeandtheKoreanindependencemovementbedamned。

Fumiko’sbeliefsystemwasbuiltonanironwill。

Herpoliticsweresolitary;shehadnotimeforgroupsormovements。

Butnobeliefsystemisiron-cladenoughtocontaintheheart。

Thefinallinesofhermemoirsoundlikeamarriagevow;foragirlwhodidn’tallowherselftotrustanybodyoranythingbuttheego,shenonethelessputheridentity,howevermomentarily,inanotherperson’simperfecthands。

Andthevow,orwish,orwhateveritwas,didn’tcometrue。

PerhapssherealizedinthecourtroomthatPakwouldchoosetolive。