The birthing of babies is as old as nature itself, but for something so commonplace and natural, it does come with plenty of complications and a horrible amount of pain – as any woman who has birthed a baby will tell you. With the advent of medical science, we now have OB-GYNs to take some of the pain and a lot of the grossness away. But when medical science was still nascent, there were the doulas or the midwives that helped women deliver babies and provided them with support during their most vulnerable hours.
But if you were in Japan, birthing a baby in the 1940s, heaven help you if your midwife was Miyuki Ishikawa – for she was the one who “helped” more than a 100 babies leave this Earth, directly or indirectly. They say hell hath no fury as a woman scorned. Was this the case with Miyuki too? Was she venting her anger that arose from a particular injustice on helpless kids? Was she a stone-cold criminal or simply someone looking to make a quick buck? Was she evil, insane or just heartless? The world would probably never know for sure, considering Miyuki too has left the world. But for a woman whose responsibility was to help mothers in labor birth their infants safely and non-traumatically, it’s ironic that she herself was to blame for the end of many new lives, which is why she is called the demon midwife for surely, she must have arisen from the very depths of hell. Here are 15 facts about her, and Japan of the 1940s…
15. Miyuki Ishikawa’s Date Of Birth Is Unknown
Miyuki Ishikawa led what could be considered a typical Japanese life in the early 1900s. She was born in 1897 at a time Japan was fairly feudal and unscarred by the N-Bomb in the town of Kunitomi, in the Higashimorokata District, Miyazaki Prefecture, Japan. At the time in Japan, most towns were fairly cohesive in their structure and small businesses flourished. Still, food was scarce and most of the small town folk thrived on the fish-laden rivers and streams. Life was hard and work was the most important thing in anyone’s life, but until that time, Japan was a peaceful country, considering Hiroshima and Nagasaki hadn’t suffered yet. At a time where becoming a geisha was still the norm for many girls from impoverished backgrounds, Miyuki graduated from the University of Tokyo, which points to the fact that she came from a fairly affluent background. Later, as per her family’s wishes, she was married to Takeshi Ishikawa and became a midwife.
14. The Date And Cause Of Her End Remains Unknown And Somewhat Of A Mystery
Her birth year as per official records is 1897. She was born in the 19th century and lived well beyond into the 20th century as well. But no one knows when this demon midwife finally left earth, nor does anyone know how she passed away. Basically, after getting arrested, coming for her trial and then serving her commuted sentence, Miyuki Ishikawa vanished from the face of the earth. Hardly anyone wanted to be in touch with her in any case. This was a woman who gave the noble profession of medicine a very bad name indeed. She was the woman who caused hundreds of mother’s grief and hundreds of fathers torment. She was the woman who after being pure evil, still managed to turn public favor on her side. So once she was released from the prison, the world didn’t hear from her after that, thankfully.
13. Her Crime Was Not A One-Off And Pretty Common in Post-War Japan
When she was finally apprehended, the Tokyo High Court gave her an eight-year sentence. To us, it sounds terribly lenient. But this is the time that Japan was still recovering from its WWII decimation, and perhaps these things were not seen as significant as they should have been. What’s even worse is that Miyuki appealed her sentence; it was commuted to a four-year one. In hindsight, what she received was remarkably light considering her actions resulted in a toll unrivalled by any other criminal in Japan. In Japan at the time, infants’ rights were not very clear or recognized. Had there been older children able to talk and put their point across involved, things would have been far darker for her. Infants were considered more as an extension to their parents, and if the parents did not raise a complaint, well, the infants were denied justice.
12. Many Child Activists Dubbed This As Japan’s Biggest Failure Ever
Japan, like many other countries undergoing a feudal phase and then later after being bombed and suffering devastating losses in WWII, wasn’t a particularly great for children being born. Abortion was illegal and contraception was unheard of. So what the Japanese did was mabiki (a Japanese word that means pulling weeds from plants) where the second or third sons, who were unwanted were, well, “weeded” from the family. Daughters were usually spared because they could be married off for a sum, sold off as servants, or sent off to become geishas so as to keep their families well fed. At the time that Miyuki did the unthinkable, it wasn’t actually unthinkable. Families often neglected their unwanted children or even abandoned them to let nature takes its course. However, Miyuki’s toll was very high – but she went almost scot-free. Writer Kenji Yamamoto mentioned the incident as “unbelievable and unbearable.”
11. Her Own Marriage Remained Barren And Childless By Accident Or On Purpose
After her studies, Miyuki was married as per her family’s wishes to Takeshi Ishikawa. Not much is known about this very supportive husband of this demon midwife – who he was or what was his occupation. But after marriage, Miyuki continued to work as a Japanese midwife in the Kotobuki maternity hospital. Later she rose to the rank of director. We really don’t how much of this was on merit, and how much as on account of her fudging or otherwise cheating and lying her way up the ladder. It is also a well-known and documented fact that Miyuki’s marriage to Takeshi Ishikawa did not result in any children. It is unknown if that was a medical anomaly, or if she herself successfully staved off having any children herself. Was she a secret child hater herself? She was a midwife, so she could also have known tricks to stave off any and all pregnancies.
10. Miyuki Was A Career Woman Even If She Was In The Wrong
At the time Miyuki was growing up into a fairly attractive young woman, Japan was in the grip of a feudal overlord and the girls of impoverished backgrounds were sold off as servants or trained to become geishas to serve higher-ups in the military or the government. Miyuki escaped all of this and was actually sent to study at the University of Tokyo. From then on she became a midwife but being a midwife in Japan at that time did not really require any medicinal degree, or even paperwork, for that matter. Perhaps initially she started out as a conscientious worker. Perhaps, in the beginning, Miyuki Ishikawa, the Japanese midwife was just that – a midwife working in Japan, helping mothers give birth to their babies and taking care of both the newly born life and the tired and exhausted mother. But history shaped her into the woman the world came to call the demon midwife.
9. The Authorities Knew All About It But Turned A Blind Eye To It All
Miyuki began small. When parents, poverty-stricken and unable to take their new infants home, began to disappear and desert the hapless babies behind, Miyuki seemingly was at a loss. Not very strong in the maternal affection department, Miyuki began to neglect the babies under her care until the unthinkable happened. The other midwives in the hospital that Miyuki was now director of knew of the practice. They abhorred what she did. They hated her for what she was doing. They possibly were also afraid of her heartlessness and later, her calculative nature as well. Many tried to warn the local governing body but the local government ignored the crimes. These were nobody’s babies, they were unwanted little souls. No one wanted them, and even the government had abandoned them. So Miyuki followed suit. Many conscientious midwives left the so-called maternity hospital after unsuccessfully trying to stop this gruesome practice, leaving Miyuki to gloat at her victories.
8. Miyuki’s Defence At The Trial Was To Blame The Parents For Desertion
When the trial started, it was clear to see that Miyuki was not particularly perturbed at the charges. Nor was she sorry for her actions. For her, it was simple – she was not to blame for the children who had passed after their own parents had deserted them. These children were the responsibility of their parents who after giving birth to these unwanted ones, often left them to the hospital’s devices. Many of these mothers were unmarried and couldn’t support a child; many other parents were too poor to feed yet another hungry mouth. So it was easy for these parents to leave those “weeds” behind and run away in the dead of the night as thieves. For Miyuki and the hospital administration, the problem was a genuine one. There were no resources to care for these innumerable children and perhaps no kindness in many of these hearts to have lent a helping hand either.
7. The Japanese Law At The Time Made No Provision For Infants’ Rights
While the infants were in fact disposed of heartlessly, the Japanese law shed no tears for them. According to the law at the time, infants had no rights and ill-treatment of infant meted no serious punishment. It’s not as if the law or justice was blind. It was simply that Japan was a country in crisis at the time. Abortions were declared illegal in 1880, though midwives were banned from aborting in 1868. The emperor believed that a larger workforce would lead to a stronger army and country. Years later, this dictate came to haunt the land of the rising sun when after World War II, Japan found itself in a population crisis. In 1946, 10 million people were declared at a risk of starvation but due to the ban on abortions, the population of Japan increased by 11 million between the years 1945 and 1950. This was simply the worst time ever for a baby boom and infants were often abandoned as soon as they were born to get rid of another mouth to feed.
6. Miyuki Literally Got No Punishment For Her Heartless Actions
Her defence at the trial rested mainly on her claims that the safety and the well-being of a newborn child rested with the parents. If the parents rejected or abandoned the child, they could not blame a third person for the subsequent demise of the child. Somehow, this appeal of her found favor in public sentiment. The public largely agreed with her – children are their parent’s responsibility. If the parents refused to accept and care for their children, the midwife or the hospital wasn’t to blame. Even then, initially, Miyuki was sentenced to eight years in prison. For their part, Miyuki’s husband and Dr. Hiro Nakayama received only four years imprisonment. And when Miyuki and her husband appealed their sentences, the jail time was halved for both, which means the demon midwife served four years in prison while the husband served a mere two years. Justice? No, not that day…
5. This Incident Led Japan To Finally Legalize Abortions And Allow Women To Make A Choice
This incident is regarded as the principal reason the Japanese government began to consider the legalization of abortion in Japan. Since abortion was illegal at the time, the poverty-stricken would bear the child but desert the infant, considering they could not afford to bring up another hungry mouth. And this was not something new to Japan, or to even the world. When unwanted children are born, they are often abandoned like the runts of a litter. After many such cases of newborn abandonment, finally, a sanction of abortion was given in 1949. Now unwed mothers, mothers at a mental or physical health risk, assault victims as well as mothers who wanted to opt for an abortion for economic reasons were allowed to abort their unwanted babies. Now mothers did not have to bear the children, give birth to them and then leave them be – they could choose not to have their children.
4. No One Knows The Actual Number Of The Victims Involved
No one knows how many infants she targeted, for the birth records of the 1940s weren’t really the best in the town. The estimate of her victims lie between 85 and 169 but she was “tried for” some 103 newborn deaths in total. Her crimes though were viewed as omission and not as a homic*de. Her child abandonment appeal worked in favor even though many child activists raised dissenting voices. One, in particular was that of Yuriko Miyamoto, who believed the public was being unfair to all those little children, abandoned for no fault of theirs – and this public favor of Miyuki reeked of discrimination. Even then, the courts listened to Miyuki and the public and gave her and the others involved rather lenient sentences, despite the gravity of the crime.
3. The Abandoned Infants Were Left To Their Own Devices By Miyuki
An age-old practice is to simply abandon the child to the elements and let nature take its course. When a baby is abandoned, he or she will cry their heart out for a few hours. But soon, the baby stops crying. Why? Psychologists say it’s because the baby realizes that no one will be coming for him or her. That is truly the saddest thing ever. But perhaps this is what happened to all the babies in Miyuki’s care. The infants were just left, uncared for and allowed to wither away. Through neglect, Miyuki took the lives of somewhere between 103 and 169 infants. The infants were often deserted by poor parents who could not afford to care for another little mouth, so Miyuki conveniently ignored the babies while they met their sad ends.
2. Miyuki And Takeshi Ishikawa Also Fleeced The Parents Of The Unwanted Infants
Miyuki didn’t end the lives of the newborns for fun or even for any kind of sick thrill. She was a businesswoman and felt that money could be made off these crimes. Initially, the unwanted newborns were simply disposed of – their parents didn’t want them, no family wanted them and neither the hospital nor the government was willing to spend any resources on them. Later, she enlisted her husband and a doctor to take advantage of the situation. So whenever parents didn’t want their children, Takeshi would go to them and ask for a big sum of money. Dr. Shiro Nakayama would then draw up false death certificates for the infants, and the parents would be forced to pay the money to the trio – believing that a financial loss now would be better than spending on the child all their lives. All this as not taken into consideration at the trial. Otherwise, she would have been behind bars much longer.
1. The Whole Case Burst Open When The Waseda Police Made An Accidental Discovery
Two Waseda policemen found the remains of five young ones in a plastic bag. When it turned out that the cause of death wasn’t natural, an investigation began, which began to point to Miyuki, her husband and the maternity hospital that she was a director of. A citywide search after some select hints led to the discovery of the remains of forty more young individuals in a mortician’s house who was then arrested as an accomplice. Some thirty more were found buried under a temple. More such discoveries were made but too much time had passed and in many cases, the cause of death could not be judged. Finally, Miyuki and Takeshi Ishikawa were arrested in 1948 after some four years of abandonment. The mortician was also arrested, as was Dr. Shiro Nakayama and an assistant midwife of Miyuki’s. As was apparent, justice wasn’t served to those who were born unwanted, abandoned, and finally thrown away like garbage.
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