Feminism in ModernJapanDuring the 1970s, a group ofJapanese women adopted the name ‘Tatakau Onnatachi’, which translates tofighting women or women who fight.
These women formed part of a movementcomprising of women liberationists who had been dissatisfied with the sexistperpetuated by their male counterparts and were vigilant about the threats thatpostwar abortion laws posed to their bodily autonomy (Ito para. 5). Theirmovement shared similar characteristics to other movements headed by womenliberationists in capitalist democracies. In fact, the Fighting Women wereinspired by feminist movements in other countries. Moreover, they wereresponding to unique dilemmas in their own country (Kano 50). While feministmovement in Japan became prevalent in the 1970s, these movements can be tracedback to the 1870s and even ancient Japan. In modern Japan, feminists havefocused on challenging the traditionally accepted thinking about men, women andsocieties (Hayes para.
9). This essay traces the origins of feminist movementsin Japan and their effects in Japan including associated controversies.Origin of FeministMovement in Japan Feministmovements in Japan commenced during the late 19th century when theEdo period was coming to an end; however, the concept of rights of women can betraced back to the ancient times. During this times, men and women had equalrights with respect to family succession and there were women leaders just astheir male counterparts. Women lost the right of family succession as mengained more power in the aristocratic system.
During the Edo period(1600-1868), women in Japan were not legally recognized and were not allowed toown property. Moreover, there were considered subordinated to the men in allways. However, things started changing during the Meiji period (1868-1912) dueto the influx of Western thinking and philosophy into country that resulted ina numerous changes regarding the status of women (Kano 50). For instance,restrictions were imposed on trafficking women and women were permitted to filefor divorce. Additionally, girls were allowed to receive elementary education.The educational system was reformed to provided education to women although theobjective to educate women to become good mothers (Fujimura-Fanselow 45).
Essentially, the feminist movement in Japan became more pronounced during theMeiji Restoration and further thrived during the 1920s in the course of Taishodemocracy (Laskow para. 2). Feminist consciousness among Japanese women becameevident in 1871 after they interacted with White American feminists. TheseJapanese awakened together with assistance from the feminist movement thatstarted in the West. Despite Japan being a patriarchal, imperialist, militarist,and nationalist society, Japanese women were able to forge a feminist movementbecause Japan sought to adopt the Western discourse that was increasingly beingcharacterized by increasing the status of women as a way of civilization. WhileWestern women were legally and socially subordinate, they had managed to exploitthe civilization discourse to argue that granting women full citizenship wasneeded in a society that is civilized (Germer et al. 45). In the same way,Japanese women attempted to exploit their country’s civilization andmodernization effort to advocate for their rights, which formed the basis forfeminist movement in Japan that localized and adapted the feminist approachesof the West to push for economic and political equality (Kano 55).
Theemergence of the early feminist movement also coincided with the first-wavefeminism that commenced in the US. A second wave of feminism also emerged inJapan during the 1970s, which coincided with the second-feminist wave in the USand other parts of the world. Japanese Response toOverseas Feminist Movements Feministsin Japan were inspired by overseas feminist movements, especially the firstwave and the second wave feminist movement that started in the US and laterspread to other parts of the world including Japan.
The feminist movements inJapan coincided with first, second, and third wave movements suggesting thatfeminists in Japan were inspired by their counterparts in other countries. The firstwave feminism of the 19th and early 20th century thatstarted in the US elicited feminist activity in Japan (Hayes para. 2). Thefirst-wave feminism concentrated legal matters, particularly relating towomen’s suffrage. The first-wave feminism heightened feminism in Japan withwomen advocating for their rights (Kano 59).
Following the 1868 MeijiRestoration, the notion of rights started becoming important in Japan. In thesecond half of the 19th century, advocates of women’s rightschampioned for the patriarchal Japanese society to be reformed to enable womenhave voting rights. The early feminist movement in Japan placed considerableimportance on the education of women (Germer et al. 45).
Policymakers in Japanwere of the view that educating women was essential to preserve state throughhaving knowledgeable mothers and wives to produce sons who are loyal to thenation. While policymakers had completely different objectives from those offeminists advocating for the education of women, women’s education in Japanhelped advance the status of women in the society. Early feminists in Japan,just like their counterparts in the West, wanted to alleviate the culturalpractices that led to the subordination of women (Ito para. 5).
With the issueof women’s rights gaining considerable following in Japan, women activists inthe country started focusing on other issues that affected them such asexclusion from political participation and the enjoyment of civil rights. Forinstance, women were not allowed to join political parties, articulate theirpolitical views, or attend any political meeting. As of 1920, just like thefeminist movement in America, political inclusion was prioritized by theJapanese women suffrage movement (Kano 59). Besides fighting for politicalinclusion, early Japanese feminists engaged in literary activism, challengedtraditional roles that subordinated women, and fought for the participation ofwomen in the workforce (Germer et al. 45). It can be seen that the earlyJapanese feminist movement was responded to the women’s suffrage movement of thefirst wave and started advocating for women’s rights in their country.
Thesecond-wave feminist movement that commenced in the US had a considerableeffect in Japan in that it increased feminist activism in the country. Secondwave feminism commenced during the early 1960s. While the first wave feminismwas focused primarily on women suffrage and alleviating legal hurdles to therealization of gender equality such as property rights and voting rights, thesecond wave feminism widened the gender debate to include several issues suchas legal inequalities, reproductive rights, workplace, family, sexuality,marital rape issues, and domestic violence among others (Germer et al. 45). Inresponse to the second wave feminism in the US, Japan saw the emergence ofincreased feminist activity as evidenced by the rise of visible and vocalfeminist figures such as Mitsu Tanaka and Misako Enoki as well as theappearance of radical feminist groups. Mitsu Tanaka was one of the most radicalfeminist figures in Japan during the 1960s and 1970s who organized and ledprotests. Misako Enoki pushed for the birth control pill to be legalized andfocused on gaining media attention to drive her feminist agenda (Kano 55).
Tanaka and Enoki advocated for women to legally access procedures for abortion.In 1999, the birth control pill was legalized in 1999 (Kano 75). Thesecond-wave feminist movement also saw the emergence of radical feminist groupsin Japan such as the Women’s Liberation Front (WOLF), who petitioned theJapanese government on the Women’s International War Crime Tribunal for thecrimes that were committed by the occupiers in Japan during the Second WorldWar who sexually abused and exploited the comfort women. It can be seen thatJapanese feminist were inspired by the second wave feminism and increased theirfeminist activity, which ultimately resulted in the passage of the JapaneseEqual Employment Opportunity Law that outlaws any form of gender discriminationwhen hiring, recruiting, promoting, or assigning jobs (Kano 80). They alsotackled similar issues as those tackled by their counterparts in Westerncountries. Thethird-wave feminism has also managed to elicit response from Japan with respectto feminist activity. Third-wave feminism started in the US during the 1990s (Snyder175).
Third-wave feminists comprised of Generation X feminists who focused onredefining what feminism entails. Third-wave feminists believe that the firsttwo feminist movements helped achieve gender equality and that additionalpushing for the rights of women is needless and irrelevant, and may be pushedto an extent that it resulting in gender inequality in favor of men (Snyder175). The key issues handled with third-wave feminism include violencetargeting women, women’s reproductive rights, sexual liberation, transgenderrights and workplace matters. Essentially, third-wave feminism is likened to girlyfeminism that advocates for expressing female sexuality and femininity as a wayof challenging objectivity by embracing exploitation and utilizing it acquirefinances, power, and respect. In Japan, signs of third wave feminism areevident, with a dominant example being the shojoculture, which is similar to the third-wave feminism in the West (Wakeling130). The shojo culture in Japanshares similar characteristics to the third-wave feminism in the US byemphasizing girlish aesthetics. The shojoculture in Japan has been described as a way of enabling Japanese women to havecontrol of their sexuality, which is one of the key objectives of thethird-wave feminism (Wakeling 130). Overall, it can be seen that the shojo culture in Japan is a response tothe third-wave feminism in the US.
Comparison of Japanese Feminism to Other CountriesJapanese feminism can be broadlycompared to Western (American and European feminism). The striking similaritybetween Japanese and Western feminism is that they tackle similar issues, whichcan be primarily attributed to the fact that Japanese feminism is influenced bythe Western feminism (Collins para. 5).
Since the emergence of feministmovements in Japan, they have focused on dealing with issues of women’ssuffrage, education, sexuality, and quality in labor, which are the same issueshandled by feminists in the West (Kano 50). However, feminists in Japan are focusingon other aspects that are unique to their socio-cultural context and notevident in the West. For instance, feminists in Japan are advocating formarried coupled to make use of different surnames. Feminists in Japan are alsofocus on sexual harassment by men, the issue of comfort women, and parasitesingle.Despite tackling the same issues,considerable differences exist between Japanese feminism and Western feminismin terms of how feminism is conceptualized. In this regard, Japanese feminismdoes not emphasize individual autonomy as is the case with Western feminism,which is attributable to the cultural differences, Feminism in Japan isconsidered a product of its cultural context and is conceptualized in a mannerthat is meaningful to Japanese women (Collins para. 4).
Feminism in Japan hasbeen described as being relatively narrow when compared to feminism in the West(Ito para. 10). In this respect, Western feminism is based on the notion thatcomplete autonomy is required for the woman to be fully liberated for her to beable to develop her identity in the manner she wishes. In the Japanese societywhere the majority are comfortable with their assigned roles, the Westernnotion of individualistic feminism might not be meaningful in establishing feministgoals. Western feminism focuses on actualizing the potential of the individualwomen, which might not resonate with Japanese women. The differences in theJapanese and Western cultures influences the meaning of feminism (Kano 50).
TheJapanese society is community-centered whereas the American society isindividual-centered; hence, it can be expected that feminism will not placeconsiderable emphasis on individual autonomy. Moreover, Japanese feminism isstill more conservative when compared to American feminism. This is evident bythe wider gender gap in pay. Moreover, in Japan, there are very conservativeideas regarding what makes an ideal woman as well as what is expected of them.There is still societal stigma against divorced women. All these indicationssuggest that feminist in Japan is still conservative (Collins para. 6).
Bycontrast, feminism in the US is liberal as feminist have attempted to overturnnearly all restrictive gender roles. The explanation of this difference stemsfrom extent to which social roles are rigid in Japan and the West. As a result,feminist in Japan expect lesser individual freedom and autonomy when comparedto their Western counterparts. Western feminists expect individual freedombecause of historical ideology associated with independence and freedom (Kano50). Similarly, Japanese feminists operate under the limits of historicallyrigid social and gender roles. This explains why feminists in Japan have neverfocused on overturning each gender and social role since mothers are respectedfor their nurturing roles and are satisfied with the position.While Japanese feminist movementscoincided with the American feminist movements, Japanese feminists used andstill use different strategies. Japanese feminists believed that the Americanfeminist movement was eccentric and radical and that the Japanese women did notwant to identify with radical feminism and were and are still cautious of beingmisrepresented in the media (Collins para.
10). Some authors describe Japanese feminismas being characterized by politeness and civility rather agitation as is thecase with American feminism (Collins para. 9). Such differences areattributable to the unique sociocultural context of Japan.Controversy of the Feminist Movement in Japan Feminism inJapan still remains a controversial issue. Starting a conversation on Japanesefeminism is likely to elicit confusing responses. For instance, a lot ofJapanese women neither identify themselves as being feminists nor view feminismas something that is useful (Scottee, para.
1). Some women are of the view thatfeminism is not an important issue to loudly claim for equality between men andwomen since they believe that women possess some special powers that men lack.Still, others believe that being a feminist in the country is embarrassing andopenly expressing feminist sentiments or identifying as a feminist increasesthe risk of being attacked (Scottee, para. 1).
Feminism in Japan iscontroversial because of the conservative nature of the Japanese society;therefore, it is difficult for women to overturn all gender and social rolesand have individual achieved goals (Collins para. 5). For this reason, bringingthe issue of feminism in the public sphere is met with skepticism, particularlyamong the conservative segment of the society (Scottee, para. 1). Nevertheless,there exists elements of liberal feminism in Japan, especially manifestedduring the third-wave feminism. Some women are challenging the societalattitudes towards the sexuality of women whereas some are beginning to enjoysexual freedom.
Therefore, feminism in Japan is marked by some contradictions (Scottee,para. 3). On the one hand, the majority of conservative women are embracingfeminism that is aligned to rigid social and gender roles of the Japanesesociety.
On the other hand, some women are embracing liberal feminismcharacterized by sexual freedom and challenging existing attitudes towards thesexuality of women in Japan.Effects of Feminism on the History of Modern Japan Feministmovements have had remarkable effects on the modern Japanese society. Becauseof feminism activity in Japan, women now enjoy sexual freedom although it isstill limited.
Feminist movements in Japan managed to overturn some of therestrictive social and gender roles and have provided Japanese women with morefreedom (Fujimura-Fanselow 45). For instance, early feminists were able tosuccessfully advocate for the political inclusion of women. Women also gainedmore freedom with their body after the legalization of the birth control pillin 1999 (Kano 50). Another legacy of feminist movement in Japan is increasededucational opportunities for women. In addition, the feminist movement helpedin the prohibition of discrimination in employment following the passage of theEqual Employment Opportunity Law in 1985 (Kano 50). Other notable effects offeminism in Japan include an increase in women participation in the labor forceand an increase in the number of women in leadership roles Additionally..
., eventhough Japan as gone through numerous changes in their definition of feminismand as well as the external influences from other countries such as The UntiedStates of America and as well as Great Britan, Japan’s feminism is still uniqueon its own. This is because that Japan has gone thrugh different situations comparedto the other countries, this makes them different and make them define feminismdifferently. ConclusionFeminist movements in Japan havetheir origins in the second half of the 19th century after Japanesewomen interacted with American women, which awakened their feministconsciousness. Just like their Western counterparts, Japanese women exploitedthe modernization and civilization drive to advocate for economic, social, andpolitical equality between men and women. Therefore, from the outset, Japanesefeminist movement was a response to overseas feminist movements.
In fact,feminist movements in Japan often coincided with oversees waves of feminism inAmerica and beyond, which is due to the influence of their Americancounterparts. This is evident by elements of radical feminism during the earlymovements. A comparison of Japanese feminism to Western feminism shows thatthey deal with similar issues of women’s suffrage, education, sexuality, andquality in labor. However, there are differences in the manner in whichfeminism is conceptualized in the two countries. Specifically, Japanesefeminism does not emphasize individual autonomy as is the case with Westernfeminism, which is attributable to the cultural differences.
The legacy offeminism in Japan is evident, which include increased sexual freedoms,political inclusion, increased educational opportunities, and reducedemployment discrimination for women.