• Alex Litz

Calling Myself a Feminist in Japan

Litz's opinion piece relating to the April 1st ICAS event co-hosted by Uprizine, "The Courage of Our Convictions: Young Female Activists in Japan Defying the Social Norm." You can find more information on the event here, and another opinion piece by Kiuko Notoya, "The Value of Representation" here.

Photographs by the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies

I remember once telling my Japanese friend that I was a feminist. He told me I shouldn’t say that. I then asked him if he himself was a feminist. His response?

“No, I believe that everyone should be treated as equals.”

But isn’t that what feminism is all about? The idea that men are no better than women and that women are no better than men? Upon diving deeper into the topic with him I was surprised to find out that he was under the misconception that feminism was the belief that women should be elevated to a position above men in society. When I asked several of my other Japanese friends and coworkers, they also tended to characterize the term feminism as the “unjust or unfair” treatment of men in society in favor of women. However even after clarifying that feminism didn’t seek to lower men but to elevate peoples of all genders to an equal status, he still didn’t want to refer to himself as a feminist. The reason?

“That’s really just not a group of people I’d like to be associated with.”

Feminism has long been a topic for social taboo in Japan. During Monday’s ICAS event regarding youth social activism in Japan, Wakako Fukuda, one of the leading voices of the SEALDs activist group in Japan, spoke up about her experience being discriminated at work and endlessly harassed online for her strong presence in the Japanese feminist activist community. During her presentation she provided screenshots of netizens berating her online with hurtful hate messages and even death threats in regard to her efforts to fight for a more equal Japan. Another student from the group Voice Up Japan, Ryo Tsujioka, stated that as a senior university student her future job prospects are likely to be narrowed as prospective employers may be put off by her public involvement with the activist group. But why is Japanese society so put off by the idea of feminism? After all who wouldn’t want a more equal society as a whole?

The answer lies in Japanese society itself. People aren't so much opposed to the actual idea of feminism as they are to the disturbance of peace that a change to society potentially arouses. Japan is a country long ingrained in tradition leading to a prevalent cultural mindset of “things will be done this way, because they always have been done this way.” Fellow Voice Up Japan leader Asaki Takahashi touched on how when she lived in the United States, classroom discussion was encouraged and critical thinking was part of the learning process as compared to the Japanese education system that relied on social uniformity and uninterrupted silence when listening to a teacher’s lesson. From a young age people are taught that disagreement with the majority is a negative trait that is categorized as disturbing the peace. So when groups like Fukuda’s SEALDs take to the streets in protest to advocate for equality, no matter how worthy or noble the cause Japanese society will ultimately reject the movement as it is seen as a “public disturbance”.

So is there any hope for Japan? Will there come a day where I can proudly call myself a feminist in Japan and be met not with a shush but with the words “me too”? While there is much uncertainty for the future of Japanese society one thing is for sure; more and more young people like the members of SEALDs, Voice up Japan and TUJ’s very own Uprizine are popping up and being increasingly vocal about their struggles, hopes and vision for a one day truly equal Japan. It’s only a matter of time before we pierce through the deafening silence of Japanese society to make the changes we want to see. No matter what, we will make our voices heard.

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