It’s time to eliminate the world’s stereotype of Japanese women as meek, quiet and submissive. The first female governor of Tokyo, the first sex-toy shop in Japan owned by a woman and catering exclusively to women, and the pioneers of the women’s liberation movement in Japan. These 5 activists and what they are standing for are truly empowering and inspiring.

 

Chizuko Ueno, women’s studies scholar and activist

Chizuko Ueno

Chizuko Ueno is a University of Tokyo professor, sociologists and one of Japan’s best-known feminists. “I’m critical. I’m assertive. I’m disobedient.” — she says of herself. She has taught at Columbia University in New York and back in her college years participated in the Zengakuren student protests of the 1960s ( a communist/anarchist league of students founded in 1948 in Japan).

Ueno is also a prolific author. Among her most notable books are The Erotic Apparatus (1989), Misogyny in Japan (2010) and The Rise and Fall of the Japanese Modern Family (1994, English translation 2004).

As she recalls her mother wasn’t happy being married and represented exactly what she did not want to become. . Here’s what Ueno says about the reason she became a feminist

My father was a complete sexist. He and my mother didn’t have a good relationship. So, being raised in the midst of marital conflict was enough to make me a feminist!

Chizuko Ueno has done extensive research in the fields of women’s studies, women’s history, feminist theory and family sociology. However, at the beginning of her academic career, she was turned down by twenty-three schools. Now Ueno is the Chief Director of the prominent non-profit organization Women’s Action Network and one day she hopes to “hand over the baton of feminism to the next generation.”

 

Sayaka Osakabe — founder of Matahara Net

Sayaka Osakabe

Sayaka Osakabe is a founder of Matahara Net, a support group for pregnant women who experience maternal harassment at work. “Matahara” is an acronym for “maternity and harassment” and it is now a legal term.

One would think that because of its  rapidly declining population Japan would actually encourage women to both work and have children. But in reality Japanese women are being bullied over pregnancy at work.

maternity leave stats in japan

When Sayaka Osakabe became pregnant, she didn’t say anything to her boss because she “didn’t want to cause trouble.”  Many women in Japan fear that their contract will not be renewed if they take maternity leave. Osakabe ended up working herself into miscarriage. When she returned to work her boss told her “not to think of getting pregnant for two or three years.” After a second miscarriage Osakabe asked for approved leave of absence should she become pregnant again and was denied. She quit her job and after winning her case through a labor tribunal Osakabe became a women’s rights activists.

In 2015 she received the U.S. International Woman of Courage Award in Washington. She was quoted saying that “she is encouraged by the award and that she hopes Japanese people will rethink their way of working.”

Minori Kitahara, the owner of a sex-toy shop for women

minori kitahara

Love Piece Club is not a typical sex-toy shop, it is the first adult-goods store in Japan run by and for women. Its owner, Minori Kitahara, who also identifies as a feminist, believes that women “deserve their sexual fun and games and she has just the right toys for them.” The store opened back in 1996 when Kitahara created a vibrator for women. Love Piece Club received considerable media attention and publicity as the women-centered adult products store in Japan. Nowadays sex-toy stores for women may seem like no big deal but back in 1996 it wasn’t easy for a Japanese woman to advocate for women’s right to sexually please themselves the way they want to.

Kitahara admits that discussing women’s sexual desires can be challenging since some of the key issues of the feminist movement are sexual violence and sexual harassment. “I wanted to create a safe place for women’s desires”, states Kitahara. As she was growing up she was getting frustrated about “the difficulty of living in this world as a woman.” She points out that “frustration is what gets many feminists started”.

Here’s what she says about being a feminist in modern society:

All working women are feminists, whether they like it or not and regardless of whether they know what feminism is. If a woman has a job and can support herself so that she can live on her own, then I think she qualifies to be called a feminist.

Yuriko Koike, first female governor of Tokyo

Yuriko Koike

“When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit. So let’s keep going, until every one of the 161 million women and girls across America has the opportunity she deserves,” said Hillary Clinton. And indeed the world is awakening to the fact that we need more female leaders, presidents, governors and mayors. It seems that rather slowly but we are heading in the right direction. Among women who have already broken “through the ceiling glass” are Theresa May in the UK, Gabriela Firea in Romania, Virginia Raggi in Rome and Yuriko Koike in Japan.

In July, 2016 Tokyo, the largest Asia’s city with an “annual budget larger than that of Sweden”, elected the first-ever female governor of Japan — Yuriko Kioke. She is a former television news presenter who studied sociology at Cairo University in Egypt. Koiko also speaks fluent Arabic and English. According to her, during her 24 years in politics in Japan she has faced a lot of sexism. For example, Shintaro Ishihara, a former governor of Tokyo, remarked that “Tokyo should not be run by a „woman with too much makeup.““

This is not the first time for Yuriko Koike to shift the political landscape of Japan. In 2007 she was elected Japan’s first ever female defense minister. in 2008 she became the first woman to run for leader of the Liberal Democratic Party. Throughout her political career Kioke has been advocating for “for greater female participation in politics and the workforce.” When asked about whether she plans on becoming a prime-minister, she simply responds “I just became the governor.”

Mitsu Tanaka, feminist and writer

Mitsu Tanaka

Mitsu Tanaka poses for a portrait in Shinjuku ,16 Sep 2015. Satoko Kawasaki photo.

In the early 1970s Mitsu Tanaka was one of the loudest voices of women liberation movement in Japan. Here’s one of her most powerful statements about feminism:

Libbers are not simply cross with the general man society. What I want is not a man or a child. I want to have a stronger soul with which I can burn myself out either in heartlessness or in tenderness. Yes, I want a stronger soul.

A prolific writer, at the age of 27 Tanaka published an autobiography Inochi no Onna-tachie: Torimidashi uman ribu ron (For My Spiritual Sisters: A Disorderly Theory of Women’s Liberation) that later became a manifesto for the feminist movement in Japan. Her book is an outspoken account of what she had gone through, including being raped as a little girl, and how she found her voice as a women’s rights activists.

In 1972 Tanaka helped establish Lib Shinjuku Center – the first women’s center in Japan that also served as a shelter where women “with problems that ranged from obtaining contraception and abortion to divorce” could get assistance.

Tanaka left public activism in 1975 and has since worked as an acupuncturist “considering her „liberation activism“ to be personal in nature now, rather than public.”

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