Japanese women’s lives

Japanese women’s lives

Paper written for the course Japanese Women’s Lives (Seminar 34/35: Luzares)

Paper written for the course Japanese Women’s Lives (Seminar 34/35: Luzares)

Background: Mayumi was a defense witness against a man accused of raping a young woman who worked part-time in a company of which he was manager.

In March 2001, before Mayumi came to University, she worked part-time at a company that was dealing in school uniforms. Her other co-workers were mostly young women, who, like her, were preparing to enter university the following month of April. Her boss was a 29-year-old male, married. This man liked to touch the young women workers, but from the beginning Mayumi, who has an assertive personality, told him that she did not like it and that he should stop. He did. However, one of her co-workers was too intimidated by her boss and was too afraid to protest. The touching continued, and one day, before closing time, the boss asked her to stay and work overtime. The young woman felt she could not refuse. That night he raped her. The rape happened two more times before the month was over. The victim’s parents only found out when their daughter showed signs of a nervous breakdown.

In January 2003, the court indicted the man and ordered him to compensate the victim and her parents. The compensation was ridiculously low (Y2,200,000 for the victim and Y220,000 for her parents) because the judge said that the victim was partly at fault for not crying out for help when the rape happened!

When Mayumi did her presentation in January (2005), her friend was still in a psychiatric hospital. During her presentation Mayumi’s anger and distress were still very palpable. She stressed how important it is for women to be informed about sexual harassment and sexual violence, and to speak up and say no when confronted by it. Also about how silence works to the advantage of the victimizer. She felt that if she and her other co-workers had known what was happening, they could have protected her friend and she (the victim) would already be graduating from university this March (2005)!

January 21, 2005

My Journey into Awareness as a Woman (slightly edited)
By Mayumi Kawano (not her real family name)

Today the importance of gender-equal education is emphasized everywhere in Japan. However, I was raised to believe that boys and girls were different. My family is a land-owning farmer family in the countryside, and I believe that my family is typical of the long-lost Japanese agricultural family. The most important custom of my family is to go to the temple on New Year’s Day, O-bon and O-higan to hear the priest’s sermon. However, I have never been to the temple, or heard the priest’s sermon. Only my grandfather, my father, brother and other male relatives go to the temple, while my grandmother, my mother my other women relatives and I stay at home to do housework. One day, when I was a child, I asked my father to let me go to the temple with him. He and my mother scolded me. My mother said, “In our family, we believe that women should not go to the temple.” Of course I can go to other temples like Kiyomizu or Ryoan-ji, but the temple to which my family belongs is nyonin-kinsei (‘women are not allowed to enter’). In Japan, there are many such places where women cannot enter, like some temples, the dohyou (sumo ring) and even some mountains.

On ceremonial occasions such as a funeral, women must work in the backstage, preparing meals or alcoholic drinks for the priest and the male relatives. Women have no time to say goodbye to the deceased. I was trained by my grandmother, my mother and other women relatives to do many things that only women have to do. There is no getting away from the fact that my family is not egalitarian.

My role mother was my mother. And my mother’s role model must have been my grandmother, and my grandmother’s my great grandmother. The entire thing that every female member of my family knows has been inherited from generation to generation. Because I loved them, I never doubted my mother and my grandmother. It was not until I entered junior high school that I realized that my family was not egalitarian and this knowledge shocked me.

When I was a child, like every Japanese girl, my dream was to be a bride. I think it was because of the custom that women depend on men, and the idea that women should stay at home and help men. However, one encounter changed my dream. An old female teacher in my junior high school taught me that women must stand on their own feet. When she was young, she wanted to be a teacher but her family was against it. However, she convinced her family that the idea that women should stay at home was old fashioned. Her story moved me so I changed my dream—from simply becoming a bride to becoming a teacher. I am going to be a teacher from this spring so I can be a part of the solution to change attitudes towards women.

I decided to take this class because I knew that I had no knowledge about Japanese women’s issues and I believed that the fixed ideas about women should be swept away.This class changed my thinking a lot. I was ashamed of myself not knowing about the issue of the karayuki-san (Japanese women from impoverished families tricked to go abroad to serve the sexual needs of the Japanese military), and I did not realize that Japanese advertisements sexually exploit women.

I did not feel like doing the presentation on sexual harassment because of the painful memories it evoked. I could not fully express how terrible the incident was. But I know that the presentation liberated me from the painful memory. I did not realize that talking about unpleasant memories to someone would help me greatly.

I plan to become a part of the solution by teaching my students as my teacher in junior high school and you have taught me. I have to keep studying about and be sensitive to women’s issues. I have to teach my students about these in order not to have ignorant women like myself.

…your class changed my way of thinking about women’s issues. I thank you very much, and I promise that I will become a good teacher like you.


Casilda Luzares

Casilda Luzares serves as an International Associate with the Council on Cooperative Mission, assigned to the United Church of Christ in Japan Kyoto Conference. She is an English professor at Doshisha University.