primary materials

Women's Liberation in Japan Primary Materials (ウーマンリブ)

As part of my postgraduate option Radical Japan, we look at the Japanese women’s liberation movement, known in Japanese as ウーマンリブ or simply リブ.

The problem, however, is that there is a dearth of primary materials in translation for my students to look at. We could do it in Japanese, and have done so in the past, but the language used by key theorists such as Tanaka Mitsu can be quite daunting!

So this year I decided to translate a few sources for my class. I also decided to share them here — feel free to make use of them in your own research and teaching!

1. Recollections of Women’s Experiences of the New Left (taken from Oguma, E. 2009. 1968 vol. 2: the End of the Youth Revolts and its Legacy. Tokyo: Shinyo-sha, pp. 686-687) :

Training Camps:

In the same way as men, female group members were given special training to become soldiers. At camp we would work with sandbags, work on self-defence techniques and so on… 

But for me, who although being a student already had a child, had been to Cuba and seen the activities of real revolutionaries, and who had come into contact with the women’s liberation movement in Canada on my way back to Japan, this military training was so childish, and the attitude of the male leadership (no matter how serious they were) was discriminatory [towards women]. 

For example, there is one scene that even now I cannot forget. At a training camp, the leadership and members of the organisation sat in a circle and made a ring. And in the middle of that ring, one by one, we were made to put on boxing gloves and fight until, quite literally, one of us collapsed with a bloody nose. Women were made to do the exact same thing while the male leadership booed and jeered. Or in another case, as training in preparation for violence between groups, the male leadership would grab the women, and we would practice kicking them in the crotch. But the attitude they took, and the way they spoke to us… I had this strange feeling that it wasn’t right, that it was discriminatory… 

Remembering Beheiren:

I’m not saying that this was always the case, but it is now well known that the movement, the struggle, which spoke of equality and liberation, was internally not the slightest bit equal. The jobs that were given to women were, for example, in the relief party, or looking after people who had been arrested (救対)and in extreme cases they were put to work in the kitchen. 

Allocation of jobs by gender, pretty much what was expected. The thing we now call 'women’s lib’ was born as a result of the anger and disappointment at the reality of the movement. And [women’s experiences in the New Left] are one of the sources of what we call the feminist movement today. 

Also, if you weren't careful, girls could become sexual targets. For example, a naive female university student decides to visit a hideout. And when she does, a male activist with a scraggy beard comes to door and, as if he’s been waiting for her, says ‘shall we have a quick chat?’ and takes her to a local cafe. And then, when he hassuccessfully got her on her own, instead of the standard sweet talk, scraggy beard starts saying nonsense like this: 

‘Yeah, its like, your, subjective positioning and outlook towards the struggle, your sense of determination you see, theoretically, yeah, let’s try and develop that here…' 

And the female student who hears this but doesn’t understand a word can only be beaten by it. And then if you’re beaten by it, what do you do? Yes! As a forfeit I’ll take off my pants… 

Mostly a funny story, but in actual fact this sort of stupid thing happened pretty often. 

Uneo Chizuko’s [one of Japan’s leading feminist intellectuals] view:

If women couldn't become useful in the war then they only had two options. Either become a Gewalt Rosa or become a Fuji Junko [a famous television actress of the time]. A warrior like the men, or an angel in support. Either or. And it was plainly obvious that both were caricatures. If you looked at how men dealt with Gewalt Rosa type women, you understood straight away the idiocy of trying to become like a man. On the other hand, the cute-girl was never any more than a man’s pet, and she became the ‘woman who waits’ while the man was at war. When the Equal Employment Law was passed, the Career Track (総合職)and Support Staff(一般職) routes were established. And at that time I thought, ‘I’ve seen this somewhere before’. Become like a man, or play nicely in the designated women’s area. That feeling that if we get onboard with this male logic there will be no place for us to belong. I wonder if that was the same feeling that the female students of Zenkyōtō experienced. 

2. Extract from an NHK interview with Tanaka Mitsu in which she discusses her concept of ‘koko ni iru onna’ [the woman right here], the full version of which can be found here:

We can talk about ‘koko ni iru onna’ as seeing the mother as someone who is a combination of both sex and reproduction. But in this world women are split into either mothers or toilets. In other words, men want women who are good at doing the modesty thing as potential brides. And as sexual objects, men want women who enjoy playing at love. So women are split into mothers (potential brides) and toilets (sexual objects): we can even say ‘normal wives’ and ‘prostitutes’. They put women into categories in this way. 

In response to this, we tried to bring to light the truth that within any one women there is both the mother and there is the woman who enjoys sex. And to do this shakes the most basic foundations of the family. You get it right? As a result we were pilloried. It's an incredibly scary thing. The fact that a mother can also be a women that has sexual urges means that, for men, they don’t know whether their child is actually their flesh and blood. That is a scary thing! Women making their sexuality public affirms the fact that women are sexual beings. This is a terrible thing for men who want to make sure their household is continued by their children. And that is why we were attacked. 

3. Translation of an article written by Tanaka Mitsu discussing the issue of child murder / child abandonment in 1970s Japan. The article appeared in the Yomiuri Newspaper on 14 July 1973, p. 16.

Ah! This exasperating society. For those who don’t kill, what will tomorrow bring…

Tanaka Mitsu

Whenever there is a story of child murder or child abandonment in the newspaper, because so much is made of the incident, you feel like there has been a sudden outbreak [of these events]. However, when you consider the background to these cases, you realise that even those who do not kill their children are in a precarious position: only able to get by without doing so because of a lucky confluence of circumstances.

For example, according to our surveys, a large number of child killings occur in areas where industry is packed together — such as Edo, Arakawa, and Oota — and people are living in apartments or as lodgers. I wonder whether, if thrown into a situation in which you have a child but cannot look after it, there is anyone out there who could say definitively that they would not kill their child. Isn’t it the case that even people who do not physically harm their children are in fact, by pushing upon their children the frustrations of daily life, killing them?

Men speak badly of mothers who kill or abandon their children because men do not want to think that their mothers may have considered killing them [as children]. But during the war, with tears in their eyes and the words ’die gloriously!’, mothers killed their children. In the past, you produced lots of children then killed them for the nation. Now because you are not in the situation to have children you have an abortion; you have an abortion and to raise the national GNP you are made to work; and then you are told that abortions are a bad thing. I think women need to recognise that no matter when, the fake humanism of politicians is always concentrated and directed towards women.

First, milk poisoned with arsenic, thalidomide, mercury, PCBs — overwhelmingly it is these things that are responsible for the murder of children. And all of these things come from industry. The self-serving attitude in this world that asks ‘how many fish am I okay to eat?’ is no longer tenable. I think that if we don’t individually recognise that killing a child, abandoning a child, represents [for that mother] being killed by the world, and direct our anger at society, then who knows when even those who have up to now been unaffected might harm their child.

Further Reading:

Shigematsu, Setsu (2012) Scream from the shadows: the woman's liberation movement in Japan. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press.

- Chris