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Women's Lib in Japan

Page history last edited by PBworks 18 years, 3 months ago






This page owes much to Muto Ichiyo's article, “The Birth of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1970s” from The Other Japan edited by Joe Moore, published in 1997 by M.E. Sharpe.


Women's Liberation in Japan, similar to the US, had many links to male-dominated liberal student groups. The Japanese student movement, Zenkyoto, helped women realize that personal experiences and the everyday could be the impetus for change. However, soon the women's movement came into its own, echoing the Seito (Bluestockings) group years earlier. Early pamphlets distributed at various rallies spread the message of a movement for women's liberation. There was a difference between this movement and other women-led or women-focused movements earlier. These earlier movements usually focused on reform from the perspective of a certain socially proscribed roles, such as "mother" or "housewife." Since Women's Lib tried to challenge these roles directly, it challenged society on a much deeper level. The Lib Shinjuku Center often worked from a perspective of "liberation," a more complete revolution, in contrast with other groups pushing for reform. This explains in part the emphasis the Women's Libbers had on women's sexuality. Muto Ichiyo, in "The Birth of the Women's Liberation Movement in the 1970s", notes the standard life cycle expected of postwar Japanese women.


(1) works as an employee, (2) quits her job at marriage in her mid-20s and becomes a housewife/mother, (3) returns to work part time after child-rearing duties become lighter, and (4) quits her job and devotes herself to the care of the elderly in-laws and the her aged husband (Muto, 152)


These roles for women, deeply embedded in society and reinforced through discrimination and societal pressure, were unbearably confining for many women. It is in this context that Women's Lib in Japan erupted.







In part organized by Guruppu Tatakau Onna (Group of Fighting Women), two hundred women held one of the first demonstrations for women's liberation in the ritzy shopping district of Ginza, Tokyo. It took place on October 21, 1970, the international anti-war action day, and was thus overshadowed by the much larger marches around Japan (Muto, 155).


Then, on November 14th, 1970, a "Women Lib Symposium: What Women's Liberation Means to Me," drew 500 women to the Shibuya Ward in Tokyo (Muto, 155). As women of all ages from many walks of life shared their frustrations and experiences, the group began to realize what the American feminists called "conciousness-raising" (Muto, 156).


However, as Muto points out, the "breakthrough in Lib history," came at the four-day retreat in August 1971 at an Iiyama resort in Nagano prefecture (Muto, 156). This drew 1,200 women from around the country, and had a huge impact on the movement. The retreat is mentioned in Yamagami Chieko and Seyama Noriko's documentary 30 Years of Sisterhood, as having a huge impact on many feminists in Japan. Again, the Guruppu Tatakau Onna had spread invitations for the retreat, and drew a diverse group of women. The event was a powerful experience of freedom.


From this momement, Lib groups spread throughout Japan. On April 30th, 1972, the First Lib Conference was held in Tokyo, and (with prodding from Guruppu Tatakau Onna and other groups) resulted in setting up the Lib Shinjuku Center, which grew to publish much feminist literature.


Tanaka Mitsu


Note: The Tanaka Mitsu excerpts are taken from tranlations by Shigematsu Setsu, except for "Liberation from the Toilet," taken from the Muto article.


Tanaka Mitsu was an influential figure in the Japanese Women's Liberation movement. As Muto Ichiyo notes, "Japanese Lib thinking cannot be properly evaluated apart from Tanaka's origniality, power of language and personality." Her lengthy inclusion in films about feminism in Japan such as Ripples of Change and 30 Years of Sisterhood testify to her impact. She criticized capitalist society at large, and thought women's perspectives could help create an alternative society. With other feminists, she had a role in founding the leading Guruppu Tatakau Onna (Group of Fighting Women), from which she published several of her pamphlets.


"Declaration of the Liberation of Eros"

This influential article, published in June of 1970, was distributed at a anti-Security Treaty rally in Tokyo.


Tanaka Mitsu argues that the liberation of women depends on the recognition of the specific position women hold in society. She claims that liberation for women isn't the same as liberation for other groups. She writes,


Thus as for our liberation as women, it must be a liberation of eros, which means a reform of our stream of consciousness that denies our sex...and we direct our movement towards the dismantling of the ie (houshold system).


This argument of false consciousness, complete with "slave mentality" includes a call for the deconstruction of the idea of "woman." This is a break from ealier feminist movements, who saw women's struggle as part of a bigger one, or sought simply economic equality, or even used their position within the system to advance certain causes.


As we continue to thoroughly question ourselves, in the mist of the struggle, we who can be none other than onna. By questioning men and authority, we will deconstruct our own fantasies of love, husband and wife, men, chastity, children, the home, and maternal love. As we design our own subjective formation, we would like to aid in the (re)formation of men's subjectivity.


"Liberation from the Toilet"



This pamphlet (from August 1970) had a huge impact, drawing on the idea of women viewed as "toilets", or simply relief for various men active in other social movements. In the 1982 film, Onna tachi wa genki desu(directed by Yamagami Chieko, Iwatsuki Sumie and Sasaki Motoko), feminists burst through a door labeled, "Toilet" in a reference to this influential argument. Tanaka writes,


Men's conciousness, which works as a medium of this dual oppression, is one that fails to find woman as a while woman who has both tenderness and sexaulity as the expression of her tenderness. For man, woman's image is divided - one image represents mother's tenderness (motherhood) and the other represents a mere tool to satisfy his sexual desire (toilet). Within this divided conciousness, man allocates his two seperate feelings, one each to one of the two imagined aspects of woman, which are again abstractions created by man. (Muto, 163)


Here Tanaka begins to make classic feminist arguments about the constraining views of women. Her argument could be compared to the "madonna/whore" roles many feminists struggled against in the West. Tanaka gives advice to women,


When a woman becomes aware that it is essentially the same thing and that it makes no difference which category she is classified in, mother or toilet, then she stands up against man and against the powers that be. (Muto, 163)



"Why 'Sex Liberation' - Raising the Problem of Women's Liberation"


This article, published by Tanaka in September 1970, emphasizes her reasons for demanding, specifically, "sex lliberation." She argues that because of women's role in reproduction, feminists need to rethink procreation and sex. She argues that in order for the family to function, it has been necessary to control women's sexual desire, and this control has oppressed women.


We define women's liberation as a liberation of sex. We define the future nucleus of human liberation as a liberation of sex. We do not consider this to be a liberation or freeing of our sexual organs, meaning free sex. This is nothing more thatn a dirty form of expression which is based on men's biased conciousness toward women...Women's liberation of sex is actually a kind of self liberation from the structure of conciousness that denies sex... (298)


She ends the article with:


Its a given that we will lose. If we win that is fine too. Either way we go for it.



Shinjuku Lib Center



The center, founded in 1972 and closed in 1977, published much feminist literature, including newspaper Konomichi Hitosuji (This Way Only), and was involved in fights around abortion and birth control. Muto emphasizes that it was "a coordinating center, a beehive where activists from various women's groups would come and go day and night, hold meetings, plan actions, print pamplets and debate,"(Muto,169). Old published material shows projects and events the Lib center held, including Teach-ins on contraception and abortion, self-defense classes, a musical "Women's Liberation," and groups for translation of materials into Japanese and other languages. They give a definition of the center and its purpose,


Lib Shinjuku Center opened in October, 1972. It is run by seven women's lib groups, two of which form a collective at the center. We the Lib Shinjuku Center make close contact with women all over Japan, and develop a hard-to-nose struggle.


Onna Eros (Woman Eros)



This 180-page Lib quarterly magazine was founded in 1972 by Emiko Funamoto, and sent all over the country. Old issues can be seen in the documentary 30 Years of Sisterhood and Ripples of Change.




Chupiren, or the Alliance of Women's Liberation Opposing the Abortion-Prohibiting Laws and Demanding Liberalization of Contraceptive Pills, was presented to the public as the most typical of Women's Lib. They wore pink helmets and staged very public stunts. Muto writes, "This group, headed by a flamboyant leader, Enoki Misako, called for the full liberalization of the sale of contraceptive pills, a clear-cut assertion that the pill was the best means to minimize the burdens on a women's body" (Muto, 167). This position often stood in contrast to other groups, who were distrustful as a whole of large scientific institutions used to control women's bodies.


Other Japanese Feminists


Although feminist activities had slowed drastically by 1977, society had changed, and various feminist voices continued in Japan.


Ueno Chizuko



Ueno Chizukko, a University of Tokyo professor of Sociology, has written many books dealing with women and the family, and participated in the 1995 World Women's Conference in Beijing.


Matsui Yayori


Journalist Matsui Yayoria was involved with WOLF, the Women's Liberation Front, in the 1970s. She was also a key organizer for the "Women's International War Crime Tribunal," which held the entire Japanese government, including Emperor Hirohito, guilty for the crimes committed against "comfort women" in WW2. She passed away on Dec. 27, 2002.



Ehara Yumiko


Another Japanese feminist theorist, Ehara has had a large impact in interpreting Women's Lib in Japan.


If any errors in fact or citation are found on this page, please email laurenk@uchicago.edu. Or if you have any more information to add, or felt I've missed something important! Thanks.

Comments (2)

Anonymous said

at 3:37 pm on Mar 12, 2006

I found this cool image, it has a woman on a rocket and it says "Women's Lib Blastoff!"
If you want to use it, it's called 'hassha' and it's in the Files page.

Anonymous said

at 9:38 pm on Mar 12, 2006

I feel like it's kind of sarcastic, that is a mighty phallic rocket she's on. I'm sort of hesistant to use it, although it's pretty cool.

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