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A Peek into ICU’s Biggest Activist Student Group: Voice Up Japan ICU

Voice Up Japan is an organization that advocates for a society in which all hold equal rights, the power to speak up and to be heard.

Voice Up Japan ICU (referred to as VUJ ICU) aims to build awareness of the social issues Japan faces today and create a school environment in which all students feel safe and heard through special events, study sessions, etc.

We had the opportunity to interview the co-representatives of VUJ ICU online.

the co-representatives

Fuka (24 April)

Tsubasa (24 April)

— Although you two are now representatives of the organization, what made you join VUJ ICU in the first place?

Tsubasa: I got to know the previous representative, and she told me about VUJ. I had always been interested in gender issues, so I felt that I wanted to participate in their pursuit. Before I joined, there were only female members, so I was a little scared, to be honest.

Fuka: Seeing VUJ’s Instagram post that my colleague had reposted was the first time I saw and held an interest in VUJ ICU. I clicked on the post because the design and coloring were so pretty; the content was about a particular gender issue I had been interested in from before. As I continued browsing their Instagram page, I saw students my age protesting against sexual harassment and other gender issues. I was strongly inspired by this and felt that I wanted to participate in their activities.

The post that Fuka first clicked on

While there are many branches with only female members, the ICU branch has three male members, one being a co-representative.

Fuka: I really hope that as we expand our organization, various people of different gender sexualities hold interest and join us.

Tsubasa: Since men are generally seen as the predators or the offenders when it comes to gender issues, it is quite hard for us to throw ourselves into such discussions. As a co-representative of VUJ ICU, I hope that I can become a sort of a role model for other men so that we can, in fact, speak up and actively participate in such discussions.

Fuka: Our study session about toxic masculinity after our male members had joined was extremely intriguing. I think it is by far the most interesting study session I have participated in. I was able to hear different kinds of hardships that men experience daily. Thanks to our new members that share their experiences and thoughts, we are all exposed to different dimensions of gender issues.

— It seems as you both had an interest in gender issues prior to joining VUJ ICU. How did you first become interested in this field?

Tsubasa: My first time being exposed to such issues was back when I was in kindergarten. I went grocery shopping along with my mom, and the only customers there were women. These women were all holding these really heavy grocery bags, all by themselves. I was amazed by them and thought they were very strong. But I later felt that women, unlike my impression, were disregarded in society. When I recognized this huge gap was when I first acknowledged a gender issue.

Afterward, in high school, I took a survey on the recognition of LGBTQ in both my school in Japan and the school I studied in the US and was shocked with the results. My colleagues in Japan had extremely little knowledge of LGBTQ.

Fuka: When I was writing a speech about living as a woman during high school, I found myself trying to decide whether I wanted to work as a businesswoman or to get married and raise a family. It didn’t feel right that I couldn’t bring myself to think that I could do both.
I think that is when I recognized that this is a huge ongoing gender equality issue. After that, I started researching such issues on my own.

— What issues or fields are you most interested in?

Tsubasa: I am interested in issues regarding men in society. This would include toxic masculinity, problems at a workplace like difficulty in asking for childcare leave, and a problem unique to Japan called 「平日昼間問題」(weekday-noon-problem). It is how men get suspected when they are out during noontime on weekdays because they are expected to be at work, while the women should be the ones out.

Fuka: I am interested in sex education and the very serious lack of it in our education system. I was once again alarmed by the urgency in need of sex education in our system while working on our sexual consent project (mentioned in detail later).

main activities

VUJ ICU is very active in its pursuits. Their main activities include:
weekly meetings in which they exchange their thoughts and opinions/study sessions / sharing info through social media such as Instagram / sexual consent project / special events and more!

Fuka also works as the social media team leader. She told us about their use of Instagram and what this platform means to them.

Fuka: All of the VUJ pages, including the main account and all the branches, are of top quality. The designs are top-notch, and its content is always very intriguing.
In addition to preparing accurate and valuable information, we try to share a unique take on each issue.
For example, one of our writers wrote about toxic masculinity. Many other branches have posted about this same topic, but she shared a unique approach to this issue, examining toxic masculinity’s relation with homophobia and misogyny.
As we have been seeing a steady increase in our followers, we are planning to make better use of the platform; perhaps more IG lives and dealing with various issues so that everyone finds something that interests them.

We are trying many things out to reach a bigger audience!

Tsubasa: When it comes to our Instagram posts, each writer puts so much effort into it, from research to writing, editing, and design as well. We have a lot of confidence in what we put out, and since a lot of people have come across our content, we think of it as our most valuable and powerful platform.

We really hope that many people can see what we put out.

— What other activities do you out strength into?

Fuka: We are in the midst of our Sexual Consent Project right now.
We are aiming to deliver the voices of students regarding sexual consent by doing a large-scale survey for those on campus. Right now, the team is doing a quantitive and qualitative analysis of the answers we got. We will then write a statement to the school principal.
Our final goal for this project is to incorporate an orientation of sexual consent into big school events such as the freshmen retreat.

I realized that there are so many students who are victims of horrible sexual assault. Many of them do not know where and how to ask for help, but they also are not even aware that they are victims of sexual assault. I feel that we must publish this statement and emphasize the importance of sex education.

Fuka: In addition, we put a lot of strength into our regular events and study sessions.
We hold special events at least once a semester. Last semester, we did an “LGBTQ+ and Women in Sports in Japan” event with a guest speaker via ZOOM. In the past, we also held an event about sexual harassment issues, etc, in job hunting in Japan.
Depending on the situation with the pandemic, we are thinking of holding face-to-face events in the future.

Tsubasa: We will be updating our Instagram page with information on new events and study sessions that all ICU students can actively participate in,

So please go follow @voiceupjapan_icu on Instagram!

their goals

Fuka: First of all, our goal is to spread VUJ ICU to many people. I think knowing our group and following our activities would be a good way to get to know current social issues. In order to accomplish this, we will be working on expanding our study sessions. We hope that people can find interest in various issues through this.

Tsubasa: And if you empathize with us, you are more than welcome to take action with us!

I hope that our activities will slowly build a safe and cooperative environment for everyone.
For example, I at times feel that it is difficult to speak up about gender issues as a man, but I hope that my activities as co-representative of VUJ ICU will contribute to building a place where we all feel comfortable speaking up.

Fuka: I hope that we can work towards not just the school environment but larger society in the future.

— What are the things you feel that you must work on in the future?

Tsubasa: The fact that our efforts and activities don’t really reach people who are not actively interested in gender issues.

— I feel that delivering your voices to those who are uninterested or uneducated of gender issues is the real key to implementing change in society. Is there anything that VUJ ICU is doing to work on this issue?

Fuka: I share VUJ’s posts on my own social media account so that this information reaches the people I know personally. I feel really happy when people who are not particularly interested in such issues say that they know VUJ ICU and what we are working on.

Tsubasa: Another thing we try to do is work towards those who hold a different platform and ask them to share our group and activities. This interview is exactly what I’m talking about!
Plus, we are planning to hold study sessions with different student groups in the near future. I think it will be a great way to spread awareness of the issues we are working on.

a message to our readers

— Please leave a message for those who read this article.

Tsubasa: First, I’d like to say that no one has anything to do with the issues we are working on.
Please think of what kind of issues you are troubled with or are a part of, and take some time to research them. Looking into our Instagram page is also a great first step to this. If you bump into an issue that interests you, dig into it.

Tsubasa: VUJ ICU is an activist student group that advocates a society in which everyone, regardless of their gender, sexuality, race, nationality, or religion, can speak up and feel heard.
Hearing “activist,” you might picture someone so intelligent and righteous, someone, out of reach. But we are the same college students as all of you.
I want everyone to value their emotions and thoughts and act upon them without worrying about living up to a label.

Fuka: First of all, thank you so much for reading until the end.
I hope you guys can use our platform as a source of information because we work with various critical social issues.
And if there is anyone who does not have the courage to work on issues they are interested in or are troubled with, please come talk to us! We will be more than happy to work on those problems with you.
Our DM box is always open!

Tsubasa: We will always welcome anyone who wants to join us.

Fuka: We are recruiting new members right now! We are mainly recruiting 25 Sept. students, but we will happily welcome anyone. Please DM us if any questions!

VUJ ICU is recruiting new members! DM if interested!
Utako Kawakami

ICU Japan '24

Hi, I'm Utako and I am a sophomore at International Christian University!
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