What do Japanese People Think of Feminism?

As a woman who has lived both in Japan and in Europe, the gap in public perception of feminism is outstanding. I have had interactions with fellow Japanese classmates about derogatory terms towards women, and they retaliate with ‘well, the same’s done for men so what’s the problem?’ And then, recently, I stumbled on this video, and I was in a state of shock and confusion. Yes, I agree with some of the things these women said, but overall they seem to be ignorant of the big picture issue. It’s telling how ingrained sexism is in Japanese society.

Feminism does not mean that you shouldn’t become a housewife. It’s about having the choice. The discrimination women face in the workplace is still very much alive, which makes it unappealing for us to work in Japanese companies. Not taking women seriously in day-to-day operations in the office and sexual harassment are still very much alive. There is even a thing called Mata-hara, short for maternity harassment, in which women are harassed to quit their jobs because they have become pregnant. Having to pay for maternity leave and the impact it can cause on productivity are seen as burdens, hence the bullying. In fact, having a bonus reduced or being fired is common if the employer finds out a woman is pregnant. However, the Supreme Court ruled that demoting a woman because she is expecting is illegal in 2014. Unfortunately, this doesn't stop companies from pressuring pregnant women to resign. 

What's worse is that this is not the only thing holding women back from working. Day care facilities are lacking all around Japan, leaving many children on the waiting list. Mothers who wish to go back to work to earn a living cannot, as they have to look after their child. The government revealed in 2016 that 72,000 children were still waiting to be accepted into day care, basically exposing the fact that they had not subsidized enough on such facilities. It is also due to the fact that nursery teachers are not paid enough. Mariko Yanagisawa, aged 53, said in an interview that she only earns 160,000 JPY monthly-- approximately $1415. That's only one third of what men in their 50's earn. The number of nursery teachers have decreased year by year because it is too difficult to stay afloat financially. When the government won't try to solve such a big problem, it's easy to lose faith. 

(Image: Chibi Maruko Chan)

Feminism is also about telling girls that women are not confined to the house and have the potential to become leaders. Pop media targeted towards children fail to show female characters as having jobs. As children, we are impressionable and naïve, and we eat up everything we see around us. For me and many other young kids across Japan, it’s anime. The most memorable of animes I watched growing up was Chibi Maruko Chan and Sazae-san, which both center around family life. While I admit that the harmonious life they live in this fictional neverland (Sazae-san is the longest running animated TV series, starting in 1969), as an adult I have to say I’m a bit mad. When you target kids, it’s important to understand that what you put across will not have any negative impacts. Both of these animes feature the mothers as housewives.

On the plus side, more modern animes like Pokémon are showing women in roles alongside men as Pokémon trainers (where can I apply?). But on a whole, gender roles and stereotypes are heavily pushed on all genres of anime.

(Image: Sazae San)

This mentality of ‘it hasn’t affected me, therefore it is not a problem’ has to be abandoned to help us get out of this infinite cycle of keeping women from reaching their full potential. It has certainly been disheartening to hear some of the opinions that the interviewees had. However, it’s not a lost cause. I hope that one day, women won't have to choose between having a child or a job. I hope they have the same opportunities as men without being pigeonholed. I hope they grow up watching tv shows with empowering femme figures that defy socially imposed gender roles. I hope they can achieve their wildest dreams.