Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 30, November 2012

Kumiko Fujimura-Fanselow (ed.)

Transforming Japan: How Feminism and Diversity are making a Difference

New York: The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2011.
ISBN: 9781558616998; xxxii +407 pp.

reviewed by Kirsti Rawstron

  1. Kumiko Fujimura-Fanselow's Transforming Japan: How Feminism and Diversity are making a Difference is an edited volume which builds upon and expands the themes first explored in Japanese Women: New Feminist Perspectives on the Past, Present and Future, edited by Fujimura-Fanselow and Atsuko Kameda in 1995.[1] Four chapters have been retained from the earlier text: 'The Struggle for Legal Rights and Reforms: A Historical View' by Sachiko Kaneko; 'Women in Japanese Buddhism' by Haruko K. Okano; 'Who's Afraid of Kiku Amino? Gender Conflict and the Literary Canon' by Chieko M. Ariga; and 'Japan's First Phase of Feminism' by Mioko Fujieda. A revised edition of Kimi Hara's 'Educational Challenges Past and Present' is also included. Transforming Japan is divided into seven sections: 1) cultural and historical perspectives; 2) education; 3) marriage and families; 4) changing sexualities; 5) activism for the rights of minorities; 6) doors to employment open and close; and 7) feminism and political power.
  2. There are sixteen new chapters covering a range of issues addressing women in Japan. There are two further chapters, one addressing the 'Men's Movement' in Japan: 'The Formation and Growth of the Men's Movement,' by Kimio Ito; and the other introduces the choices made by some men to disregard the traditional gendered division of household labour, 'My Life as a Househusband,' by Masaki Matsuda. Matsuda's chapter, in particular, indicates that while there have been some improvements in gender equality in the Japanese workplace, it is still highly unusual for a Japanese father to apply for and to take child-care hours. Criticisms which Matsuda experienced, such as 'what has happened to your dignity as a man?' and 'why don't you make your wife quit her job and take care of the housework and child care?' (p. 139), indicate that strong resistance to changing gender roles persists within Japanese corporations.
  3. Resistance to changes in gender roles are also highlighted by Midori Wakakuwa and Kumiko Fujimura-Fanselow in 'Backlash Against Gender Equality after 2000.' In this chapter, they underscore the difficulties that the backlash has caused in terms of sex education and gender representations in school curriculums and textbooks, the Domestic Violence Prevention Law, and the Comfort Women issue. Wakakuwa and Fujimura-Fanselow write about this complicated and multifaceted movement in a clear, concise manner, and this chapter is a welcome overview of recent events in the backlash against gender equality.
  4. This edition is noticeable for the inclusion of several chapters on activism for the rights of minorities—migrant Filipinas, so-called 'comfort women,' and women of discriminated Buraku communities, [2] Ainu and Zainichi Korean activists. Yuriko Hara's chapter on the experience of Zainichi, Ainu and Burakumin women's groups as they joined together to undertake a survey of minority women run by minority women, so as to 'record for the first time what the women were experiencing and turn them into words and numbers,' (p. 242) is an especially important piece of work, highlighting the difficulties that women of these groups experience in Japan today.
  5. Other chapters of particular interest include Atsuko Kameda's 'The Advancement of Women in Science and Technology,' which covers efforts by the Science Council of Japan and the Ministry of Education to promote science as a subject and career choice to young women in Japan. Such efforts are desperately needed, given Japan's ranking in a 2005 OECD survey examining the rate of women studying science and technology in tertiary and post-tertiary institutions. While women accounted for more than 30 per cent of science and technology students in most of the countries surveyed, Japan ranked dead last, with women accounting for less than 15 per cent of all tertiary and post-tertiary science and technology students. Kameda notes that there is little social support for women in Japan to study the sciences, as well as a general lack of public interest in science and technology (despite Japan's international reputation for technological innovations). For those women who do enter these fields, there are often significant social and institutional barriers which make ongoing careers in the sciences difficult to pursue. However, individual companies, such as IBM or Agilent Technologies, are making active efforts to recruit and retain female science and technology employees, which is a promising sign.
  6. Keiko Aiba's chapter on professional women wrestlers in Japan provides a fascinating insight into an aspect of gender relations in Japan that is often disregarded in texts addressing gender and employment. This was a fascinating chapter that addressed the differences between the 'ideal female body' in Japan and the reality of the bodies of the female wrestlers. The wrestlers quoted in this chapter have a range of body shapes, none of which fit the current Japanese ideal of feminine beauty. However, these wrestlers generally take pride in their bodies and abilities. Aiba comments that outside of the wrestling community, such body shapes are not considered valid female forms, and so it is unlikely that women wrestlers' bodies are able to weaken the gender division in Japan.
  7. Although it is one of the older chapters included here, Haruko K. Okano's 'Women in Japanese Buddhism' is still a fascinating insight into the modes and practices of femininity within the religious community. While providing a valuable history of women in Japanese Buddhism (including the introduction of Mahayana Buddhism to Japan in the sixth century, the appearance of the first Buddhist nuns and the building of the temple Sakuraiji in Nara for nuns—twenty years before the monastery was built for monks—this chapter also addresses metaphysical issues such as Buddhist discourses of women's 'impurity' and 'sinfulness.' Okano notes that while Japan's patriarchal family system is maintained, the sexism inherent in Japanese religions will continue to prevail.
  8. This is an idea that resonates throughout Transforming Japan; the acknowledgement that without significant change in the socio-legal construction of gender in Japan, gender equality will continue be difficult to achieve. The twenty-five chapters collected in this edition provide a good overview of the current landscape of gender, and gender issues, in Japan, and signpost some areas in which future change is either predicted, or desperately needs to happen. Transforming Japan is a vital text for all those who wish to better understand gender relations and diversity in Japan in the past, present and future.


    [1] Kumiko Fujimura-Fanselow and Atsuko Kameda (eds), Japanese Women: New Feminist Perspectives on the Past, Present and Future, New York, The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 1995.

    [2] While the terms Buraku and Burakumin are academic terms in English language (and are used in this text by both Kumamoto and Hara), these terms are no longer used in either the official discourse or public conversation in Japan. Instead, dōwa chiku no hito (mono) or chiku no hito (mono) have largely come to replace these terms. Personal communication with K. Okano, La Trobe University, 23 January 2012.


Published with the support of Gender and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.
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