A book titled Voices from the Contemporary Japanese Feminist Movement will be published in English later this year. It was compiled by two Australian feminist academics, Emma Dalton and Caroline Norma, on the basis of interviews, translations, and transcriptions of the ‘voices’ of Japanese feminists. There are a number of books already published in English that consult these women, but none consider them to collectively represent a feminist movement active at a particular time in history, and in a specific political context. The testimony collated in Voices from the Contemporary Japanese Feminist Movement is offered uniquely alongside explanation and analysis by the two authors as to issues currently animating Japanese feminists, historical and global factors influencing their approaches to campaigning, and intra-movement developments and considerations. In other words, the book takes seriously the voices of contemporary Japanese feminists as reflecting an organised political force agitating for social change in favour of women and girls.
The book does not therefore suggest that Japan’s feminist movement is currently strong, though; on the contrary, its opening line reads: ‘The snapshot of a feminist movement in the second decade of the 21st century that this book captures is not a triumphal one written as any monument to the success of the #MeToo era in Japan’. Rather, the testimony of feminists is presented in evidence of a set of ideas driving social agitation in Japan that seeks to tackle problems for women and children caused by men’s exercise of sexuality. For example, one contributor notes that ‘Japanese society is exceedingly well arranged to accommodate men’s ejaculations’, and the authors accordingly interpret their ‘approach to feminism’ as one in which ‘sex based oppression is primarily a force of sexuality and the oppression of women by men through sex’. This understanding of feminism, which manifests a radical politic, productively guides the book’s selection of testimonies as well the analysis offered in explanation of them.
These testimonies describe feminist campaigning in Japan against the prostitution of teenage girls, towards sex offence legal reform, in support of the wartime ‘comfort women’, and against workplace sexual harassment and the sexualisation of women. This campaigning is notable for its engagement with survivors of each different form of sex-based harm–survivors of wartime ‘comfort’ stations, survivors of childhood sexual abuse and adult rape, survivors of prostitution, and survivors of sexual harassment. Indeed, a number of feminists contributing testimony to the book are themselves among these survivors. The resulting grassroots, bottom-up picture of Japanese feminist organising that the book affords offers an interesting picture of the movement methodology: Another contributor explains that, ‘If women can hear other women describing their own experiences of “domestic violence” or “sexual harassment”, they can give a name to harms they themselves have experienced. And this is crucial for establishing the foundational cause of the problem, and for being able to mobilise women to do something about it’. In other words, through actions like ‘Flower demo’ events, Japanese feminists politically organise women by creating opportunities for them to reflect upon their own experiences in light of descriptions verbalised by other women in ways that might be new.
The authors’ decision to include testimony exclusively from feminist activists, rather than feminist academics or NGO workers, means the book’s snapshot of Japanese feminism primarily reflects concerns about movement tactics, alliances, and actions to force social change. Different from nearly all other collections of writings by Japanese feminists, this focus on activists means, happily, the book’s discussion is not bogged down in quandaries about the ‘nature of feminism’, or ‘what it means to be a feminist’. Rather, the focus is on effectiveness in bringing about social change. By this measure, however, the testimonies overall do not create a picture of success, and the authors describe in the book’s introduction decline in the position of women and children in Japanese society over recent decades. Contributors to the book are, of course, well aware of this dispiriting situation, and this leads contributors to reflect in favourable contrast on aspects of South Korea’s feminist movement, which has been overwhelmingly more successful over the last five years. Accordingly, in the book’s concluding chapter titled ‘Japan’s feminist movement within the global sisterhood’, the authors discuss ways in which ‘Japan’s feminist movement in recent years has attempted to strengthen itself through drawing inspiration and practical knowledge from its South Korean counterpart’.
The failure of feminists outside of South Korea, on the other hand,–in the wider global feminist movement–to pay sufficient attention, and lend substantial support, to Japanese feminists, is alleged by the authors to have ‘create[d] opportunities for reactionary, anti-feminist forces to proliferate [in Japan], whether these forces are led by men locally or from abroad’. Voices from the Contemporary Japanese Feminist Movement is a book that was seemingly created out of a desire on the part of its authors to stage an intervention in Japan’s contemporary feminist movement in the form of greater mobilisation among women in the English-speaking world towards efforts of spotlighting and support. In other words, through and through, Voices from the Contemporary Japanese Feminist Movement is a book that aims to play a practical role, rather than an abstract one, in garnering real-world support for a political movement in Japan that currently suffers marginalisation, ridicule, and neglect. Global feminist support for this movement, especially among English speakers, is, the authors suggest, more needed than ever in the current era where Japanese women and girls find their voices barely heard in a society recovering from a pandemic in which women and children were sacrificed as protective fodder.