By Tiffany Nakamitsu
For The North American Post
This new column, launched in February, teaches us about diversity and social justice through a Japanese American lens.
IT IS WOMEN’S History Month, a month of awareness in March every year instituted in the US since 1987 to bring attention to issues such as gender equality, reproductive rights and violence against women.
Globally, International Women’s Day happens annually on March 8th. It commemorates March 8, 1908, when 15,000+ women marched the streets of New York City to demand shorter hours, better pay and the right to vote. Japan has been participating in International Women’s Day and more recently gaining attention with its up-and-coming Tokyo Women’s March since 2017. However, despite the attention that women’s rights have been receiving this past decade from its progressive citizens, Japan as a whole is still rather conservative regarding gender equality; its views are rooted in old beliefs.
One of the ways you can see the stark gender inequalities in Japan is by looking at the number of women in decision-making roles. There is hardly any representation of women in politics with only 9.9% of its parliament being women. Japan ranks 120th in the category of Women’s Empowerment according to the World Economic Forum. It places last out of all East Asian countries and is one of the lowest of all developed countries.
On top of this, because of Shoshika — the decline in Japan’s birth rate —conservative and traditional values in politics centered on gender roles that lock women in positions of raising families have been overrepresented. This might be because the older population in Japan is more likely to vote and votes with values of gender conformity from the Showa Era (1926 – 1989). In turn, the solutions that younger populations in Japan support often fail to be implemented.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s 2023 Shoshika policies, “Shoshika policies on another dimension, 異次元の少子化対策,” are being criticized by citizens, especially young adults, saying that there is an overemphasis on women giving birth to more children. However, they believe the policies should include men too because if fathers continue with their same ways (working overtime, traveling a lot for work, etc.), then women are back in their confined gender roles even with government support.
It comes as no surprise that the gender roles that enmesh Japan are also affecting up-and-coming women who have the potential to invigorate it. My friend Mia, a student at Tsuda Women’s University, one of Japan’s oldest and most prestigious all-women universities, is an activist working on welcoming and admitting trans women into her private school campus. She has voiced her concern that “it is a pity that all working women across Japan need to choose if they want a family or build their career.” She does not believe that she can raise a family despite her supportive parents and her educational background rooted in change-making because she is “too ambitious” with her career goals.
The Seattle Japanese diaspora community may be better informed on gender gap issues in comparison to our Japanese counterparts. However, the values from the Showa era (昭和的な価値観, showateki na kachikan) concerning gender roles are still prevalent, as many of us are either immigrants or descendants of immigrants who came from Japan during the Showa period.
I ask all to take action to inspire your daughter, your mother, your wife, your girlfriend, and other close women around you to not let their gender roles define them. They should aspire to change the world. Perhaps you can share your favorite women’s history story or that of a strong woman you know who proved people wrong. That is what Women’s History Month is all about, celebrating the strong women who came before us in the past, learning about current gender inequalities, and breaking down the barriers for all women to succeed in the future.
I ask all to take action to inspire your daughter, your mother, your wife, your girlfriend, and other close women around you to not let their gender roles define them. They should aspire to change the world.
Tiffany Nakamitsu is a bilingual marketer at SeekOut, a startup that helps companies hire diverse talent for hard-to-fill roles. She also advises on the Board of Directors of Seattle Pride as Governance Chair and founded a Marketing & Communications agency to uplift Japanese small businesses in Greater Seattle. Before SeekOut, Tiffany earned a degree in International Studies from the University of Washington and an International Political Economy certificate from the one-year program of King’s College, London, UK.
“The capacity for industrial competition cannot be made to depend upon the misery of women and children; it must depend upon the intelligent freedom of the individual; and the society which suppresses this freedom, or suffers it to be suppressed, must remain too rigid for competition with societies in which the liberties of the individual are strictly maintained. While Japan continues to think and to act by groups, even by groups of industrial companies, so long she must continue incapable of her best. Her ancient social experience is not sufficient to avail her for the future international struggle — rather it must sometimes impede her as so much dead weight… the viewless pressure upon her life of numberless vanished generations. She will have not only to strive against colossal odds in her rivalry with more plastic and more forceful societies; she will have to strive much more against the power of her phantom past.”
— Lafcadio Hearn, “Japan, An Attempt at Interpretation,” 1904