Feminism imposed on trafficking women and women were


Feminism in Modern

During the 1970s, a group of
Japanese women adopted the name ‘Tatakau Onnatachi’, which translates to
fighting women or women who fight. These women formed part of a movement
comprising of women liberationists who had been dissatisfied with the sexist
perpetuated by their male counterparts and were vigilant about the threats that
postwar abortion laws posed to their bodily autonomy (Ito para. 5). Their
movement shared similar characteristics to other movements headed by women
liberationists in capitalist democracies. In fact, the Fighting Women were
inspired by feminist movements in other countries. Moreover, they were
responding to unique dilemmas in their own country (Kano 50). While feminist
movement in Japan became prevalent in the 1970s, these movements can be traced
back to the 1870s and even ancient Japan. In modern Japan, feminists have
focused on challenging the traditionally accepted thinking about men, women and
societies (Hayes para. 9). This essay traces the origins of feminist movements
in Japan and their effects in Japan including associated controversies.

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Origin of Feminist
Movement in Japan

movements in Japan commenced during the late 19th century when the
Edo period was coming to an end; however, the concept of rights of women can be
traced back to the ancient times. During this times, men and women had equal
rights with respect to family succession and there were women leaders just as
their male counterparts. Women lost the right of family succession as men
gained more power in the aristocratic system. During the Edo period
(1600-1868), women in Japan were not legally recognized and were not allowed to
own property. Moreover, there were considered subordinated to the men in all
ways. However, things started changing during the Meiji period (1868-1912) due
to the influx of Western thinking and philosophy into country that resulted in
a numerous changes regarding the status of women (Kano 50). For instance,
restrictions were imposed on trafficking women and women were permitted to file
for divorce. Additionally, girls were allowed to receive elementary education.

The educational system was reformed to provided education to women although the
objective to educate women to become good mothers (Fujimura-Fanselow 45).

Essentially, the feminist movement in Japan became more pronounced during the
Meiji Restoration and further thrived during the 1920s in the course of Taisho
democracy (Laskow para. 2). Feminist consciousness among Japanese women became
evident in 1871 after they interacted with White American feminists. These
Japanese awakened together with assistance from the feminist movement that
started in the West. Despite Japan being a patriarchal, imperialist, militarist,
and nationalist society, Japanese women were able to forge a feminist movement
because Japan sought to adopt the Western discourse that was increasingly being
characterized by increasing the status of women as a way of civilization. While
Western women were legally and socially subordinate, they had managed to exploit
the civilization discourse to argue that granting women full citizenship was
needed in a society that is civilized (Germer et al. 45). In the same way,
Japanese women attempted to exploit their country’s civilization and
modernization effort to advocate for their rights, which formed the basis for
feminist movement in Japan that localized and adapted the feminist approaches
of the West to push for economic and political equality (Kano 55). The
emergence of the early feminist movement also coincided with the first-wave
feminism that commenced in the US. A second wave of feminism also emerged in
Japan during the 1970s, which coincided with the second-feminist wave in the US
and other parts of the world.

Japanese Response to
Overseas Feminist Movements

in Japan were inspired by overseas feminist movements, especially the first
wave and the second wave feminist movement that started in the US and later
spread to other parts of the world including Japan. The feminist movements in
Japan coincided with first, second, and third wave movements suggesting that
feminists in Japan were inspired by their counterparts in other countries.

            The first
wave feminism of the 19th and early 20th century that
started in the US elicited feminist activity in Japan (Hayes para. 2). The
first-wave feminism concentrated legal matters, particularly relating to
women’s suffrage. The first-wave feminism heightened feminism in Japan with
women advocating for their rights (Kano 59). Following the 1868 Meiji
Restoration, the notion of rights started becoming important in Japan. In the
second half of the 19th century, advocates of women’s rights
championed for the patriarchal Japanese society to be reformed to enable women
have voting rights. The early feminist movement in Japan placed considerable
importance on the education of women (Germer et al. 45). Policymakers in Japan
were of the view that educating women was essential to preserve state through
having knowledgeable mothers and wives to produce sons who are loyal to the
nation. While policymakers had completely different objectives from those of
feminists advocating for the education of women, women’s education in Japan
helped advance the status of women in the society. Early feminists in Japan,
just like their counterparts in the West, wanted to alleviate the cultural
practices that led to the subordination of women (Ito para. 5). With the issue
of women’s rights gaining considerable following in Japan, women activists in
the country started focusing on other issues that affected them such as
exclusion from political participation and the enjoyment of civil rights. For
instance, women were not allowed to join political parties, articulate their
political views, or attend any political meeting. As of 1920, just like the
feminist movement in America, political inclusion was prioritized by the
Japanese women suffrage movement (Kano 59). Besides fighting for political
inclusion, early Japanese feminists engaged in literary activism, challenged
traditional roles that subordinated women, and fought for the participation of
women in the workforce (Germer et al. 45). It can be seen that the early
Japanese feminist movement was responded to the women’s suffrage movement of the
first wave and started advocating for women’s rights in their country.

second-wave feminist movement that commenced in the US had a considerable
effect in Japan in that it increased feminist activism in the country. Second
wave feminism commenced during the early 1960s. While the first wave feminism
was focused primarily on women suffrage and alleviating legal hurdles to the
realization of gender equality such as property rights and voting rights, the
second wave feminism widened the gender debate to include several issues such
as legal inequalities, reproductive rights, workplace, family, sexuality,
marital rape issues, and domestic violence among others (Germer et al. 45). In
response to the second wave feminism in the US, Japan saw the emergence of
increased feminist activity as evidenced by the rise of visible and vocal
feminist figures such as Mitsu Tanaka and Misako Enoki as well as the
appearance of radical feminist groups. Mitsu Tanaka was one of the most radical
feminist figures in Japan during the 1960s and 1970s who organized and led
protests. Misako Enoki pushed for the birth control pill to be legalized and
focused on gaining media attention to drive her feminist agenda (Kano 55).

Tanaka and Enoki advocated for women to legally access procedures for abortion.

In 1999, the birth control pill was legalized in 1999 (Kano 75). The
second-wave feminist movement also saw the emergence of radical feminist groups
in Japan such as the Women’s Liberation Front (WOLF), who petitioned the
Japanese government on the Women’s International War Crime Tribunal for the
crimes that were committed by the occupiers in Japan during the Second World
War who sexually abused and exploited the comfort women. It can be seen that
Japanese feminist were inspired by the second wave feminism and increased their
feminist activity, which ultimately resulted in the passage of the Japanese
Equal Employment Opportunity Law that outlaws any form of gender discrimination
when hiring, recruiting, promoting, or assigning jobs (Kano 80). They also
tackled similar issues as those tackled by their counterparts in Western

third-wave feminism has also managed to elicit response from Japan with respect
to feminist activity. Third-wave feminism started in the US during the 1990s (Snyder
175). Third-wave feminists comprised of Generation X feminists who focused on
redefining what feminism entails. Third-wave feminists believe that the first
two feminist movements helped achieve gender equality and that additional
pushing for the rights of women is needless and irrelevant, and may be pushed
to an extent that it resulting in gender inequality in favor of men (Snyder
175). The key issues handled with third-wave feminism include violence
targeting women, women’s reproductive rights, sexual liberation, transgender
rights and workplace matters. Essentially, third-wave feminism is likened to girly
feminism that advocates for expressing female sexuality and femininity as a way
of challenging objectivity by embracing exploitation and utilizing it acquire
finances, power, and respect. In Japan, signs of third wave feminism are
evident, with a dominant example being the shojo
culture, which is similar to the third-wave feminism in the West (Wakeling
130). The shojo culture in Japan
shares similar characteristics to the third-wave feminism in the US by
emphasizing girlish aesthetics. The shojo
culture in Japan has been described as a way of enabling Japanese women to have
control of their sexuality, which is one of the key objectives of the
third-wave feminism (Wakeling 130). Overall, it can be seen that the shojo culture in Japan is a response to
the third-wave feminism in the US.

Comparison of Japanese Feminism to Other Countries

Japanese feminism can be broadly
compared to Western (American and European feminism). The striking similarity
between Japanese and Western feminism is that they tackle similar issues, which
can be primarily attributed to the fact that Japanese feminism is influenced by
the Western feminism (Collins para. 5). Since the emergence of feminist
movements in Japan, they have focused on dealing with issues of women’s
suffrage, education, sexuality, and quality in labor, which are the same issues
handled by feminists in the West (Kano 50). However, feminists in Japan are focusing
on other aspects that are unique to their socio-cultural context and not
evident in the West. For instance, feminists in Japan are advocating for
married coupled to make use of different surnames. Feminists in Japan are also
focus on sexual harassment by men, the issue of comfort women, and parasite

Despite tackling the same issues,
considerable differences exist between Japanese feminism and Western feminism
in terms of how feminism is conceptualized. In this regard, Japanese feminism
does not emphasize individual autonomy as is the case with Western feminism,
which is attributable to the cultural differences, Feminism in Japan is
considered a product of its cultural context and is conceptualized in a manner
that is meaningful to Japanese women (Collins para. 4). Feminism in Japan has
been described as being relatively narrow when compared to feminism in the West
(Ito para. 10). In this respect, Western feminism is based on the notion that
complete autonomy is required for the woman to be fully liberated for her to be
able to develop her identity in the manner she wishes. In the Japanese society
where the majority are comfortable with their assigned roles, the Western
notion of individualistic feminism might not be meaningful in establishing feminist
goals. Western feminism focuses on actualizing the potential of the individual
women, which might not resonate with Japanese women. The differences in the
Japanese and Western cultures influences the meaning of feminism (Kano 50). The
Japanese society is community-centered whereas the American society is
individual-centered; hence, it can be expected that feminism will not place
considerable emphasis on individual autonomy.

Moreover, Japanese feminism is
still more conservative when compared to American feminism. This is evident by
the wider gender gap in pay. Moreover, in Japan, there are very conservative
ideas regarding what makes an ideal woman as well as what is expected of them.

There is still societal stigma against divorced women. All these indications
suggest that feminist in Japan is still conservative (Collins para. 6). By
contrast, feminism in the US is liberal as feminist have attempted to overturn
nearly all restrictive gender roles. The explanation of this difference stems
from extent to which social roles are rigid in Japan and the West. As a result,
feminist in Japan expect lesser individual freedom and autonomy when compared
to their Western counterparts. Western feminists expect individual freedom
because of historical ideology associated with independence and freedom (Kano
50). Similarly, Japanese feminists operate under the limits of historically
rigid social and gender roles. This explains why feminists in Japan have never
focused on overturning each gender and social role since mothers are respected
for their nurturing roles and are satisfied with the position.

While Japanese feminist movements
coincided with the American feminist movements, Japanese feminists used and
still use different strategies. Japanese feminists believed that the American
feminist movement was eccentric and radical and that the Japanese women did not
want to identify with radical feminism and were and are still cautious of being
misrepresented in the media (Collins para. 10). Some authors describe Japanese feminism
as being characterized by politeness and civility rather agitation as is the
case with American feminism (Collins para. 9). Such differences are
attributable to the unique sociocultural context of Japan.

Controversy of the Feminist Movement in Japan

            Feminism in
Japan still remains a controversial issue. Starting a conversation on Japanese
feminism is likely to elicit confusing responses. For instance, a lot of
Japanese women neither identify themselves as being feminists nor view feminism
as something that is useful (Scottee, para. 1). Some women are of the view that
feminism is not an important issue to loudly claim for equality between men and
women since they believe that women possess some special powers that men lack.

Still, others believe that being a feminist in the country is embarrassing and
openly expressing feminist sentiments or identifying as a feminist increases
the risk of being attacked (Scottee, para. 1). Feminism in Japan is
controversial because of the conservative nature of the Japanese society;
therefore, it is difficult for women to overturn all gender and social roles
and have individual achieved goals (Collins para. 5). For this reason, bringing
the issue of feminism in the public sphere is met with skepticism, particularly
among the conservative segment of the society (Scottee, para. 1). Nevertheless,
there exists elements of liberal feminism in Japan, especially manifested
during the third-wave feminism. Some women are challenging the societal
attitudes towards the sexuality of women whereas some are beginning to enjoy
sexual freedom. Therefore, feminism in Japan is marked by some contradictions (Scottee,
para. 3). On the one hand, the majority of conservative women are embracing
feminism that is aligned to rigid social and gender roles of the Japanese
society. On the other hand, some women are embracing liberal feminism
characterized by sexual freedom and challenging existing attitudes towards the
sexuality of women in Japan.

Effects of Feminism on the History of Modern Japan

movements have had remarkable effects on the modern Japanese society. Because
of feminism activity in Japan, women now enjoy sexual freedom although it is
still limited. Feminist movements in Japan managed to overturn some of the
restrictive social and gender roles and have provided Japanese women with more
freedom (Fujimura-Fanselow 45). For instance, early feminists were able to
successfully advocate for the political inclusion of women. Women also gained
more freedom with their body after the legalization of the birth control pill
in 1999 (Kano 50). Another legacy of feminist movement in Japan is increased
educational opportunities for women. In addition, the feminist movement helped
in the prohibition of discrimination in employment following the passage of the
Equal Employment Opportunity Law in 1985 (Kano 50). Other notable effects of
feminism in Japan include an increase in women participation in the labor force
and an increase in the number of women in leadership roles

            Additionally…, even
though Japan as gone through numerous changes in their definition of feminism
and as well as the external influences from other countries such as The Untied
States of America and as well as Great Britan, Japan’s feminism is still unique
on its own. This is because that Japan has gone thrugh different situations compared
to the other countries, this makes them different and make them define feminism


Feminist movements in Japan have
their origins in the second half of the 19th century after Japanese
women interacted with American women, which awakened their feminist
consciousness. Just like their Western counterparts, Japanese women exploited
the modernization and civilization drive to advocate for economic, social, and
political equality between men and women. Therefore, from the outset, Japanese
feminist movement was a response to overseas feminist movements. In fact,
feminist movements in Japan often coincided with oversees waves of feminism in
America and beyond, which is due to the influence of their American
counterparts. This is evident by elements of radical feminism during the early
movements. A comparison of Japanese feminism to Western feminism shows that
they deal with similar issues of women’s suffrage, education, sexuality, and
quality in labor. However, there are differences in the manner in which
feminism is conceptualized in the two countries. Specifically, Japanese
feminism does not emphasize individual autonomy as is the case with Western
feminism, which is attributable to the cultural differences. The legacy of
feminism in Japan is evident, which include increased sexual freedoms,
political inclusion, increased educational opportunities, and reduced
employment discrimination for women.


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