The politics of gender in Japan
A few weeks ago I attended a dinner party at the home of some friends welcoming a visiting scholar to town. The guest of honor was not a specialist in Japan studies, but his research does involve globalization. As the dinner’s host was also an internationalist, and I had just returned from a semester in Tokyo, the conversation eventually swung its way toward Japan. “What is happening over there, these days?” someone asked me. Before I could draw suffi cient breath to contemplate a response, however, another at the table began talking about something he had seen in the newspaper about Japan, a story about gender relations. I don’t remember what that particular story was, or even if it ever got fully told because, shortly after its introduction, I was involuntarily launched into the hopeless project of convincing a group of people who had never been to Japan that the country was not horribly “behind,” that Japanese men are not all the worst kinds of misogynists, that, in fact, traveling or working there myself is not terribly injurious to my own dignity as a woman. Neither my own provocative stories, nor my ability to draw on the decades of careful research by Japanese and American colleagues were to any avail. Each time I thought I had tempered the thrust of the discussion, it started up again with a “But really … ” and I was offered another claim about the miseries of Japanese women with which I simply “must agree.” I went home frustrated. The indignation of some American men at the “plight” of Japanese women used to surprise me, but over the years this repeated conversation has begun to bore.