Been to Japan once before, from a more superficial view
Interested in women’s rights around the world
Japan is unique bc democracy, 3rd largest economy, yet extreme gap between genders
Birth rate is tied to economy, which is tied to women’s rights in the workplace and at home
1. Biases: Japanese husbands don’t spend a lot of time with children; few women maintain careers after having children, but there are many exceptions
2. Watching interviews and reading articles from reputable domestic and international sources
3. in-person conversations
3. What you learned:
1. Japan has an extremely high number of college-educated women, but 77% of the part-time workforce is female
2. young married mothers are largely absent from the workforce—-why?
-matahara: maternity harassment
3. Employed women quit their jobs 62 percent of the time after childbirth
4. Employers are not allowed to fire a woman within 30 days of returning from maternity leave and are not allowed to fire based on pregnancy, but many do so and use other reasons
5. Over a quarter of working women have experienced matahara—-demotion, mocking, etc for being pregnant in the workplace
6. Japan wants its women to work and hold higher-paying jobs, and wants them to have children, but the corporate culture prevents both from happening.
4. Comparative narratives: Japan and US
1. Both nations have a high number of women in college
2. 43% women work in Japan, 47% in US (similar)
3. US: 12 wks leave, Japan: 8
4. Pregnancy harassment is not tolerated by the law as easily in the US
1. Matahara highlights economic, cultural, and women’s rights issues
2. Attitude shift is needed in the workplace and the general population
Coming to Japan, I knew that I really wanted to dive more deeply into the lives of Japanese women, as well as the feminist movement in the country. However, I struggled to find a specific topic to dive into, as there are many problems Japanese women face today. However, I was eventually able to find one topic that combines feminist activism, Japanese corporate culture, and social and economic issues facing Japan: the struggle of motherhood in the modern nation. Many women are entering the workforce, but the corporate atmosphere in Japan is not conducive to having or raising children while also working hard and advancing a mother's career. Japan's ever-falling birthrate is world-famous and an urgent issue for the aging country, but part of this is due to the fact that women must choose between having children and having a full-time corporate job. Maternity harassment, or "matahara" is a newly-coined term that describes the struggles working women face when they are pregnant or have children. While not as well known as sexual harassment, matahara is a major reason as to why the birthrate is falling, the economy is stagnating, and women are still not treated equally to men in a country with the 3rd largest economy in the world. Through my research, I hope to connect motherhood to the culture, history, and modern economy of Japan.
-Some would argue that nuclear power is overall safer and better for the environment than other sources of energy. Is the potential threat of a rare disaster such as Fukushima enough to stop using it all together?
-How will future children in Japan learn to view nuclear power after Fukushima?
-How do older Japanese people who lived during the war feel about artist groups such as the one featured in the documentary? Is there a generational difference between how middle aged and elderly people view nuclear power?
While my first week in Japan revolved around becoming familiar with Tokyo and everyday life, my second week involved learning about the history, culture, and hardships of the country. My visit to Hiroshima on Monday surpassed all of my expectations; the 'floating' torii at Miyajima and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial both took my breath away, for different reasons. A shrine stood in the ocean for thousands of years, while just a couple miles away a city was completely destroyed by an atomic bomb just 72 years ago. Visiting Hiroshima during such a volatile time in geopolitics also made the experience a lot more hard-hitting for me; the clock at the museum that counts the days since the last nuclear test was only at 2.
Seeing Kyoto was also a nice change from the bustle in Tokyo, for the most part. I found the city to be a little too crowded with tourists for my liking, but the beauty of the sites we visited made up for it. Performing karaoke with other members of the group was also a definite highlight of my trip!
I decided to return to Tokyo for the weekend to see some friends visiting from UW. However, I had a lot more free time than I thought I would, so I decided to make a spontaneous day trip to an onsen in the riverside village of Shuzenji, on the Izu Peninsula. After an hour-long shinkansen ride from tokyo, a 30-minute ride on a wobbly, older train from Mishima, and a short bus ride, I made it to the small village. It was such a nice departure from being in cities for so long. While the town was definitely designed to be accommodating towards foreigners, I didn't see any while I was there. Bright red bridges contrasted with the lush greenery of the hills, and the Shuzenji Temple was a nice shady oasis from the sun. Although I shouldn't have been, I was surprised to find that the water was hot when I used it to wash my hands at the temple's entrance! I found a popular onsen that only cost 350 yen, called Hako-yu, which was apparently patronized by a shogun hundreds of years ago. It was newly-renovated, clean, and not very busy. Even though it was hot outside, the water was so relaxing. In the middle of the town, near the river, there was also a free public foot bath from the hot springs. My trip to Shujenzi was long, but definitely worth it. Going out to the countryside was much more relaxing and needed than I thought.
On Sunday, I decided to visit the Museum of Modern Art Tokyo (MOMAT) to see their current special exhibition about the Japanese House after 1945. I was surprised to see how much of the exhibit related to ideas of "Japaneseness" and identity, and it was interesting to see all of the architectural models through the years.
While I love being in Tokyo, it was refreshing to visit Western Japan and to see culture outside of the capital city, both in urban centers and in riverside onsen towns.
I found this reading to be extremely interesting. I was most surprised to learn that there were minority indigenous groups in Japan, such as the Ainu and Okinawan people.
-Is it reasonable to assume that these indigenous people have 'integrated' enough into the rest of Japanese society over hundreds of years, and that they are, in fact, part of the monoethnic group that is 98% of Japan?
-How does the distribution of foreign nationals and their jobs in Japan relate to Japanese opinion and stereotypes of people from those countries?
-According to public polling, what do Japanese people think is the best way to solve the problem of labor shortage in the coming years if a high number still disagree with allowing immigrants to work in the country?
When I visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial tomorrow, I honestly don't know how I will feel. One thing I might experience, however, is guilt for something that didn't even happen while I was alive. As an American, I feel like it is extremely important to experience this memorial in real life, instead of just thinking about it through the lens of history. What would my grandfather, who served in WWII, see the memorial? Would he feel remorse or guilt as well, or would he just say that the bomb was an unfortunate yet necessary evil? In today's geopolitical climate, missiles are flying over Japan, and nuclear tests are being performed under a dictatorship just a couple hundred miles away. How can a prime minister who advocates the repeal of Article 9 also pay his respects at a memorial dedicated to indefinite peace in Japan? There are all questions I will probably never be able to answer, but experiencing this memorial firsthand will allow me to process what happened, and interpret it in my own way.
-How does the United States separate its victimhood from its accountability? Who decides who is the victim and who is the oppressor?
-Does the responsibility of what happens in a war completely fall on its military/state, or do citizens have the potential to be held somewhat accountable for attitudes that promote nationalism/superiority?
-Is Japan seen as more exempt from accountability for its actions in the war because of the severity of the weapon used against it? If Japan surrendered after a massive battle instead, would the same memorials exist?
-Is Japan's movement towards nuclear weapons a self-defense response, or could it also be a way to position itself as a major world military power again?
-How can a country vow to be peaceful and abstain from war if neighboring nations become unstable or offensive?
-Is the idea that the US is a less reliable ally than before widespread in Japan, or is that sentiment mostly just between members of the right?
The Itsukushima Shrine, located on Miyajima, is a Shinto shrine built over 1400 years ago as a shrine to several goddesses and deities of the sea. Since its original construction, it has been restored and rebuilt several times, but retains the architecture and detail of its original form.
-The reading mentions that the Buddhist idea of "pure land" may have been one of the reasons for the shrines location. Why would a Shinto shrine incorporate Buddhist beliefs?
-I am eager to see the shrine not only because of its spectacular ocean setting, but because ancient historical sites in Tokyo can be very rare and hard to come by.
-I thought it was interesting that the shrine, a religious monument, was used by the ruling clans as a symbolic gathering space, and how people during the Meiji period used one of its rooms to pray for good market conditions. This connects the shrine with religious, political, and economic activities.
I have visited Japan once before, in 2015. I spent a week each in Tokyo and Kyoto, and thought that I had seen enough to have a grasp on Japanese culture and every day life from experiencing it through tourist attractions and popular museums and shrines, even thought I took a taxi everywhere with my family. The first week of this program has taught me just how wrong I was.
By walking down side alleys, taking the train every day, and letting myself get lost in the city, I think that there was a lot about Japan that I didn't know before. The way of life I’ve observed in these past few days is so different from what I experience in America. It’s easy to think that everyone in the world desires diversity over homogeneity, or at least individualism over community when you are raised in a nation that indoctrinates those beliefs into you through its media and school system. Japan contradicts this way of thinking completely due to ancient tradition, yet still houses a cut-throat workplace culture whose workers value loyalty to their companies so highly that they’ll put everything—a good night’s sleep, time with family, or even gender equality—on the line in order to succeed.
Politeness and silence are the norm, even though sidewalks and trains can be packed with people. Apologies still abound at the world’s largest pedestrian intersection, Shibuya Crossing, when two people darting across the street happen to brush elbows. Thank-you’s and excuse-me’s make up most of the chatter you hear.
However, it’s important to note that the Japanese are still people; this became most obvious to me when waiting for the Yamanote line at Shibuya Station on a Friday night, just an hour before the last train. The commuters’ composed moods of the morning and afternoon had gone out the window after alcohol started flowing. As I was pushed onto the train by a sea of people scrambling (and stumbling) to get home, I stood in awe as the train erupted into laughter, yelling, and smiles. Bodies pressed against bodies were no longer demanding of apologies; the work week was done, and so was the characteristic Japanese etiquette. Salarymen were throwing up in platform trashcans, young couples were making out next to ticket gates. The scene didn’t seem too different from Greek Row back in Seattle. Usually, being pressed against dozens drunk strangers would annoy me, and certainly wouldn't make me smile. But this was so shocking to me, so against everything I've seen about Japan in the media (and on the train during the day), that I couldn't help but revel in the short-lived time of the day when we all seemed the same.
The variance in the behavior of the people of Tokyo is what is most amazing to me. There is a constant pull between composure and boisterousness, just like the architecture of the city is torn between ancient and ultramodern. Efficiency is the key attribute of Japanese infrastructure, but gardens, parks, and tea ceremonies prove that the concept of zen and reflection is also highly important in daily Japanese life. One night I stumbled upon a traditional neighborhood festival, and the next night I was getting lost in an almost futuristic skyscraper district with thousands of people crossing the streets around me at once.
I could sit here and describe every museum or neighborhood I’ve visited, or how many different kinds of vending machine milk tea I’ve tried, but at the end of the day, what is most impactful to me is the street-level view I’ve had of what daily life in Japan is like. Nothing you read online will show you the dynamic mannerisms or behaviors of people, no matter which city you want to learn about. Only standing outside and watching people walk under the neon at 8am, 1pm, and 10pm will give you an idea of what it means to live in Tokyo. It’s never just about politeness, or working hard, or praying to a Shinto deity. For Japanese people, all of these things interact and balance themselves seamlessly between hours, seasons, and even generations.