On the 12th and 13th of June, 2004, I was in Kurayoshi, TOTTORI, to attend the conference of the Women's Association of Japan for the first time. It was held in a beautiful hall, built by some designer, in a historic town of Kurayoshi. As was the hall itself, the atmosphere of the conference was very warm and welcoming. Though I was the first-timer, they accepted me as if I were a member from long ago, and I felt at ease immediately. This warm hospitality was maintained throughout the venue. Speakers were given encouraging opinions and proper suggestions from the audience. The message was clear: we go forward together, helping one another.
The biggest attraction (if I may say so) of this conference was Ms Mitsu Tanaka, the guest speaker of the symposium. She was THE leading figure of Women's Liberation Movement in Japan in the seventies, but in the year 1975, she suddenly disappeared from the movement to Mexico, and then to Okinawa, where she opened an acupuncture clinic. Her re-appearance was the talk of the conference. The question "why did she withdraw from the movement then?" was obviously a recurrent one for those who took part in Women's Liberation or Women's Studies in those days. The air was thick with expectation and gratitude that they can at last listen to Ms Tanaka again after a long interval. Even those who do not know her active days felt the uprising expectation to meet somebody legendary.
Her talk began with a reference to the bashing against the families of the abductees in Iraq and in North Korea. It raged the country, when the families expressed their dissatisfaction for the governmental policy. "The families said what was important to them important above all else, and above the national policy. We, the Japanese, were so accustomed to separate the public opinion from the private one, so accustomed to have double-standards, that was shocking and scary to see the abductees' family expressing their honest feeling. In spite of the bashing, though, the support for the families gradually grew, because their message was a sincere one, not on a double-standard, sincere enough to win the support." Ms Mitsu Tanaka said that her policy is to diminish these double-standards herself. She sometimes wants to lie about her real age, and she sometimes thinks, "Marriage is a bullsh*t." And both are real "her." If one is leading Women's Liberation movement, she cannot help acting as if she is always uncontradictorily a "strong" woman, and losing the real self. In the height of the movement, those who were actively involved outside their households were, in fact, traditional wives and mothers within their household. She started to feel that she did not put her into such compromising and also self-denying positions, and that was why she made a break from the movement, she said. Japanese society take the double-standards for granted; problems have to be concealed inside, while palatable sweet exterior is on show; a husband keeps a chaste wife at home, while having a mistress somewhere else to satisfy his desire. Japanese women suffer within such a society most. The Liberation movement originally helped women express what they felt. But it transforms itself into more "academic" and, because of it, less female-oriented, after years of dilemma that they were not taken seriously unless they manipulate "masculine" logic and lingo. It became filled with difficult jargons, and drove women away. Feminism, Ms Tanaka questions, might also intensify this structure by constraining them from feeling naturally. Her strong belief in releasing one's natural feelings gradually let her turn to the study of human bodies, and she is now an acupuncturist. She insisted that it was not that she did not perform a liberation movement any more. In fact, she still does, but her 'movement' has developed into more intense and more personal one, as she wants to be someone who stands by people, not someone who leads them.
After her talk, those who had experienced the movement as her contemporary were impressed by her "words that are very alive. Wherever she is, she is the one who symbolise the movement." On the other hand, the younger generation expressed their opinion that, they have, skilfully and unflinchingly, to deal with the already academic framework of feminism, as it is what they have got and cannot change instantly. To one question from the audience, Ms Mitsu Tanaka implied that it is important to express one's own feeling in one's own word, "The world is there for you. So you should do in whatever way comfortable to you." This message, I felt, reached feminists of every generation.
There were various academic presentations and workshops; on women's participation in politics; on academic harassment; on feminist cultural theory; on sports and gender, to name but a few. The participants, though from very different backgrounds and with very different fields of interest, all share hospitable atmosphere to enliven the Women's Association by pursuing their own research and by sharing it with others. I would love to see ICU students, both female and male, attend its future conferences, as they are fantastic opportunities for them. Not only they provide us with valuable chance to make a gender-related presentation, but also you can encounter your comrade, who may not share your field of research but who is looking the same direction as you are. That, really, is an indispensable experience. I have no doubt that your horizon will be broaden when you take part in it.
(ICU Division of Humanities : Ikoma, Natsumi)