Gender and "A Beautiful Nation"

Professor, ICU
【Full article not available. The summary below is the same as the article that appears in the seventh issue of the CGS Newsletter.】

Sigh. As expected, the revised Basic Education Law has been approved in the Diet. According to the draft law, the revised law will include new phrases such as “civic spirit” and “patriotism.” These changes themselves are cause for concern as they imply a regression toward greater intervention and control of education by the state akin to the prewar Imperial Rescript on Education. However, here I will broaden the scope of the argument and focus, from a gender perspective, on the fundamental principles behind the so-called “Beautiful Nation” advocated by the Abe administration in its revision of the Basic Education Law and other policies.

The Abe cabinet is characterized by regressive elements in many ways. The most obvious example is the dramatic fall in the number of female cabinet members to only two, even while the record-high number of five in the first Koizumi cabinet of 2001 is still fresh in our memories. Furthermore, the minister most directly responsible for gender issues, the Minister for Gender Equality and the Declining Birth Rate, concurrently holds the positions of Minister for Okinawa and the Northern Territories, Minister for Science and Technology Innovation, and Minister for Food Safety. This overloading connotes a lack of attention given to gender- and women-related policies.

Equally problematic, with regard to gender-related issues, is the appointment of Ms. Sanae Takaichi to the above positions and of Ms. Eriko Yamatani to that of advisor to the Prime Minister on educational reform. Why? Ms. Takaichi is strongly opposed to the introduction of fпfu bessei (separate family names for married couples), an important cornerstone for the promotion of women’s social integration. She is also known for her criticism of history textbooks that acknowledge past acts of Japanese colonial and imperial rule, including the issue of “comfort women,” as masochistic education. And Ms. Yamatani has denounced “gender-free” education for giving rise to “radical sex education” (Asahi Shimbun, 27 September 2006). These claims should be regarded with utmost caution: not only do they distort objective facts, they also affirm, maintain and strengthen gender-based violence, oppression and discrimination.

What is more discouraging is the actual substance of the Abe administration’s proposed conservatism. The conservatism upheld by the administration is a combination of a European-style reactionary conservatism, which lurks beneath the revised Basic Education Law, and an American-style conservatism, inherited from the Koizumi administration. We can say two things regarding gender on this point. First, the European-style conservatism could facilitate the resurgence of Japan’s “tradition” of “Men work outside, women stay home.” And, under the American-style conservatism that envisions small government, our society will become an increasingly difficult place for social minorities, including women, due to smaller roles played by the government. Therefore, the birth of the Abe administration is what English speakers call “the worst of two worlds” for those of us working toward the realization of a society that is free of gender discrimination. What a prospect!