Ripples of Change
Japanese Women’s Search for Self

A film by Nanako Kurihara
57 minutes
Color, VHS 16mm

Powerful political analysis is combined with a passionate personal story in this
exceptional documentary about the Japanese women’s liberation movement in
the 1970’s and its influence on contemporary Japanese society. Director Nanako
Kurihara left her homeland in the 1980’s, frustrated by the lack of interesting
roles for women in Japan. In New York, she met a Japanese woman who had
been involved in the women’s liberation movement in Japan in the 1970’s.
Kurihara returned to Japan, bringing together interviews with veterans of the
movement, fascinating archival footage and her personal impressions to produce
a film which explores the meaning of the liberation movement, the factors that
motivated it and the effect it has had on people’s attitudes. "Ripples of Change"
is an excellent resource for the study of global feminism, women’s roles and
Japanese society.

The film feautes unique footage of "Lib" demonstrations and interviews with participants. I think the shots of the "Lib Camp" in Nagano were among othe most interesting; also, there is the interview with Tanaka Mitsu, organizer of the "Fighting Women Group"(Gruppu Tatakau Onna) and author of the pamphlet, "Liberation from the Toilet" (Benjo kara no kaiho).


Some lines that stood out to me:

1.Tanaka Mitsu talks about feeling unworthy all the time--"I had no good boyfriends, I wasn't pretty enough. I didn't really feel like a 'human being' that men were always talking about. I couldn't contribute to a discussion with them. I had to start with what I was: a woman. We didn't even have a language, a vocabulary, for the kind of discourse that we needed to have. . . .I realized that the feelings I had about the kind of person I was were not my fault. I am beautiful. My life is beautiful. I was filled with a feeling that I wanted to make my life beautiful. These are the feelings that I had when I wrote the pamphlet, "A Toilet No More."

2. Family life in Japan is controlled by women. men are married to their companies, women to their children. Many women like this power but it's uneven. men don't have to sully themselves with day-to-day decisions about the family budget. But love doesn't have much to do with it.

3. Emiko Funamoto, founder of Onna Eros, believed that women needed a network of communication, they needed to write and explore themselves as Kate Millett and Betty Friedan had done. Women needed to talk and write about themselves but they had no outlets. Publishers were not interested. So, she founded her own journal. But kept an executive position in an ad agency even though they tried to freeze her out for two whole years by never assigning her any projects or accounts.

4. So it becomes a theme that women have to start with themselves first, who they are. Since women are so integrated into the society in their roles as mothers and stewards of the home, the changes they make will have a "ripple" effect over time throughout society. Tanaka Mitsu notes that in the beginning there was a lot of "Watashi ga. . .Watashi ga. . ." talk, in other words, "I this and I that." It had to be about "me" at first but this was difficult in Japan because it's so easy to be labeled "selfish" if you speak that way and assert your own agency.

Tanaka Mitsu also appears in the 30 Years of Sisterhood documentary film project made a few years later and here are some of the lines she speaks onscreen in that film:

I don’t know if they were conscious of it or not, but the women who came to the [Lib] camp were finally able to utter words that had somehow been stuck or "clogged" deep down in their throats (nodo no oku ni tsumekonde-ita kotoba ga yatto dasete, 喉の奥に詰め込でた 言葉がやっとう出せて) for such a long time, words they had not been able to get out before.  By speaking out, they weree able to become more aware of what they wanted, of what their hopes and desires (kibô, yokubo) were.  [Note: How Tanaka uses words like anoo, koo, ima made no the thinks and struggles to actually come up with the right words to express the idea she is trying to get across. It seems that this is evidence that still, many years later, it was still hard to find the language that can actually capture the feelings that were generated in the early 1970s. As we see below, she talks about how through action, certain things become visible or come in to your perspective (行動することによって、見えてくる) and I note how Kishino uses that same perspective in the title of her memoir Things Visible (見えてきた物) from a Woman's Perspective. ]

You realize things by DOING them, not by figuring them out in your head.  Action leads you to see things anew.  We experienced this feeling of a natural high. We had this overwhelming feeling: the future was on OUR side.  This feeling floated all over the whole camp.  We expressed the feeling that each of us had power and I felt that this was very meaningful. 

When our movement started, many people thought that society had already become gender-equal and that discrimination had been ended after WWII.  We tried to keep a fire going when there was no smoke.  We kept going so that the smoke we generated would not disappear.  They were, like me, women who might be a little hasty, who had no status to lose, and had felt the stinging pain of being women.  We were strong with good intuition, but it was not logical (rikutsu).  It was based on the feeling that we were directing our own era, our future, our hopes.  If we didn’t do it, who would?  But it was very tough (taihen datta!).

On the performances of the Silly Pumpkin Theatre:

It was for anybody—they might not have known any books on women’s liberation, but simply hated the arrogance of men—hated the feeling that when their father came home from work, they felt it grow dark—or they were discriminated against at work.  Ordinary people could see our performances and think, “Yes, that is right.” 

Many young people these days feel that there is no place for them in society (居場所がない).  Even people in their 30s and 40s are wandering around, lost.  Their problem seems to be that they just cannot find their place in the family or at work.  I think you should have your own place within yourself.  Even if everyone in the world speaks ill of you, you can still accept yourself.  You have to become the prime supporter of yourself.  The New Left looked down on us.  Boo onna. I asked myself so many times, “Is it really OK to live as “a Lib”? 

My wonderful self (すてきな私) and my not so wonderful self (すてきじゃない私) they are both myself.  It is the base on which I stand.  I created that base by being in Lib.  It was great for me that I had been a Lib and determined not to be anyone else but me. 

Also in the 30 Years of Sisterhood DVD, Akiyama Yoko tals about how "We began to talk about ourselves and about women's issues. We wanted to write for ourselves." An, also, she says that "We finally got to say what we felt. There would not be so many intersting women (who are attending the reunion) if it hadn't been for the Lib Movement." Moreover, Watanabe Fumie who, like Yoshitake, had been raped by fellow students during the student struggle of the late 1960s, talked about how she used to blame herself until she read Komashaku Kimi's book Witch's Logic which exposed her to the idea of the master-servant relationship upon which the patriarchy thrives. You might remember Komashaku Kimi's name from Ch. 4 in Changing Lives. She was a good friend of Kishino Junko and basically introduced her to the Lib Movement. Remember? They went out to dinner together to celebrate the 40th birthdays and they began having deep conversations on women's issues, literature, etc. Like Kishino, Komashaku was one of those older women (40s) drawn to the movement; Kishino considered her more deeply committed than she was. But, also, Komashaku was an active literary critic and a professor. She published many books of literary criticism from a feminist perspective using the of the image of the "witch" to typify the unruly female critic who offers a different perspective on literature from that offered by the typical male gaze.

At the end of 30 Years of Sisterhood the main people interviewed are identified:

Akiyama Yoko (mentioned in the Conclusions of Changing Lives, Tanaka Mitsu, Kitamura Mitsuko, Watanabe Fumie, Kuno Ayako, Wakabayashi Naeko, Asakawa Mariko (one of Gruppu Tatakau Onna founders), Doi Yumi mentioned in my footnotes and who lives in San Francisco and I corresponded with her via email in the final stages of preparing my manuscript.

Back to Ripples:

5. There was the example of Sumie who has her own band, published her own books and calendars, and lives in/runs a communal house in Tokyo. In the 1970s, there were the "witch" concerts by and for women.

6. The narrator, Kurihara Nanako, put the question to Funamoto Emiko pointedly. If women end up unmarried, alone, taking care of a parent who has had a stroke--isn't that kawaiso--pitiful? Emiko's response is that to live an unexamined, an un-liberated life, is really the pitiful choice. She has chosen her life. She takes care of her mother. Doing it your own way is better. No one should pity me, she says, in a very matter of fact way.

7. In a like manner, Nanako tries to pin Tanaka Mitsu down: Hasn't she withdrawn, let the movement down, and isn't she responsible for the women's lib movement's failure? No way, she replies. "Lib" was about freeing the self, nurturing the self. It may take time, but people have to do this for themselves, one person at a time. She used to think power was defined by how many people you could mobilize and organize; that's the way political factions operate. But that's not really IT. One person has power, too. You can affect people still. As an individual changes, her influence radiates out as ripples do when you drop a pebble in a pool of water.


Margaret Mead Film Festival Margaret Mead Film Festival
San Fransisco Asian American Film Festival
National Educational Film and Video Festival, Gold Apple
San Francisco Film Festival, Certificate of Merit
Tokyo Film Festival
London Film Festival

“A powerful and daring work.”
Kyoko Hirano
Film Center, Japan Society

“Fascinating, cross-culturally inspiring.”
Robin Morgan
Ms. Magazine

“A unique opportunity for thought-processing the notable
similarities in the US and Japanese movements towards
sex/gender equity.”
Library Journal