Powerful political analysis is combined with a passionate personal story in this
exceptional documentary about the Japanese womens liberation movement in
the 1970s and its influence on contemporary Japanese society. Director Nanako
Kurihara left her homeland in the 1980s, 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 womens liberation movement in Japan in the 1970s.
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 peoples attitudes. "Ripples of Change"
is an excellent resource for the study of global feminism, womens roles and
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 koo.....as 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 in advance. 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 who had felt the stinging pain of being women. We were strong and brought good intuition, but it was not logic (rikutsu). It was based on the deep 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.”
One of the main issues that attracted Doi Yumi to the movement was the struggle for freedom from the traditional family system. Of course, that included relationship between men and women but is was also about how the whole role of a daughter (musume) was defined.
Tanaka Mitsu again: "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. Onna [women]. Boo, Hiss! I asked myself so many times, 'Is it really OK to live as “a Lib'?" Tanaka then talked about "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. This is the base on which I stand. It was very important to me that I created that base by being in Lib. It was great for me that I had been a Lib person because the movement gave me the determination not to be anyone else but me."
Also in the 30 Years of Sisterhood DVD, Akiyama Yoko recalls how "We began to talk about ourselves and about women's issues. We wanted to write for ourselves." And, also, she says that "We finally got to say what we felt. There would not be so many interesting women (who are attending the reunion) if it hadn't been for the Lib Movement."
Moreover, Watanabe Fumie who, like Yoshitake, had been raped, though in her case it was by fellow students during the student struggle of the late 1960s, talked about how she used to blame herself and she could not understand why the man who raped her was not driven out of the student movement. What was wrong here? Why did she feel this way? Finally, she arrived at some understanding when 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, the Kishino Junko chapter, in Changing Lives (pp. 136-137). She was a good friend of Kishino's and basically introduced her to the Lib Movement and urged her to jump in and participate. Do you remember? They went out to dinner together to celebrate their 40th birthdays and they began having deep conversations on women's issues, literature, life, etc. Like Kishino, Komashaku was one of those older women (in her 40s; Komashaku was actually a few years older than Kishino) drawn to the movement; Kishino considered Komashaku more deeply committed to the women's lib than she herself was. Initially, anyway. Kishino had her reservations; she found all the direct sharing of deeply personal stories by Tanaka and the other women a little too unnerving. She was not sure that she was prepared to go that far. But, she went ahead and joined some of those discussion meetings where they talked about their lives, and about women's bodies and how male-female relationships were protrayed in literature, etc. This was Komashaku's particular forte for she was an active literary critic and a professor. She has 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. In the end, this did appeal to Kishino and she went "all in." The result was that a "real picture of women as historically, socially and psychologically oppressed took shape in my mind...I think I can say that through these kinds of efforts I was able to change directions in my life as I sought a new way to liberate myself and live independently among women with whom I felt the bond of sisterhood." (Changing Lives, p. 138)
Here are more appearences and comments from 30 Years of Sisterhood:
Wakabyashi Naeko recalls how her mother used to complain about her relationship with her mother-in-law and would say that it was only because of us kids that she didn't get divorced. When on Oct 21st, 1970, and the first Women's Lib demonstration she saw the banner, "Were your Mother's marraiges Really Happy?" "I felt that I found someone who felt the same way [as I did]!" The connection was powerful for her. "So I joined the women's Lib Movement."
For Miki Soko, "After I met the women in the Women's Liberation Movement (WLM), I didn't feel alone anymore. I knew that somewhere there was someone like me.”
Narrator: "In October 2003,there was a gathering of women in in Nakaizu, Shizuoka Prefecture. These women had first met during the women's Lib Movement in the 1970s. They have taken action against a sexist society and tried to live as freely as they could. How did they meet each other? What have their lives been like? "
Kitamura Mitsuko: "We women Liberationists are speaking about our stories. Each woman's hersotry is connected to another woman's. It has been that way for 4,000 years. We are a part of world heritage.”
Miko Soko: “I had been a part of the left wing of the WLM. I wanted to free not only myself but all women. I wanted to put an end to the dominant system of gender relations which holds that women must be at home and men be at work.” When she got married, she and her husband divided up the chores but even here "we were still following gender roles. I asked some married friends about it but they didn't question the gender roles; not were they angry about it. That made me feel all alone."
Kuno Ayako had been working for a newspaper in Nagoya and realized that women were suffering wage discrimination. They formed their own collective bargaining unit and had a "women-only negotiation meeting at the Tokyo bureau. Ours was the first women-only collective bargaining so we published a brochure about our struggle. We intentionally used 'Women's Rebellion' for the title. Onna no kaiho. The word onna wa spelled phonetically in hiragana. The word onna was pereceived to be sexually suggestive."
Wakabayashi Naeko recalled how women during the 1960s student movement “Women were not playing major roles in it. Women were told to bring rice balls to the barricades. I felt there was something was wrong, but didn't make a big deal of it. It was so easy just to be obedient.”
Doi Yumi joined the Lib Movement as a high-school teenager in Tokyo. There were lots of progressive high-schools in Tokyo at the time so she ignored the whole university exam grind and became an activist but she noted how the boys had their pretty little preppy girlfriends with al their make up while we did the behind-the-scenes jobs for them. My freedom would not have a future with these boys,” she concluded.
Mori Sestuko, who sits at a table with Asakawa Mariko (one of the pioneers who, along with Tanaka Mitsu formed the Group Tatakau Onna or “Group: Fighting Women”) and Fujimoto Yoshiko, talks about how she had been a student at Tama Arts College and also spent time at the barricades with the male students. But she was different. She refused to wash dishes for them even though other women did. She says “I was angry at that whole system. Then the Riot Drill Incident occurred.” This was a reference to training to hit the Kidôtai, the special riot police, with long poles. She wanted no part of it. “It was wrong, so I quit.”
Some like-minded young women got together and discussed their frustrations and the result was a decision to form their own women’s group.“We were despised by men. It had nothing to do with our abilities; we just happened to have vaginas.” So a few of the women formed the “Ideological Collective S-E-X,” a very in-your-face name.
It was around the same time that Tanaka Mitsu had just written her “Liberation from the Toilet” pamphlet which talked about the two competing images of women in Japanese society: the tenderhearted mother figure with her maternal love and the tool to satisfy men’s sexual needs, i.e., the toilet.
Tanaka speaks on screen:
“Who am I? I am the woman whom society portrays as an object. I am the woman who nobody knows but me. It is as though there is this self that is invisible to the world. (世の中から見られていないところで感じた自分). When somebody looks at me, I have to put on an act to some extent. I pretend to be someone else. I pull myself out from the inside; and then I let out a deep sigh when no one is looking at me. I feel just like I have been torn in two (分裂した bunretsu shita—the same expression Kishino Junko used; see Changing Lives p. 113). One thing is clear: I don’t want to be anyone else but me. I thought I could meet the Self I wanted to find by searching along the road that I had traveled to become the person who is nobody but me.” There was something very energizing about these "lib camps," Tanaka recalled: "We experienced the feeling that each of us had power. It was very meaningful."
Akiyama Yoko was a graduate student in history at Tôdai at the time so she had trouble supporting the crude approach of some of the student activists such as shouting out to their professors, “Hey, You.” She just could not do it. She was newly married at the time and pregnant. “Suddenly, I found that I was a housewife and I needed to found out what that was, what that meant. I had already started a women’s study group and we read things like Inoue Kiyoshi's Japanese Women’s History which was a Marxist take on Japanese women's hsitroy. One of the women brought in women’s liberation pamphlets from the U.S. and we translated them and published them in mimeograph form. There had been this article in the Asahi newspaper by Mr. nainagawa that included interviews with Tanaka Mitsu...This was about June 1970. then, on October 21st, there was the demonstration at the antiwar rally, followed by the big convention held in Tokyo where women engaged in Consciousness Raising for hours."
Miki Soko speaks again about how she read that same article on the train and just cried. “I was finding women like me at last!” When she saw a tiny little announcement for a Lib Camp she decided she wanted to atend. It was her first formal encounter with the women's lib movement; that his, it was her first actual physical meeting and not an encounter with them through printed materials.
But the media was not kind to Women’s Lib. It did its best to make them look ridiculous and sensationalized everything they did.
Doi Yumi talked about she was “deeply affected by Simone de Beauvoir. One day I found a newspaper article about the first women’s lib demonstration at an International Antiwar Day Rally and how women wearing red helmets were carrying signs saying ‘Housewives and Prostitutes are the Same.’” Then she ran across Tanaka Mitsu's “Liberation from the Toilet” pamphlet and it had a huge impact on her. On that first newspaper article on the demonstration that appeared in the Asahi, Doi recalls: “I read that small newspaper article many times over and thought to myself, Wow there are some amazing women out there! (あ、すごい人たちがいるなあと思って) I went to one of their meetings but I didn’t really understand a thing. Yet it was so interesting. They invited me to drop in to their offices. So I went over there and got a huge surprise. Asakawa (Mariko)-san was there grilling salmon in the kitchen, topless. Oh, my! She was half naked. But I was not turned off by it. Life is so interesting! I found my fate—it was a revolution of the self. We reversed all our previous training in being feminine and became much stronger.”
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), Mori Setsuko, Fujimoto Yoshiko, and Doi Yumi, who is mentioned in my footnotes and who lives in San Francisco (See Ch. 3, footnote 7 about the identity of the Japanese woman who called herself Khalid and who joined with Tanaka, and Asakawa to form the Gruppu Tatakau Onna or Group: Fighting Women (p. 193). I had the chance to corresponded with Doi via email in the final stages of preparing my manuscript.