This article is a brief introduction of a recently-published feminism-related book in Japan co-authored by our Director Chizuko UENO. She is Japan’s foremost pioneering scholar of feminism to whom women of later generations like myself owe much of the freedom we enjoy now.
When I was a university student back in the 80s in Kyoto, Ueno was teaching sociology at a nearby tandai, a women’s two-year college. I remember that my high school female friend, who had taken Ueno’s course at that college, mentioned her as “the funniest professor who’s good at shimoneta, sexual jokes.”
Like many female university students at that time, I started reading Ueno’s books and articles – she is such a prolific writer I still haven’t finished all – and I did realize that she was not just a distinguished scholar but had a great sense of humour. (This opinion of mine has never changed.) I have also been amazed at how she writes in a language everyone can understand, while, of course, she writes academic papers using scholarly languages.
In her new book Ueno-Sensei, Would You Teach Me Feminism from Scratch? (Ueno Sensei, Feminism ni tsuite zero kara oshiete kudasai) published by Yamato Shobo in January this year, I enjoyed once again Ueno’s special skills to communicate with non-scholarly people. I was also truly amused by her casual jokes using many youngsters’ neologism, which partially explains why she was such a popular professor at universities she has taught at in her 40-year career.
The co-author Eiko TABUSA was born in 1978; 30 years younger than Ueno. Tabusa is a manga artist renown for works dealing with social issues such as complex relationships between mother and daughter, as well as Japan’s infamous sex industry catered to men. She claims that she has no knowledge of feminism as an academic discipline, but was fascinated by Ueno’s congratulatory speech given to freshmen of the University of Tokyo in 2019 (the link goes to its English translation within this site).
The book includes short versions of manga here and there, making it extremely readable to the general audience. According to Tabusa, the content is based on “what I leant from Professor Ueno in a seven-straight-hour meeting,” but Ueno’s parts do not sound preachy in any way; the book is a collection of dialogues between the two women from different generations.
Its themes include sexual harassment, parenting, the marriage system, and Japan’s social structure created by men so as to it is beneficial for themselves.
Japanese oyaji or ossan – somewhat derogatory terms meaning an old-fashioned, annoying sexist Japanese male, perhaps the equivalent of an “old fart” – is constantly debated within the book. For example, Ueno discusses how Japan’s still-existing patriarchal structure, which is a major reason for the oyaji phenomenon, derives from the Imperial Family.
The two women extensively talk about social advantages men have enjoyed, calling them “bonus for males” and how so many men are unaware of this bonus while chauvinism lingers on because men do not desire to let that bonus go (perhaps subconsciously).
Since its publication, the book has been making a top rank in numerous book sales index in Japan. A number of Amazon.co.jp reviewers describe it as “a great Feminism 101 book.” Here’s the link to the Japanese Amazon site.
Unfortunately, the book has not been translated into other languages (yet). Written by Naoko Hirose