世界で活躍するグローバル・リーダーを bimonthly (隔月ごと）にYGCでインタビューしていきます。全て英語でインタビューが記載されていますので、是非最後まで頑張って読んでいきましょう！
- Getting right to the point, what is feminism?
Simply put, it is a theory and praxis for women’s liberation. The keyword here is “liberation,” referring to self-liberation. Rather than seeking equality between men and women, I usually express feminism as a wish for liberation from gender roles, i.e., freedom from the various restrictions that force us women to act in a certain manner or feel a particular way. It certainly was not my desire to act or be like a man in any way. Again, it simply means women’s liberation; liberation from gender roles by no means implies that the standard of equality was about “becoming like a man.”
- What kind of person were you during your childhood?
I was a child full of curiosity. As the only daughter in the family, I was allowed some freedom, as my parents did not really set any expectations for me. Unlike my two brothers, whose career paths as doctors were determined for them, I wasn’t forced into any particular career path. Despite being loved and cared for by my parents, the affection was merely what I refer to as “pet love,” and I later perceived that I was being treated like a pet. I had realized my parents’ treatment of me as a pet from an early age, and I actually took advantage of this. What’s more, my parents expected me to become a bride someday, which meant that I would be following my mother’s footsteps as a full-time housewife. She was a sort of anti-role model for me.
On the other hand, I was fortunate to have been raised in an environment where I was able to do whatever I liked without having my curiosity suppressed. In those days, only 5% of girls my age went to university, but I was privileged to have been raised in a household in which going to college was an obvious choice.
- I don’t think today’s youth know much about the social movements of the 1960s, which developed in opposition to the Vietnam War and the revision of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, culminating in widespread university protests. Could you explain to us what this was about? Also, why did you decide to join the protests?
This may be difficult for the younger generation to understand, but back in those days, social movements in Japan were pretty violent and involved the use of force. Students’ power was active against the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty in 1960, and then the Vietnam War continued into the 70s. It was also just 20 years since Japan’s defeat in World War II, and many youngsters questioned—or rather, blamed—their parents as to why they initiated the war and why they weren’t able to stop it. Such generational conflict was seen in many countries, including in the victorious nations such as the United States, as a result of opposition to the Vietnam War and conscription.
The power of the younger generation disseminated worldwide as anti-war strikes by university students became extremely active, including the revolt of May 1968 in France on the campus of the University of Paris and the student movement in then West Germany. In China, during The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong proclaimed that “to rebel is justified.” This means that there are justifiable reasons behind rebellions, and this ideology swept up the younger generation all over the world. I believe that these were symbolic movements of resistance against the adults by the youngsters.
The main reason I joined the university protests was the killing of a Kyoto university student during the anti-war protests near Haneda Airport in 1967. The very first demonstration I joined was actually his memorial demonstration. I never knew him personally, but to lose a classmate at a protest somehow ignited my inner rage against injustice.
- Through the university protests, your life must have been deeply influenced and may have contributed to the formation of your way of life. How has this shaped your life?
There was an undeniable sense of frustration that we had been defeated in a movement we wanted to fight for, but my experiences of being sexually discriminated against by the male students, who we thought were our comrades in the protests, left a blatant mark on me. There was a division of gender roles even within social movements: Behind the barricades on campus, female student protestors were forced to take on roles of combat services support, including making rice balls to feed the empty stomachs of our warriors and providing aid to them as if we were military nurses. Back then, it was perfectly normal that the men took for granted that women would perform such roles.
Naturally, the male students would soon, one after another, go off and get married, but not to women such as us comrades who fought together in the protests. They would choose women who did not take part in the protests, but who instead were eagerly waiting for their boyfriends. That is when I truly witnessed that we women were unmindfully filtered and categorized by men. I believe that sexual discrimination is a result of flaws in our social structures rather than the individual characters of each man. They seem to be unconscious of being at the receiving end of such intangible benefits in society. At the same time, there were many (women) activists that experienced similar defilement around the world—the first generation of women’s liberation were actually women activists who grew out of student power.
Another factor that has shaped me into the person I am today was my mother’s incessant whining about my father. I at times did feel sympathetic towards my mother, but upon looking at the situation and my father’s personality closely, I did not perceive him to be particularly wicked. I then realized during my teenage years that the problem was not derived from individual personalities, but rather from a defect in the gender structures in our society. From such experiences, I wanted to avoid getting trapped by the gender structure and decided to live alone.
- Please share with us what research you have conducted in the field of women’s and gender studies.
Back in my days as a student, there was neither women’s nor gender studies. It wasn’t until after the women’s liberation movement in the 1960s that Women’s Studies was established by the activists who later joined the academic community. Women’s Studies were introduced in Japan in the late 1970s through private study groups outside the realm of academia. In the beginning, we read literature and papers in foreign languages together as a group, but Women’s Studies in Japan later formed and succeeded in their own unique way.
It was when I was in graduate school that I encountered Women’s Studies. Up until then, I had expected that sociology would enable me to deal with vital contemporary issues, but as I was studying at the university, I was disappointed by academic research and saw no place for myself in academia. That is when I first encountered Women’s Studies, which made it possible to study myself as the object of my research. It was truly an eye-opening experience for me. Studying oneself was taboo in academic research, since academic disciplines require objectivity and neutrality. It is still this way today, but I’ve been fighting against the criticism of Women’s Studies as biased and subjective all throughout my research life along with my peers in this field, as existing academic literature is itself male-biased.
When I came across Women’s Studies, I was really motivated by the prospect of doing research, and I conducted research on housewives and domestic labor. With a lack of existing literature in the early stages of Women’s Studies, we had no choice but to gather all the data ourselves. We were excited with new findings, and our efforts as pioneers in this field of research were rewarding.
- You have also studied, conducted research, and taught at top educational institutions overseas. What do you think are the major challenges, especially when comparing Japan and the U.S.?
I think Japan’s higher education is in dire straits. It is said that Japan’s education succeeds in primary to secondary education, but fails in higher education. The level of literacy in primary education is particularly strong with a high ranking achieved in PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), but when it comes to higher education, the curriculum and system seem to be functionally inadequate. The universities don’t encourage students to study much, and they are reluctant to even flunk them! My students used to say that they adjusted their lives around my seminar schedules, but if they were to take a few more courses that require many submissions of reports and papers as expected in my classes, they certainly would not have time for part-time jobs. We do not see an educational system that allows for our students to study to that extent in Japan. We do, however, see many talented students graduate from popular, prestigious institutions in Japan, but that is not to say that the academic curriculum or the professors are outstanding; rather, the students themselves are competent enough to succeed wherever they go.
To this effect, I think that there are three fundamental issues behind our substandard higher education system in Japan. The first is the selection process. Students are selected merely based on the percentage of correct answers to questions with only one correct answer. I believe that universities will improve the quality of their students if they expand their quotas for school-recommended students. Another issue is that students have been left uncontrolled by a basically laissez-faire educational style at many universities, in which they have too much free time. Many professors seem to identify themselves as academic researchers, but not so much as teachers. And the third is that companies often do not evaluate students based on the skills they have acquired in universities. So overall, the university system is just defective from entry through to the exit process.
There is, however, hope in the process: Value-Adding Education. Value-Adding Education refers to a system in which students are able to recognize how much they have progressed and what they have acquired during their four years of university studies. It is a problem if we send our university graduates out into the real world without feeling that they have grown in the last four years. At the age of 18, there is not much difference in academic levels on average between Ivy League students in the U.S. and students at prestigious universities in Japan. However, the gap is disturbingly wide after four years of university education. This is merely because the U.S. has a system designed for higher education. Recently, several universities that offer Value-Adding Education have gained high recognition in Japan.
- What do you think of the education, in particular the English education, in Japan?
English education in Japan, in my opinion, has become much too focused on speaking and listening. While they are important, I believe that the fundamentals of language learning are acquiring basic reading, writing, and grammar knowledge. If you wish to merely communicate in English, then AI-based translations will suffice. But should you wish to accurately read and understand information transmitted in English, then proper reading and writing skills are crucial. We can see that English skills acquired by those who go abroad during their secondary education years are different from those who study abroad in university and beyond. Going abroad during the early years may enable one to acquire colloquial English and speak with a native accent, but studying abroad from university on facilitates a deeper level of English comprehension and communication.
Writing skills are also essential when it comes to conveying information abroad from Japan. Academic writing and general writing are two different skills. For starters, academic writing has a different structure, with its own set of rules and objectives different from everyday language; if you were to merely translate a Japanese thesis paper into English word for word, it would make no sense at all. Moreover, translating a published paper requires as much effort as writing a new paper. The number of schools offering academic writing courses has been increasing, and I believe these programs are an absolute must for our system.
- Can you tell us what plans and prospects you have for your current research project(s)?
Currently, I am working on elderly and nursing care as my major project. This research became feasible with the introduction of the Long-Term Care Insurance System in this country in the year 2000.
Specifically, my focus is on “End of Life Care for Singles.” As you may have realized by now, I initially conduct my research for my own well-being and benefit. To be honest, I do not wish to spend my numbered days in a nursing home or hospital; I don’t think anyone would want to do that. At the beginning, my research of single elderly people as subjects focused on a demographic minority who stayed single throughout their lives like me, but it has become a topic that has resonated with a large group of people over the last twenty years. This has been attributed to the fact that single-person households have rapidly increased, the number of children has decreased, and many elders cannot rely on—or do not want to rely on—their families for nursing care.
To my surprise, my book, “Opponent’s Old Age (Ohitorisama No Rougo)” (Bunshun Bunko) published in 2007 became a best-seller with over 800,000 copies sold. Perhaps the demographic majority anticipated that they themselves would one day become single elderly people. End-of-life care for singles at home was once considered impossible, but with the implementation of the Long-Term Care Insurance System, this has emerged as an option. In fact, the government has been recommending these options to the public. It has become an important topic of discussion for social security policies due to demographic changes in our society.
- Who do you respect as a global leader?
I greatly respect the late Dr. Tetsu Nakamura, who was a Japanese physician, brutally murdered in Afghanistan. Dr. Nakamura headed the Peace Japan Medical Services and devoted his life to building canals in Afghanistan. Had the world known more about Dr. Nakamura’s endeavors, it would not be surprising for him to have been awarded a Nobel Prize. Doctors fix problems that have occurred, but he was a doctor who truly believed that an ounce of prevention was worth a pound of cure: He worked hard to prevent problems from happening. Dr. Nakamura is someone who I truly consider to be a global leader.
- You authored the book, The Modern Family in Japan—Its Rise and Fall— (Trans Pacific Press). There were numerous case studies that I found to be intriguing and made me reflect upon the modality of a family. What does “family” mean to you?
I consider the definition of family to be an “unchosen bond.” In fact, when I was once asked, “what parents mean to you” by an interviewer, I immediately answered, “a nuisance.” This may sound harsh, but unexpectedly, many readers sympathized with me. Perhaps everyone unconsciously feels the same way.
- Please share your message to the younger generations who aspire to become future global leaders or who aspire to become change-makers.
Learn how to communicate with anyone in any position on an equal footing!
- 上野千鶴子先生 ご著書紹介
『フェミニズムがひらいた道』(NHK出版)｜The Path that Feminism Has Cultivated (NHK Publishing)
“Feminism” is a term we hear all the time, but not many people know its deep history and roots. In this book, Dr. Ueno explains the “The Four Waves” of feminism in Japan in a compact style. It further explains the achievements and failures of feminism. This is a great introductory book on feminism, recommended for all ages from middle and high schoolers to adults. Have a read!
「フェミニズムがひらいた道」 （NHK出版）| The Path That Feminism Has Cultivated (NHK Publishing)