I am delighted to kick off the East Asia blogs for the WIG website! Joining me are Rui Kohiyama (American and Gender Studies, Tokyo Women’s Christian University) and Febe Pamonag, History Department, Western Illinois University). We welcome other contributors and are particularly interested in specialists in China, Korea, and Southeast Asia. Please contact me if you would like to join us (bmolony@scu.edu).

I had planned to inaugurate the East Asia blogs with an overview of the very lively field of Japanese transnational feminist studies in English. In North America in the past six months alone, numerous scholars in a variety of disciplines have given papers addressing transnational feminisms at major conferences. Presenters at the Emory University conference on “Sex, Gender and Society: Rethinking Modern Japanese Feminisms” (April 2013), the Association for Asian Studies meeting (March 2013, San Diego), the Western Association of Women Historians (May 2013, Portland OR), and regional meetings such as the conference of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association (August, Denver CO) added to this growing field in the spring and summer of 2013. Books and articles in major disciplinary journals have included works by Anglophone scholars from all over the world. So it’s no exaggeration to say this is a lively field of study!

But I was inspired by the exciting blogs on the WIG website describing the IFRWH conference at Sheffield Hallam University, so I’ve decided to join them and discuss my experience at that meeting. For a Japan specialist, the conference was a real thrill. I had never been able to attend the IFRWH in the past, and this meeting was fabulous. The contingent of Japan specialists was huge, and the quality of their work was really fine. The organizers’ integration of the Japan work in panels that covered a variety of global and thematic areas was brilliant. Most of us came from very long distances, but the excitement of seeing old friends and meeting new ones, together with copious amounts of coffee and tea during the breaks, kept us all on our toes. Unfortunately, as prolific as the Japanese scholarship was, the number of presentations of work on other parts of East Asia was small.

Many papers were in panels whose titles explicitly foregrounded transnationalism, and I could wander from session to session and never be far from the topic. Among the presenters whose panel titles included “transnational” either explicitly or implicitly were: Andrea Germer, “The Gender of Modernity in Foreign Propaganda: Transnational Trajectories in Wartime Japan;” Vera Mackie, “The Local and the Global in the 1950s: The World Congress of Mothers and the Hahaoya Taikai;” Ulrike Woehr, “Japan’s Post-1970s Anti-Nuclear Power Movement in National and Transnational Contexts;” Tamiko Miyatsu, “Daughters of Transnational Women’s Activism in the Progressive Era: Mary Church Terrell and Raicho Hiratsuka;” Marie Sandell, “‘Unifying the People of the East and the West”: WILPF’s Mission to East Asia in the Late 1920s;” Mieko Kojima, “Ana. C. Hartshorne and the Funding of the Philadelphia Committee;” Barbara Molony, “Transnational Feminisms;” Christine Levy, “Globalisation et feminisms au Japon: de la critique de l’impérialism à la question dépassement des nationalisms;” and Mara Patessio, “Rough Encounters, Jagged Conflicts, and Intimate Exchanges: Japanese Women Teaching Korean, Taiwanese, and Chinese Women during the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries.” This was such a rich collection of papers that I hope I haven’t left anyone out!

A number of papers addressed empire and its ramifications: Chisako Uno, “Woman and Body in Imperial Japan;” Misako Kunihara, “Images of Nurses in Imperial Japan;” and Shizue Tachibana, “Between Two Empires: The Marriage of Harriet Dickinson and Kojiro Tomita. Empire is arguably a manifestation of transnationalism as well.

Joining those papers were excellent presentations in panels that dealt with women whose transnational migrations attuned them to questions of identity: Junko Sakai, “Japanese Women on the Move: Between Global and Local Identities;” and the only paper with a Korean-American theme, Sandra J. Song’s “Memory’s Irreverent Stain? Family, Nation, and Blood in the Writing of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha.” Topics in transnational marriage and discourses on sexuality were addressed by Taeko Shibahara, “American Nadeshiko, Frances Hawks Cameron Burnett;” and Yoko Hayashi, “The Influence of the British Movement against Licensed Prostitution upon Japanese Society in the Meiji Era.” The implantation of democracy in postwar rural Japan was carefully analyzed by Fumi Iwashima in “Rural Women and Democratization Policies in Postwar Japan: The Big Picture as Seen from a Case Study of Kumihama-cho.”

South Asian topics were also well represented in numerous papers at the meeting.  But there were only five papers on the rest of East Asia. These were the excellent presentations on the Philippines—Inma Alva’s “Trader Women in Manila in the 18th Century,” Laura R. Prieto’s “Women, Missions and the Politics of Dress in the Philippines, 1898-1940,” and Emily Sloan’s “Suffragist Identity and Networks of Power: Carrie Chapman Catt in the Philippines, 1912”— on China—Jerry Chang’s “Banking of Women in Shanghai: The Shanghai Women’s Commercial and Savings Bank, 1924-1955,” and on Malaya—Arunima Datta’s “From Dependent Wives to Independent Wage Earners: Indian Coolie Women on Colonial Malay Plantations.” The next IFRWH will be in China, and I hope those of us in the Japan field will be joined by more of our colleagues who work in other parts of East Asia.

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  1. Rui Kohiyama @ 2013-12-27 17:34

    In response to Barbara Molony by Rui Kohiyama
    I was so glad to see many Japanese scholars present at Sheffield, for I tried to disseminate the information on the conference through email sponsored by the Gender History Association of Japan and a lot of the members of the association responded to the call. I have confirmed that there is a demand among Japanese scholars to participate in international conferences and present their papers. Attending the conference and the steering committee meeting for the first time, I came to know belatedly how the IFRWH is organized. Coming back to Japan, I talked with several women concerned and have now organized a kind of Japan committee for the IFRWH to which the Gender History Association of Japan and the Society for Research on Women’s History in Japan have agreed to each send a representative. I hope more associations will join us in the committee.
    The Gender History Association of Japan celebrated the 10th anniversary of its foundation on Dec. 7 and 8 and Prof. Cynthia Enloe spoke to commemorate the occasion. Her theme of gendered militarization was so timely—very unfortunately for Japan—as the specified secrets protection bill was being passed in the Diet on the same weekend.
    The ruling party (LDP) had manipulated the process of the passage of the bill by strategically placing Masako Mori, a female member of the House of Councillors and Minister of State for Measures for Declining Birthrate on the position of Minister of State to deal with the bill, probably expecting the feminine appearance of the 49 year old (relatively young) woman will soften and hide the militaristic meaning of the bill. Mori is also from the Fukushima prefecture and the LDP might have cunningly used the general sympathy toward the tragedy of her homeland to surround the whole discussion on the bill in the Diet.
    Almost all of the participants in the 10th anniversary were deeply apprehensive of the militarization of Japan and critical of the right-wing Abe administration. But just like in U.S., the left-wing feminist historians are just a tiny minority in Japan.
    On the next day after the conference, I was having lunch with eight housewives in my neighborhood. It was the third time that I joined such an occasion in ten years since I had begun to live in the neighborhood, although the others seemed to have met more frequently. I happened to have no class on that day and my mother with dementia happened to be with me in my house. I though it was good for my mother to go out for lunch and so, put her in a wheelchair and went the designated café restaurant in a shopping mall nearby. There we sat talking about a new apartment that had just been completed in the neighborhood, how much its rental fee, and so on.
    One of the housewives had lived in Israel for four years accompanying her husband in business there and Mrs. A began to ask questions on her experience.
    “We made very good friends in Israel,” she answered and continued, “my sons went to school there and had learned the Hebrew in four months. To keep the language, they still talk with their teacher through skype once a week.” How wonderful, I thought.
    “But isn’t it dangerous there?” another asked.
    “Oh, no. There is a wall. And young men service for military and soldiers with rifles are all around, like at the entrance of a grocery store. You feel kind of protected.” She added, “There are a lot of places for tourism such as the place called Jerusalem. We enjoyed Israel so much that we had decided to stay there for four years instead of two, our original plan. But food is far better in Japan.”

    This was how the experience in one of the most contested and militarized areas in the world is told among my neighbors. I could have intervened, pointing out the danger in the feeling of being protected by soldiers with machined guns. If they had been my students, I would have harangued on them. But I couldn’t, in front of my neighbors. I wanted to pretend that I was an innocent and good-natured neighbor, never disturbing peace among them, and just kept quiet, letting the process of militarization pass. Maybe, this kind of attitude is what keeps the feminist intellectuals a minority, I thought, as I left the café telling my neighbors that I had to take my mother to toilet…

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