“Women’s Liberation Movement in Japan” and “Nation, Gender, Sex”
1. Nobuko’s Narrative Begins Here:
The Rose of Versailles
The Rose of Versailles [Berusaiyu no bara], serialized in a girls manga magazine from 1972 to 1973, was already an icon of girls manga when I first read it in 1986 (I was about thirteen at the time). It was almost common knowledge in Japan that it was about a fictional, cross-dressed character Oscar François de Jarjayes, set in the time of the French Revolution. It was also known as the original version of the theatrical adaptation by the Takarazuka Revue, the all-female musical company. The manga featured excessively decorative graphic images and language that were already outdated in 1986. While it was seen as a masterpiece of girls manga, it was also made fun of because of its “ over-the-top-ness.” I remember that I really wanted to read it when I found cheaper paperback version (ten volumes!) at a local bookstore. The graphics on the covers made me hesitate, but my desire to read an iconic work won out in the end. I remember buying a few volumes at first, but after finishing them, I went back to the bookstore and within a few days, I finished the entire set. The outdated graphic images and decorative language did not prevent me from being engrossed in the world of this manga. I was empowered by Oscar, a woman soldier who fights against the royalists in the Taking of the Bastille and dies heroically by being shot in the end. I was also fascinated by the charm of this androgynous character and her romantic relationship with her male lover. More than twenty years after that, I have acquired critical eyes to look at her patriotism, but back when I was twelve or thirteen, I was simply moved by her “heroic” act.
Here is a summary of The Rose of Versailles. (It was authored by a female manga writer Riyoko Ikeda.) It sets in the time of the French Revolution and revolves around two women, Marie Antoinette and a fictional character Oscar. The story weaves together historical facts and fictions. Oscar is brought up as a successor to her father General de Jarjayes because he has no male child. Although she is open about the fact that she is a woman, she wears male attire and serves Mary Antoinette as a commander of the Royal Guards. However, Oscar starts to be aware of the social inequality in the political upheaval leading to the revolution. She resigns from the Royal Guards and joins the French Guards as an officer. Eventually, she participates in the Taking of the Bastille with the anti-royalist soldiers of her regiment and helps those in the Third Estate who do not know how to handle weapons. However, she is shot and dies after witnessing the fall of the Bastille. The Rose of Versailles ends with Marie Antoinette guillotined.
More details about The Rose of Versailles and some graphic images are available here:
Here is a youtube video of the anime version. A fan compiled several scenes from the anime:
1.2 Women’s Lib and “Muse-cal” Emancipation of Women
Around the same time when The Rose of Versailles was serialized and gaining huge popularity, women’s liberation movement was taking place. Indeed, I learned later that The Rose of Versailles was influenced by the women’s lib. Lib Shunjuku was one of many women’s collectives. Some members formed an amateur theatre company Dotekabo-ichiza (pun of “ dotekabocha,” meaning ugly women like “pumpkin”) and staged a musical comedy (“muse-cal” as they call it) Emancipation of Women [Onna no kaiho] (1974-1980). It was written and directed by Mitsu Tanaka (1943-), a standard-bearer of the women's lib in Japan in 1970s. With themes such as abortion, infanticide, Japanese men's prostitution tours to neighboring Asia, the U.S. military bases in Japan, Japan’s war crime, etc., the “muse-cal” toured around Japan until 1980. Although The Rose of Versailles was produced under the influence of the women’s lib, it seems it didn’t share the critique to militarism.
The muse-cal actually had a scene in which the members made fun of Takarazuka’s production of The Rose of Versailles, but there is no recording available of the scene. According to the script, Marie Antoinette and her affair partner is talking about contraception. This might be a critique to Takarazuka’s valorization of its performers’ (supposed) virginity.
Here is a chapter “Liberation” in Vera Mackie, Feminism in Modern Japan (2003): 144-173.
This chapter is about the history of Feminism in Japan in the 1970s. I recommend the following sections:
“Liberation from the Toilet”:144-145
“Fighting Women” and “Liberating the Body”: 155-159
“Wonderful Women”: 159-160
“Fighting for Reproductive Control”: 164-168
This is a clip from Emancipation of Women. The scenes are “Economic Animal” and “Powerful Women’s Blues.”
“Economic Animal” (ekonomikku animaru) is a critique to Japan's post-war economic invasion of neighboring Asia. It consists of a dialogue between a couple whose husband is going on a business trip to Philippine, where his company is planning to build a local factory. In the scene, the only male actor in the company plays both husband and wife. The left side of his body looks a man, wearing a shirt and pants, and the right side looks a woman, wearing a wig and a dress. When he speaks the lines of a husband, he shows his left side to the audience, and when he speaks the lines of a wife, he does the opposite. The husband explains to his wife the economic advantages of using cheap labor in neighboring Asia and he also tells her that his company can fire the local employees whenever it wants. She shows him understanding, and overcome with a joy of reaffirming that they are good match, they hold each other (the actor turns around several times and shows the audience that each of them, husband and wife, is holding the other). Right before they hold each other, the husband says to his wife, “I love you, Michiko!” and she replies to him by calling his name, “Akihito!” Michiko and Akihito are the names of the then Crown Princess and Prince. The couple further continues their conversation. Michiko anticipates that Akihito will go to local prostitutes, and while she gets jealous, she tells him that she will put condoms in his luggage so that he can avoid venereal disease. He appreciates her support of his “work” and starts to sing a wartime militarist song. Then, the actor faces the audience, showing both the husband and the wife to them. He holds Japan's national flag and cries, “ Economic animal, banzai! Sex animal, banzai! Banzai, banzai, banzai!”
“Powerful Women's Blues” is a parody of Elvis Presley's “GI Blues.” Women wear pants and dance in a strong movement, swinging their arms and stepping jauntily. The lyrics proclaim the rejection to the “ready-made life” and the collective struggle in the women's liberation movement.
Below is a finale of Emancipation of Women.
In the Finale, they sing “Let’s Start a Revolution,” the company's only original song. (The other songs they use in this work are all (parodies of ) existing ones.) It is composed and written by Tanaka Mitsu. The women and the men, some of whom wear ribbons on their heads, dance to the strong beat and sing:
Let's start a revolution. Let's start a revolution. ... You can revolutionalize yourself. You can revolutionalize yourself. ... We can start a revolution. We can start a revolution. ... If women change, men will change. If women change, the society will change. If women change, the society will change. ... Let's start a revolution. Let's start a revolution. ... You can revolutionalize yourself. You can revolutionalize yourself.
1.3 Nation, Gender, Sex
Although I am aware that this colloquium does not cover events after 1990, I want to briefly discuss the Japanese feminists concern in the 1990s, because in this period, they started to investigate the colonial legacy. In the 1990s, the Japanese feminists’ concerns expanded into female (illegal) immigrant workers from other parts of Asia. This further facilitated other concerns, including the issue of “comfort women” or Asian women exploited as sex slaves by the Japanese military during WWII. The issue was widely discussed in the 1990s under the discourse of postcolonialism, but the former “comfort women” have been suffering throughout the postwar years. The first books on the issue came out in the 1970s.
1.5 The Women's International War Crimes Tribunal for the Trial of Japanese Military Sexual Slavery (2001)
The Women’s Tribunal, which took place in Tokyo in 2000. It was the people’s tribunal held for the purpose of “bring[ing] those responsible for [the enslavement of ‘comfort women’] to justice, and to end[ing] the ongoing cycle of impunity for wartime sexual violence against women.” It was a performative event that aimed to revise the official chronicles, by bringing into light the crime of the imperialist Japan, and hence the Emperor's, against women, which was never prosecuted in the Tokyo Tribunal conducted by the Allied Powers in 1946.
Here is a chapter “Difference” in Vera Mackie, Feminism in Modern Japan (2003): 202-231.
I recommend the following section.
“Feminism in a Transnational Frame”: 221-225.
Below are the scenes from a documentary film of The Women’s Tribunal, Breaking the History of Silence: the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal for the Trial of Japanese Military Sexual Slavery (2001)
Introduction and the general background:
Testimony of a former Korean comfort woman: