From Propriety to Prosperity

Chikushi Jogakuen Junior High School
Fukuoka, Japan
In an intensive week funded by ISA Inc a Japanese Education Management consultancy, their aim was to improve education in Japan and for this reason, I was sent on an assignment.
      Tetsuei Mizuki, founder of Chikushi Jogakuen, then President of North American Ministry of Jodo Shin Shu, Honganji Sect, observed development of education for women in United States and realized the importance of providing education for women in Japan as well. Although I knew a different story. Having studied Anthropology , I´d met many Japanese women that had been through the education system and were skeptical of these private colleges. I had done research into a sample of women`s colleges in Japan mirroring the same model for elite women in USA. These private junior and high schools parade as bastions of learning and yet, so many of the graduates are seen as fodder to prop up the myth of a masculine career so that they become trophy wives.
     I felt with this trip I would be arriving right at the very crucial point in their lives, where they would be obtaining an in depth education, with many choices before them and yet, they would not be aware of this privilege. Settling-in, most of the girls when asked what they wanted to do, said that they were looking forward to getting married and those that did have some sense of what their future could hold, had no role models to look to except their father. One girl asked me, "What do you think? Should I become a Lawyer or an Accountant, my father is a business man so maybe I`ll choose accounting".
  I decided that under this structure I could awaken the girls critical thinking and awareness to choices before them by using a combination of comparative history, visual resources, narrative and drama. The aim was to promote a stronger sense of motivation for the girls to achieve their goals. What evolved was something more than I could have imagined. A gained sense of freedom and knowledge of their own significant place in history through an interactive performance of Japanese Women through the ages. I didn`t set this for them. We found this topic together through our collective discontent with the way education was being forced that had little to do with our lives and our making sense of the world.
      When I first arrived in the classroom Haruka and Saki were lying with their head on the desk. They were almost asleep as I continued using the texts that I had been given to teach, mainly focusing on animals and science-"because women must learn science"! This false myth making was rampant in the college-in order to emancipate women we must take on masculine roles and subjects-you could hear it screaming down the corridors in desperation to change for the sake of change. Just like in the eighties and nineties there was a whole myth about the power of women in the executive office.
      So, after seeing this sleep-mode throughout my class, I decide to turn things around. I took out my own book on teaching English through

 British History and we explored the myths and legends of dragons and ghosts and they in turn reciprocated. I went out for lunch and when I came back, I could hear the girls excitedly laughing. When I came close to the door a couple of the girls came out and took me by the hand, smiling and guided me into the room, covering my eyes. When I was stopped, they uncovered my eyes and there before me was a whole board filled with different symbols relating to the different festivals in Southern Japan. Flying carp for Kodomon no Hi (Children`s Day) fireworks for mid-summer festivals and cherry blossom for O-hanami and dragons and fish from Buddhist and Japanese folklore. The whole board was covered full of coloured chalk and they looked back at me in anticipation to my reaction. Feeling overwhelmed with pride and hope I went about asking them in an attentive way, like their student for them to tell me one by one what each of these symbols meant. From that point on I threw away the syllabus that had been given to me and looked to them to see what we should learn next.
      There were six girls, one year short of graduating high school with one of 'The best education a girl could receive in Japan`. What would support them the most in the next transition of their lives? I thought about what I had been struggling with in my own life back in Britain. Having given-up a scholarship to continue a Ph.D and then probably a narrow track of research through the academic ranks, what was it that had supported me in my search to pave my own path? The lives of women, so often hidden, fallen through the cracks-it`s a familiar tale perhaps, but one that needs to be revisited again and again until there is a greater sense of the real choices for girls and women.
    I told them that we needed to give a presentation to the rest of the year and we had only three days to prepare. Did we want to present to them the something from the syllabus, or did we want to explore Japanese Women´s history? Immediately they answered the latter. A few minutes later I was watching them gasp and beckon each other over as they found more and more women that had lived, worked and studied through the ages. Soon they started to play a game where they anointed each women to someone in the class. I suggested that they extend this as their presentation where they become the woman that they find in history and present an episode from the period that she lived in. They came out with several incredible episodes, of one girl taking on the protagonist and the others interacting with her as comrades. The very girls that had been asleep on the tables before me, where now fully engaged and running around being the first warriors in Japan, writers, and astronauts singing "the World is blue" as they enact their new found personalities from greater heights than they could have envisaged a few days before.


Himiko otherwise known, as Empress Jingu is a queen ruler of what is called Yamataikoku probably either in Yamato province or in the North Kyushu in Japan.


Hojo Masako
Masako one of the most formidable political figures to take a place on the stage of Japan's warrior government was the daughter of Hôjô Tokimasa and was married to Minamoto Yoritomo. Following the death of her husband (who had become the first Minamoto shôgun in 1192), took up a nun's habit, accepting the tonsure from the priest Gyôyû in 1199.

Ichiyo Higuchi
1872 – 1896
Was born in Meiji Era, Tokyo into a poor family. Ichiyo met a journal and novelist Toshi Nakahara and under his guidance wrote one story after another that picked upon the life of women in the meji era. In 1894 her first major work, Ōtsugomori was published, and in the following year, Takekurabe, Nigorie, and Jūsanya were published to critical and popular success

Chiaki Mukai
Effective October 1, 2003, NASDA merged with ISAS (Institute of Space & Astronautic Science) and NAL (National Aerospace Laboratory of Japan) and was renamed JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) for which Chiaki became a part.

Between 1910 and 1920 there came about the "new woman" (atarashii onna), a woman who transgressed social boundaries and questioned her dependence on men. If we look to this kind of woman for confidence today, will contemporary society see us as a threat as they were seen by many then? Or as a refreshing welcome to both men and women? They asked 300 girls from some of most privileged families in Southern Japan. When a deep silence filled the room, they ended with: "It`s in our hands"