I spent 5 months in Japan and fell in love with its diversity. It is a country full of history and tradition but also the most futuristic place I have ever been to. In this post I would like to address the stereotype about Japanese women. Whenever I talk about my time in Japan, lots of European people hit me with phrases like “Well, I really can not tell those Asians apart, you know“, “They eat everything in Japan, right?” or “Hm, I do not want to go there to be honest. I don’t think the mentality is for me“. Many people ignore the fact that Asia is a continent which has various people and traditions and not one big country. All those conversation I had showed me how many prejudices Europeans still have about this part of the world.
Especially after my time in Japan I realized what kind of picture people have in their minds when they talk about Japanese women. They are seen as quiet, shy, adorable, naive, even narrow-minded. I have to say that I definitely experienced cultural differences between me and all the Japanese women I met and I also have to admit that most of them seemed quite shy to me at the beginning. However, during my stay I realized that their behaviour in public is a result of the unique Japanese mentality. For example, showing feelings openly as well as too much physical contact in public can be seen as rude. But only because they act in a certain way in public does not mean that they do not have a lot more to say and to offer than cute cosplay dresses, polite waving and shy giggles. I made friends with open-minded, bright and smart women who do more than to just dress up nicely and smile. I am sure that when you looked through the pictures, you thought to yourself “Well this is exactly how I imagined Japan” and that is fine because there are quite a lot of things we associate with Japan which are not far away from reality. In order to widen the picture you have of Japan, I would also like to introduce you to the work of Akiko Yosano, a Japanese poetess, who embodies the opposite of the naive or “cute” stereotype we might have about Japanese women.
Akiko Yosano is one of Japan’s most famous as well as most controversial post-classical female poets and authors. She was born as Yosano Shiyo on 7 December 1878 in Sakai (near Osaka) and grew up to be a pioneering feminist, pacifist and social reformer. From the age of 11, she was the family member who was most responsible for running the family business. Of the 13 children she gave birth to, 11 survived to adulthood. Her essays discuss topics like feminism and criticize certain war strategies. This shaped her reputation of breaking with social norms and taboos. Her poems about child labour, personal romantic and sexual feelings and the pain about her stillborn baby show that she had a revolutionary mind and was way ahead of her time. Aiko Yosana was also the founder of the woman’s college Burka Gakuin and served as a spokesperson for women’s education. She died in 1942.
Tangled in a thousand strands.
Tangled my hair and
Tangled my tangled memories
Of our long nights of love making.
Not speaking of the way,
Not thinking of what comes after,
Not questioning name or fame,
Here, loving love,
You and I look at each other.
This autumn will end.
Nothing can last forever.
Fate controls our lives.
Fondle my breasts
With your strong hands.
Press my breasts,
Part the veil of mystery,
A flower blooms there,
Crimson and fragrant.
I can give myself to her
In her dreams
Whispering her own poems
In her ear as she sleeps beside me.
Left on the beach
Full of water,
A worn out boat
Reflects the white sky
Of early autumn.
I am sick today,
sick in my body,
eyes wide open, silent,
I lie on the bed of childbirth.
Why do I, so used to the nearness of death,
to pain and blood and screaming,
now uncontrollably tremble with dread?
A nice young doctor tried to comfort me,
and talked about the joy of giving birth.
Since I know better than he about this matter,
what good purpose can his prattle serve?
Knowledge is not reality.
Experience belongs to the past.
Let those who lack immediacy be silent.
Let observers be content to observe.
I am all alone,
totally, utterly, entirely on my own,
gnawing my lips, holding my body rigid,
waiting on inexorable fate.
There is only one truth.
I shall give birth to a child,
truth driving outward from my inwardness.
Neither good nor bad; real, no sham about it.
With the first labor pains,
suddenly the sun goes pale.
The indifferent world goes strangely calm.
I am alone.
It is alone I am.
Poems by Akiko Yosano
Translations from Japanese by Kenneth Rexroth
Photos and text by Hannah Wolny
Since I am from Germany there is only so much I can say about Japan. That is why we are looking for Japanese writers, photographers and filmmakers. So if there is anything which suits Kandaka’s purpose and you would like to share, contact us!