Education About Asia: Online Archives

Women in Japan: Memories of the Past, Dreams of the Future

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English version—Joanne Hershfield/Jan Bardsley

2001. 52:25 Minutes. VHS/DVD. Color.

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The stereotype of the Asian woman as subservient, selfless, and obedient to her husband has dominated Western thinking for over 150 years. The video, Women in Japan: Memories of the Past, Dreams of the Future, presents quite a different version of the modern woman in Japan. Award-winning filmmaker Joanne Hershfield, Professor of Film and Video Production, and Jan Bardsley, Associate Professor of Japanese Language and Literature Curriculum in Asian Studies, both from the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, undertook this film project, funded in part by UNC-CH and in part by the Japan Foundation, to examine the nature (role) of women in modern-day Japan.

The film consists of interviews with an eclectic group of women, some Japanese who have traveled abroad, others non-Japanese, who marry Japanese men and choose to live in Japan. The Japanese interviewees represent leaders in education, international Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), and the arts. A common thread that links the group is their perception of their mothers as classic examples of the selfless Confucian wife and mother, product of a pre-arranged marriage, devoted to husband and family—and their strong-willed independent reaction to that perception. Perhaps the most radical departure from a generation of tradition-bound females is exemplified by the life story of the internationally famous painter Taeko Tomiyama, who not only chooses an unconventional occupation, but also refuses to marry her lover and the father of her children because she does not wish to be subservient to (owned by) his family.