Setsu Shigematsu

In 1970, a new women’s liberation movement emerged, marking a watershed in the history of feminism in modern Japan. The history of feminist consciousness, discourse and activism in Japan has been well documented in works such as Flowers in Salt (Sievers 1983) and Feminism in Modern Japan (Mackie 2003). This history included groups advocating for women’s increased political participation (Mackie 2003; Sievers 1983), socialist and anarchist women (Mackie 1997; Bowen Raddeker 1997; Hane 1988), and those engaged in feminist literary production (Bardsley 2007; Bullock 2010). The journal Seito (Bluestockings, active from 1911 to 1916) was one of the most prominent early feminist forums where women’s sexuality was explored. Many scholars, however, recognise that the social movement that emerged in 1970 marked the onset of a new wave of feminist activism in post-war Japan (Shigematsu 2012; Muto 1997; Ueno 1994). This movement was catalysed by the convergence of domestic and international political conditions arising in the wake of the turbulent student movements and Anti-Vietnam War movements in Japan in the late 1960s.

As part of the worldwide rise of progressive and radical social movements of the 1960s and 1970s, this movement was synchronous with the rise of radical feminism in the United States (Echols 1989; Freeman 1975: 148). Unlike liberal feminism, which stresses the achieve­ment of equality with men, radical feminism takes a broader view, emphasising women’s oppression under patriarchy as a fundamental form of human oppression that can only be relieved through comprehensive societal and cultural transformation. This radical approach also defines the tenor of the women’s liberation movement taking hold in Japan in the 1970s (Shigematsu 2012: xx). Indeed, Machiko Matsui describes the women’s liberationists as ‘radical feminists’ who ‘claimed that women were one of the most oppressed groups’ and ‘raised the question of women’s sexuality as the core of their oppression’ (Matsui 1990: 437—38). One of the distinguishing features of this movement was its emphasis on the liberation of sex and sexuality (sei no kaiho). In this chapter I will elaborate on how this movement politicised the concept of sex with a far-reaching critique that implied more than ‘sexual liberation’ for women. After providing brief historical background, I survey the significant contributions this movement made in transforming the terms and terrain of sexuality and sexual politics for women in Japan.