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Monday, November 14, 2016

Womansword - What Japanese Words Say About Women - A Book Review

They should probably send Donald Trump, sorry… United States of America President Donald Trump a copy of this book to help provide a smoother path on his epic four-year journey beginning in 2017.

Womansword is a 30-year-old book re-released as a 30th Anniversary Edition by Stone Bridge Press.

Written by Kittredge Cherry, Womansword describes itself on the book’s cover as: “What Japanese words say about women.”

It certainly does. The book is informative, deep, and even a bit troubling… as I… who often sit here upon my ivory soapbox trump-eting the rights of Japanese women and women in general as something that needs to be respected…

… yet the book maybe me realize I am still a big ape beating his chest in grandeur.

Let’s look at the book’s title - Womansword.

It’s not woman’s word… it’s woman sword… but written like one would write longsword. Womansword. It cuts both ways.

You can poke with it, or you can slice with it. The ancient Greeks liked to slice, the ancient Roman’s preferred to use the sword to poke.

Kittredge does both, reflecting on how Japanese society’s use of words… the word’s themselves… have pigeon-holed women and their place and role in Japanese society.

What’s poignant about the Womansword 30th Anniversary Edition, however, isn’t to detail how much things have changed in 30 years—and yes, there has been some progress—but rather just how much farther Japanese society needs to grow for women to be truly accepted on an equal level in the now-dominated Japanese male society.

Look… I live in Canada now… and while the women’s movement of bra burning turned heads (unshackling themselves) in the 1960s, and legislation coming in in the 1970s about equal pay for equal work, I would have to be completely ignorant to assume that it exists universally across this country.

Even still, 2016 Canada is far better than 1916 Canada, let alone 1976 Canada when it comes to women’s rights in Canada.

But Japan… holy crap…

I was in Japan between 1990-1993… and yes, it’s 26 years ago, but how I saw women being treated back then still largely exists in 2016.

The most annoying thing for me was the subservience of women by men… the expectation that the women would go and get some piping hot o-cha (green tea) when ever a man entered a room.

I worked as an assistant English teacher on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme. And, as much as the foreigner was NOT consider to be equal in societal measures as a Japanese person (discuss amongst yourselves, but it’s probably true in every country in the world, with personal exceptions overruling… religious figure, sports figure, politician, entertainment personality…), I was treated better than the Japanese women.

I was an assistant teacher. As soon as I, or any male teacher would walk into a school’s teacher’s office, a group of female teachers would get up and prepare a hot cup of o-cha for us. Or as many as was required throughout the course of the day.

Okay… I’m a guest… but aren’t we all equal? Don’t the female teachers get the same pay as their male counterparts? Surely a female physical education teacher makes the same as a male physical education teacher in Japan?

No. I do know that I made a heck of a lot more money than a male Japanese teacher of English who had been working as such for 20+ years. Disgraceful. I don’t even want to know what the female teacher’s make. Besides tea, of course.

Seriously... I can recall walking in once... all the men were chatting about the previous evening sumo tournament, the women were all head down doing teacher's duties - marking of tests, writing out reports, planning out lessons... and as soon as I walked in with another male teacher, the women dropped everything and raced to make us tea.

the sports-chatting men didn't budge... it's not their job.

It's embarrassing.

So... I got up and went to the women making the tea and asked if I could help... the look of horror on their face was telling.

Not only was I - the guest - intruding on their female domain, but I was a man - double whammy.

Luckily my co-worker and Japanese teacher of English was there, and she and I chatted.

I explained how in Canada (for example), there's nothing wrong with a man offering to help do anything. It's a sign of respect. We don't even look at it as Man or Woman job... it's just one person being friendly to another.

The sucking of air through the teeth was enough to almost pull me off my feet, as it was like the first time they had actually heard of this utopia called Canada, where a woman could be treated with the same respect as a man.

They had heard about it, but I was actually their first physical example of it happening in real life.

And that’s just a single example.

Womansword cuts far, far deeper than that.

The book provides short and interesting glimpses into Japanese society with linguistic, sociological and historical insight into damn near every aspect of Japanese society…

Womansword slashes through the male-imposed rigorous Japanese laws and rules that women have to follow involving things such as: identity, girlhood, marriage, motherhood, work, sexuality and aging.

Oh, don’t even get me started on how single Japanese women living at home are expected to obey the 10PM or 11PM curfew imposed on them by their protective fathers.

Don’t make me foam on and on about how women still aren’t allowed to choose who they date or marry, and failure to follow the male-protocol can led to family shame.

Old maid at 25-years-of-age? WTF is that!?

Sorry… ghosts of the past with me. My emotional brain still screams its anger at Japanese society for screwing me over.

Time heals all wounds? Don’t you believe it.

Unfortunately, 30 years on via Womansword, Japanese women are still struggling to be heard.

Despite the very modern thinking by such countries such as Canada and the United States, for example, women did not get to vote in Canada until 1920. Blacks had been allowed to vote 50 years earlier... in fact, Canada had an alderman back in the 1890s-1900s, elected by the Toronto populace.

In the U.S., women could vote in 1920, as well... Blacks, I believe, could vote as long as they were landowners... so they had the legal right before women, too.

In Japan, women were trying to earn the right to vote in the 1930s, but after Japan withdrew from the League of Nations in 1933, civil rights went out the window. Upon Japan's defeat, and with the new Japan Constitution created by the allied nations who defeated Japan - specifically drafted by the United States, on December 17, 1945, Japanese women were given the right to vote. So... Japan should have been a mere 25 years behind North America... maybe they are... but Womansword makes it seem like they are still so much farther behind than that.

Of course, current Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo (surname first) does want to tweak his country's Constitution to give it more military power... but others are also wary that he might try to restrict women's rights... seeing as how it was all something the United States forced upon Japan at the war's conclusion. But that is not a foregone conclusion. It's merely a possibility. The women of Japan need to be aware of the politics of their own country. 

You need to read this book. You need to read Womansword.

If you are a foreigner living in Japan or are planning on going to Japan, read this book. 

It doesn’t offer any suggestion on how Japan can break out of this non-feminist funk, because ultimately that is the domain of the Japanese women to do.

They need to stand up, and they need to affect change… but at least by reading this book, you’ll get a much better understanding of just how far Japanese society as a whole needs to go.

Wowmansword is a powerful, powerful book.

It’s a paltry US$19.95/CDN$25.99, and is 176 pages.

Purchase your copy in fine bookshops everywhere, or you can visit
Andrew Joseph


  1. Funny ... as I went to look up the book, Google pointed me to Wonder Woman's Sword -- which is not in the arsenal of weaponry associated with the original Wonder Woman I knew but is the weapon of the new Wonder Woman. I think women in the US will have to learn to wield a sword (hopefully more figuratively than literally) in the next 4 years to maintain their place in society. Especially to cut off any hands going for the grab. I keep telling myself I'm lucky to live in a country that has and hopefully will make the transition through a peaceful transfer of power after an election. (Honestly I have lived through more than my fair share coups d'├ętat and am lucky to have made it through.)

    P.S. Check your P.S. which is in the main body also ...

    1. Ha. thanks, FFF. The Trump of the election is not the same "Donald" who was just a celebrity. However... if the charges against him are true, that's sad.
      He could still be impeached if charges against his Trump University and fraud charges are proven. He COULD join two other US presidents in impeachment. Nixon... he resigned BEFORE impeachment charges were leveled. Still two others, though.
      I don't understand where men think it's okay to grab. I've never done that... never thought about doing that. What do some people lack that makes them think it's okay? No one had to tell me NOT to grab a woman or worse. I've been taught, however, to treat people as I would want to be treated. Society, religion, and my dad telling me a version of that. But really, it's just common sense.

  2. Thanks for a wonderful reflection and review. Until I read it, I never thought of sending a copy of my book to Trump!

    1. No... thank YOU, Kittredge! A wonderful book that is unfortunately timeless (for now).