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Article 3 in 2009
First published in ejcjs on 20 September 2009

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Gender and Teacher Education Policy in Japan

Feminist Teachers Organising for Change


Sanae Kawana

PhD Candidate
Centre for Learning Innovation
Queensland University of Technology

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Using strategies learned from the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, a Japanese feminist group took actions that influenced national policy. At a time before the common use of ICT (Information Communication Technology), the movement (named the Group Thinking about Education from Gender Perspectives — Jendā no Shiten Kara Kyōiku o Kangaeru Kai) enlisted the involvement of teachers from all over Japan within only a few months, and successfully pushed for their desired outcome. The qualitative research reported in this paper used case study methodology to elucidate the communication strategies of the Group. Data examined included archived and previously forgotten records of the movement and interviews with the ex-members. This is the first study to document the Group's actions; it shows how feminist teachers in Japan gained empowerment through the movement, and also suggests some guidelines for such action through the consistent alignment of strategies around a central goal.

Key Words

Japan; feminism; gender equality; teacher education; government policy; The United Nations World Conference on Women.


Special thanks go to the key persons of the former Group Thinking about Education from Gender Perspectives for their kind cooperation in collecting data.


A few years before Japan's 1999 enactment of the Basic Law for a Gender-equal Society—the most influential law in laying the foundations for achieving gender-equal society in Japan (Osawa et al., 2000)—there was a radical but short-lived feminist teachers' movement in Japan.

Using strategies learned from the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, a Japanese feminist group took actions that influenced national policy. At a time before the common use of ICT, the movement (named the Group Thinking about Education from Gender Perspectives—Jendā no Shiten Kara Kyōiku wo Kangaeru Kai) enlisted the involvement of teachers from all over Japan within only a few months, and pushed for their desired outcome successfully. Despite the movement's impact, it has not yet been written into Japanese educational history. The aim of this paper is to use a qualitative approach based on data such as interviews with key players, minutes of meetings and letters, to document their aspirations and strategies in educational history and indicate the group's lasting influence on Japanese education.

At a time when information exchange by facsimile (fax) was much more common than e-mail communication, the movement gathered more than 500 members from all over Japan within two months, and accomplished its goal of making a mark on national educational policy within one year. While this energetic and effective movement has remained in the minds of participants, it appears not to have been mentioned in any documentation over the ensuing ten years. It is clear however, that this movement was one of the seeds of Japanese feminist activities in higher education in Japan, with ex-members of the movement networking to produce some significant study groups and other influential activities in Japanese higher education, especially in Teacher Education: Kyōin Yōsei Katei or Kyōshoku Katei.

As in western countries (Collins et al., 1996), some features of gender discrimination in education in Japan have been documented by several researchers (Sato, 1977; Kimura, 1999; Mori, 2005). However, very few institutions provided gender-related classes in curricula in teacher education (Kameda, 1995). Uchiumizaki (1999) argues that it is a problem that gender studies is not a key component in teacher training courses, and suggests that it is important to select gender-sensitive teachers who will introduce gender-related subjects to teacher education, and to consider ways to include such subjects within the syllabus. But it seems to be difficult to change the situation easily unless the Schoolteacher's Licensing System (Kyōin Menkyo Seido) is changed, because the Teacher Education curriculum is too tight to introduce a gender related subject as a new core subject (Kameda et al., 1998). Nevertheless, it seemed to be understood among educators in schools that there was an urgent need for students in Teacher Education to have opportunities to develop or enhance gender awareness (Kameda, 1995).

This paper reports on a study that investigated the meaning of this group's activities for Teacher Education in higher education in Japan. Using a case study methodology (Yin, 1994), data collected comprised first-hand documents and records of the group's activities, including memoranda, brochures, articles, and speeches, and key player interviews. The study elucidated how group members put into practice strategies learned at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing 1995, and how they embodied such strategies to enable the accomplishment of their goals within several months. All the names of people that appear in this article have been changed to protect informants' anonymity.

The Beginning Was Like a Ripple

In an interview with me at her university office, Takeda explained that everything started with a telephone call from Tomita, a university colleague, one day in September 1996. Tomita had called after reading a journal article by Takeda, and said: 'if you think that gender studies should be included in the curricula of Teacher Education, we have to take action right away, because there is at present a real opportunity to do so'. Tomita pointed out that it was a good time to take action, because the Minister of Education had instigated consultation for the first time in ten years with the Educational Personnel Training CouncilKyōiku Shokuin Yōsei Shingikai (EPTC)[1] to discuss 'reforming Teacher Education for the new age' (Jōjima, 1996). The consultation included improvement of Teacher Education curricula in universities and, therefore, the report of the Council was expected to influence Teacher Education curricula, as well as education in universities as a whole (Jōjima, 1996). As a result of the Minister's offer, and with the partial amendment of the law for teacher's licensing (proposed for 2000) in mind, the EPTC actively began a series of meetings to gather submissions and submit its report to the Minister. A high-ranking member of EPTC at that time was the president of Takeda and Tomita's university. Takeda and Tomita were ready to take action due to the factors listed above.

One month after their initial discussion, Takeda and Tomita organised the movement's first meeting in a coffee shop in Tokyo. Six female teachers from local schools gathered and confirmed their goal of preparing a submission to the EPTC. Their strategy started with the naming of the group. Takeda recalled that they 'considered that the name of the group should not appear aggressive, because the male-dominated EPTC might refuse to listen to such a group; so the name needed to be something soft that the Ministry of Education[2] [at that time] might like'. Hence, they named the fledgling group, Group Thinking about Education from Gender Perspectives—Jendā no Shiten Kara Kyōiku wo Kangaeru Kai. Takeda's comment also reveals another important dimension of the story; the national policy at that time appeared to be more geared towards a gender equal society than is the case at present; the word gender itself is now a target of the backlash movement (Wakakuwa, 2006, Sōfusha Fensūbu, 2006). Takeda herself noted in the interview that in 2007 the name of the group might be thought radical and would prompt a backlash. But, in 1996, the women had the wind at their backs. First, the national government had just issued its Vision for Gender Equality in July and Plan for Gender Equality 2000 in December. Second, the Report of The Central Education Council (CEC)Chūō Kyōiku Shingikai[3], which was issued in July 1996, had stressed the significance of gender equality (Chūō Kyōiku Shingikai, 1996). And finally, the Group recognised some familiar names on the EPTC. In this sense, the time appeared to present what Tomita called a 'heaven-sent opportunity'.

One of the founders of the Group, Nakaya, remarked that action was made possible because of the adoption of the Platform for Action at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women (UNWCW) in 1995. Some key words featured in the Platform for Action, such as empowerment, gender mainstreaming, and gender sensitive perspectives, became the raison d'être of the Group. In the UNWCW in Beijing, more than 5,000 people and NGOs from Japan had participated (Sawai, 1995; Matsui, 1996; Furuhashi, 2004). A number of Japanese participants in the conference were influenced to the extent that they organised a group working for the implementation of resolutions from the conference, and feminist groups actively lobbied and pressured the government on gender equality policy implementation (Matsui, 1996). As was the case in many countries at the time, feminists in Japan united under the name of the UN World Conferences on Women and were empowered to take action to push the government toward realising a gender equal society.

Nakaya added that it was obvious that the members of the Group shared the common feelings that they experienced in the UNWCW in Beijing and they were keen to create a gender sensitive-educational system as stated in the Platform of Action. Some academics, including Nakaya, were thinking that they had to do something in education to bring about social change and they answered Takeda and Tomita's call to organise the group. Nakaya insisted that teachers who were concerned with gender issues were ready for such a movement.

Strategies to Expand the Movement

The Group members adopted three approaches to influence the EPTC. First, they gathered information and collected supporters. Second, they wrote a position paper submission to the EPTC and let the Council know that they were watching how their paper was treated. Third, the Group directly lobbied members of the Council. These three actions happened simultaneously over a short period of around six months.

1. Building support

Using faxes, the Group Thinking about Education from Gender Perspectives attracted hundreds of supporters within a few months. On November 5th, 1996, the Group distributed forms for collecting supporters' signatures. The Group intended to include the list of names with their submission to the EPTC meeting on November 12th. By November 7th, they had 138 signatories from all over Japan. Nakaya said, 'within an hour of sending the form, responses from all over Japan began to be sent to my home facsimile. I thought the fax machine would break'.

The Group wrote to people who were concerned about Teacher Education and indicated in the form that there were no items concerning gender in inquiries from the Minister of Education to the EPTC (hence, the Group's decision to submit a position paper to the EPTC). The Group asked the fax receivers to express their agreement with the proposed paper and to let others who were involved in women's studies and/or gender studies know about the proposal and the Group (Jendā no Shiten Kara Kyōiku wo Kangaeru Kai, 1996b).

Among the responses, an academic teaching the pedagogy of home economics in a university said: 

In order to eliminate gender bias in school education, it is most important to nurture gender sensitivity among students during the process of Teacher Education (Personal Communication).

With the agreement of the Group, she sent the Group an article on gender she had written and information on her specialty. Another academic offered the Group the prospect of exchanging some academic activities or research and reported some cases of sexual harassment (Personal Communication). These examples of the fax exchanges showed that the Group began to strengthen personal connections and the academic network through this activity.

The Group's first submission to the Council, in November 1996, included the names of 154 people gathered from the first call for support. After a second call, the Group submitted 376 names (including the names already submitted) to the EPTC. The Group had watched the Council, but it was obvious that nothing from their submission had been mentioned in either the November or December meetings of the Council (Jendā no Shiten Kara Kyōiku wo Kangaeru Kai, 1996a). Thus, in order to raise its profile, the Group organised a symposium for January 26th, 1997. In an invitation, dated December 18th, the Group articulated their goals, including that of submitting the position paper, for the first time:

Hereafter, we will continue to go forward in this movement so that the Council will take up this issue, give the movement a hearing, and include the issue in the report that will be written next summer. We will also continue to take action so that the Ministry of Education will embody the content of the report in its policy: As one of these measures, we have organised the symposium mentioned in the attachment. (Jendā no Shiten Kara Kyōiku wo Kangaeru Kai, 1996a)

Calls for supporters were sent out three times. After the last call on January 19th, 1997, the Group counted 511 supporters from various academic fields, teachers' labor unions, women's groups, and others from all over Japan. The list showed the members were mainly teachers (in universities, elementary schools, middle schools and high schools) or lawyers, activists, and the like. The Group was helped in this drive for supporters by a news organisation called JJ Net News with a network of subscribers published by Josei seisaku Jōhō Nettowāku (JJ Net) – Women's policies Information Network, launched from August 1996. The Network's mission was to send information on policies regarding women by facsimile to its members, and JJ Net continuously published the news several times a month until June 2004 (Zaidan Hōjin Nihon Josei Gakushū Zaidan, 2009). Help from JJ Net News enabled the speedy exchange of information, assisting the Group to help women empower themselves (Kameda, 1997). This network of JJ Net was one of the successful outcomes for Japanese women of the Beijing Conference, where empowerment was one of the key words.

The Group also held two symposia. The first was held on January 26th, 1997, and was attended by more than 150 people from all over Japan. Three panelists reported hands–on activities to bring about change within universities and an elementary school. It was striking that journals and newspapers from various regions (including Tokyo, and the eastern and northern parts of Japan) picked up and ran the story for some months, reporting on the symposium and also on the activities of the Group. Each wrote differently about the necessity for gender perspectives in education (Asahi Shimbun, 1997; Chugoku Shinbun, 1997; Irie, 1997; Kahoku Shinpo, 1997; Mainichi Shinbun, 1997; Morio, 1997; Muramatsu, 1997b; Nihon Kyōiku Shinbun, 1997; Nishimura, 1997; Yuasa, 1997). The Group had invited many education reporters to the symposium, because they knew they should utilise this very significant occasion to publicise the issue (Kameda, 1997). On the occasion of the second symposium, held on November 30th, 1997, they invited film crews from The Open University of Japan-Hōsō Daigaku, and made a video lecture on gender and education. Nakaya added that the symposium also intended to confirm the current circumstances of school education at that time and to show the practices of the Platform for Action from the Fourth World Conference on Women at school sites by reporting the cases of local schools. Although the two symposia were held in Tokyo, some group members in other areas held other symposia as part of the synchronised series of Group actions (Nihon Kyōiku Shinbun, 1997). The measures taken by the Group expanded from what had began as a ripple limited to collecting supporters, to also include holding symposia, which developed as a key driving force for the Group.

2. Developing a position paper

The Group finished writing its submission to the EPTC one month after their first meeting, on November 8th, 1996. Representatives of the Group preparing the position paper comprised sixteen people from all over Japan. The submission's introduction reflected a key idea from the first report of the Central Education Council in Japan issued several months earlier, Zest for LivingIkiru Chikara (Chūō Kyōiku Shingikai, 1996). That report insisted that education from a gender sensitive perspective was indispensable in nurturing children who had a zest for living. In Teacher Education, the report repeatedly emphasised the necessity of reinforcing the reform of the modality of education in the vision for the 21st century—21 Seiki wo Tenbōshita Wagakuni no Kyōiku no Arikata, which was the title of the report. However, there were only two parts of the report that were clearly concerned with gender equality. The sentences were found in the first chapter, titled 'The Way of Future Education' —Kongo ni okeru Kyōiku no Arikata. One sentence was in a section titled 'The Present Condition of Family' —Katei no Genjō; the other was titled, 'Vision of the Society to Come' —Korekara no Shakai no Tenbō. Those sections dealt not with school education, but with social education including family or community (Chūō Kyōiku Shingikai, 1996). The inclusion reinforcing gender equitable education in the report was not strong enough to have any short-or long-term influence on Teacher Education. For example, in 2009, the Gender Equality section in the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) is still situated in the social education department, and not in a school education department (Monbu Kagaku Shō, 2009). The attention of the Ministry on gender equality has not been directed to school education from 1996 to the present.

The Group's submission claimed that the hidden curriculum (Sato, 1977; Sadker and Sadker, 1996) in classrooms reproduced gender inequality (Muramatsu, 1997a). The paper therefore indicated that teachers' roles in schools were significant for educating children who would establish a gender equal society in the 21st century. The submission's three main requests were:

1. To clarify the perspective of education aiming at a gender-equal society,

2. To improve the curriculum to achieve request 1 as follows:

• to place course elements, which introduce gender perspectives, into mandatory subjects in courses of basic Teacher Education.
• to include gender studies and/or women's studies as an elective subject in Teacher Education.
• to include gender studies and/or women's studies as a subject in liberal arts education in relation to Teacher Education.

3. To convene a hearing with experts in the field of gender studies about the relationship between education and gender, or education and a gender-equal society. Such concepts regarding the way teachers are trained had rarely been discussed during the EPTC meetings (from a submitted position paper, dated November 8th, 1996).

As well as these three requests, the paper particularly emphasised that gender related subjects should be established systematically within the subjects related to Teacher Education.

3. Lobbying key policy makers and committees

In organising the Group, Takeda claimed that she was influenced by the agenda of the Fourth UN World Conference on Women, Beijing 1995:

It was after the World Women's Conference in Beijing and the announcement of Vision for Gender Equality 2000 in Japan, that Japanese women, including us, began to become aware of the idea that we needed to empower ourselves and take practical and comprehensive actions like lobbying. Tomita and I thought that we had to do something in the field of education, too…

Like Takeda, after the World Conference on Women, many Japanese women were influenced by the agenda of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, including that of women's empowerment. They shared know-how by exchanging their practices and empowering each other. For example, Takeda contributed an article regarding the group activities to a newsletter of one prominent organisation—Japan Accountability Caucus for the Beijing Conference: Pekin JAC—which regards lobbying as a pillar of their activities. The Pekin JAC discusses the motivation for its foundation on their web page as follows:

Although many women from Japan participated in the Fourth World Conference for Women in Beijing, then, we were keenly aware of our failure to ask the relevant ministries for explanations about practical policies or to exchange information or undertake negotiations to reflect the opinions of NGOs, compared with foreign countries (Pekin JAC, 2006).

The Pekin JAC was organised by Japanese NGO delegates who had participated in the Beijing Conference. The organisation was established in November, 1995, in the same year as the conference, and aimed to lobby the national government, local governments, politicians, and political parties, and also to propose policies in various fields. The Pekin JAC has continued its activities up to the present, and currently has an extensive network across Japan, with its head office located in Tokyo.

The first target for lobbying by the Group was the high-ranking member of the Educational Personnel Training Council (EPTC), who had formerly been the president of the university where Takeda worked. Next, the Group found two familiar names among the members of the EPTC, and approached one, Manabe. Manabe promised her full cooperation. At first, she told the Group that:

[I] am not a specialist on gender matters, so I do not know what to say in the meetings … I also do not need the minutes or data documents that I get in the meetings. I will give them all to you.

Takeda recalled that Manabe was an outdoor sports instructor, but stated her job as housewife on official forms. One Group member was able to convince Manabe to identify herself publicly as an outdoor sports instructor; Manabe too was learning about gender perspectives, little by little.

In those days, the Ministry of Education did not publish the minutes of meetings on their web site, as they do now. With Manabe's full cooperation, however, the Group was able to get information immediately after the meetings, as the Group received all the material and documents from the meetings from her. The Group members examined the content carefully and, also, they advised Manabe, and asked her to express the Group's views.

At one point, the Group obtained a document that was a tentative draft [of the EPTC report] as a basis for discussion. The Group members thoroughly examined each line of the draft, and found that the words gender equality, which had been included in the report of the Central Education Council (CEC) to the Minister of Education, had been dropped. Takeda recalled her own careful reading of the documents, and commented:

From this point in time, I also began to examine the governmental documents thoroughly or closely for the first time … Again, I think this was because of the great influence of the Beijing Conference.

She added that she made up her mind again that the words gender equality—danjo kyōdō sankaku should be included in the report of the EPTC, and that this—at least—would be one of the goals of the Group.

Takeda sent a letter, dated April 9th 1997, to nine members of the Group, to share her deep concern about Teacher Education courses. The letter was sent to solicit comments regarding the tentative draft as a basis for discussion used in the ad hoc EPTC committee meetings. As she noted in her letter, the Council had held a meeting on April 8th, and would hold another on 15th, to discuss the tentative draft. In her letter, Takeda pointed out that the words gender equality —danjo no kyōdō sankaku appeared just once in the draft, (line 12 on page 18), and that the draft did not fully articulate that a gender perspective was necessary in the process of Teacher Education in higher education. Takeda encouraged those members to send their comments on the tentative draft to the Group, so that the Group can ask Manabe to reflect their ideas in the ad hoc committee meeting.

The table of contents of the tentative draft was divided into six sections:

  1. the process of discussion of the ad hoc committee,
  2. the qualities needed to be teachers,
  3. roles of Teacher Education in universities,
  4. improvement of the curricula in Teacher Education,
  5. flexibility of the teacher's license system (except curricula), and
  6. other points to consider.

The expression gender equality – danjo kyōdō sankaku appeared in section 4, in the discussion of what was needed to improve qualities at present:

In order to give an opportunity to teacher candidates to think about how we are of the Earth or human beings, firstly it is necessary to let them understand deeply by discussing current themes like the environment of the Earth, cross cultural understandings, regional conflicts and refugees, population and food, aging of society and social welfare, and gender equality in society. Then, [by discussing those themes], it is necessary to develop classes that require university students to think about the way to themselves teach content regarding those themes to school children depending on the level of their growth. [emphasis added] (Monbu Shō, 1997).

As Takeda indicated in her letter, it was true that the theme of gender equality in society might have become a subject of discussion on organising future classes when thinking about current themes for school children. However, it was also clear that studying gender perspectives was not mentioned as being necessary in Teacher Education.

In addition to a submission of the paper to EPTC, on January 30th, 1997, the Group visited the Ministry of Education to submit its paper for the attention of the Curriculum Council (CC)—Kyōiku Katei Shingikai.[4] Based on their ability to collect more than 500 supporters and host a successful symposium, and the statements that emphasised the importance of gender equality in the first report of the Central Education Council issued in July in 1996, the Group expressed the following four opinions to the Curriculum Council:

  1. the need for well-developed teaching in order to improve gender equality through education, learning, and/or school education as a whole;
  2. the assurance of opportunities for learning about gender equality in Teacher Education;
  3. the need for well-developed career guidance or counseling on choice of college; and
  4. the need for well-developed learning and counseling regarding gender, including reproductive health rights.

Regarding this paper, it is particularly noteworthy that the Group suggested the establishment of a system to implement educational policy smoothly and in cooperation with national government, educational administrative machinery, women's administrative machinery, educational institutions and schools. Applying the case of the UK and other countries (from an opinion paper to the Curriculum CouncilKyōiku Katei Shingikai dated January 30, 1997), the Group also recommended the proactive implementation of educational policies based on the Plan for Gender Equality 2000 issued in 1996 in Japan.

On March 5th, 1997, some members of the Group visited a project general manager in the Ministry, who also served as a member of the ad hoc Curriculum CommitteeKarikyuramu nado Tokubetsu Iinkai in ETPC, and they exchanged opinions. Then, on March 7th, 1997, the Group made a concrete and detailed plan of suggested curricula regarding gender related subjects. The resulting paper, titled Measures to Introduce Gender Perspectives in Teacher Training Courses—Kyōinyōseikatei ni Jendā no Shiten wo Dōnyū Surutameno Kaizensaku, and a list of the Group's supporters were sent directly to each of the members of the Education Personnel Training Committee. The Group took this action after their discussion with the Ministry project general manager two days before, because they understood that a big change could not be expected and that a concrete proposal for the content of the current teacher's license law was needed (Jendā no Shiten Kara Kyōiku wo Kangaeru Kai, 1997a).

On April 14th, 1997, the Group visited a member of the ad hoc Curriculum Committee in ETPC in order to relay to them the Group's opinion on the tentative draft of the report (Jendā no Shiten Kara Kyōiku wo Kangaeru Kai, 1997b). Although the Group seemed to be successful in lobbying members, no opportunity arose for them to explain the content of their paper. Kameda (1997) indicated that the Ministry of Education, at that time, was a somewhat closed organisation. The Ministry did not collect information from the general public, but only from specialists. This closed culture, in turn, made schools rigid (Kameda, 1997) .

Further developments

Meanwhile, on March 6th, 1997, the Group held a meeting to arrange a workshop at the National Women's Education Center on the occasion of the Women's Studies, Gender Studies Forum held from August 1st–3rd. Their aim for the workshop was to develop a broader network.

During the movement's active period, the Group initiated some sub-groups based on individual interests. First, on March 14th, 1997, 14 members established a sub-group called the All Japan Educational Network for Implementing Gender Equality—Danjo Byōdō wo Susumeru Kyōiku Zenkoku Nettowāku. This NGO group formed by-laws of the group and collected 57 members from their first call to organise the network. Then, in the same month, some members of the Group also held several meetings to organise a second sub-group named Make Schools Gender Free, All Japan Network—Gakkō wo Jendā Furī ni, Zenkoku Netto. Their goal was to take steps to improve gender equal education by changing the traditional Japanese attendance roll, in which boys' names are listed first, to a new roll on which names are listed alphabetically, regardless of gender. In this way, the Group continued to give rise to other sub-groups.

On the other hand, for the purpose of strengthening the movement, the Group organised a workshop in the Spring Conference of the Women's Studies Association of Japan, held on June 7h and 8th, 1997. The Group intended to explore ways to further improve the movement by exchanging information or ideas in this workshop (Jendā no Shiten Kara Kyōiku wo Kangaeru Kai, 1997d).

Within the EPTC, on January 30th, 1997, in the 7th ad hoc Curriculum Committee in EPTC, Manabe stated that:

Gender equality is argued about; this shows that this society is one in which women can not participate… I think that there are circumstances where schools inherit male-dominant social attitudes. For this reason, subjects regarding gender equality should be included in education programs, especially in Teacher Education Programs.

In addition to the ad hoc Curriculum Committee, there was a section of the minutes of the General Assembly of EPTC that might reflect her opinions, stated in the ad hoc committee. Closely examining the executive summary of the minutes of meetings, it was possible to find a section that mentioned gender for the first time in the minutes of the ninth meeting (dated March 28, 1997). In discussion of the content of the curriculum, the minutes reported that one member said:

Although I do not think that gender studies are established academically, I think it is important to have knowledge about gender equal society (Kyōiku Shokuin Yōsei Shingikai, 1997c).

There was no other mention of men, women, or gender at all, except this description, although words related to hot topics such as Earth, environment, aging society and social welfare, internationalisation, computerisation, which had appeared in the July 1996 report of the Central Education Council (CEC), occurred repeatedly. Further, only one sentence mentioning human rights education was located in the summary minutes of the thirteenth meeting on June 20th, 1997. It stated that: 'it is necessary to fulfil the content regarding comprehensive issues such as human rights education' (Kyōiku Shokuin Yōsei Shingikai, 1997d, unpaged). However, in Japan, the issue of human rights tends to focus on people in specific communities that experience discrimination—Dōwa mondai[5], and disabled persons.

According to an executive summary of the minutes of the eighth General Assembly of EPTC, the Group's position paper was finally submitted to the Council on February 26th, 1997, along with five other submissions (Kyōiku Shokuin Yōsei Shingikai, 1997b). This was despite the fact that the Group had never been invited to an EPTC meeting for a hearing.

In the minutes of the sixteenth general meeting, dated July 11th, 1997, the discussion focused on the topic of multidiscipline practices—sōgō enshū, a newly established curriculum in Teacher Education. Many members spoke about how Teacher Education could contribute to the improvement of the quality of teachers. Despite this, it was not possible to find any mention of gender within this discussion. In the seventeenth general meeting, dated July 28th, 1997, the EPTC minuted the submission of their first report to the Minister of Education, Takashi Kosugi. In this meeting, members of the Group found that there was a positive outcome, as the report mentioned gender equality in two places. The statements were included in a section discussing improvements to the content of education in Teacher Education courses:

  1. spirit of gender equality—danjo byōdō no seishin—as requirements in teachers, and
  2. gender equal participation in society—shakai e no danjo no kyōdō sankaku (Kyōiku Shokuin Yōsei Shingikai , 1997a).

Nakaya claimed that, with such a statement contained within the report, educators should easily be able to provide gender (related) subjects within their courses.

Although the presence of the word gender in the report seemed to be a successful result, the Group still was not satisfied. The Group called for its members to watch the process of revision of the curriculum so that the content of the report would be realised (Jendā no Shiten Kara Kyōiku wo Kangaeru Kai, 1997b). As part of this process, the Group organised its second symposium on November 30th, 1997. In an invitation letter, the Group mentions that:

… at the present stage, it is not enough, but recognisable changes were included in the words of the report. However, the movement should not be stopped here … We will hold a symposium again at this point; by thinking together and exchanging information of practical activities, our movement is expected to develop further for the gender equal educational practices …(Jendā no Shiten Kara Kyōiku wo Kangaeru Kai, 1997c) .

The Group did not highly value the result, but at least noted that the report had enabled curriculum designers to introduce women's studies or gender studies as one of the officially designated subjects in a unit of multidisciplinary practice in Teacher Education; however, actual practice was dependent on each university and teachers in universities (Kagaya, 1998). At the beginning of 1998, the Group expressed its goal for the year as proceeding with reformation in education with the cooperation of the Make Schools Gender Free, All Japan Network (Kagaya, 1998). This group was established by some members of the Group in an attempt to broaden the usage of the alphabetical class attendance roll, as discussed earlier. Some members joined the activities of another sub-group the All Japan Educational Network Implementing Gender Equality. Gradually, Group members began to spread their efforts across a number of groups, which had been newly organised by members of the Group (Jendā no Shiten Kara Kyōiku wo Kangaeru Kai, 1997a). In this way, the ripples caused by the Group spread wider. It is important to note, however, that the Group was no longer at the centre, as it was not possible to locate any subsequent chronological evidence of the existence of the Group after the document dated early 1998.

The decline of the Group

There are a number of reasons the Group Thinking about Education from Gender Perspectives did not retain its initial high levels of activity over time. First, like many feminist groups, the Group lacked a formal group structure. From the time of its formation, the Group had no official representative, no office, and no by-laws with approximately ten people within the Group sharing the administrative tasks as required (Kagaya, 1998). When asked why the Group stopped its activities, Takeda stated that:

Our goal was to lobby the EPTC. I don't think we had the idea that the group would continue permanent activities … [It was our way to do it] without having a by-law, or a leader … Feminist scholars do not place a leader [in a group] …

Supported by feminist thought directed against hierarchal systems (Tong, 1989), Takeda, in the interview, justified the group not having a structure by highlighting equal and horizontal relationships among members. However, unlike an electronic network where a website itself can serve as a place to exchange information and opinions, it is clear that any network using merely a facsimile requires someone at the centre to integrate and facilitate the communication exchanges. Thus, it is possible to suggest that the group was extremely fragile due to the fact it had no clear division of responsibility or structure.

Nevertheless, Tanaka added that they used their network effectively. Although they did not get together and they did not take any action as a group after the breakup, they published articles and books. Tanaka continued, 'not to waste this network, we did some research', and she also added an unexpected outcome that:

Later, I found the high-ranking member of EPTC became a member of a certain gender related academic research group. He said to me, with a broad grin, 'I have finally understood what you meant at that time'.

Another factor that contributed to the group's demise was due to the declining energy of the movement as a collective force. Takeda stressed in the interview that she thought that the EPTC's report to the Minister of Education showed a successful outcome that resulted from the Group's activities. Nonetheless, to exerting an influence on the EPTC's report was not the only motivation behind organising the Group. Hence, having accomplished the primary goal of introducing gender perspectives into education, the Group began to seek new goals. As mentioned earlier in this paper, the Group aligned their priorities with the activities of the Make Schools Gender Free, All Japan Network—Gakkō wo Jendā Furī ni, Zenkoku Netto. This merger was representative of both the evolution and yet subsequent demise of the group.

Third, although the Group insisted they would monitor the Ministry until the content of the report was reflected in a policy, they did not take concrete actions for this purpose. In addition, their strategies were not sophisticated enough to involve those feminist government officials, who could influence the policy directly (as observed in the feminist teachers' movements in Canada or Australia) (Tanaka, 1998; Gaskell and Taylor, 2003).

Nonetheless, the network developed by the Group left several productive outcomes with the principal effect being that the Group's activities resulted in the sharing of knowledge concerning the relationship between gender and education. Importantly, the group published several papers related to research on gender and education (Kameda et al., 1998, Kameda and Tachi, 2001), and also were fundamental in the formation of the All Japan Educational Network Implementing Gender EqualityDanjo Byōdō wo Susumeru Kyōiku Zenkoku Nettowāku. Ten years after its establishment, this NGO still continues its activities with approximately 300 members, and it is clear that the legacy of the Group Thinking about Education from Gender Perspectives is retained among members of this NGO as it was referred to in this NGO's newsletter (Danjo Byōdō wo Susumeru Kyōiku Zenkoku Nettowāku, 2005).

In 1999, the Basic Law for Gender-equal Society was enacted. In the Basic Plan for Gender Equality, as an action plan of the Basic Law for Gender-equal Society, approved in the same year, it was claimed that human rights education such as gender equality should be promoted in Teacher Education. In addition, the Group's impact is found in various activities. About ten years after the launch of this movement, and led by national universities, universities across Japan have begun to establish the institutional administrative structures for implementing policies of gender equality. It is easy to find familiar names from the Group in those key members who currently promote gender equality policies in higher education. The network of feminist teachers united through the activities still exists and continues to promote education for a gender equal society in Japan.

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[1] The Educational Personnel Training Council (EPTC) — Kyōiku Shokuin Yōsei Shingikai is an advisory council to the Minister of Education. The council discussed the system and the content of Teacher Education in Japan. As part of the reformation of the central government, in January 2001 the Council was integrated in the Central Education Council with seven other educational councils including the Curriculum Council.

[2] Ministry of Education — Monbushō was an element of the former central government. It has since been reformed as the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT)— Monbu kagakushō or Monkashō, in 2001 because of central government reformation in Japan.

[3] The Central Education Council (CEC)Chūō Kyōiku Shingikai is one of the advisory councils to the Minister of Education, along with the Educational Personnel Training Council and the Curriculum Council under the Ministry of Education. CCE was reorganised to integrate seven other educational councils in January, 2001 due to central government reformation.

[4] The Curriculum Council (CC) — Kyōiku Katei Shingikai is an advisory council to Minister of Education. The council discussed the system of the content of education in Japan. Like the EPTC, the Council was integrated with other seven educational councils within the The Central Education Council in January, 2001 as part of the central government reformation.

[5] Dōwa mondai (Dowa issues) refers to Japanese citizens who are discriminated against on the basis of their (or their ancestor's) occupations.

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About the Author

Sanae Kawana is a PhD Candidate, Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology in Australia. She is doing her PhD course as an external student. She is interested in the fields of communication, feminist critical policy analysis, and critical discourse analysis. She is currently an instructor at several universities in Japan. Photo of Sanae Kawana

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Copyright: Sanae Kawana
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