Journey into Academia: Becoming a Japanese Feminist Researcher

Realizing My Feminist Identity

My identity as a feminist emerged from my personal experiences, beginning in childhood. Born to a Japanese family living abroad, I grew up in the United States until the age of 9. During this time I developed my Japanese identity as well as my gender identity as a female in a multicultural environment, but these identities also conflicted with my personal ideal of being more vocal. Specifically, although I have rarely experienced overt discrimination, I have struggled internally with an inferiority complex due to being a small and reticent Japanese (or Asian) girl, who appears to be voiceless and to not have any opinions, even though I actually did have opinions that I kept to myself.5 Another experience which enabled me to realise my feminist identity came after moving to Japan, where I experienced a different form of frustration, this time due to a patriarchal environment which discouraged women from pursuing independent careers, encouraging them to become housewives instead.6 While it is not exceptional globally, it is worth pointing out that few women in Japan reach senior positions in the male-dominated institutions, including higher education.7 Historically speaking, men were the only members of the university academic profession in academic research-centred teaching from the establishment of the Tokyo Imperial University in 1886 until the end of the Second World War (Kimoto 2015).

Despite these difficulties, I was determined to advance my career in academia for the following reasons: Firstly, due to my struggles during my childhood in the United States, I was keen to overcome my inferiority complex and perceiving myself as a powerless, quiet Japanese woman. This desire drove me to become more enthusiastic about research and teaching activities in higher education, where I found more space for creativity for both students and teachers, and which I believed could be a platform to empower myself, especially through research as praxis. Secondly, the influence of my mother, an academic herself, is undeniable. She became a model for me to follow and an ideal to strive for. Having seen her cope with the demands of research and teaching while also doing the household tasks, my own desire to become a researcher grew. In Japan, the assumption is that only a genius can become an aca?demic researcher.8 Therefore, it became my challenge to overcome these stereotypes about academia and strive to be successful in this male-dominated world. Thirdly, in line with the previous points, I have a desire to become an example of a working woman in Japan. Living in an environment where society pressures women to become housewives (Ryan 2015) has further strengthened my resolve to work in academia. This can be regarded as a way of overcoming gender stereotypes in Japan, and it can be considered a form of research as praxis in my role as a feminist researcher.

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