Sixth Asian Studies Conference Japan
    Saturday and Sunday, June 22-23
    Ichigaya Campus of Sophia University


last update 2002/03/09

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Contact the organizers: Asian Studies Conference (ASCJ) c/o Institute of Asian Cultural Studies, International Christian University 3-10-2 Osawa, Mitaka-shi, Tokyo 181


Session 20
Roundtable: Crossing borders: Experiences of Japanese Women Overseas
Organizer: Thang Leng Leng, National University of Singapore

Beginning in the early 1990s, there has been a rising trend of women in Japan leaving the country to experience life overseas either as tourists, students or for employment. The mid-1990s is further regarded as a period of boom among the Japanese women who venture overseas ­ especially Asian destinations such as Hong Kong, China and Southeast Asian nations like Singapore and Malaysia in search of the adventure to live and work in a foreign environment. What are their experiences like? Are these women - who divert from the usual track of marriage after working as an OL in Japan ­ considered unique in the context of Japanese women? What are the implications of working overseas for the individual, the host society and a Japan that is burdened with unprecedented fall in fertility rate and economic recession?

This roundtable focuses on the experiences of and discourse surrounding the growing population of Japanese women living outside Japan. The roundtable will begin with three short presentations of 10-15 minutes each. Takae Ichimoto will first speak about her research on Japanese female students in Australian colleges. She focuses on the decisions of these women as they decided to venture overseas as students, and how they have succeeded in crafting their new 'selves' through an immersion in new cultural values and practices in Australia. Next, Moeko Wagatsuma and Lynne Nakano's paper on Japanese women in Hong Kong explores the women's decision to work in Hong Kong and their views on marriage and work. Similarly, Michelle Lee, who studied the Japanese women in Malaysia, examines the quest for success among these women who have moved to Malaysia for education or career. Finally, there will be a video (approximately 23 minutes) presentation by Leng Leng Thang and Elizabeth MacLachlan on Japanese women working in Singapore. The video examines the trend of Japanese women coming to work in Asia and focuses on the experiences of three women in Singapore. From their varied experiences as local employee, multinational expat, and part-time working mother, the video shows how these women grapple with the opportunities that come their ways and at the same time preserving their links with Japan ­ living both as an international and Japanese in this era of globalization. The presentations will be followed with a 45 minutes to one-hour discussion to examine the various issues that have surfaced from the theme of gender and migration in the context of the experiences of Japanese women.

1) Takae Ichimoto, University of Queensland. "I'm Doing it for Myself: Feminity and Identity in Transition ­ Japanese Women Studying in Australian Higher Education."

Why do Japanese women enter higher education overseas? On the surface, the obvious answer is that they want to gain qualifications. My research indicates, however, that this is far too simple an interpretation for the Japanese women I encountered. Returning to education seems to be as much about their identity as it is about university qualifications. Further education could be described as a means of (re)gaining confidence and independence and realising their alternative lives. What emerged very clearly from my own experience as an overseas student in Australia, was the desire to redefine at least part of my identity to myself and exert a degree of control over some aspects of my life. My particular interest is, therefore, in listening to how Japanese women accommodate their changing 'selves' and 'femininity', and craft their new 'selves' through the experiences of being immersed in new cultural values and practices as students in Australia. With this in mind, I approached seventeen Japanese women studying in three Australian postgraduate courses. Locating myself in the research both as a researcher and a researched, I am participating in participants' everyday lives, and in turn, their experiences are constructing my life in Australia. Firstly, this paper reports on a discussion concerning discourses of identity and self, traditional views of Japanese femininity and the present status of Japanese women in contemporary Japan in order to set a framework within which to position the women's narratives and my analysis. Secondly, it illustrates a case study of these Japanese women thus attempting to present the women's experiences and interpretations of how higher education overseas affects their career aspirations, traditional Japanese femininity and representations of their 'selves'.

2) Moeko Wagatsuma and Lynne Nakano, Chinese University of Hong Kong. "Independent and Unmarried: Japanese women in Hong Kong."

This paper examines the experiences of unmarried Japanese women working and studying in Hong Kong in the context of current public debates about unmarried women and the trend toward delayed or postponed marriage. It considers the links between women's marriage choices and expanding work opportunities in Japan and abroad. Japanese women are remaining unmarried in unprecedented numbers. Beginning in the early 1990s, the declining birth rate and the trend toward delayed marriage has become almost a constant focus of the Japanese media. In this same time period, significant numbers of single Japanese women have gone to Hong Kong to study and find work. Although Hong Kong society also places pressure on women to marry, Japanese women in Hong Kong may feel less pressure to marry than they would in Japan, as they are away from family and friends. Also, as the average age of first marriage is higher in Hong Kong than in Japan, and women are expected to continue working after marriage, Hong Kong is an interesting place to consider and compare women's lifestyle choices. Our preliminary study suggests that most single women are interested in marrying sometime in future, but they are not sure when. Also, many informants who have careers think that it is not easy to continue full-time work after marriage. These single women with careers are reluctant to choose between marriage and full-time work.

3) Michelle Lee, University of Malaysia. "Trailing Success: Japanese Women in Malaysia."

Main stream transmigration perspectives have either focused on male or female un-skilled migrants. In addition, labour migration processes have often been captured from the South or developing or under-developed to the West or developed countries. Female transmigration within the region of Asia and Southeast Asia has received limited attention; it is even less in the study of female professional migrants in Southeast Asia. This paper aims to explore the reasons behind the increase of Japanese migrant women in Malaysia. It focuses on Japanese professional women, married or not, who have moved to Malaysia for career or education purposes. To what extent has transmigration an effect on their quest for success? Do they think that they have transcended 'traditional' Japanese values in terms of women's subjugation? Breaking away from the conventional 'expatriates' wives' images, these Japanese women are independent, educated and young. Their self-perceptions and lived experiences reveal their personal aspirations and even further, the transformation of Japanese women's socio-economic status within and outside their country of origin.

4) The Second Wave ­ Japanese working women in Singapore
(Video- 24 minutes, produced in December 2001)

Producer: Leng Leng Thang
Co-producer and Writer: Elizabeth Naoko MacLachlan
Advisor: David Plath
Director: Chet Kincaid

This video program examines the presence of Japanese women who came to work in Singapore, riding on the second wave of economic presence of Japanese companies in Singapore since the mid-1990s. By focusing on the experiences of three women who have diverse experiences and background, the video seeks to examine the push and pull factors that contribute to this trend of Japanese women working in Asia, which resulted in a boom in the mid 1990s. The video shows how these women grapple with the opportunities that come their ways and at the same time preserving their links with Japan ­ living both as an international and Japanese in this era of globalization. Besides interviews with the three women, there are also interviews of the Japanese employer in Singapore, a director of human resource company specializing in placements of Japanese in Asia, and commentary from Japan anthropologist, Eyal Ben-Ari, who helps set the discussion in the wider contextual framework of gender, work and globalization.


list of panels