TV & Radio
California Congressman Michael Honda discusses H. Res. 121, a bipartisan resolution he introduced on January 31, 2007, calling on the government of Japan to formally acknowledge and apologize for its role in the coercion of women into sex slavery.
The New York Times
The Saturday Profile
A Congressman Faces Foes in Japan as He Seeks an Apology
By NORIMITSU ONISHI
Published: May 12, 2007
SAN JOSE, Calif.
ON a recent sunny Sunday morning, Michael M. Honda was kicking back at his 90-year-old mother’s house here, some green tea and rice crackers within arm’s reach. She was off to church, and his younger brother had dropped by to fix the plumbing.
“Oh yeah, I ran across a buddy of yours — he says he golfs with you — a big-set hakujin guy,” Mr. Honda told his brother, using the Japanese word for Caucasian.
Mr. Honda, a Democratic congressman and third-generation Japanese-American, was wrapping up a weekend visit to his district here in Silicon Valley. After attending an event at a local high school, he would fly back to Washington, where his resolution calling on the Japanese government to unequivocally acknowledge its history of wartime sex slavery and apologize for it was steadily gaining co-sponsors.
The resolution was also drawing sometimes surprising reaction in Japan, making Mr. Honda one of the most famous American congressmen in his ancestral land and riling Japan’s conservatives. They have accused a bemused Mr. Honda, 65, of being an agent of a Chinese government bent on humiliating Japan on American soil. During one television interview, an announcer asked Mr. Honda how he could back such a resolution when he has a Japanese face.
“I told her I could have a black face, a brown face, a white face — I could be Mexican, I could be Indian — it doesn’t matter,” Mr. Honda recalled.
He said he saw the resolution, which has received strong backing from Korean-American groups, as an affirmation of universal human rights. His foes in Japan view it through the prism of Northeast Asia’s stark divisions.
The House Committee on Foreign Affairs, led by Representative Tom Lantos, a Democrat from California, is expected to vote on the resolution later in May. Mr. Lantos supported a similar resolution, sponsored by Lane Evans, an Illinois Democrat who was forced to retire last year because of Parkinson’s disease, that wilted in the Republican-controlled Congress.
Although the resolution is not binding, the Japanese government, with the support of the Bush administration, has lobbied fiercely against it. The resolution drew little attention until Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has long pressed a revisionist view of Japan’s wartime history, denied that the Japanese military had coerced women into sex slavery, causing furor in the rest of Asia and the United States.
During his recent visit to Washington, Mr. Abe told House leaders and President Bush in carefully calculated language that he apologized for Japan’s history with the women, known euphemistically as comfort women, but he did not take back his initial denial. A news conference with Mr. Bush culminated in an odd moment when the president said he accepted Mr. Abe’s apology.
The apology, Mr. Honda said, was not Mr. Bush’s to accept.
MR. HONDA’S grandparents came from Kumamoto, a prefecture in southwestern Japan, in the early 1900s, part of the first wave of Japanese immigrants to the United States. His mother, Fusako, was born in San Jose’s Japantown in 1916 and grew up there. His father, Giichi, was also born and raised in California, but spent some years living in Tokyo.
After the outbreak of war between the United States and Japan in 1941, his family, like other Japanese-Americans, was sent to an internment camp in Colorado. They spent a total of 14 months there — an experience that would later influence Mr. Honda’s politics.
“It taught me that if governments make mistakes, they should apologize,” he said.
The family returned to San Jose a few years after the end of the war. At home, the father spoke in English to Mr. Honda and his younger brother and sister; his mother addressed them in Japanese. To this day, Mr. Honda has retained the habit of sprinkling his English with some Japanese words when he speaks with relatives or Japanese-Americans. Japanese food was served at home.
“The only American food I remember eating was Spam,” he said.
His parents struggled, working as strawberry sharecroppers, though his father eventually found more stable employment in the post office. His mother cleaned houses.
“As I went into politics, people would say, ‘I know you from someplace,’ because I used to go pick up my mom from different places,” Mr. Honda said. “All the places she would clean were homes of prominent people.
“I wouldn’t tell them,” he said. “I’d say we met a long time ago. But finally one guy pushed me and said, ‘I just know you from someplace.’ I said, ‘If you really need to know, my mom used to clean your house.’ He said, ‘Oh.’ I said, ‘You don’t have to apologize. It was good work. It was dignified work, and you treated her well. I appreciated it. It put rice in our rice bowl.’ ”
After college, Mr. Honda went to El Salvador as a Peace Corps volunteer and then became a teacher in the public schools here. His late wife, Jeanne — a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bomb who immigrated here at the age of 11 — was also a teacher.
Mr. Honda said his politics, first as a state assemblyman and then as a congressman, had been influenced by his career as a teacher and the successful campaign by Japanese-Americans to obtain an official apology and compensation from the United States in 1988 for their internment.
He has supported efforts by victims of wartime Germany and Japan to purse lawsuits in California, in keeping with his belief that the universality of human rights allowed them to seek compensation in the United States if German or Japanese courts rebuffed them.
His resolution on Japan’s wartime sex slavery, he said, would provide justice to surviving women who were drafted into Japanese military brothels from Korea, Taiwan, China, the Philippines and other Asian countries occupied by Japanese troops.
In 1993, the Japanese government’s chief cabinet secretary issued a statement acknowledging Japan’s history of sex slavery, but it was not endorsed by the cabinet or Parliament. In recent years, nationalist politicians have pushed to rescind that declaration, and they have succeeded in eliminating references to the so-called comfort women from government-approved school textbooks.
“I was a schoolteacher, and so I know what happens in a country when you don’t teach history correctly,” Mr. Honda said. “It’s insane not to teach your children the truth.”
IT was almost time to go to the high school event, then catch a plane back to Washington. The weekend trip home had been productive. He had started that Friday with breakfast with former teaching colleagues; presented awards at an Asian-American organization; attended a celebration at his alma mater, San Jose State University; and met executives at a high-tech laser company.
Mr. Honda’s mother had yet to return from church. He began locking up, bringing lawn chairs in from the backyard.
Mr. Abe’s recent comments have sharpened worries, even among conservative American thinkers, that being too closely tied to Japan’s nationalist leadership may hurt American interests in Asia. How the Democratic-controlled House votes on Mr. Honda’s resolution could presage changes in American policy toward Japan, particularly if Democrats take control of the White House.
“If we wanted to help Japan,” Mr. Honda said, “it should be in the light of, ‘If you want to be a global leader, you have to first gain the trust and confidence of your neighbors.’ ”
Japanese women roar: Maybe not all of them, but a U.S. author finds plenty who do
Christina Kuntz / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
Kickboxing Geishas: How Modern Japanese Women Are Changing Their Nation
I have to admit--I had my doubts about this book. Not to say that I haven't met my fair share of strong, intelligent Japanese women. But I just haven't seen many examples to support author Veronica Chambers' claim that those women have started a "revolution" and are dramatically "changing their nation."
After all, this is a country where women are commonly labeled "office ladies" or "housewives"; where a prominent politician referred to women as "birth-giving machines"; and, perhaps most disturbing from a foreign perspective, where most Japanese women appear to be OK with it all.
Thankfully, Chambers has proved me wrong.
In Kickboxing Geishas: How Modern Japanese Women Are Changing Their Nation, Chambers introduces a wide variety of Japanese women who have cast off those labels and stereotypes to pursue their dreams, whether they be climbing the corporate ladder or becoming professional athletes. These women are not content with a salaryman husband and a Louis Vuitton bag. They are deejays and photographers, politicians and executives--the list goes on and on. Some have chosen careers over marriage and children; others have discovered that starting up their own business is the best way to combine career and family.
Through a series of interviews that took place over several years, Chambers draws out these women's thoughts on everything from shopping to sex and reveals a side of Japanese women that many foreigners--and perhaps even other Japanese--rarely get a chance to see.
One interesting example is Masako Nara, a woman in her 40s who is a senior executive at Canon. She was one of the first women to reach the executive ranks at a Japanese company, and, as Chambers points out, one of the few fortunate enough to have had a female role model at her company. Nara explains how her mentor gave her tips and one important request on behalf of the female employees: Never serve tea at the office.
And in all her years with the company, Nara admits that she has never once served tea. A fairly minor point, perhaps, by North American standards, but an interesting example of the ways Japanese women have tried to command respect in the heavily male-dominated workplace.
In other chapters, Chambers explores how Japanese women are taking a stand at home. Perhaps the most prominent examples of how Japanese society is changing are the rising marriage age and the plummeting birthrate. Marriage, once considered a form of "lifetime employment" for women, no longer holds the same appeal to a generation of women that have the means and the opportunities to support themselves. Chambers also presents a rather simplified look at the complex issues of dependable maternity leave and accessible child care, as many of her interviewees point to the lack of support for working mothers as part of their decision to hold off on having children.
But it's not just social policies affecting Japan's marriage and birthrates. The young women Chambers interviews express a growing dissatisfaction with Japanese men in general. These women--often dubbed "parasite singles" because they earn a decent salary but mooch off their parents well into their 30s--are traveling the world, learning other languages and experiencing other cultures, and frankly, leaving Japanese men in their dust.
And at the other end of the spectrum is "jukunen rikon," the growing trend of older Japanese women who--after 20 or 30 years of marriage--have decided they would rather spend their golden years alone than with their "clingy" retired husbands.
Yet to her credit, Chambers is careful to keep Kickboxing Geishas from falling into male-bashing territory and even appears sympathetic to the plight of the hardworking Japanese men who are struggling to deal with these increasingly independent women. She dedicates an entire chapter to "Men in the Kitchen," presenting a number of Japanese men who are also challenging the traditional gender roles and facing just as many obstacles as the women.
In the case of jewelry designer Yoko Shimizu and her husband, Aki, she runs their company while he is the main caretaker of their daughter. Yet instead of being applauded by women for taking on a role that few Japanese men have, Aki describes the isolation and patronization he encounters when dealing with teachers or mothers at his daughter's school.
Examples such as this indicate that Japanese society has a long way to go before it is truly "changed." The bursting of the economic bubble may have opened doors to women in Japan that were closed before, but a lot of old-school attitudes have remained the same. Even Chambers is well aware that her "kickboxing geishas" are the exception rather than the norm, and many Japanese women still want to get married and live the life of a so-called charismatic housewife. By including interviews with these women and revealing their reasons for choosing the more traditional route, she presents a realistic and well-rounded picture of today's Japanese women.
At times, Chambers spends a little too much time dwelling on her own experiences and thoughts on Japan, which takes away from the engaging stories of the women this book is supposed to be about. But, as a young black American woman, she does provide some interesting insights in comparing the two cultures.
One could argue that Japan's changing society is simply the result of a number of individuals choosing to follow the path that's best for them, rather than some kind of feminist revolution, as many of the women featured in this book show little interest in being role models or paving the way for future generations. However, Chambers does present a number of inspiring stories of intriguing Japanese women who, whether intentionally or not, are nudging the country in a new direction.
(May. 12, 2007)
Geisha grrrls - Interview with Veronica Chambers, author of "Kickboxing Geishas"
Young gay execs look to break "pink ceiling"
By Ben Klayman and Kim Dixon
Mon May 7, 3:07 PM ET
Corporate boardrooms are slowly becoming a somewhat friendlier place for gay executives, but as John Browne's sudden exit from the top job at oil major BP Plc showed when his sexuality became public fodder, there are still challenges to overcome.
Browne stepped down last week when a UK court lifted an injunction preventing a newspaper group from publishing details about his private life. He was scheduled to retire in July, but stepped aside to "avoid unnecessary embarrassment and distraction to the company," adding he had always regarded his sexuality as a private matter.
"There still is a pink ceiling for openly gay executives," said Malcolm Lazin, executive director of Equality Forum, a group that promotes civil rights for gays.
"We are clearly going through a transitional moment, as the black civil rights movement and women's civil right movement went through," he added.
Browne felt the need to keep his sexuality private despite his high profile position, something that likely led to his problems.
"By not being out and being open, you do create a certain amount of questioning around you. Often times it creates a bit of mystery around an individual," said Eric Bloem, an official with the Human Rights Campaign, another gay civil rights group.
And Browne is not alone, according to Kirk Snyder, a lecturer at the University of Southern California's business school.
"Talking with executives and people in the position to become CEO, I have found that there are at least five closeted CEOs in the Fortune 500," said Snyder, author of the book, "The G Quotient: Why Gay Executives Are Excelling As Leaders." He declined to name the executives.
"It's a personal issue," he added. "There are a lot of psychological elements and economical elements."
While there are no known gay CEOs among large companies, many corporate observers said the next generation of gay executives are not willing to hide that part of their lives.
OUT IN THE OPEN
"What you are seeing, is the next generation is unwilling to live in the closet," Lazin said. "Those capable young executives will choose only to go to these places where they believe meritocracy prevails."
Throw in nondiscrimination policies and same-sex health care benefits by a growing number of U.S. companies, and the environment is changing.
The U.S. House recently introduced legislation making it illegal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation, something that is legal in 33 states.
On Friday, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson apologized for saying at the Republican presidential debate that private employers should be allowed to fire gay employees because of their sexual preference. He later told a morning television show he misinterpreted the question and discrimination was not acceptable.
The American Family Association, which opposes companies giving gays equal employment protection and benefits, cares more where corporate money is spent.
"Our thing is not with the internal hiring practices with corporations," AFA President Donald Wildmon said. "We would have no way of knowing nor would we really care how many gays or homosexuals this company hired. What we care about is using (company) profits to further the political and social agenda of the movement."
However, companies realize that to attract the best talent, they must provide a welcome atmosphere, executive recruiters said.
"I am not seeing any kind of a shakedown at the top saying, 'We want only straight males or females running our company.' It is unheard of," said Seth Harris, executive vice president with Chicago-based Cook Associates. "It's about the success based on past merits and the ability to get the job done."
Nevertheless, Lazin wonders whether Browne would have resigned if he had had a liaison with a woman.
"I do think there is still a double standard there," he said. "It reflects an inequality and a moment in time when society is becoming comfortable around same-sex relationships but is not quite there yet."
Hodge's Parrot 「ガラスの天井」と「ピンクの高原」