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She was not sure it would go very far when a 22-year-old Japanese college student launched an online campaign against the influential Tokyo Olympics leader and the sexist remarks he made.

But in less than two weeks, over 150,000 signatures were obtained by Momoko Nojo’s #DontBeSilent movement with other activists, galvanizing global anger against Yoshiro Mori, the president of Tokyo 2020.

He resigned last week and was replaced by a woman named Seiko Hashimoto who played in seven Olympic Games.

In response to statements by Mori, an octogenarian former prime minister, that women speak too often, the hashtag was coined. Nojo used it to raise support for a petition calling for action against him on Twitter and other social media sites.

“Few petitions have got 150,000 signatures before. I thought it was really great. People take this personally too, not seeing this as only Mori’s problem,” in a Zoom interview, said a smiling Nojo.

Her activism, born from a year of research in Denmark, is the latest example of women in Japan taking to keyboards beyond conventional politics to introduce social change in the third-largest economy in the world, where gender inequality, wage disparities and stereotyping are common.

“It made me realise that this is a good opportunity to push for gender equality in Japan,” Nojo, a fourth-year economics student at Tokyo’s Keio University, said.

She said that her activism was influenced by questions she frequently heard from male peers, such as, “You’re a girl, so you have to go to a high school that has pretty school uniforms, don’t you?” or “Even if you don’t have a job after graduating from college, you can be a housewife, no?”

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In 2019, when she was in Denmark, Nojo launched her “NO YOUTH NO JAPAN” non-profit, where she saw how the country elected Mette Frederiksen, a woman in her early forties, as prime minister.

The time in Denmark, she said, made her realise how much older men dominated Japanese politics.

In Japan, where decisions seem to be taken by a standardized community of like-minded people, Keiko Ikeda, professor of education at Hokkaido University, said it was necessary for youthful, worldly people to lift their voices. But reform will come slowly and agonizingly, she said.

“If you have a homogeneous group, it’s impossibly difficult to move the compass because the people in it don’t realise it when their decision is off-centre,” Ikeda said.

Nojo dismissed the Japanese ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s plan this week to encourage more women to participate in meetings, but only as silent observers, as a poorly executed PR stunt.

“I’m not sure if they have the willingness to fundamentally improve the gender issue,” she said, adding that, rather than having them as observers, the party needed to have more women in key posts.

In fact, Nojo’s win is only a small move in a long battle.

Japan is ranked 121st out of 153 countries on the 2020 Global Gender Gap Index of the World Economic Forum – the worst ranking among advanced countries – scoring poorly on the economic participation and political empowerment of women.

In the workplace, and in politics, activists and many ordinary women say radical change is needed.

“In Japan, when there’s an issue related to gender equality, not many voices are heard, and even if there are some voices to improve the situation, they run out of steam and nothing changes,” Nojo said.

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“I don’t want our next generation to spend their time over this issue.”

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