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The Reality of Being a Todai-Joshi


By YISAC PARK

Restroom sign | Photo by Sam Howzit, Flickr

Finally! After years of studying hard, you got into your dream school, the University of Tokyo (UT). Bouncing with excitement on your first day, you see numerous posters and leaflets about club activities, lectures and information about the university as well. You check some of them and find something weird. A few posters have phrases such as “Club for men”, “Female students only”, “Recruiting managers”.

Some students might not care about this at all or may not even notice what is “weird” about it. To be honest, this situation felt awkward and uncomfortable for me. I could not believe that this was and still is happening at the so-called “best” school in Japan. As a Korean, I’m very interested in feminist movements, which are very active in Korea recently such as the #MeToo and corset-free movement.

The #MeToo movement is an international movement to reveal the problems of sexual violence. Women who were sexually harassed or assaulted have come forward to share their stories through social media. The corset-free movement is a movement that helps women liberate themselves from social oppression. Women have been forced to fulfill the standards of beauty defined by society which can be uncomfortable and sometimes threaten their health. Inspired by these recent movements, I thought it necessary to question these issues.

I want to start by sharing my experience as a female student of UT (a.k.a. Todai-joshi). First, advertisements which limit opportunity based on gender can be easily found at UT. For example, women cannot join the American football team as players. It is not explicitly said but it is tacitly understood by everyone. They must join as a “manager” or staff member to be part of the team. Staff members are in charge of training, marketing, managing and assistance. Male students can also be staff members, but in reality, most of them are female students. Why do female students have to be the manager? Why is there no team for women in the first place? To solve this, female students can create a team themselves. Moreover, some club activities have few or no clubs for female students to join even though male students have a choice of more than 10 clubs of the same activity. In 2016, the Student Support Division of UT posted a notice on the university website that UT acknowledges the existence of gender discrimination and urges student organizations to comply to the University Charter. However, there is no punitive action by the University at this moment.

Advertisement of the UT Sweetheart Pictorial Book | Photo taken by author

Next, there is a book called “UT Sweetheart Pictorial Book” (Todai Bijo Zukan). It is a picture book of UT female students which has been sold in UT festivals by a circle called “STEMS” since 2014. A pictorial book or field guide is a book that illustrates plants, animals or objects. Female students are being consumed as an object in this book. According to the website, this book tries to change the current image of UT female students, which is negative. It is generally believed that female students of UT are not “attractive”. The idea is that by putting photos of “pretty” and “cute” Todai-joshi, their image may improve among the public. Instead of focusing on looks, the image may be improved by portraying intelligent, capable and academically excellent women. Furthermore, there is no male student version of this book.

Have you heard of the term “joshi-ryoku”? It means “girl’s power” in Chinese characters, but it is used for describing the feminine level, usually of women. Having a high “joshi-ryoku” means being good at cooking,

fashionable, capable of doing makeup, or able to take care of other people. It is believed that women who have a high “joshi-ryoku” are attractive and an ideal type of woman. This term is often used among young Japanese women. They praise each other by having a high “joshi-ryoku” and generally want to achieve that. It feels like the word itself is forcing woman to have an idea that women should be pretty, and that femininity is the most important thing for being a woman.

Approximately 20% of the student population are female at UT. I remember when I went to the information session for freshmen, one of the professors said that female students should be careful about their speech and behavior since there are less female students at UT. To this day, I don’t understand what this means, and I am not so sure I want to find out. If it implies that women should not cause any problems, that is ridiculous. It is time for us UT students to think about these issues. Mahatma Gandhi said, “We must become the change we wish to see in the world.”