Why We Should Celebrate All Types Of Women In Japan: An Interview With Melanie Brock

There's A Predominant Focus On 'The Perfect Woman'

By Julia Mascetti
December 26, 2018
Lifestyle, Savvy Spotlight

This innovative project designed to celebrate women in Japan and challenge stereotypes held about Japanese women reminds us that we don’t have to be wonderwoman to be noticed.

She’s the first in the office every morning and somehow has time to put on an immaculate full face of makeup and curl her hair. She’s climbing the corporate ladder in a slightly liberal yet still respectable Japanese corporation, all while looking oshare and feminine in matching suits and heels. She married before 30 and is now superhumanly balancing work and childcare, with the help of a supportive but not emasculated husband (he probably earns just that little bit more than her so he doesn’t feel threatened). She can cook, does 75 percent of the housework and never complains. She really seems to have it all.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the empowered Japanese woman, according to the majority of media outlets and an alarming percentage of the population’s perception.

Now, this kind of woman does exist. I’ve met actual breathing human beings who genuinely do seem to be this flawless and ultra-professional. I am totally in awe of them and if aspiring to this model will make you happy, you do you. My problem is, when only this very specific form of womanhood is celebrated. A successful and happy life can look very different on different women and the road less travelled is just as valid.

What about queer Japanese women? What about Japanese women working in blue collar jobs, freelancers, and those is non-traditional roles? What about Japanese women who don’t want to get married or have children? Hell, what about women who just don’t wear makeup. I want to see the full spectrum of Japanese womanhood accepted and celebrated.

Enter Celebrating Women in Japan, a Corporate Social Responsibility Project by Melanie Brock, Chair Emeritus of the Australian and New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Japan and founder of a company that represents Australian companies looking to gain access to Japan. Each day, Celebrating Women in Japan shares a profile of a woman living in Japan on their social media channels, celebrating that woman’s life and achievements. It’s a simple but powerful concept.

In a bid to learn more about the project, Savvy Tokyo talked to Melanie about her work and why it’s important to celebrate all types of Japanese women.

All kinds of faces and backgrounds; all women worth being celebrated.

Could you describe the “Celebrating Women Japan” project in three sentences or fewer?

Celebrating Women in Japan is designed to celebrate women in Japan and challenge stereotypes held about Japanese women. It’s my own small attempt to show the world the breadth and depth of engagement by Japanese women and by doing so, highlight the issues that women face in Japan.

What motivated you to begin the project?

I first came to Japan in 1982 and have observed the strength and hard-working nature of many Japanese women from the very beginning. My first profile on CWJ was of my host-mum, a doctor. Her commitment to her profession and to her family, her compassion, and the struggles she faced as a woman in Japan were things I was so proud to be able to share. In many cases, people outside of Japan don’t see the greatness and depth of Japanese women. I wanted to honor those women who have been such a big part of my Japan journey.

It’s my own small attempt to show the world the breadth and depth of engagement by Japanese women and by doing so, highlight the issues that women face in Japan.

One of the things that stands out in your project is that you feature women from all walks of life. As well as women in executive positions, you have profiles of blue-collar workers, younger women and women in non-traditional lines of work. Why is this important to you?

I think there is a danger in only profiling or focusing on women in executive positions when discussing the role of women in Japan. These women play a key role in breaking down workforce barriers but I wanted to focus on a range of women in Japan.

Melanie Brock, founder of Celebrating Women in Japan

As well as Japanese nationals, you feature female foreign residents in Japan. Profiles are in English as well as Japanese. Why did you take this international approach?

There are many female foreign residents in Japan who are really supportive of Japanese women and Japan. I wanted to tell their stories too. I set a limit of about 20 percent of the total number of women profiled and am doing my best to make sure I feature a range of foreign women from different backgrounds.  

A successful and happy life can look very different on different women and the road less travelled is just as valid.

How long do you expect the project to continue?

It is a year-long project. It has been pretty tricky at times. Often I have thought I would have to give up as I simply didn’t have enough profiles. I have over 100 days to go and still only three profiles in stock so… Hopefully, Savvy Tokyo readers will now take up pen and paper (well, I mean email or DM on Twitter), email all the wonderful women they know and ask them to send through their profiles.  

Your work as a woman in international relations is inspiring! Could you tell us a little about yourself and how the Celebrating Women Japan project fits in with your working and personal life?

That’s very kind of you to say. I have learned loads about a lot of women and about myself through this project. I wake up worrying about how and when I can get the profile ready. I worry about whether I am doing justice to the women I profile. Many people have told me to change the format and only profile on weekdays or to stop at 100 or 200 but I made a commitment to myself so, by hook or by crook, I am going to profile 365 women!

I think there is a danger in only profiling or focusing on women in executive positions when discussing the role of women in Japan.

I am so thrilled to have received some good feedback and am ever so appreciative of some really committed friends and new Twitter friends, who have been amazing in helping me to source women to profile. I was very touched to receive a note from the mother of someone we profiled saying how pleased she was to see her daughter’s achievements celebrated. This type of feedback has certainly kept me going.

Would you ever feature your own profile?  

Hmmmm… Some people have suggested it. There was a similar project in Australia and the person behind the project didn’t profile herself, but I might do it… will have a think about that.

Is there anything you want to say to Savvy Tokyo’s readers?

Please follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Jump in and comment, celebrate the wonderful women profile and most importantly, help me to keep on #CelebratingWomeninJapan

To learn more about Celebrating Women in Japan, see here.