Be inspired! article
Be inspired! 様にB.G.U.のMakotoとYumeがインタビューを受けました！是非beinspiredglobal.comで読んでください🌹
Written originally in Japanese by Shiori Kirigaya (Be inspired!)
To all the Unquestioning and Compliant Japanese: A zine dedicated to finding the answer that is right for YOU, not what is considered “right” by society.
Have you ever wondered if Japanese society is really “free”?
Our interviewees asked two high school students in Yoyogi Park, "Do you feel any inconveniences in your day to day life?" The reply our interviewees got from the two was "No, not really."
But is Japanese society really that “free” for those two high school students? The gender equality gap in Japan is low, currently sitting at 111th out of 144 countries, and data shows women on average only receive 66% of the salary men receive. On top of that, Japan does not have a safe environment to talk openly about sexuality or mental health.
Focusing on these issues, the multifaceted free zine called B.G.U attempts to rethink and reevaluate the idea of what "freedom" means. Be inspired! interviewed Yume, editor- in-chief and university student, and Makoto, a pharmacist and apparel shop worker who often appears on the pages of B.G.U. They were interviewed about themes such as "why the idea of freedom is not questioned (especially in Japan)" and "why people often choose to live their lives in the same way."
What is "freedom"?
What does it mean to be free? One meaning of the word is to be able to behave as you please without receiving judgement from others. Medieval Europe defined freedom as "freedom of identity" and "a state of privilege." (Source: Kotobank)
Yume: When considering what freedom is, it isn't only to do with legalities, but rather being able to behave and act without being bound by things like stereotypes. It is also about not depriving others of their freedom. For example, somebody denying LGBTQ people simply because of their sexual orientation/gender identity does not constitute as them exercising their freedom.
Furthermore, Yume emphasized that freedom is "being able to choose what you want." Freedom may refer to the state of living without being tied down by the idea of “what people normally do” or comparing yourself to that norm. In Japan, same-sex marriage has not been legally recognized yet. Yet compared to other countries such as Saudi Arabia, where women weren't allowed to drive cars until recently, laws do not dictate the daily actions of the people as much. On the other hand, people often receive pressure and criticism unrelated to formal legalities when making decisions based on individual desires.
Yume: There are numerous options in Japan, but if you choose the 'wrong' path (a path that goes against the norm), rumors spread about you and you could get criticized. Isn’t that the opposite of what freedom is?? There may be the 'freedom' to choose what you want in Japan, but when taking into consideration what will happen when you choose for yourself, it isn’t so free.
Yume and Makoto discuss how, for people who “do not feel deprived of freedom”, it is because they are living within the “norm”. However, even people who live within the majority or what is considered the “norm” can suddenly be put in a situation where being the “norm” is no longer possible; such as suddenly becoming handicapped or becoming a racial minority when going to another country.
Makoto: When someone from the majority says “people normally...” without much thought, it shows they are living with privilege. Making statements like this can oppress minorities without being conscious of it. Minorities often suffer because they can’t fit into this notion of what is “normal”.
In life and in education, there shouldn’t always be one right choice or answer. So where does this binding of "normalcy” begin? We are not born with this notion of “normalcy”. Children learn about what society is like (and the notion of normalcy) as they grow up. Therefore, education and adapting to society can be considered to be the root of this binding.
When considering education in Japan, the emphasis is generally on "everyone turning out the same" and “finding a singular, fixed, correct answer”, rather than everyone expressing their own ideas. One example is what is emphasized in language class (国語 kokugo - Reading and Writing class). In Japanese language class, instead of discussions or presentations on your opinion about the text or material, there is a tendency to focus on inferring the author’s intentions ( for which the answer is usually singular and fixed). .
The two also pointed out that the male-female uniform used by many Japanese junior high and high schools is an example of education strictly binding gender expression and gender roles into two categories.
Yume: Gender expression is bound and established from this point onwards. Junior high school and highschool is one of the best times to get to know yourself and have various experiences. Yet with the uniforms, you are being forced into the two scant categories of 'boys' and 'girls'. This really just made me feel deprived of the ability to express myself”
（＊1）Yume compared her experience at both Japanese and American schools, as she recieved American education until she graduated middle school
Reflecting on their experience with Japanese education which often binds and limits students, the two discuss the lack of opportunities to practise expressing their opinions. They pointed out that they realized the importance of “thinking and speaking for themselves”. For Yume, classes at university that focused on group discussions and presentations while covering difficult texts gave her this idea. For Makoto,a particular class she took covering the complicated themes of "life and death" provoked the realization that being passive in class, however difficult the content may be, never lead to new ideas or real learning.
Yume: I think that seeing something shocking or something you’re not accustomed to is really important (within education). You should experience and be exposed to various things from a young age. For example, the representation of foreigners in English textbooks… the majority of them are white skinned and blonde, but that obviously isn't the only way a “foreigner” looks. The prevalent notion that 'foreigners = English speakers' isn't right either. Representing a group of people in a singular way or only exposing certain types of people can lead to prejudice and stereotypes. For example, exposure to transgender people (or people of different sexualities)..I think it’s important to show this in class more and be exposed to topics that you may not experience in everyday life.
Are you truly “choosing freely”, if you are not aware of or exposed to the diverse and various options within society? Within an education system that fails to represent the world’s diversity or educate the ability to think for yourself, diverse ways of thinking can rarely be acquired, and the result is often choosing a life of convention.
Yume: Whether it be in education, the paths we take, or how we want to live, there shouldn’t be solely one correct answer for everyone. We have this idea that we are free, but Japan tends to have a "correct answer" for everything. Like there being a “correct” sexuality, or “correct” way to present yourself… there are many societal ideals that kill individuality and sense of self in order to fit into the “correct” mold. From the getgo with education, there seems to always be one fixed correct answer; It’s the singular correct answer, or no answer at all. I feel that everybody experiences something similar to this. I think that as you live, you should find the best way to live your own life for yourself, or the “right” way to live for you personally. Yet, the majority of Japanese society seems like they are aiming for what society deems is the correct path. Therefore, when individuals deviate from this path, it is often perceived as the wrong way to live.
Even they didn’t weren’t able to state their opinions boldly at first
Although B.G.U has allowed both Yume and Makoto to actively “think about issues which may oppress themselves and others”, it took time for them to be able to ask questions to understand issues and express themselves to others. Yume, who has had experience going to school in the U.S.,where students expressing themselves in class was the norm, also experienced public schooling in Japan. She speaks of how she tried to blend in with classmates and fit in to the “norm”.
Yume: At university, I’m now the kind of student who sits at the very front of the classroom, raising their hand to answer in class. But to be honest, in first or second year, I avoided doing that and hated drawing attention to myself. But then I thought that without stating my opinions and participating, I wasn’t really learning anything. So, I let go of being insecure or embarrassed and started speaking up. Looking back now, I think I was hesitant because it seemed like I was the only one doing it. Even if the teacher asked a question, no one ever said anything. So, I changed this mindset of “I won’t say anything because no one else is, to “I will absolutely say something especially because no one will” Although, I have to say I didn't think like that that until around my third year [of university].
It is not easy to step out and pull yourself away from something you are used to. However, slowly but surely Makoto and Yume are searching for a way to live more freely, and choose the path they want to live.
For many people of the same age cohort, it seems they are both living in a way which is considered different or enviable. However, for the two of them, they are simply living with responsibility for the lives they choose for themselves. In a sense, following the “normal” path can be easier, but choosing the stable path is not always the best path for that person. The right path for each individual becomes hard to conceptualize, because there are so many people who choose the “correct” path deemed by society.
Makoto: Catching up with my pharmacist friends from university, I’m told "Makoto, you really quit being a pharmacist? You quit your company? Really?" And I'll say, "I quit the company, but I'm doing part-time. I quit because I also wanted to work in apparel, so now I’m working two part-time jobs," to which I usually get replies like "Wow, I’m jealous you’re able to live so freely." I'll say, "Well, it is my life after all," and they just become silent.
Yume: I don’t have any intention to job hunt. Since this is a decision that is not considered “normal”, I’ve had people say "Wow, you’re so lucky you get to live without caring about stuff like that," It isn't that I don't care, it's that I'm me and others are others. I don't think you should deny or criticize other people’s choices. Japan has a lot of this sort of criticism, but I think freedom should include not denying other people. I completely respect people who job hunt whose dream is going to an office to work, and I don’t criticize that.
The two take part in organizing BGU, a free zine created in the hopes of breaking down these existent stereotypes. The zine is handmade by members with diverse backgrounds, working to battle the lack of freedom they feel (whether it be because of their sexuality, race, gender identity etc). BGU has become a platform for both minorities and majorities to express themselves and educate themselves.
Yume: The reason why I wanted to create this platform was because if we simply live day to day or only talk to friends and family, we can’t really get our message across. I think there are definitely people in Japan talking about similar things, but I don't think there are many people who make it into something. Although this still an amateur free zine, I simply wanted to start something to try to make a change.
In this day and age, nearly everything can be accessed through the internet... so why was a paper based, analogue medium chosen? The BGU members place value on communicating with readers, and they achieve this by physically handing the zine out .When it is warm, they hold picnics and talk events in Yoyogi park. There, they pass out their free zine to people passing by and are able to get a direct response from them. With hashtags on SNS, such as instagram, they can only reach people with similar interests. With distribution by hand as the main medium, they are able to spread LGBTQ awareness, gender equality, and other social cultural issues to people who may not usually think about these topics.
In addition, even with the already diverse backgrounds of the BGU family, they believe there is always more that they can do to represent various people. They have an "open-minded acceptance system" towards anyone who wants to join the movement. New members are always more than welcome to join to express themselves about various topics. In a world which tends to spend a lot of time on depthless superficial small talk, this free zine is perfect for people who feel that there are not enough opportunities to discuss hard-hitting issues.
Thinking for yourself leads to the pursuit of freedom
“Freedom” is a vague and complex subject. It is not something we can physically touch. For some, it may not be something they think about often. For others it is something they constantly have to fight for. However, it is not until you begin to actually think about what freedom is for yourself that you can begin to pursue the real meaning of it. Whether you can live your life freely definitely does depend on your financial situation… but when you get the courage and mindset to make decisions for yourself, you may start to notice that there are limitless paths that one can choose to take.
Huge shout out to Rebecca Edwards for the translation!