Sunday March 3rd was Ohinamatsuri, or Girl’s Day, in Japan when we celebrate the health and well being of young girls. In a country where so many seasonal celebrations are male focused, it is a refreshing change and a special day to recognize the contributions made by women in Japanese society. It is also a day to enjoy the wonder of Girl Power, Japan-style.
In thinking about the place of women in Japan, I looked into the relationship between women and craft. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2012 Global Gender Gap Report, Japan ranked a disappointingly low but not surprising 101st of 135 countries in the gender gap index (*The updated 2017 Global Gender Gap report ranked Japan 113rd of 144 countries). It is embarrassing to see my home country hovering so far down in the rankings and well behind other major developed states. The U.S., for example, stood in 22nd place while Nordic countries dominated the top 10 (*the U.S ranked 49th in the 2017 report).
In the old and rigid world of Japanese traditional craft, it seems that we continue to be bound by male-dominated hierarchies. Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry designates traditional craft products and certifies master craftsmen in their effort to promote and preserve traditional Japanese crafts. As of 2011, there were approximately 4500 certified master craftsmen, of which less than 600 or 13% were women.
Despite these grim statistics, in the more globalized and populist contemporary craft community that Studio KotoKoto is a part of, we have come across many successful and vibrant female artists in Japan as well as the U.S.
My visits to several craft shows in Japan over the past year offer a simple insight into how successful and influential Japanese women artists have become. In all of these high quality juried shows, roughly half of the participating artists were women. I also found that a large majority of visitors to these shows were women and they also were the biggest supporters of these artists. Many women travel around the country to visit artists and purchase their work.
Moreover, while many Japanese male artists are quiet and rather insular, I have found that Japanese women artists are very open and willing to work with us in California.
So on Ohinamastsuri, I salute all of the fearless Japanese women artists that have made Studio KotoKoto such a wonderful and fulfilling experience. At least in the world of contemporary Japanese craft, girl power is a phenomenon to be reckoned with.