• VPEC

Building a Sisterhood in Japan


The next stop on our virtual tour of violence prevention education programs is Tokyo, Japan, where Hiromi Kusano, an ESD Global Level 1 trainee (New York, August 2019), is working to combine her background in gender and peacebuilding with Empowerment Self Defense (ESD) to empower the women of her community.


Hiromi’s journey into the world of violence prevention began when she was studying gender and peacebuilding at The University for Peace in Costa Rica. As a supplement to her classes, she took an Empowerment Self Defense class offered by Aude Mulliez, an instructor trained through ESD Global.


Hiromi was so inspired that she decided to attend a Level 1 training in New York.


And now, Hiromi is collaborating with IMPACT Tokyo to bring violence prevention education, including Empowerment Self Defense, to the women and girls of Japan.


The Needs of the Japanese Community


In spite of the fact that Japan is a relatively safe country, and that there are plenty of opportunities to learn traditional martial arts, there is still a very significant need for violence prevention education.


According to Hiromi, women grow up with the message that they need to be cute, docile, and submissive, and that in Japanese culture, the word “NO” is taboo.


As is true in so many parts of the world, women in Japan who experience assault, abuse, and sexual violence are made to feel shame, making them less likely to tell their stories.


As is true in so many parts of the world, women in Japan who experience assault, abuse, and sexual violence are made to feel shame, making them less likely to tell their stories.

Additionally, there is a lack of conversation and education about these sensitive topics.


Joining Forces With IMPACT Tokyo

The 5 Principles of Empowerment Self Defense in Japanese

When Hiromi returned to Japan after her ESD Global training, she wanted to continue learning Empowerment Self Defense.


At IMPACT Tokyo, after a three-hour introductory class, she was delighted to find that with a few exceptions, the teachings were in line with what she had been learning.


Hiromi noticed, however, one difference related to the scenarios used for teaching. During the training in New York, Hiromi acted out a situation in which there was violence in a train station. At IMPACT Tokyo, a more likely scenario would be for participants to act out how to handle being groped on a train, the most common form of assault that Japanese women face.


When it comes to this kind of hidden, more quiet assault, many women worry that they’ve made a mistake, or that the touching was accidental, which makes it difficult for them to fight back and say "NO."


According to Naomi Moriyama, director of IMPACT Tokyo,


“In Japan, society does not teach women to say ‘NO!’ In our daily lives, we are made to believe saying ‘NO’ can cause problems, like causing disharmony in the society. This prohibits women to say ‘NO’ even when they are in danger.”

“In Japan, society does not teach women to say ‘NO!’ In our daily lives, we are made to believe saying ‘NO’ can cause problems, like causing disharmony in the society. This prohibits women to say ‘NO’ even when they are in danger.”

As in most IMPACT classes around the world, many of the students at IMPACT Tokyo are survivors of some form of violence. However, in Japan, the majority of the students are well above thirty. When asked why, Hiromi explained that as women get older and have had more experiences, they recognize a need for change.


Going forward, Hiromi would like to join forces with IMPACT Tokyo in order to receive more training and learn more about teaching, and someday draw from her experience at The University for Peace to offer a gender component to the curriculum.


Combining Gender and Peacebuilding With Violence Prevention Education

Though Japan is in many ways a progressive G7 country, there is a lot of work ahead. In the 2019 Gender Gap Report published by the World Economic Forum, Japan was ranked 121 out of 153 countries.


Hiromi feels that hearing women’s voices plays a large role in preventing violence, and that more representation of women in government and media would lead to a big improvement.


And she has a message for her future students:

Being able to say ‘NO!’ is one thing. But saying it with the belief that you are worth defending is even more powerful.

“Being able to say ‘NO!’ is one thing. But saying it with the belief that you are worth defending is even more powerful.


Women need to learn to prioritize themselves and not put themselves second. It’s okay to prioritize our safety over hurt feelings.”


Providing Violence Prevention Education to People of All Genders


Hiromi points out that girls and women aren’t the only ones in need of violence prevention education in Japan. Just as women receive messages that they need to be cute, docile, and submissive, men are taught that they need to appear fierce and tough. But Hiromi sees the need for boys and men to be taught that it’s okay to be vulnerable and express their feelings and that it’s okay to cry. And she wants to shed light on the fact that sexual abuse and assault of boys is even more hidden than it is of girls.


Education is also needed to combat child pornography, which is readily available in Japan, especially in comic book form.


Lastly, Hiromi feels that education is greatly needed when it comes to bullying, especially cyberbullying, and explained that the suicide rate goes up every September at the start of the second term of the school year. The government has started to intervene, but more education and support are needed.


Slow and Steady Progress


About six months after much of the rise of the #MeToo Movement, Japanese women began speaking up and sharing their stories.


When it comes to “TELL,” the fifth principle of Empowerment Self Defense, progress is slow but steady.


She is especially grateful to the twenty-nine-year-old journalist Shiori Ito who, in the BBC Two documentary “Japan’s Secret Shame,” shared her story of being raped by a male journalist.



Hiromi hopes that other survivors will follow in Shiori Ito's footsteps and come forward to share their experiences.


Looking Towards the Future


Like many Japanese women, and women everywhere, Hiromi feels that she didn’t ask for more from society as she was growing up.


“What a waste. We’re educated and capable. Imagine the opportunities we would have if we spoke up.”


Things changed for Hiromi at the age of thirty-seven, when she went to the University for Peace. She wants other Japanese women to feel empowered by similar experiences.


And she hopes to someday hold a Level 1 training in Tokyo, and to provide ESD training to women who are in shelters due to natural disasters.

I want to create a sisterhood,” she says with conviction. “I want women to know that it’s okay to be strong.

“I want to create a sisterhood,” she says with conviction. “I want women to know that it’s okay to be strong.”


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