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OBOS Transformed Worldwide: Japan


The following is the English translation of the preface from the Japanese edition of Sacrificing Our Selves for Love (SOFL).

From OBOS to SOFL: Why and How We Have Adapted Them into Japanese Society

The history of OBOS coming to Japan begins in the early 1980's. In 1984, Chizuko Ueno, a feminist sociologist who is currently teaching at Tokyo University, was then staying in Chicago on a professional exchange. She came to know the newly published NOBOS there and introduced it in a Japanese quarterly newsletter, Women's Books.

The publisher of this feminist newsletter was Toyoko Nakanishi. In 1975, she started a small bookstore specifically for women called Shokado Women's Bookstore in Kyoto. In those early days of Japanese women's liberation movement, she could not find any information helpful for women in Japan, although she keenly felt the need for it. So she decided to launch on a difficult task of collecting, introducing, and publishing women's books and circulating information for women.

When Chizuko introduced OBOS and appealed to readers of Women's Books to attempt a Japanese translation of this marvelous book, many women, including myself, responded earnestly and volunteered translation work. We faced difficulties immediately, however, in finding a publishing house brave enough to take on this hard task. Not only was the book so huge but also it dealt with women's bodies and sexual issues with daring frankness---at least, according to the Japanese standard in those days. Then, dauntless Toyoko decided to publish it by herself, saying, "If I won't do it, I am not a woman!".

At that time, Japanese women were more or less ignorant of their own bodies; they were not being educated about their own bodies and women's health. Furthermore, there was a vast lack of self-control generally because husbands as well as doctors (who were mostly men) had almost complete authority over all the decisions concerning women's health, thus giving men control over women's bodies and rendering women powerless about their own health. Along with this, women were not accustomed to talking openly about their bodies and sexuality, even with other women, because of the strong sense of shame and filth attached to women's bodies.

One horrific example of such ignorance on the part of women is the case of Fujimi Hospital which was revealed in 1981. About one thousand and three hundred unnecessary hysterectomy and/or ovariotomy operations were conducted on women at this hospital for a period of many years. These women were told that "Your uterus is rotten" or "Your ovary is cancerous and in a mess," and were urged to undergo an operation immediately. They obeyed. However, later it was found that their removed organs were healthy and that the hospital had performed those operations just for money's sake. Although this case was a real tragedy for these victimized women, it worked as a strong warning to Japanese women of a danger of being ignorant of their bodies.

Translation and Adaptation

Shokado is a small bookstore/publisher with chronic financial shortage, and it is very difficult in Japan to find a fund or some public financial aid for publishing activity. Accordingly, the making of Japanese version of OBOS was carried out totally on a voluntary base. Twenty-three women participated in translation work, and twenty-five women, some of whom overlapping with the translation team, took charge of editing and collecting information necessary for Japanese adaptation. Many of these women were housewives who had had no experience and/or training of translation and editing until then. Since I had some experience of professional translation, I took charge of proof-reading to check translation with Mioko Fujieda, a feminist scholar. Dr. Miyoko Kawano, a feminist obstetrician-gynecologist, took upon herself the responsibility of checking all technical terms and pointing to many differences among medical systems, medical treatments, and medicines between the United States and Japan. She also introduced us to the photographer who took pictures of women giving birth at her hospital in Hiroshima, so that we could use those wonderful pictures in our book. Since we decided to replace all the pictures of Western women in the book with those of Japanese women, many people offered their own or their family's photos for us. One of our friends who was pregnant then even posed in the nude as a model for us. Finally, a famous artist, Chizuru Miyasako, readily accepted our request and made a charming collage work for the cover of the Japanese edition.

Apart from this translation/editing team, many people including lesbians (who were mostly in the closet in those days) lent a helping hand to our project. While the earlier shortened version of OBOS published in Japan in 1974 was entitled Women's Bodies, we chose a title more faithful to the original, that is, Bodies, Ourselves.

It took more than three years from 1985 to 1988 for translation, research work and editing of the Japanese OBOS. Many members of the project team met every week for the three years, and near the end of the period, they met more often. The location for all the meetings was on the second floor of Toyoko's small book shop in Kyoto. Toyoko's role was the overall management and coordination of the members. She was present at almost all of the meetings. As there were no fax machines nor e-mail in the period of 1985-88, Toyoko was always on the phone networking to hundreds of people and organizations. The OBOS team contacted and met with over 80 major women's groups in Japan during this process.

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