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OBOS Transformed Worldwide: Japan


While we decided to use pictures of our own and to write new prefaces for the Japanese OBOS, it was our policy to translate all chapters of original OBOS faithfully. It was not only because the contract with BWHBC required that but also because we felt that we shared many problems treated in the book as women living in a highly industrialized capitalist society. On the other hand, some parts of the book such as the chapters on lesbianism, masturbation, sexuality of aged or disabled people were quite new as a topic and a real eye-opener for most of us. I do not mean that such issues did not exist in our society, but they remained largely as issues without name until OBOS taught us how to see and talk about them clearly and openly.

Fortunately, we did not encounter any problem of censorship in publishing those chapters treating sexual issues. Kathy Davis mentions in her paper that, as late as 1990, the Japanese customs officials seized copies of the book showing genitalia and pubic hair as 'pornography' (Davis 2001:10).1 It is true. Nevertheless, we could publish pictures of a delivering woman with her pubic hair and genitalia clearly shown without receiving any admonishment! Also, we did not need to worry about the issue of induced abortions, the center of much heated controversy in many other countries including the United States. The Japanese Government legalized induced abortions as early as in 1948 as a countermeasure to the rapid population growth after the World War II.

Although the Japanese version is a faithful translation of the original OBOS, it is not that we found no adaptive contrivances necessary to make the book more useful and effective for Japanese audience. The major points of adaptation are as follows:

1. Changes in the Chinese characters for certain terms

In Japanese language, the terms indicating parts of woman's body such as the pubic hair, the pubic bone and the vulva are ordinarily written using the Chinese characters which have a very negative connotation like "shameful" or "dark and shady." So we substituted the Chinese character which means "sex" or "sexual" for those negative-nuanced characters to give these terms more neutral or positive impression. By thus changing the Japanese words, we tried to tell our readers that the language plays an important part in framing our consciousness of the body and that there is no need for us to feel ashamed or degraded when we think or talk of our bodies.

2. Addition of or changes for more relevant information

Since there are many important differences as regards health insurance system, medical care and education system, and the laws between Japan and the United States, information necessary to understand the Japanese state of things was added or substituted for the original description. Names of foods and drugs unfamiliar to Japanese people were changed to those available in Japan. In addition, since the threat of HIV/AIDS was just becoming of great concern in Japanese society, the latest information on this topic was newly added.

3. Information based on a new research

While we omitted the bibliography and the list of various American groups in the original OBOS, we conducted our own path-breaking research of obstetrical-gynecological clinics, hospitals, and midwifery clinics all over Japan. One hundred and eighty clinic/hospitals and twenty-nine midwifery clinics responded our questionnaire. The results were given in the form of tables in our book, indicating each institution's policies on the Lamaze method, postures during labor and delivery, whether the presence of a laboring woman's partner or family is permitted or not, provision of information about the pre- and post-delivery periods including contraception, provision of counseling, as well as the method, required time and expense of induced abortion. Such a research and information were very much needed by Japanese women, because they were frustrated with the haughty and unkind manner of male doctors, humiliating and inhumane treatment on a high, strapped and uncomfortable delivery table, abuse of induction and/or episiotomy, and many other unpleasant experiences in medical facilities.

4. New prefaces

Each of three chief editors, that is Dr. Miyoko Kawano, Mioko Fujieda, and I, wrote a new preface for the Japanese version, respectively, to facilitate understanding of the book by the Japanese audience. Miyoko wrote about the state of Japanese medicine and its treatment of women, Mioko described briefly the history of women and health movement in the United States and how the original OBOS was born and spread around the world, and I explained about the adaptations and changes we had made for the Japanese edition.

Effects and Influence of OBOS

In October 1988, 6,000 copies of Japanese OBOS were published. Within a decade, all the copies have been sold and the book is out of print now. But this does not mean that the book is considered out of date or forgotten today. You can find the manifold effects of publication of OBOS in various places. First, although the number of copies sold was not quite large, partly because of the relatively high price of the book, at least one copy was purchased and housed in almost every women's center scattered in many prefectures of Japan as well as many public and university libraries, providing an easy access to the book for a large audience. One example to show that OBOS has faithful readers even today is given by a feminist activist with disability who told Toyoko that she was overwhelmed with joy when she first read the part written of sexuality of people with disability many years ago and that she still uses that chapter every year as the text for their study group.

Second, OBOS became a source of inspiration for other books and activities. Under the far-reaching impact of OBOS, numerous groups of women were formed to discuss and make research on various women's health issues such as the oral contraceptive pill, which was not officially approved in Japan until as late as June, 1999, endometriosis, menopause, reproductive technologies, adolescence and sexuality, sexual harassment, and domestic violence. Based on such researches and bodily experiences of Japanese women, many new books have been written and published. As a result of increased interest in and visibility of women's health issues, the atmosphere of shame and secrecy surrounding women's bodies and sexuality has been dispersed to a considerable degree. In 1981, the victims of the Fujimi Hospital had a difficult time even to utter the word "uterus" in front of many people. Today, the situation is far better and to talk about women's bodies is no longer felt as a taboo among many women.

Third, OBOS and the books and activities inspired by it have brought about some favorable changes among medical professionals. For example, some hospitals came to listen more attentively to women's complaints of uncomfortable and inhumane ways of giving birth at hospitals, and improvements have been made concerning the design of delivery beds and women's postures during labor and delivery. The number of women who, wishing to give birth in a more natural way, prefer private midwife's office to hospitals is increasing, and attendance of partners during delivery has also become common both at hospitals and midwife's offices.

Last but not least is the effects of OBOS on individual women of the translation/editing team. Many of them, including myself, remember the encounter with OBOS as an unforgettable experience which enabled us to see our bodies more positively and encouraged us to live more freely. Personally, OBOS even marked a turning point in my career. I was a post-graduate studying women's history when I first met OBOS. The book opened my eyes to the fact that there was almost no history of woman's body in Japan, and I decided to make it my specialty. Thus it was through OBOS that we learned both personally and collectively that OUR BODIES DO MATTER and also OUR SELVES DO MATTER.

Translating SOFL

In 1996, a book called Sacrificing Our Selves for Love written by Esther R. Rome, a member of Boston Women's Book Collective, and Jane W. Hyman, a co-author of NOBOS, was published. And the Japanese version of this book was published in June, 2001. Once again, the publisher is Toyoko's Shokado Women's Bookstore and a team consisting of 13 women, some of them overlapping with members of OBOS team, collaborated on a voluntary base in translation, research and editing. Once again, I participated as the proof-reader.

The reason why we chose this book for translation is because the issues dealt with in it such as dieting and eating disorders, cosmetic surgery, domestic violence, rape, and STDs are all serious problems currently in Japanese society, and we thought ideas and information in this book can be very helpful for Japanese women. For instance, several large-scale researches on domestic violence were conducted during recent years, and the research in Osaka City revealed that two out of three women have experienced some kind of physical and/or mental violence from their husbands or lovers. The law inhibiting violence from partners was enacted in May 2001. In view of such conditions, we made special efforts to include necessary information on shelters and counseling services for battered women available in Japan. Thus, we are still treading the path which started from OBOS, and our story of transplantation and re-contextualization of this book is still under way.







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