Missing Voices that Matter: a history of Japanese women law professorial pioneers, considering the social impact of their scarcity.

Missing Voices that Matter

October 11, 2022

About this event

This is a hybrid event. Please register for physical (in-person participation) or Zoom webinar (online participation).

Attendees participating in person are asked to wear a mask throughout the event (except while eating or drinking). This will help us to protect vulnerable attendees.

While the U.S. and Japan’s earliest generation of female legal scholars showed roughly similar numbers, their paths soon diverged dramatically. The number of women in the two legal academies in the 1950s to about 1960 were not all that different. Both nations counted phenomenally low numbers similarly. The U.S. took an early lead, but not by all that much. One report counted five women in tenure track positions in the U.S. in 1950 and another counted fourteen women before 1960. Japan could count five women by 1956 and eight women by 1958. Neither fifteen women in the U.S. nor eight women in Japan represent even token counts among individuals who made up the two countries’ legal academy professoriate in those times.

The difference then is in what followed. In the U.S., we crossed a count of 100 women around 1970 and then accelerated to 516 women by 1979, while Japan’s count essentially flatlined. From 1958 in Japan, there were no new women entrants for about ten years and then the next uptick in Japan was just five women entering the field in the late 1960s through 1974. After a second near hiatus of about eight years, Japan then saw some modest growth to have a total of twenty-two women who had entered law teaching by 1988. Our next found data point is 402 women in 2004.

The profound scarcity of voices of women academics as leaders, teachers, and scholars in Japanʻs legal academy for several decades remains significantly detrimental for Japanʻs gender circumstances today. The story demonstrates how crucial womenʻs and other feminist voices are in addressing gender gaps and dismantling patriarchy in a society. In particular, having women and feminist allies in the legal academy is essential for feminism to advance in a society. Conversely, deficits regarding women and feminist allies in the legal academy will invariably impact the overall society’s gender circumstances for the worse. And so, just as feminist legal theorists would suggest, it seems essential to assess those circumstances in Japan with the idea that gender gap deficits in Japan’s legal academy must be at least a contributing factor to the nation’s profound and distressing gender gap situation more generally that continue to the present day.

This talk aims to explore not only how, but why the two paths diverged so significantly. With time allowing, some effort will be made to draw upon Canada's circumstances to add another historical sequence into the telling here.


Mark A. Levin is a Professor of Law and the inaugural Director of the Pacific and Asian Legal Studies Program at the William S. Richardson School of Law, and is concurrently serving as the Director of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Center for Japanese Studies. Mark came to Hawaiʻi in January 1997 from the Law Department of Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan. His interest in Japan began after his 1983 graduation from Yale Law School, when he worked in international business and financial transactions at Masuda and Ejiri, one of the leading Tokyo international law offices at the time.

From 1984 to 1986, Mark clerked for U.S. District Court Judge John C. Coughenour in Seattle, Washington, and then practiced in Seattle for five years as a corporate attorney, representing numerous Japanese clients. He earned an LL.M. from the University of Washington’s Asian Law Program (Japanese Law Emphasis) in 1990.

Tomomi Yamaguchi is Associate Professor of Anthropology and the director of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Minor at Montana State University. She is a cultural anthropologist with a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan (2004) and studies social movements in Japan. Her ethnographic and historical research on the feminist movement in Japan is longstanding, and she particularly examined Japanese feminism from the post-1970s era to the present. Her research trajectory has led her to new areas of study such as grassroots conservative movements, historical revisionism, nationalism, racism and xenophobia. She conducted a major project on the backlash against feminism in Japan, and recently she has been working on ultranationalist movements in Japan, as well as the contemporary debate on wartime “comfort women” in Japan and the U.S. While her work is rooted in sociocultural anthropology, she is a scholar with a strong interdisciplinary background who works and writes bilingually in English and Japanese.


Scott Harrison is Senior Program Manager, Engaging Asia at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada and Research Fellow at SFU's David Lam Centre.



Co-sponsored by SFU's David Lam Centre, and the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.


October 11th, 2022

SFU Harbour Centre, Room 7000