Older women form 'Obachan' Party

By Jessica Ocheltree

In Japanese, "obachan" is a word that means aunt, but is sometimes used to refer to a middle-aged or elderly woman in a derogatory way. There is no good translation in English, but the image is of an eccentric, loud, irritating busybody long past youth or beauty.

Not many women would choose to apply this word to themselves, but a new political party has emerged out of Osaka that is proudly claiming ownership of the word and attempting to reform the image of Japan’s obachans. We went to find out more about this All Japan Obasan Party.

Vice Presidents Hiroko Inokuma, a journalist and professor at Tokyo City University, and Tomoko Saotome, an obstetrician and gynecologist, spoke at Tokyo’s Foreign Correspondents Club to introduce their party and what they hope to accomplish for women in Japan. They were joined by member Kyoko Takada, a university professor.

AJOP was started just six months ago and sprang out of a Facebook group, but has quickly grown to over 2,000 members. According to the speakers, the larger purpose of AJOP is to close the gender gap in Japanese society, but they are starting much smaller by just providing a forum where women can talk politics, learn to express themselves effectively and raise awareness about how politics are connected to their daily lives, all without any quelling male presence.

The need to encourage women to speak their minds might seem like a hopelessly outdated idea, but despite Japan’s modern image, conservative notions about gender roles are still alive and well in the society.

“If we particularly focus on comments given by our regional members, people who live in rural areas, quite often women say that they have been prohibited from speaking out about politics or even having an opinion about politics. Quite often, the pressure comes from the mother-in-law, who takes a very strong stance that women should stay in the home and not think about or talk about politics,” says Inokuma.

“The first thing these women realize when they join our forums is that they can talk about these things, they can have an opinion, and it’s really a revelation for them.”

Last year, Japan ranked 101 out of 135 in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Rankings, the lowest by far of all the G8 nations and just above countries like Nigeria, Kuwait and the UAE. The percentage of female legislators hovers around just 13%, depending on what levels of government are included, and this astounding gender gap persists despite a highly educated female majority.

The AJOP membership covers the spectrum of political opinion, so it’s hard to say that they have a platform in the traditional sense, but they do have eight points they would like to promote, which they are calling the obachan hassaku or Auntie’s Oranges, a pun on the Japan Restoration Party’s much touted "ishin hassaku" or Eight Policies for Restoration.

The Obachan Eight Policies for Restoration

  1. No more lives of children wasted in war
  2. Tax reform asking the wealthy to pay their fair share
  3. Recovery from natural disasters
  4. No more nuclear waste
  5. Strengthen the community to better raise children and help seniors
  6. Protect workers and their rights
  7. Minority opinions should be taken seriously
  8. The opinion of obachans should be reflected in politics

The platform is perhaps on the vague side, without specific targets or timelines, but the obachans warn against falling back on prefixed ideas of what a political organization should be.

“What we are trying to propose is another kind of organization, very different from the male-oriented or male-designed organizations we’ve had in the past,” says Saotome.

“There is a term in Japan 'idobata kaigi,' or a chat around the village well. In other words, women doing their washing and exchanging opinions. We are thinking about an organization that is much looser in form.”

Still, the speakers cautioned that they are only six months in and AJOP is still very much in flux as the membership grows and defines itself.

One thing is for sure: these ladies have a sense of humor, despite their earnest goals. Oh, and if you men were feeling a bit left out in all this, the AJOP has an ancillary support group for men called the O-chan (uncle) Supporters.

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- One Homely Guy’s Solution to the Declining Birth Rate -- Oh, Japan, You Make Me So Mad Sometimes! -- What Japanese Women Really think About Money and Marriage

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Obatallion!!! Now if they would only stop talking so loudly on the train.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

The another member on the right is cute!

3 ( +6 / -3 )

How about them Ninja Obaasan that seem to come from nowhere and push their way past you onto the train or bus or snag up the last item that you were reaching for in a store?!? CUT THAT CRAP OUT!!! Add that as number nine to your "The Obachan Eight Policies for Restoration" and rename it as "The Obachan NINE Policies for Restoration and Harmony of Japan".

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

No more lives of children wasted in war

Something I hope ALL parties would strive for!

Tax reform asking the wealthy to pay their fair share

Define wealthy? These women in the national government are not poor by any means, do they include themselves, and feel they should be paying more too? This is too simplistic an ideal imo.

Recovery from natural disasters

Ok, but Japan is prone to these disasters, how about a better accounting for how funds are used?

No more nuclear waste

Concrete examples would be nice. Stating the obvious is simple, giving solutions is something totally different.

Strengthen the community to better raise children and help seniors

Again easy to talk about but considerably difficult to accomplish and not just by throwing money at it.

Protect workers and their rights

Gonna have to change the old-boys networking to accomplish this one.

Minority opinions should be taken seriously

Do they include foreigners in this? Minorities doesnt just mean MINOR political parties, it's the people. To change this means an overhaul of the entire education system and cultural thinking of ethnocentrism.

The opinion of obachans should be reflected in politics

Fair enough, women's opinions and thoughts should be reflected more in politics anyway, equality, not glass ceiling token gestures, but structural changes HAVE to be made for Japan to succeed.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

The Obachan Eight Policies for Restoration

No more lives of children wasted in war When last were the lives of Japanese children wasted in war? Tax reform asking the wealthy to pay their fair share Top rates in Japan already relatively high Recovery from natural disasters What on earth does this mean? No more nuclear waste Right. Alternatives? Strengthen the community to better raise children and help seniors Not bad, but meaningless Protect workers and their rights Japanese workers already have one of the most protective labour law regimes in the world. If this means stop hiring workers as temps, I agree. Minority opinions should be taken seriously What minorities? Ainu? Gaijin? The opinion of obachans should be reflected in politics Wow! Wonder what they are exactly.

Pretty crummy manifesto.

-1 ( +5 / -6 )

Where is the source of restoration principle inspiration? Hollywood, Obama, or AKB58? What about defense against aggression, police against crimes and corruptions?..... Ideas that implement in the wrong field will be a waste! They should create a party to implement individual responsibility and self esteem of better education to strengthen the base of social structure and so on. Most changes occur inwardly Obachan(s).

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I can't wait to hear what ISHIHARA-san, the former Tokyo mayor, has to say about this. He once caught some heat for repeating someone else's assertion that OBACHAN are the worst, most evil consequence of a peaceful society. They were referred to as tyrants, who push to impose their presence/wills onto others, who would not exist in the world, were it not for the stability created by the policies & men, who they now try to undermine.

And based on their platform--which has no substance, but that one last bit about OBACHAN having the right to push their presence, will, and emotional poison onto others--it would ISHIHARA-san may have been onto something.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Honestly i think if they want to be taken more seriously, they should consider changing their name. good cause though

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Pretty shallow thinking.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

Tomoko Saotome, Hiroko Inukuma, Kyoko Takada and another member

Shows how little the media cares if they call you "another member"

1 ( +3 / -2 )

That level of detail in the eight policies will fit in very well with Japanese politics. They'll be a junior coalition partner in no time.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Why do groups in Japan do this? Do they not want to be taken seriously?

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

We should have an oyaji party (I know, some might say that LDP is already one). Difference is we could have policies designed to cater to oyaji desires, like

Smoking allowed everywhere, even on planes, trains, etc Beer from vending machines cheaper and open 24/7. All women under 30 to dress slutty and behave like juveniles. No need to renew drivers licence every 3 years (never is the best) Leering and groping and taking inappropriate pictures of women all to be decriminalised. Dismissal of incompetent employees to be prohibited. Guaranteed work as taxi driver or light stick waver or similar after 60 years of age. Deny all historical wrongdoing by Japan and play the victim card all the time.

For a start. sure others can think of more policies that we can make up into a manifesto for the Upper House elections.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

As if they didn't have enough political power already?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

They forgot to mention, 'give up on your husband after kids '.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Great. More inept oldies to embarrass the nation. Just what we need.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

a) Undertake mandatory "Train Etiquette" course. b) Prohibition of riding trains in rush hour, under any circumstances. Fines will be issued for public nuisances, including spitting. Introduction of the "Respect The Younger Generation Day", as they support YOUR medical system.

There, list complete.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I wonder if they meet up at izakaya's sometimes. Would like tohave a few drinks with the "other member"

0 ( +1 / -1 )

One reason Japan is so ineffectual is that there are so many political parties, and by law all must get the same coverage in the media before an election. Hence Takeshi Six Pack and his Yet Another Party Calling For Whatever gets way more attention then get deserve. It's one reason why Japan's politics are so bad, you can't even get a majority to agree on stuff.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

The opinion of obachans should be reflected in politics

I laughed so hard

0 ( +2 / -2 )

TheDevilsAssistant: "I wonder if they meet up at izakaya's sometimes. Would like tohave a few drinks with the "other member"

If they truly represent 'obachan' then they most certainly do meet up at Izakaya, usually while 'on patrol' -- or at least that's what the sign on the bicycles say before they ride home plastered.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Best platform in Japan so far. DPJ and LDP should take note.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

All we need is the ikemen party, the AKB48 party, and the Chikan Party.

I've never had a problem with obachans. I usually find them the best group of people in Japan. They are the most likely to give their seat up for a pregnant woman.

And I love the way when you offer them your seat they refuse the first two times then are so happy, and take the time to thank you when they get off the train.

But is it really a political party, or just as excuse to get together for lunch?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

If the two on the right are obachan I think I'll definitely join the ochan supporters group.

But what will our responsibilities be....?

@Peter Payne. Good one. "Yet Another Party". Never a truer word...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Older women with money and no need of men..

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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