Against the Mainstream: Feminist Zines in Japan

Written By Elif Erdogan

Jigsaw Zine Issue #3 1991

A zine is a self-published, do it yourself (DIY) type of fanzines that rejects the mainstream ideas that are imposed on us such as we should be silent or we should behave like “good girls”. Feminist zines shaped zine culture, established riot grrrl movement and rejected notions like how a “girl” should be. In Japan, the feminist zine scene can be seen through the Tokyo Zinester Gathering, an online shop called Lilmag and Mishima (Shizuoka)’s Cry in Public. For this article, we will be interviewing three zine publishers/event-makers in Japan.

Kiyoshi Murakami

Why do you have an urge to do zine events? Can you explain what you do?

I started Morning Zine Circle in 2016, Kyoto. I had two inspirations which are Nonaka Momo-san who spread the zine culture in Japan the most. Also, my encounter and dialogue with Dirty-san in Mishima, Shizuoka who creates Cry in Public zine and co-organizes Quiet Hills Zine Collective (Q.H.Z.C.) inspired me. 

 

In Morning Zine Circle we sometimes create zines, but mostly we talk about zine culture, DIY culture, feminism, and anarchism. Also, once a year we make a zine fest called Nijo Zine Fest. By doing the zine fest we try to create a safer space policy and accessibility to study and practice these two concepts.

 

We have some regular members who are moms, and, in the gatherings, they discuss childcare, government’s policies regarding childcare, and so on. In normal zine gathering, these topics wouldn’t be talked about since they are not art or academic stuff. We try to make these daily life topics valued and show that “personal is political”.

 

Why is it important to have a safe environment and how do you establish that?

Creating and implementing a real safe space is really difficult. Discrimination hasn’t occurred in our zine circle and fest so far, but if it does we will implement as many countermeasures as possible. For example, we can learn about the problem by inviting activists or experts on that specific issue.  

What kind of characteristics of feminism, POC, queerness, or anything that was suppressed find voice in your zine? 

When we make zines, we principally talk about women’s difficulties such as repressive policies toward women and infrastructure problems in the city for mothers. 

 

We have people who are in the Peace Movement and Labor Movement, they share their experiences such as sexual harassment and discrimination in the movement. 

What do you think of zine culture have when it comes to constructing a feminist movement in Japan?

Feminist zine-makers in Japan are talking about issues of Ie (Japanese Feudalistic Family System 家制度) and patriarchy. They criticize the Japanese Family System’s (which is sexist) acceptance of something as a convention. They write about what they have learned, what they have experienced, self-care, reproductive rights/health, and domestic violence they have faced through their male relatives. 

What can we consider as DIY?

Ideally, zine should be something that doesn’t cost. Sometimes it costs for the reader since the writer has to cover the cost of publishing. A zine is supposed to be non-profit but when you put a price then it decreases the economic accessibility. For DIY activism, it is inappropriate when you create zines with professionals for aesthetics and increase the cost.

Are zines becoming mainstream? 

Ordinary people who claim that they create zines, they often approach zines as something like a fashion item or promotion of their work for commercial reasons. But core people in the zine culture scene are anti-commercialist, anti-capitalist and anti-corporatist, so there are still people who are against the mainstream. 

Are there any zines that you would recommend to the readers?

Ogaki, Yuka, 2005, The Movement of Riot Grrrl: Politics of Individuality. (http://lilmag.org/?pid=2737397)

◇Yutori-Sedai-Feminism, 2016, Ju-so [Vol.1]. (http://lilmag.org/?pid=130616851)

◇Femi-Zine-Collective, 2019, Datsu-goku: Home-raren. (http://danwararen2015.hatenablog.com/entry/datugoku_homelaren)

Uprizine

What was the reason that you decided to use print-media (zine) to do your activism in the university?

Airin: It is an important aspect of the Uprizine club to have a tangible platform to express ourselves. A physical zine can be felt more personal and cherished. 

 Angie: Change is strongly felt and seen when it’s physical. While all our zines can be found online, there’s an even greater sense of accomplishment to know that our zine is being held by our audience.

What kind of issues did you face or facing in an institution like a university that you are addressing in your zine? 

Angie: Uprizine was first founded in 2017 in response to a sexual assault on our university campus. Since then, Uprizine has covered issues relating to sexual assault/harassment, sex education, and Title IX resources. It has expanded to cover more topics including human rights and environmental issues in various ways.

What did you learn from this diverse group of people that are interested in feminism?

Angie: I learned that everyone has a story to tell and Uprizine is the platform that gives them the chance to tell it. While I can’t say that everyone is interested in feminism, everyone does take some sort of interest in being a part of something that allows themselves to say what they couldn’t and being a spark of inspiration and change.

 

Airin: There’s a stigma to feminism as being exclusive to women and their rights. But feminism is inclusive – it’s a concept that everyone should have equal rights regardless of their gender identity. “Intersectionality” as a concept enables us to look past the binary preconceptions we have about gender equality and tune into the foundational value of human rights. 

 

Alisa: By having this brand of feminism it is really hard for male students to interact with the club. So we try to show that we include everyone.

Although activism is sometimes looked down upon in Japanese universities what was your motivation behind continuing feminist student activism in your university?

Angie: Everyone has a story to tell and Uprizine gives that platform. If there’s anything that we should do is to share our opinions and discuss openly. Curating these discussions and making them into a zine is one thing, but putting this zine out there, reaching out to people, creating this network of support: now that’s activism. 

Airin: If the school cannot respond to sexual harassment cases, even though it is under the watch of the university, it would be unjust. So the most important thing is raising awareness and materializing the dialogue that we put forward as zines. 

Alisa: People probably are not aware that there is a place that they can share their thoughts.

Are there any zines that you would recommend to the readers?

BGU

Sex Zine

What was the driving force behind publishing a zine specifically on sex?

Ruru: It is curiosity about sexuality in general and I was interested in feminism. It made me want to do something. When we think about sex especially in Japan it is hard to find something in the middle of seriousness and fun. It is either serious like sex-ed or it is porn and we wanted to be in between. Talking about sex shouldn’t be a taboo. 

Marianne (まりあんぬ): From my school time I was interested in the theme of sex. But, it didn’t get to a point that I wanted to make a zine out of it. With Ruru, I was able to construct the zine together.

Are there any parts in your zine that we can see your experiences in England as a young adult experiencing and learning new aspects of your sexuality? 

Ruru: I didn’t like to be sexy at all, I didn’t like people to think about me as sexy. But I also adore people who are sexy. I got slut-shamed a lot in Japan. In London, everyone wore whatever they wanted, and I wore whatever I wanted. When I came back to Japan people called me “you look like a slut”, “you look fat”, “You are not in England anymore”. I gained a lot of confidence when I was in England but everything smashed when I came back. 

What kind of processes that you went under to create your zine?

Ruru: Six months before we decide whether we are going to do it or not. We think about the theme of sexuality. We think about our interest at the moment with Marianne. We decide who to interview and if anyone wants to write.  

Marianne: Together with Ruru, we decided people to interview. I did the basic budget management foundations of the zine such as organizing the layout, illustrations, and so on. Ruru came up with the concept and the shootings of the cover page.  

What kind of reaction did you receive from your Sex Zine Vol1?

Ruru: Girls in our age or younger thought it was an interesting experience, it was a good opportunity to talk about sex with their friends or partners. We made an event because maybe some people had no one to talk to but if you come to the event you can make friends. Sometimes we are contacted through social media regarding sex because people know that we are open about this topic. 

 

Marianne: We didn’t receive any specific feedback or comments but I believe that a lot of people who bought our zine felt like they wanted to share something.

Females’ way of expressing sex has just started to boom recently. I think because of that there are a lot of people who are nervous about talking about sexuality. I think our zine helped to show people ways of expressing yourself regarding sex.

Are there any zines that you would recommend to the readers?

Julian Klincewicz’s zines