By Haruka Nakajima /Translated by Sachi Kikuchi
Voice Up Japan interviewed Mikiko Morisaki, the representative of “MOKA (Kushiro Moka Women’s Project)” and career counselor. Morisaki established the Kushiro Moka Women’s Project in 2011 and the MOKA. Co., Ltd., a business that includes the work of the project in 2017. Based in Kushiro City, Hokkaido, they provide career support for women. Morisaki writes on her homepage, “I want to create a place where you can participate no matter what your position is, discover yourself while talking with friends, come up with ideas, and take steps toward employment.” She does a variety of things, including managing a program called “Moka’s School,” where participants can reflect on their personalities and use that information to help connect them to careers. She also creates jobs through the “Kushiro Fishing Net Series,” a series of towels and scrub brushes made from fishing nets.
We interviewed her about establishing the group, the scope of activities, and efforts unique to Kushiro City.
The beginning of “Kushiro Moka Women’s Project”
The Kushiro Moka Women’s Project, which was triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake, celebrated its 10th anniversary in May. Morisaki was doing individual consultations at Hello Work (the Japanese government’s employment service centre) at that time.
“I had been doing individual consultations for women for a long time. The Great East Japan Earthquake happened during that time, and after the earthquake, I felt that everyone was feeling down. People in a depressed state were becoming more noticeable. I thought that it would affect children a lot. Ten years ago, companies said they wouldn’t hire women with small children, or women in their mid-20’s because they didn’t know when these young women would get married and have children.
It was under these circumstances that she started the “Kushiro Moka Women’s Project.”
“I’m often involved with women who are raising children or people who are stuck wondering what to do to start moving forward in their lives. We started holding events to sell handicrafts, sweets, and children’s clothes made by these women. We invited university teachers to learn about gender, gender equality, SDGs, and the LGBT community. We are working on the theme of learning.”
About Moka ’s School
“Originally, it started in 2014 as a Kushiro City business and has been in operation for the past 7 years. It doesn’t have a so-called seminar format where participants meet once or twice, but instead, it has a school format. “Learning something as an individual” is the premise. For about two to two and a half months, we begin with learning to take responsibility for our own words through things like introducing ourselves and others, listening attentively to others, and thinking independently. The idea of women = caregiver of children and the elderly still follows women. This is another problem, but even so, the theme of our learning is to view ourselves as individuals and live our own lives. While learning the importance of sharing information, we encourage participants to try being the instructor and to voice their opinions about what kind of people they want to learn from to create the course together. I decide (the content), but after that, I ask for participants’ input and have them independently manage the course as much as possible. At the end, we have a presentation tournament where each person talks about who they are and what they’ll do in the future. A lot of participants aren’t able to speak in front of others at first, but by the end of the course, most are able to speak confidently.”
What Morisaki considers important is to share as our authentic selves. Right now, more and more companies and municipalities are making efforts to have more ‘gender balance’ and to ‘close the gender gap,’ but what is hindering them from having a gender balance? She raises the issue of awareness.
“The government is getting big companies to make various efforts to close the gender gap. However, women are struggling to keep up with it. It may be even more so in smaller cities, but I think there are a lot of women who are content with so-called “until jobs” (jobs they keep until they get married or until they have children). I feel that the number of people who think that women should also work in society is increasing. However, it seems that (women) are tying themselves to their homes. I think we learned this unconsciously from our parents’ generation and the previous generation at home. Another thing I’m focusing on is career education. School is not the only place for career education, and I think it is very important to have career education at home until about 3 years old. For that purpose, I really feel that it is necessary to change mothers’ way of thinking bit by bit. That’s why we train women to speak on their behalf. We have to be responsible for speaking our truths. I’ve always focused on telling others that thinking like this and living like this is what makes us lead happier lives.”
“Japanese people are still not good at expressing themselves. I feel that being so far behind the rest of the world is linked to the Gender Gap Index. We haven’t been able to teach this within the home. It’s not possible to suddenly tell someone to do things at school or to learn from someone as soon as they start working, don’t you think? Through hobbies and interests, getting together and having fun conversations – it’s under circumstances like this that I hope we’ll be able to create change. I hope that these changes will be passed on to our children. “
Events and activities at Moka’s School also make use of participants’ respective interests and experiences. We asked about the students and events they’ve had so far.
“Some of the students were doing a ‘stroller dance,’ where mothers danced with their children in strollers. While doing this (in other prefectures), she was transferred to Kushiro. At Moka’s School, we always do career counseling a minimum of three times, but (the stroller dance) came out and I said, “Let’s do this in Kushiro!” Initially, she had to teach us, then we rented a hall and started to teach it by ourselves.
There was a nutritionist who wanted to do something specializing in allergies, even though she hadn’t in a while, so they decided to do it at Moka’s School. In a city like Kushiro, where it’s just the right size, you can connect with long-established cake shops, so you can get cakes even if you have allergies.”
Connecting local people with newcomers
Even after graduating from Moka’s School, participants freely continue their activities through social media.
“In the beginning, I was running the school by collecting membership fees, but I kept getting tied up. So, I decided to make it drop-in, and then beyond that, I thought about making a LINE group where we could get together when we wanted. That’s the kind of relationship we have.”
“For the past few years, many people have been transferred because of their husbands’ jobs. Since Hokkaido is large, there are many transfers within Hokkaido, and there are quite a few people who are transferred all over Japan. Then, in two to three years, husbands are transferred again, but now it doesn’t feel like we’re so far away from each other because we’re connected through social media. I also support women’s entrepreneurship, and for example, if someone starts a business, I would like them to remember that it started because of the support from the people in Kushiro. What started in Kushiro and got to phase 5 or 6 can be taken to another place and restarted from phase 1 or 2 instead of from scratch.
Regarding the fishing net towels, I hope that tourists will take them home as souvenirs and spread them throughout Japan. People who are transferred from Kushiro will also take the towels with them, which will create an opportunity for people to get to know Kushiro. I always say that just like the MOKA team works together to create the towels and other items, we’d like to collaborate with many people and organizations so that we all can benefit from one another.”
People who come to Kushiro because of work-related transfers have influenced the city’s efforts.
“People who come because of a transfer have seen a variety of places, and they tell us, ‘Kushiro is behind the times in some ways.’” For example, when you move to Kushiro, you can’t tell what’s where just by the address. People who tried to check the Kushiro City homepage said that they couldn’t get any information, but happened to find Moka’s School and became students. As a newcomer to Kushiro, they didn’t know where the elementary school or kindergarten was, or where the supermarket was, so they started sharing information about three years ago. They’re still sharing this information on Twitter and Instagram. Now we’re working to publish it with a local newspaper as an information magazine for childrearing. I’m a local, so I’ve always had a connection with local businesses, but a newcomer doesn’t have a connection in that sense. My role is to connect everyone.”
“With the publication of a child-rearing information magazine, the group has received attention from the city. For example, they were called by the city’s liaison conference to join meetings and voice the perspective of women raising children, young women, and those who have recently been transferred to Kushiro. Because of things like this, their voices have become quite strong, and the city often listens to them. For example, adding a diaper changing table for children in washrooms within the city may be a very small thing for a person who has no reason to use them, but for people who need changing tables, it’s a big deal, and the city has come to respond immediately to these types of needs. “
Lastly, we asked about future activities.
“It’s an opportunity to learn. We’re so busy with our daily lives that we don’t think about learning. It’s fine to learn something for your child or to study cooking for your family, but I want people to know that it’s important to learn things for yourself as an individual. Your life is yours, and I want to tell people to value their lives too. “
Through the activities of the “Kushiro Moka Women’s Project,” Morisaki teaches valuing one’s life and way of thinking.”
Depopulation and gender gaps are often addressed as “local” issues. However, “Kushiro Moka Women’s Project” takes advantage of the characteristics of Kushiro City and connects local residents to people who have been transferred there because of work in order to create opportunities for everyone to take on whatever they’d like to challenge.
MOKA. Co., Ltd. (Kushiro Moka Women’s Project) Homepage