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A female-oriented society with the efforts of both women and men

Even with rapid demographic aging and the falling birth rate, Japanese society has become affluent as a result of the efforts of each and every person. Some people may find it difficult to imagine a more affluent life. This is understandable just looking at the mountains of waste that we produce daily, starting with food, clothing, TVs, refrigerators, and other electrical consumer goods, and cars. We are even running out of places for waste disposal. There is something wrong about being so wasteful.

This is clearly due to scientific and technological advancement. We now enjoy a higher standard of living. Better food thanks to progress in cultivation techniques and genetic engineering. Better clothing due to organic chemistry. More sophisticated electrical goods due to advances in electrical engineering. At the basis of this kind of science and technology is the Cartesian dualism of the self and other and an elemental reductionism that began with a philosophy that objectified the world. But, this has also affected the inner life of people and led to excessive individualism. By seeking ever more affluence, we are actually encouraging the worship of money and creating even more problems.

In a sense, affluence creates a society where it becomes possible to live without thinking about our relationships with others. This goes hand in hand with individualism and leads to weakened human relationships. Moreover, to generate this affluence, highly concentrated populations in urban areas become necessary as labor power. To put it bluntly, we have become a cold society, without consideration for our fellow human beings. Young people in the train who won't give up their seat to an elderly or pregnant woman are a typical example of this. I remember that when I was a child and we made tempura at home, we used to give some to our next-door neighbor, telling them that we had too much to eat ourselves.

This seems to have had a major effect on behavior as well. Isn't this what we see in the increase in murders, violence and other crimes, the problem of bully and school violence, and parental child abuse? There are some people who worry that, if this continues, our already rickety society will totally fall apart.

So, what should we do to strengthen our society and make it more vibrant? Today much of the discussion focuses on better child-care support and gender equality, but in my opinion, I think that we should go beyond these issues to build a female-oriented society. Instead of our present-day male-oriented society, we should decide to become a society led by women that focuses on women. This will lead to a society full of consideration for others, better human relations, and peace. And of course, it would also resolve child-rearing problems and falling birthrate.

During the 800-year history of human rights, the idea that human beings are born with rights, we have finally started thinking about gender equality and a society that allows equal participation of both men and women. What I mean by "a women-oriented society" can be considered from the viewpoint of evolutionary theory or anthropology. We need to go further than gender equality, because unless we do, we won't even achieve gender equality and equal participation in society.
Human beings emerged as a separate species from chimpanzees, with whom they shared a common ancestor five to six million years ago, and evolved into the pithecanthropus, hominid and then the homo sapient today. This common ancestor, from whom apes also evolved into a separate specifies, split off into the present-day chimpanzee and the bonobo, a small species of the chimpanzee genus about two million years ago. Primatologists today now recognize a major difference between the chimpanzee and the bonobo.

The chimpanzee today is aggressive and hot-tempered, calculating and wily. Chimpanzee society is male-oriented, and power struggles for dominance are extremely cruel. It is said that when Dr. Jane Goodall gave a presentation on this chimpanzee behavior, none would believe her. On the other hand, bonobos are gentle and considerate. There are, of course, other interesting differences in male and female behavior.

Humans evolved from the same ancestor as the chimpanzee and bonobo, so it would seem that we share characteristics of both: the gentle, peaceful nature of the bonobo and the aggressive and cruel nature of the chimpanzee. That is why we are capable of being humane, kind and thoughtful, but at the same time, of bloody massacres and Machiavellian power struggles. This is clear from what we see on the TV news about the situation in Iraq. Considering that humans, chimpanzees and bonobos are so close that they share nearly 98 percent of their DNA, this appears quite plausible.

Anatomical and behavioral differences among humans, chimpanzees, and bonobos, as well as differences in nature, are the product of genetic adaptation to the environment over the course of millions of years. Our society has developed into its present state throughout a long history. To change it from a male-oriented society to a female-oriented society will, of course, require special effort. On the other hand, this is a real possibility if we consider the history during which humans have had both chimpanzee-like and bonobo-like traits. Even if our society is now male-oriented, there have been female-oriented societies in the ancient past. Furthermore, in societies that still value traditional culture, some are still female-oriented.

In Japan, we could say that the Nara Period which began in the eighth century with the reign of Empress Genmei was a female-centered era. Of the eight emperors, there were four reigns by women: Genmei, Gensho, Koken, and Shotoku (Empress Koken reascended the throne as Empress Shotoku) during a period of seventy years from the establishment of the imperial capital in Heijo-kyo in 710 to its transfer to Nagaoka in 784. Thereafter, with the introduction of a legal system from China, the ancient ritsuryo system of Japan changed and this brought an end to the female-oriented society.

According to Shinto mythology, the Sun Goddess Amaterasu-omikami created the foundation of Japan, and perhaps we can say that Japanese society did not originally have strict gender divisions, and women enjoyed high social standing. The Nara period saw many struggles over imperial succession and political power. Although opinion is divided, it seems that envoys were sent to Tang Dynasty China seven times. This period also witnessed a cultural efflorescence with the compilation of the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, the first national histories and the Manyoshu, an anthology of poems, and the Tempyo style art. The Nara period was also a time of flourishing in foreign diplomacy, scholarship, and the arts. Would it be going too far to attribute this to the fact that it was a society where women were active and ruled as emperors? Empress Komyo, who was the consort of Emperor Shomu and the mother of Empress Koken, commissioned the copying of sutras to promote Buddhism and conducted many activities to help the sick and elderly, which, to me, comes from the gentle heart of a woman who cares about society.

When I think of times like these that were woman-oriented, I sense that Japanese culture has a certain feeling toward women. Of course, making our society into a woman-oriented one will not be easy. Nevertheless, it is entirely possible if we decide to change our way of thinking, both men and women bring their wisdom together, and we take full advantage of our science and technology. I hope that you will join me in thinking about this possibility.

Sources: Frans de Waal. Anata no naka no saru [Our Inner Ape]. Fujii Rumi, trans. Tokyo : Hayakawa Shobo, 2005.
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