Kickboxing Geishas: How Modern Japanese Women are Changing Their Nation – Veronica Chambers

February 21, 2010 § 13 Comments

I’ve been putting off this post for a couple of days now. One reason is because I wanted to let the book sit in my head for a little bit. And the other (main) reason is simply because I don’t know what to write about it.

Kickboxing Geishas is a book about exactly what the tagline says: how modern Japanese women are changing their nation. Chambers goes to Japan multiple times, meeting up with different women and conducting interviews with them. She stays for long periods every time she’s in the country so that she can absorb the local culture, and hopefully be more in tune with the Japanese psyche that’s so different from the West.

I think that’s probably one of the main issues I had with the book. So much of it was written with a Western perspective, sometimes I felt like Chambers was comparing the Japanese culture, taking the parts that were more familiar (the career women, the fashion-savvy housewives) and calling it ‘modern’. I was confused as to why the people who embrace the western way of living are hailed as ‘forward-thinking’, because as far as I can tell, if someone from the west were to embrace a more asian way of living, I doubt they’d be called ‘ambitious’.

Much of these peeves are relative, of course, and a little personal, myself being an Asian in a Western country. For example, in the beginning of the book, Chambers went on about Japanese women and the act of serving tea. To be sure, I can see where she’s coming from, because traditionally, the women serve tea, and it’s also a form of submission and servitude. But looking at it from my point of view, if I were in a position to serve tea, I probably wouldn’t mind. Not because I’m submissive, but because I see serving tea as an art form. I feel like there are so many traditional Asian values that we seem so keen to just throw aside for the sake of being ‘modern’, without really reflecting on ourselves and society as a whole. If some women think serving tea is below them, sure that’s fine with me. But not all women or men think that way, nor does having a more genteel persona equate to being a limp noodle, and I didn’t really appreciate the broad brush Chambers used in this sense.

But the book does get better. The people she met with and interviewed became a little more diverse, and I’m rather glad I persevered to finish the book. In fact, Chambers quoted one of her interviewees saying:

I think Japan is always following the U.S., following your system and maybe your way of thinking. I want to think though that we shouldn’t abandon our traditional feelings. We want to get rid of discrimination or unfair things but good things like modesty, that kind of feeling, I want to stay in Japan.

That is very much how I felt when I read the book. And I’m happy that Chambers didn’t exclude that view from the book. Because I think it’s an important one, something that some of us tend to forget when we are pulled along with the quick flow of things happening around us.

I think this book would be more interesting for people who really don’t know much about Japan. I watch way too many J-dramas (Japanese dramas) for this book to impart much new information to me. But there are some very interesting points of view in this, and who knows, those of you who don’t suffer from the kind of frustrations I do might find this a very enjoyable book.

Rating: 3

For: Women Unbound Challenge
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§ 13 Responses to Kickboxing Geishas: How Modern Japanese Women are Changing Their Nation – Veronica Chambers

  • Vishy says:

    Interesting review! I liked your comment on Chambers writing the book with a western point of view and the fact that you still persevered and found it interesting. I guess it is better for a writer not to be judgemental about a different culture, because the writer wouldn’t be able to understand the motivations behind different elements of the culture. On the other hand, the writer’s dilemma would be that if she / he doesn’t make those broad generalizations, the book may not be interesting. But sweeping generalizations are always an issue. To me, from your review, it looks like the book makes quite a few generalizations (which may not be right and may not depict the right picture of Japan), though it has its redeeming qualities 🙂

    • Michelle says:

      I always think it’s great when writers try to fit into a culture other than their own, and write about their experiences. Only thing is, I think there are books out there that might have done a better job than this. Maybe it’s because Chambers was trying to do too much in one book.

  • JoV says:

    Thank you for such an honest post!! Being modern is not one way. As an Asian in a western country, I think women in my part of the world, the South East Asians are very empowered. They are held with respect without having to cover themselves up, they work hard like a man, they raise a family, and they make important decisions.

    The eyes see what they want to see. Modernisation is not just one way. Being humble and servitde is a core Asian value and a highly regarded one. Only when you humble yourself can you achieve great feats and sustain greater inner strength.

  • Nymeth says:

    I can definitely see how the western=more modern and “better” attitude is extremely problematic :\

    • Michelle says:

      It does get problematic, and sometimes it can tear a society apart. Especially when there’s the “if you’re not for me, you’re against me” kind of thinking.

  • Eva says:

    That’s too bad the author can’t break out, or at least acknowledge, her own biases. :/ I’m curious about whether I’ll end up reading this one or abandoning it!

  • Haha, yes, it’s interesting how much of modern Japanese culture we can learn from watching j-dramas 😉

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