Teaching on International Women’s Day: the Gift of Listening & Taking Notes

Today I had the express joy of meeting with and teaching a group of Japanese women who, as a group, have met for over thirty years. I was filling in for anther teacher. It was rainy and I slipped walking towards the train station’s turnstiles– you know, those wicket things. Down I fell on a wet surface and I wasn’t even running. I was even wearing sensible flats.


My round pregnant body and I fell on the wet ground. (No cause for worry, Mom, just on my keister). A woman helped me up while I tried to stand, a bit stunned, what with a baby inside and a hefty fall. After thanking her, I turned back to see my good samaritan picking up a plastic umbrella cover, those cheap plastic bags that cover wet umbrellas so nobody slips. That’s what I slipped on–flimsy trash.

We, women, help each other. It was also another woman who left her comfy spot on the train to let me, pregnant me, sit. The men didn’t get up.

All of this on International Women’s Day. I’d scrolled and researched plenty in planning this class, printing out a selection of ten prominent Japanese women who’d made some impact over time. I asked the women in my class what they thought.

We talked about the artist Yayoi Kusama, the polka dot maven famous in Warhol circles. They were not so impressed. “Emmm…Japan is conservative.” And fashion designer Hanae Mori? “Ehh. Sure, she’s okayyyy”. 


They more applauded those who brought joy to them personally, or who shined a light on Japan or the world’s children, mentioning Sadako Ogata, Chairwoman of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Executive Board Member of Unicef, that kind of thing. 

These are intelligent, articulate women, all in their seventies, upwards.

We talked quite openly, discussing those women, both personally, or historically, who influenced them. I felt our small room opening up. I saw them, heard snippets of them awakening with memory, voices sharing conversations from professors and mothers from fifty years back.

They agreed with the author of the list I had about including the most famous Japanese singer who wrote over 1,000 hits. “She brought joy, life to Japan.” And then I read more on the paper– the songbird’s recognizable voice and fame came right after WWII. Japan lost everything and this woman opened them up to singing again. She might as well have taught them to see.

I stood before this warm bunch, a thirty-six-year-old woman, pregnant, with two kids in preschool, married for just a brief fraction of their married life span. These are women who’ve raised their children, who, though aging tired and wanting their own plans, travel great distances, like my mother, to help their own daughters out with new babies. These are women who went to university when it probably wasn’t so common, not in Japan. These are women who have beaten the odds, from war to chance, disease and whatever else.


It’s changing, they said. Japan’s changing. Maybe it’s not so fair to women, but it’s changing.

In light of this International Women’s Day, I asked them to complete three sentences:

I want every girl to…

I want all mothers to…

I want every woman to…

And after the dialogue about their mothers, the influential teachers, thoughts of their own daughters and granddaughters, maybe through regret and recounted joy, here is their compiled list:


I want every girl to…

be kind to everyone, especially elderly people.

get an education, same as boys.

have a good, big dream in her future.

to realize her dream, to know what steps she should take.

live safely in developing and conflicted countries

to have a chance to study, to realize her dream, if she wants.

In between voices, we spoke about other realities for some children in specific countries. We spoke about kidnappings, rape, the need for education in places where to survive is everything. We spoke about how more women here in Japan are becoming professors, politicians, or CEOs, but it is slow-going.

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I want every woman to…

know peace, worldwide.

have her own time for herself, apart from working or housework.

have confidence, both in her continuing her career and raising children, if possible, as         in our society, it is difficult to do both.


The hopes and desires for woman and for mothers bleed a bit into the other, but as mothers themselves, and grandmothers, they said this about their hope for mothers:


I wish that every mother may…

enjoy her life fully without any physical difficulties.

select her way of life by herself because sometime’s a woman’s life is made by other         help/other’s will or power and we must bear many things.

think of the children’s feelings, i.e. sadness, joy, worry and also, (spoken with a wink           and a smile), make delicious meals.


And then, following time spent in poetry and writing of spring, class was over. One of these sweet ladies told me that today is her 73 birthday and that her mother lived until 72, and her father, 69. She was so joyful to be here. She even handed over three small pound cakes, maybe gifts from her big day, “For your children, dear.”

Indeed. I was blessed.

I still feel privileged to have recorded their list, pen poised at every hope and wish for the girls and women of this world.

Imagine if we heard from women in every society about the needs and hopes of their people, of their children, specifically girls. Imagine if we knew our great great grandmothers’ prayers, or any woman, every women’s prayers and hopes for this world.

May you feel the support of the women around you.

May you lean on the hope that has been placed inside of you, and then, walk in that strength.



2 thoughts on “Teaching on International Women’s Day: the Gift of Listening & Taking Notes

  1. This:
    “to realize her dream, to know what steps she should take.”
    especially the acknowledgment of the fact that many girls have a hard time identifying and taking the steps!
    and this:
    “have her own time for herself, apart from working or housework.”
    that must have have been so elusive in their lives in Japan.

    Truly beautiful, Melissa!

    • Thank you, Merete. Yes, these women have lived through much change in their Japan. The life they’ve each created now seems gorgeous. Education, travel, family, flowers, time for each other. But the stories they tell! Amazing.

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