History and process of campaign
The Kojien is the official dictionary of the Japanese language. It is revised and published every ten years by the publisher Iwanami Shoten. This critical event was scheduled to occur again in 2018. In anticipation of the revision, Tomorrow Girls Troop launched a campaign requesting that the definitions of “feminism” and “feminist” be revised. This was inspired by similar incidents that occurred in South Korea about the Korean language dictionary, in which activists and academics led the way in discussions and advocacy for change.
In the previous (6th) edition of the Kojien, the de notions of these terms were worded as:
These definitions, although perhaps not technically wrong, did not reflect the fact that feminism’s goal is equality. The definition of “feminist,” in particular, was disseminated in mainstream culture as “men who are lenient toward women,” leaving many Japanese people confused about the term. This generated misunderstanding in the general public, as reflected in online forums that were filled with questions such as: “What is a feminist? I don’t understand what the difference between rori-kon (lolita complex) and ‘feminist’ is supposed to be.”
In the push for a revision to the next (7th) edition of the Kojien, TGT was inspired by a similar movement that began in Korea in 2015. The Korean movement sought to change the definition of “feminist” while also adding the missing term “feminism,” to the Korean Standard Dictionary, published by The National Institute of the Korean Language.
In response, alterations were made to the Korean Standard Dictionary in June 2015, which read as follows:
Feminism: An ideology to eliminate political, economic, social, and cultural differences between the sexes.
Feminist: 1. Advocates of feminism. 2. Metaphor referring to men who are kind to women.
However, many criticised these definitions as inaccurate, since feminism does not aim to eliminate differences between the sexes, but rather to eliminate discrimination based on sex and gender. The second definition of “feminist” was also criticised as being very misleading. A representative of The National Institute of the Korean Language defended the inclusion of this definition by stating that “there have been examples of the word feminist being used in that way, and so it is natural to include that usage.” However, this inaccurate usage of feminism only seems to appear in newspapers from the 1970s to the 1980s.
In July 2015, the Korean Women’s Association United (KWAU) distributed news-style images of the inaccurate definitions on the internet, attracting viral attention on social media. Inspired by the widespread images, a young male student staged a 5 hour noodle-eating sit-in as a form of peaceful protest in front of the headquarters for The National Institute of the Korean Language (TGT’s own oden party, held outside of a Kojien University event, was inspired by this action). Yang-Lee Hyun-kyung, the policy director at KWAU, argued that, “Feminism, as well as its definition, keeps changing over time. It is therefore necessary to add new definitions that match the changes in each era.”
She went on to say, “Especially in 2016, feminist discourse has rocketed in Korean society, bringing about an increase in understanding amongst the general public. We thus need more precision in terms of its definition, as well. The National Institute of the Korean Language must accept the demands of the public and fix the definition of feminism.”
Similarly, Professor Kwon Myung-A of the Department of Korean Language and Literature at Dong-A University argued, “First of all, the definition that states ‘A metaphor for a man who is kind/nice to women,’ is wrong. Since ‘feminist’ is a foreign term, we must understand how it is defined and understood in other countries and refer to those foreign usages.” Women News picked this as one of the most crucial issues that needed to be dealt with during the 2015 parliamentary inspection of the government. However, it was not taken up by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, nor by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism that year.
Despite the lack of attention in the political sphere, on February 21, 2017, the Korean Standard Dictionary shifted the second definition of feminist to the past tense. The definitions now read as follows:
Feminism: An ideology which seeks to eliminate political, economic, social and cultural discrimination due to gender.
Feminist: 1. A person who follows or advocates for feminism. 2. A term which was used as a metaphor for a man who is kind/nice to women.
TGT launched our multi-pronged campaign in May of 2017 with a petition on Change.org, a ‘music video’ highlighting the problem, and an open letter to publishers Iwanami Shoten.
Over the course of the next few months, the campaign received a lot of attention from the public and the media, especially when Iwanami Shoten disclosed that there would, in fact, be revisions to the words “feminism” and “feminist” in the new 7th edition, to be published in January 2018.
On January 12, 2018 the 7th edition was distributed in stores throughout Japan. TGT opened the pages with eager anticipation.
The revised Iwanami Shoten Kojien definitions now read as follows:
While the fact that the new definition mentions that feminism includes “liberation from sexism” is a move in the right direction, it also includes the phrasing “the two sexes,” signifying a binary, in spite of the recognition in feminist discourse of more than two sexes and genders.
As for the definition of “feminist,” the changes from the previous edition were for the worse. The word “colloquially” has been omitted, misguiding readers into thinking that this usage is a current and correct use of the term, rather than a historical usage specific to the context of the word as it was imported into Japanese and initially comprehended within Japanese society. Also, about 60% of the original Japanese definition is dedicated to explaining this use of the word, but with the addition of the quote from Ango Sakaguchi’s book, that situation has reversed. How can 75% of the definition of feminism be concerned with men being lenient toward women? Furthermore, are there any contemporary feminists who refer to themselves as “women’s liberationists - 女権拡張論者” when asked what a feminist is? Most feminists commonly describe themselves as either advocating for equal rights regardless of sex or gender, as advocating for women’s rights, or as someone who wants to end sexism and discrimination.
Since revisions only occur every 10 years, this 7th edition will be in circulation until 2028. How many young people will read it and misunderstand what feminism is and stands for? How will that disadvantage young people in a world that is increasingly globalised?
The Kojien is doing a huge disservice to their Japanese readers, and to the feminist movement in Japan, by continuing to publish misleading definitions. This campaign has become a long-term fight that we will continue in anticipation of the 8th edition’s revisions in 2028.
Distinction between "sex" and "gender"
Although gender and sex are often used interchangeably, in the context of the definition of “feminism” in the Kojien dictionary, it is imperative that the word gender be utilized, not sex. While sex exclusively refers to an individual’s biological reproductive organs, gender encompasses an individual’s entire sense of self as perceived through their personal experience. Gender includes those whose gender identity does not match the sex assigned to them at birth, as well as innumerable identities that do not fit within the binary of male and female.
Feminism is bound to the notion of equality for all genders, without discriminating or rejecting those who do not identify as one of the two sexes prescribed by one’s physical anatomy.
We ask that the Kojien dictionary edit the definition of “feminism,” not only to distinguish between sex and gender but also to recognize the multitude of gender identities experienced presently worldwide.
Note: Oxford and Webster’s define “feminism” as equality between the two sexes as well. This is an urgent call for revision in those dictionaries as well.