Interview with Liliana Granja: A Different Way of Life for Men and Women

Interviewee: Liliana Granja
Interviewer: Kanako Yamana

– Please give us an introduction.
Okay, so I am originally from Portugal. I majored in Archaeology and History in Lisbon. At that time, I had a partner from Brazil, who had majored in Journalism one year before me. At the time I graduated, he hadn’t been able to find a job. This was 2007, just before the economic crisis hit. So, we decided to move to Brazil since he had family there. We were supposed to stay for six months, but I ended up staying for seven years. I changed partners, but ended up staying, and it was in Brazil that I had my first contact with Japanese culture.

As you might know, Brazil has the largest community of Japanese immigrants in the world. And especially in São Paulo, where I was. So, I started to get interested in Japanese culture. I had finished my major in Archaeology and started teaching English there, but I wanted to continue my studies, so I decided to do a Masters course. I went to the University of São Paulo; they have a Japanese studies course there. And there was a professor there, Professor Koichi Mori, who passed away last year, who ended up being my advisor. I wanted to do something somewhat related to my major in Archaeology and Japan. And you know, in archaeology, we usually find pots. We find lots of pottery because, anywhere in the world, in all times of history, people like to eat, and they want to eat and keep their food in some recipients. So, pottery is like a universal object, it exists in almost every culture. So, I wanted to do something related to pottery and Japanese immigration in Brazil. And so, Professor Mori suggested that I find Japanese potters in Brazil.

I did find quite a few actually. People who had mostly immigrated after the Second World War in the 1960s and 1970s, who were part of a new type of migration, which is interesting, because migration to Brazil started in the early 1900s. Most of those people were farmers. There were people who went as a family to work in coffee farms in Brazil. Mostly low class and uneducated people who really struggled. And then from the 1950s there was a new wave of people who had already had some specialized education in Japan. So, technicians and specialists in different fields. And the 1960s and 1970s was also the time of many countercultural movements, like the hippie movement and all of that. So, people started traveling around, for curiosity and adventure. Lots of people also left Japan, some because they were dissatisfied with Japan, particularly women. They wanted to become free of the rigid gender and seniority hierarchy in Japan, particularly artists and potters, which has been traditionally a male activity in Japan. So, they wanted to pursue an artistic career, but they also wanted to explore the world. So, they immigrated to Brazil. And so, in my master’s, I ended up focusing on two Japanese women who had migrated in the 60s and 70s. They are now 70 and 80 years old, one is still making ceramics. So that was quite nice.

I basically did four years for my masters from 2010 to 2014. And then in 2013, I earned a scholarship to come to Japan for the first time. There was an agreement between the University of Kanagawa and my university in Brazil to do a three week research project. So, I came to Japan in 2013, 2014, and then 2015. I got another scholarship to do my PhD. So, I did my PhD here in Japan. I did the opposite topic, about foreigners who came to study or work with ceramics in Japan. I knew some Brazilian people had come but mostly I talked to the Americans. There are a lot of Americans, some Europeans, and so I did that until 2019. I finish my PhD. in March 2019. I started looking for a job and luckily, I found a job at Temple University. They were looking for someone as a replacement, but then I guess they liked my CV, which is all over the place in terms of specialties (Archaeology, Japanese Studies, then Sociology!) and usually that is a problem, but for them I guess it was a plus. Now I have been teaching there for one year and three months. And also, my advisor got me a class at Tokyo Metropolitan University. There I taught a Sociology class for one year, mostly to Japanese students, sometimes there were a few exchange students. Most students are Japanese. And it’s been a really great experience. I’m really impressed with young Japanese women actually. The boys are a little bit shyer and I don’t know if they feel some kind of content or something. But I feel the girls are very curious and very engaged. So, I think I am more hopeful for young Japanese women.

– Do you teach your class in English or Japanese?
Yeah, I teach in English. I am also impressed by their English ability as well. I know we always hear that Japanese people don’t give their opinions especially in English but in my classes… of course there are always those people who you have to kind of force them to speak, but there are always people who are very willing to express their opinions and even ask questions. Really engaged. Yeah, so I was really impressed and happy with that.

– So, did you go to Ph.D. program in Japan?
Yeah, my Ph.D. was from Tokyo Metropolitan University and I was able to write my thesis in English. So, I took classes in Japanese, but they also have classes for the exchange students. So, I took some classes in English, which are usually for undergrads but I just wanted to take some classes where I could understand everything, so I ended up taking some classes in English for the exchange students, which was quite nice actually. And then some classes were in Japanese, which was very stressful. But my research was mostly in English, even though I did interview some Japanese people in Japanese. But, of course, I was researching about foreigners, so I interviewed most people in English, Portuguese, or Spanish.

– So, when you came to Japan, or even before you came to Japan, what made you interested in gender issues?
I guess I wasn’t really aware about gender issues most of my life. I think the question of gender equality was maybe just like something obvious in my family. But I do remember my mother saying that she sometimes wished that we never had that second wave of women’s movement because then women started working outside the house and then had to do two jobs (inside the home and outside) instead of just one. So, for my mother’s generation who was born in the late 50s, I think that there were still expectations for women to do the work at home, even though they were working outside, and men weren’t really expected to do much housework. So, I guess that’s one thing I remember about gender issues from when I was young, that is a double-edged sword.

Personally, I have never felt any impositions as a woman. My father always wanted me to study and pursue whatever I wanted. I never really felt discriminated against in my life for being a woman. I never felt that I had any disadvantage because I am a woman. Which is not to say there are not disadvantages for being a woman, particularly for women who grew up in other times or places.

So, when I started researching about Japanese potters in Brazil, there were many men and there were only a few women. When I started interviewing those women, they mentioned the gender issues and difficulties they had faced because they were women. One of the potters, I interviewed, Shoko Suzuki, she was born in the 1920s. She went through the war, and she was a woman of high class. She even said that her family had been of Samurai class, and she had some documents from her family joining the Battle of Sekigahara. So, her family was high class and she said that her father was really open for her to learn, but she lost her father when she was young. After the war she went to live with her step-mother. That wasn’t a nice experience apparently. And when she decided that she wanted to do ceramics and went looking for a master, people just refused her because women cannot work with ceramics. She wanted to work with wood-firing, which is kind of a heavy and dirty job, and so it was even worse. She got several refusals. So, there were very few women working independently as potters at that time, in the 1950s. Even though there were some women’s ceramic movements in Kyoto. Women had always been present in ceramics, but they were doing menial tasks. Oftentimes they were doing the heavy work, like carrying buckets or turning the potter’s wheel, but because of the iemoto system, in which the mastery of a workshop is passed from father to son, they couldn’t become potters in their own right.

So, she had that trouble, but she finally found a person who accepted her as a disciple. She studied for 10 years and even participated in a famous exhibition, where there were a total of 40 male potters and she was the only woman. Anyways, despite the hardships she was able to open her own pottery in Japan, but I guess she always wanted to leave, not only because of the gender issues, but because everything was strict. You should do things a certain way. And, I don’t know, artists often are people who want to look at the world outside and her husband was also an artist. He was a painter, and he wanted to go to France. But she wanted to go to a new place with less tradition. So, she saw a TV show about Brazil and the next day, she decided to sell the house and go to the immigration. This is the 1960s, so she had quite a power in her family to decide. She made the decision like “let’s go” and her husband followed.

And the other potter interview was the opposite. More or less, she followed her husband into pottery, she was a housewife. So, she had a few issues with her husband, he did some ugly things. So yeah, that certainly made me aware of the issues women face in Japan. So, I started reading a lot about that. And I think there’s a lot of things to do yet.

– Wow, those are very interesting stories. So, from your experience, what kind of aspect of Japanese society surprised or shocked you the most in terms of gender?
I think one of the first experiences I had, and it’s related to both gender and this seniority culture. It was actually in Brazil. I went to an izakaya with a Nisei (Second generation) man and another older man. We were doing a project about Japanese cuisine in Brazil. And so we all went to izakaya, and they brought the food and they brought the Nihonshu (Sake). And when they brought the Nihonshu, the man who was second generation Japanese, he said, “You have to serve, because you’re the youngest and you’re a woman so you have to serve everyone.” Oh, my God, why can’t people just serve themselves? So that was the first thing.

And then I am still surprised just by walking in my neighborhood on weekdays and seeing so many women with their children. It is very much a suburban neighborhood, so I guess there are a lot of housewives. Just realizing that most women give up their jobs after having children. Most of them never go back full time. They work part time; they have to give up their careers. So around me, there’s always women in the park playing with the children. Even though, I have to be honest, I’m also surprised at the number of men I see with children alone in the weekends. I don’t know if it’s because the times are changing and I’m not seeing those changes in Brazil or Portugal, but I feel like I see more men alone with children here than I used to see in Brazil or Portugal. Maybe it’s the times or maybe Japanese men are changing as well. Certainly, during weekdays, there are a lot more women, but I think some men are stepping up and taking care of the children during weekends.

And another thing that really shocked me was the name change. And I remember this because my mother kept her name or her maiden name. It was not very common in Portugal, either. Portugal is a Catholic country, so most women take the husband’s name. It’s not mandatory, but they just do, because I guess everybody does it. But my mother kept her name. And I remember this so clearly. We were going to London on a family trip and we had a flight reservation. So, my father went to the ticket booth and the person asked his name, and said, “Oh, Morais family,” which is my father’s last name. And we, of course, the children have both names, but the last one is my father’s. And so, “Oh Morais family, seats for three people”. They didn’t count my mother in because she has a different name from the rest of us, me, my sister and my father. I remember that very clearly. And I was always kind of proud that my mother kept her name, but I felt sorry for her at the same time, that she was excluded, and given a seat far from us. But in Japan, someone has to change the name. It’s not necessarily women who have to change, but the reality is that women end up changing and… I don’t know, I could never change my name. And I’ve talked to people, it’s very bothersome, you have to change all the documents…. I guess those things shocked me.

And I also had never seen women’s carriage on trains before coming to Japan. At first, I thought that was pretty nice. I was happy to have a women’s carriage. But learning the reasons for that was also a bit shocking. I guess there are things that I wasn’t aware that are still were happening in the world and I became aware of that in Japan.

– So compared to Brazil, or Portugal, do you see any differences between Japan?
I think there is sexism in both places, but it’s a very different type of sexism. I think Japan’s sexism is also intertwined with this seniority culture, where older people, usually men, are higher in the social hierarchy. Because there are not that many women who are older in the public arena, times were different back then. And even though there are more opportunities now, this kind of situation still reproduces itself. But I think, in personal relations, I felt more sexism from the men around me in Brazil. Portugal, I don’t know, I haven’t lived in Portugal for 15 years.

This idea that the man has to take over and control… I think Japanese men are, in a sense, they’re less dominant, maybe they don’t feel like they have to take the lead. I think how we define masculinity is very different in Japan, Brazil and Portugal. I would say there’s sexism in all three, but the face of it it’s different. Certainly, violence against women is a huge problem in Brazil. I don’t know what the situation is in Japan, but in Brazil, women getting beaten up by their husbands, or murdered by their ex-partners, is still a huge problem.

– yeah, domestic violence is a big problem in Japan. Though it’s more like invisible from the media and stuff.
Yeah, that’s also a problem with Japan. The media is very good at covering problems, I mean, not showing some of this stuff.

– So when you face difficulties, like related to gender or inequality, how do you deal with it?
As I said, I don’t really feel a lot of sexism personally. Of course, there are men who have been inappropriate so many times, but I usually handle that in quite a light way. I don’t know, I think when you start to see sexism all around you, you may get bitter at people, I don’t know if that really helps yourself. So, when someone is inappropriate with me, I just politely refuse and go along with my life.
I never felt any type of openly sexist situations. I have never felt like, I don’t know, I wasn’t chosen for a job because I am a woman. I never felt disadvantaged because I am a woman. Maybe I have just been lucky.

– Do you think you are a feminist?
Yes. Feminism is about equality for men and women. In my opinion, as a woman, I don’t necessarily want to be the same as men. I want to be recognized for my differences and have the same opportunities, same pay, same treatment despite being different. I am not interested in having the same struggles or character as men. I think in older feminist generations, some women fought to become like men and I think isn’t helpful for women. Women have certain needs that men don’t, particularly in being mothers. I think it’s okay that women are generally attracted to certain jobs, and men are generally attracted to certain jobs, we don’t need to have everything at 50/50. And there are reasons why we should be separated sometimes. I think we have to accept differences in general. I have some issues with the discourse of today’s liberal feminism, it can be very maniqueist, like anything women do is good, and anything men do is bad. And everything is based on individual choice, which doesn’t look at the wider context in which those choices are made. Like prostitution, for example, if women are doing it by choice it’s fine and empowering. It might be so for a few women, but the majority are doing it because they really have no other viable choice. Is that really a choice then?

-Do you have any role models or mentors?
I don’t know actually. I don’t have any role models. Particularly, it’s unfortunate that I can’t think of any woman role model. I think it’s because women have faced a lack of opportunities in general, they can be more competitive and unkind to each other at times, unfortunately. So, I think I naturally gravitated towards men, both my advisors, my father. In professional situations, I am sometimes intimidated by some older women in powerful positions. Because they had to behave like a man, to compete with many men, to arrive at where they are… But if I had to choose some woman as a role model, I would choose both my grandmothers. They were the leaders in my family, very brave and powerful women. They both learned how to drive even though my grandparents didn’t and my maternal grandmother led her family when my grandfather was imprisoned during the dictatorship in Portugal…

– So, in your field, most of your advisors are male?
Yeah, the academy in Japan is really male dominated, and there are many older men. For example, when I go to academic conferences in Japan, there are very few women. When the groups are more international, there are more women, but if it’s not it’s usually male dominated. Most of my foreign colleagues in Japan are men. I do not see many female foreign scholars. Maybe I just did not come across them, but I see more male scholars.

– What are your plans for your job or society?
I am happy with my job right now, even though it’s not really secure, because I am an adjunct. I want to have a secure job. I think job security, benefits and retirement are getting more difficult nowadays…, In terms of society, I cannot be a full member of society in Japan. Being a foreigner, I can’t do much here, mainly because there is no voting right, even though I am working and paying taxes. So, in that sense, I am a member of the society, but I cannot make my views heard on the political ground. In Portugal, some foreigner residents have the right to vote, but in Japan I feel it is still far from becoming a reality. So, I wish I could do something more to society at large. I have a language barrier and nationality barrier. I am just trying to go along with my life so far.