METROPOLIS | CLASSIFIEDS | PERSONALS | JOBS
BIG IN JAPAN
Ayako Totsuka

Ayako TotsukaWhichever way you look at it, sexism is still an institutionalized part of Japanese business culture. ' ladies' have, until the last fifteen years, had to cope with their presence in the workplace being merely to provide something pretty for the male customers and clients to slyly admire. The term 'careerwoman' is still used, by certain people, as an insult its implication being that the person described so is somehow unscrupulous, having forsaken her traditional obligations to stay at home and take care of the men.

It's still a hard struggle for equality, but the fact that careerwomen exist in Japan at all is partly due to the efforts of Ayako Totsuka, who became the first - and only - female employee of a major Japanese company, during one of the most repressive periods in the country's history.

She was born in Tokyo in 1913, and graduated from Japan Women's University, the English Department, in 1936, the year when the militant sections of the Japanese government were increasing their grip on South-East Asia. Totsuka entered Japan Travel Bureau in that spring and became its first female employee. The fact that she was able to do so, and to keep her position during World War Two, was due to the influence of her father - a cabinet minister - and her mother, who provided the young Ayako with the courage and inspiration to go forward into new territory. Despite the connections, however, Totsuka proved her worth by consistently working harder than her male colleagues, determined to disprove the idea that only men could handle important jobs.

In 1947, JTB launched a monthly travel magazine called Tabi, with Totsuka in the post of chief editor. Ironically, at this time it was almost impossible for ordinary Japanese to go anywhere, but Totsuka made the magazine a success through concentrating on domestic locations and writing in an informative, but very poetic style. Totsuka steered the magazine through the 1950s when the country's economy began to grow dramatically, and helped promote the first big travel boom, the featured locations becoming further and more exotic.

In 1961 she left JTB and became a full-time author, concentrating on what had become her greatest love - travel. Her yearly routine came to be spending four months of the year abroad doing research, another four months travelling around Japan, and the rest of the year writing and discussing business in Tokyo. She remained defiantly single; her rootless lifestyle, she knew, was no one that could be shared with - or compromised by - having a husband. She was a prolific author, with several books - such as Shokko no Kanara and Tzuiso Kurao becoming bestsellers. One of her biggest successes was the strangely titled Dry Mama - a biography of her mother.

In her 70s, she decided to leave Tokyo permanently and move into a private nursing home in Kanagawa, which held a stunning view of the sea and surrounding countryside. She continued writing, and travelling; her articles were published regularly in magazines and newspapers in the early '90s, and she made what was to be her last journey in 1991, on a cruise ship to Hong Kong. She passed away at the nursing home in August 1997, but in accordance with her will, the funeral was not publicly announced. "Everyone's destiny is to die," she was reported as saying shortly before her death, "I want to live quietly, not making a nuisance of myself."

Women around Japan, even if they don't know it, owe a great debt to Ayako Totsuka and her achievements.


John Paul Catton

BIG IN JAPAN:
299: Nakamura Kankuro
Arizona lover and Kabuki actor
298: Miura Yuichiro
The Man Who Skied Down Everest
297: Iron Chef
Gourmet cuisine battles
296: "Katte wa ikenai"
"Don't buy these products"
295: Oda Yuji
The dancing detective
294: Enoki Takaaki
An artist who acts
293: Glay
Japan's reigning pop princes
292: Akebono
Hawaiian Sumo wrestler
291: Issey Miyake
Fashion designer
290: Murakami Ryu
Radical writer
289: Oshima Nagisa
Movie director
288: Takakura Ken
Crime film actor
287: Miura Kazuyoshi
Soccer player
286: Suzuki Koji
Author of the horror, Ring
285: Tezuka Osamu
God of Comics
284: Yuming
Singer/songwriter
283: Anpanman
Bean-powered superhero
282: Yamaguchi Takashi
Immersed in traditional Japanese music
281: Nasubi
Comedian
280: Doi Takako
First female Speaker of the House
279: Nakamura Kichiemon
Retiring Kabuki actor
278: Oe Kenzaburo
Nobel prize winning author
277: Kimura Takuya
SMAP member
276: Utada Hikaru
Teenage pop phenomenon
275: Bando Tamasaburo
Kabuki female role impersonator
274: Otomo Katsuhiro
Akira creator
273: Dreams Come True
Premier recording artist
272: Dango San Kyodai
Surprise hit of 1999
271: Banana Yoshimoto
Author
270: Matsuzaka Daisuke
Baseball player
269: Moritaka Chisato
Model and singer
268: Mukai Chiaki
Female astronaut
267: Natto
Traditional Japanese health food
266: Hiroaki Kikuoka
Shamisen player
265: Chikamatsu Monzaemon
Japan's most revered dramatist
264: Ryuichi Sakamoto
Oscar-winning musician
263: Shigeo Nagashima
Japan's Mr Baseball
262: Ayako Totsuka
Pioneer careerwoman
261: Yatsuhashi Kengyo
Koto player
260: Chiyotaikai
Sumo wrestler
259: Pocky
Japanese snack food
258: Itsuki Hiroshi
Enka singer
257: Pocket Monsters
Conquering the world
256: Classified ads
New concept in Japan
255: Chara
Japanese pop star
254: Pink Lady
1970's singing duo
253: Takashi Sorimachi
Japanese heartthrob
252: Ennosuke Ichikawa
Kabuki actor
251: Rie Miyazawa
Model and actress
250: Shazna
Visual-kei band

Issues 350 +
Issues 349 - 300/1
Issues 248/9 -