Women in Japan and the United States have always been in a dialogue, albeit silent one. Here in the United States, cultural stereotypes of Japanese women- Madame Butterfly or the alluring geisha- have been held up as models of female submissiveness. As Japan’s role as economic competitor has grown, this stereotype has transformed into that of the household drudge, a reminder and warning to American women that they should stop complaining and appreciate how much beter off they are. In Japan, the stereotype of the American woman has served and equally ambivalent role. In the late ’60s and ’70s, Japanese mass media quickly caricatured the Wester feminist as a sex-deprived siren. And the contemporary American career woman, while attractive and bold, is routinely depicted as lonely and miserable, a ruthless competitor of men and destroyer of the family.
Recently, this dialogue of stereotypes became a dialogue of voices. At the Japan Society’s “Women’s Agenda for the ’90s” conference held in Tarrytown, New York in June 1992, professional women from Japan and the United States had an opportunity to discuss what was on their minds. For almost two days, businesswomen and lawyers, policymakers and politicians, journalists and research analysts discussed their concerns as women leaders. They exchanged information on the current situation for women in both countries and compared strategies for change. Most important, they began to talk, to exchange stories and anecdotes and, through this process, to discover how fragile the differences between them really are.