Matsui, Yayori 1934-2002

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MATSUI, Yayori 1934-2002


Born April 12, 1934 in Kyoto, Japan; died of liver cancer, December 27, 2002, in Tokyo, Japan. Education: Attended college in MN and Paris. Hobbies and other interests: Swimming, yoga, painting, music, clothing.


Author, journalist, educator, and women's rights activist. Asahi Shimbun newspaper, Tokyo, Japan, reporter, staff writer, and correspondent, stationed in Japan, the United States, and Singapore, 1961-1994. Founded Asian Women in Solidarity, 1976, the Asia-Japan Women's Resource Center in Tokyo, 1995, and the organization, Violence against Women in War; taught at various universities.


Tamashii ni fureru Ajia, Asahi Shinbunsha (Tokyo, Japan), 1985.

Onnatachi no Ajia, Iwanami Shoten (Tokyo, Japan), 1987, translation published as Women's Asia, Zed Books (Atlantic Highlands, NJ), 1989.

Ajia, onna, minshu, Shinkansha (Tokyo, Japan), 1987.

Ajia kara kita dekasegi rodoshatachi, Akashi Shoten (Tokyo, Japan), 1988.

Shimin to enjo: Ima nani ga dekiru ka, Iwanami Shoten (Tokyo, Japan), 1990.

Ajia ni ikiru kodomotachi, Rodo Junposha (Tokyo, Japan), 1991.

NGO, ODA enjo wa dare no tame ka: Hihon to Doitsu daisan sekai, Akashi Shoten (Tokyo, Japan), 1992.

Ajia no kanko kaihatsy to Nihon, Shinkansha (Tokyo, Japan), 1993.

Nihon o tou Ajia: Kaihatsu, josei, jinken, Buraku Kaiho Kenkyujo (Osaka, Japan), 1994.

Onnatachi ga tsukuru Ajia, Iwanami Shoten (Tokyo, Japan), 1996, translation by Noriko Toyokawa and Carolyn Francis published as Women in the New Asia: From Pain to Power, Zed Books (New York, NY), 1998.


One of first female journalists in Japan, Yayori Matsui was also an author of note whose works focused on the rights of women in Asia. Born in 1924, Matsui was the daughter of Christian missionaries and received an international education, studying in both the United States and France. Returning to Japan after her studies abroad, Matsui stopped off in various Asian countries and was confronted, for the first time, with the face of poverty, an experience that informed much of her later work. In 1961 she began as a reporter for the Tokyo newspaper, Asahi Shimbun, and it was clear from the outset that she would not be shunted off into the women's section, writing only about food and fashion. Concentrating on social issues, she was one of the first to break stories about birth defects caused by the use of the sedative thalidomide, as well as to investigate Minamata disease, which is caused by mercury poisoning.

Introduced to the feminist movement while on a trip to the United States, she also began campaigning against the growing sex tourism industry in Asia. Posted in Singapore in 1981, Matsui uncovered the excesses of the Japanese occupation forces during World War II; in particular, she focused on the Japanese Army's use of so-called "comfort women," some 200,000 Asian females that the military forced into sexual slavery. The fact that those responsible for this crime had never been brought to justice outraged Matsui, and she campaigned vigorously for the rest of her life to that end.

Among Matsui's books on women in Asia, two have been translated into English. Women's Asia, originally published in 1987, is a book that looks at "the relationship between Japan and other countries from the perspective of women," according to Pam Keesey writing in Women's Studies International Forum. Included in the study are examinations of child prostitution and the sex tourism industry, the use of women as cheap labor, and violence to women, including rape and child abuse. For Matsui, the role of Japanese women in a wider Asian context was one of ambivalence. "We Japanese women play a double role," she wrote in her book. "We are discriminated against in Japanese society and, at the same time, we benefit from the exploitation of other Asian women.… We are both victims and oppressors." Matsui used personal testimony and examples in her book, describing "women's resistance with the same eloquence and attention to detail that she uses in describing the horrifying details of their exploitation," according to Keesey. "Matsui more than does justice to her subject," Keesey concluded. Jane Hutchinson, writing in the Journal of Contemporary Asia, found the book to be "comprehensive in its coverage and in its subject matter," documenting the condition of women in seventeen Asian countries. For Sylvia Hale in Pacific Affairs, Matsui's book "provides interesting and often moving journalistic descriptions," and Sue Ellen Charlton, reviewing the work in Women and Politics, noted that "Matsui's tone is personal, with the result that the reader feels an intimate connection with the plight of the village women, migrants and dowry victims she describes."

In her 1996 title, Women in the New Asia: From Pain to Power, Matsui presents an updated view of females in Asian countries in a "lucidly written book [that] offers a broad view of the lives of women in Thailand, the Philippines, Thailand, Korea, Nepal, Hong Kong and China," according to R. Sooryamoorthy, writing in Journal of Third World Studies. Again, as in her earlier work, Matsui employs largely personal observation to demonstrate how women in Asia suffer from social conditions including domestic violence, sexual slavery, and prostitution. When writing of conditions in Japan, for example, Matsui shows that that country's sex industry generates as much income as the defense budget of Japan. Matsui also explores the ravages of HIV among females, and the speed with which it is spreading in Asian countries. Sooryamoorthy concluded, "The author, on the whole, has succeeded in giving [an] overall view of the position of women in Asian countries, with clear insights and interesting narratives." Writing in Asian Affairs, Delia Davin also had praise for Women in the New Asia, noting that "this book contains an immense amount of information that will no doubt contribute to the growing awareness of the price paid for economic growth by the most vulnerable members of society." Davin also thought that, despite some "shortcomings," such as the conversion of names from Chinese to English and what Davin considered a somewhat "superficial" approach in places, Matsui's book "should be read by all who are interested in Asian women in the modern world." Similarly, Maila Stivens, reviewing the same work in Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, felt that Women in the New Asia "is a highly readable introduction to some aspects of gender relations in contemporary Asia."

Matsui retired from her newspaper position in 1994, but remained active in women's rights to the very end of her life. In 2000, her organization, Violence against Women in War brought together a people's tribunal in the Hague over the issue of Japan's use of "comfort women," collecting testimony from survivors who spoke before lawyers and judges from the United Nations. In October of 2002, she went to Afghanistan, examining the condition of women there. Returning to Japan, she was diagnosed with liver cancer, but continued working on a project to open the Women's Museum in Tokyo in 2006. She died on December 27, 2002. "As a charismatic, energetic, and utterly stubborn woman in a male-dominated society, Matsui left her mark on everyone she met," wrote Joachim Bergstroem in a World Press Review appreciation of the journalist and activist.



Matsui, Yayori, Women's Asia, Zed Books (Atlantic Highlands, NJ), 1989.


Asian Affairs, June, 2000, Delia Davin, review of Women in the New Asia: From Pain to Power, pp. 208-209.

Journal of Contemporary Asia, January, 1991, Jane Hutchinson, review of Women's Asia, pp. 129-131; March, 2001, Indira Arumugam, review of Women in the New Asia, p. 133.

Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, June, 2002, Maila Stivens, review of Women in the New Asia, pp. 345-346.

Journal of Third World Studies, spring, 2002, R. Sooryamoorthy, review of Women in the New Asia, pp. 210-212.

Pacific Affairs, winter, 1990, Sylvia Hale, review of Women's Asia, pp. 546-547.

Women and Politics, fall, 1992, Sue Ellen Charlton, review of Women's Asia, pp. 109-112.

Women's Studies International Forum, May-June, 1992, Pam Keesey, review of Women's Asia, pp. 431-432.


Palgrave Macmillan Web site, (July 8, 2003).

Spinifex Press, (March 20, 1999), Lucy Sussex, review of Women in the New Asia.



Los Angeles Times, January 8, 2003, Mark Magnier, "Yayori Matsui, 68," p. B10.

New York Times, January 5, 2003, Wolfgang Saxon, "Yayori Matsui, Campaigner," p. A27.

World Press Review, March, 2003, Joachim Bergstroem, "Yayori Matsui: Championing Women of Asia," p. 46.*