March 8 is International Women’s Day, and it’s a great day to celebrate the women in our lives, honor women’s contributions to society and continue to advocate for a more equitable society. The holiday is vital in Japan, as the nation continues to face slow progress when it comes to gender equality. Here’s a quick history of the global holiday, as well as the things you can do here in Tokyo to honor women on this important day.

The History of International Women’s Day

The origin of International Women’s Day dates back to 1857, when female textile workers in New York marched in protest of inhumane working conditions and unequal rights for women. International Women’s Day became an annually observed holiday in 1910, at an international Conference of Working Women that was held in Copenhagen. Though the holiday has over 150 years of history, March 8 became a recognizable date once the United Nations began to officially celebrate it in 1975. With women’s suffrage being ratified in the US in 1920, and in Japan in 1945, it’s clear how much progress has been made, as well as the road that lies ahead.

International Women’s Day in Japan

International Women’s Day (IWD) is an important holiday in Japan, particularly because the nation is quite behind when it comes to gender parity. Ranking 125th out of 146 nations in the World Economic Forum’s 2023 Gender Gap Report, Japan is by far the lowest ranking member of the G7 nations. There are several factors to Japan’s disappointing ranking, but one of the biggest issues Japan faces is a lack of women in politics, making up less than 10% of lawmakers and seats in the Cabinet. IWD should be a day in which Japanese policymakers think critically about the nation’s statistics and the trajectory of women’s rights.

The Mimosa Flower: The Symbol of International Women’s Day

The closest G7 nation to Japan on the Gender Gap Report is Italy (in 79th place), a country with a rich history when it comes to International Women’s Day. In 1946, Italian feminists Rita Montagnana and Teresa Mattei started handing out mimosa flowers to symbolize the sensitivity, resilience and togetherness of women. The custom of giving strong women the beautiful yellow flowers continues on IWD (or Festa della Donna in Italian) to this day.

This year, people in Japan can also partake in this vibrant Italian custom. The Italian Chamber of Commerce is hosting its annual Yellow Walk and Yellow Aperitivo to celebrate and stand by women. 

Read Up and Take to the Streets

One of the best ways to partake in International Women’s Day is by getting educated and speaking up. Whether it be by learning about feminist activists, reading feminist and queer literature, engaging in conversations or attending rallies and conferences.

Along with the Yellow Walk held by the Italian Chamber of Commerce, the Women’s March Tokyo is held each year to rally for peace and gender equality in Japan. 

Though March 8 is the internationally sanctioned women’s day, we should be celebrating women each and every day. IWD is a day to look back at previous years to see all that we have accomplished and be re-energized in the fight for parity. Every day is International Women’s Day in our hearts, and we can celebrate it by showing respect for women while also continuing to campaign for gender equality.

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