Today’s College Scene / Women at Todai still a minority

The Daily Yomiuri (May. 28, 2009)

By Takayuki Yasui

The following is an excerpt from The Yomiuri Shimbun series “Today’s College Scene,” which visits a different university each week.
Tokyo University recently has begun an attempt to increase its ratio of female studens from 20 percent to 30 percent of the student body.

Women–both students and faculty–continue to struggle to clear their own paths at the university, considered to be the nation’s most prestigious higher educational institution.

Students at Todai–as the university is known–are perceived to be extremely studious. But this is a misconception, Chiaki Mori, the 11th Miss Todai, argues.

“An incredible number of students seem to devote themselves to extracurricular activities, such as music or art,” the 20-year-old sophomore says. “I was really surprised.”

Mori–who is hoping to pursue postdoctoral studies involving the environment–entered the Miss Todai pageant last year at the urging of her friends. She said she was inspired by other students who work hard on outside activities, such as in clubs in which they research entrepreneurship.

Mori, who graduated from a prestigious Chiba Prefecture high school, said she chose Tokyo University because, “I thought it would be better to study at a school that gets a lot of funding for science.” She also said she liked that the school allowed students 1-1/2 years to declare a major.

Agriculture studies major Rina Kurisu, meanwhile, has tried her hand at a variety of part-time jobs in an effort to better understand society. She has taken such work as a wedding-hall waitress and a ticket-taker at a baseball stadium.

When asked about her take on public perceptions of Tokyo University students, the 22-year-old says, “I find myself torn between what people expect from me and what I can deliver.”

The Kanazawa native was very active in high school, too, where she participated in both the badminton club and the brass band.

Kurisu said the university offered her the chance to follow in the footsteps of her father, a researcher. However, she failed the entrance exam just out of high school. She moved to Tokyo, where she lived in the dormitory of a exam preparation school for a year, before finally passing the difficult test.

When Tokyo University held a briefing session late last year for high school girls, Kurisu was asked to serve as a speaker.

Now the senior hopes to follow her father’s path of helping to resolve food issues. “I’d like to marry and have children in the future, so I’m wondering if I’ll be able to strike a balance between my academic career and family life,” she says. “For this reason, I hope we can get more women on campus to help strengthen our base.”

In 2006, the university established the Committee for Gender Equality under the president’s direct supervision. Graduate School of Engineering Prof. Mari Oshima is one of its vice directors.

“I used to be the only female student specializing in nuclear engineering, so I was catching a lot of wandering eyes,” she recalls. “However, whenever I’d go to matchmaking parties, the guys would get scared off whenever I told them where I went to school.”

When she was in her 30s, Oshima–now 47–focused on her research and academic career. At the age of 42, she married and later had a daughter. During her work hours, Oshima places her daughter, now 3, at a day care facility on campus.

Oshima’s husband is also an academic, though he lived outside of Tokyo until March this year because of work.

“Compared to the private sector, universities are slow to make progress in terms of helping the mothers on their staff,” Oshima says. “They should offer a variety of assistance when their children have fevers, for example.”

While female students are still in the minority, staff member Nobuko Kato finds they have changed quite a lot over the four decades that she has been at the university.

“There used to be far fewer female students on campus, so the ones that there were seemed a bit overenthusiastic,” recalls Kato, 61, director of the One-Stop Resources Office, which offers counselling to students. “But now it’s a matter of course that they can enjoy being who they are.”

Traditionally, the university is regarded as being somewhat serious and stuffy–an image that may change with an increase in the number of women enrolled.

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Profile of Tokyo University
Tokyo University was founded in 1877 after Tokyo Medical School was merged with Tokyo Kaisei School, which was originally founded by the Tokugawa shogunate for foreign studies. The national institution has about 14,000 students at two campuses in Hongo, Bunkyo Ward, and Komaba, Meguro Ward, and there are 10 departments–law, economics, literature, education, arts and sciences, engineering, science, agriculture, pharmacy and medicine.

As of the 2008 academic year, female students accounted for 19.4 percent of the student body. However, the ratios were lower among science-related departments–for example, only 8.9 percent of students in the engineering department were female.

Likewise, female teachers account for only 9 percent of the faculty–a fact that has driven the university to set a numerical target of increasing the ratio of its full-time female researchers to more than 25 percent by 2010.

(May. 28, 2009)

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