Japan: Farm women go online

Takehiko Kambayashi
Hiromi Otake (left) and Taeko Omata, farming women in Yamanashi, Japan, are able to sell their fruits, jelly, and cakes on the Internet after taking classes in computer skills.

A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

YAMANASHI, JAPAN – Taeko Omata says she’d never even turned on a computer before attending a computer-skills workshop last summer. Ms. Omata, a mother of two, now writes a daily blog, posting recipes for homemade sweets and recounting family trips (with lots of photos). She also sells cakes and fruit online.

“I never expected to do this,” she says.

In this sleepy central Japanese region, now blanketed with pink peach blossoms, Omata and her friend Hiromi Otake warm to their computer work, mulling over their business strategy.

The pair were among 24 local farm women who enrolled in the intensive training sponsored by Microsoft. Most had not known computer basics before. Now they’ve set up an Internet shopping “mall” to sell grapes, peaches, and vegetables.

“Women cannot stand on their feet unless they wear shoes called ‘economy,’ ” says Otake. Though Japan is a land of high-tech, many women still lack basic computer skills, which limits their job opportunities and independence.

And while men’s unemployment captures headlines here, unemployed women – especially single mothers and victims of domestic violence – rarely make the news, says Yoko Sakurai, a feminist author and executive director of the national council of women’s centers, which offers similar computer-training programs (also funded by Microsoft).

“Some IT specialists may scoff at what these women are learning,” says Ms. Sakurai. “The program, however, has boosted their self-esteem. That is the most important [thing].”

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