Japan is a little bit sexist. It’s not so obvious and in-your-face (like what I would witness from time to time in America), it’s more subtle. A recent study by the World Economic Forums puts Japan at spot number 101 (at of the 135 countries surveyed) in gender equality. Japanese politicians are split on this issue.
On one hand, there is a declining birthrate (and marriage rate) putting the country at a crisis. As a result, some prefecture offices have begun printing and sending “Women’s Notebooks” that inform women about the dangers of putting off marriage (for the sake of their career, freedom, etc). These “Women’s Notebooks” are meant to encourage motherhood. They also claim that women who reject marriage for their career (or delay marriage) are very selfish people (source: my husband’s sister got one of these in the mail and showed it to us).
On the other hand, as I said before, Japan is a little bit sexist – especially in the workplace. One of the women surveyed said “In the workplace women have… higher working hours, face unacceptable sexual harassment, lack respect from male coworkers, are often never promoted, receive far lesser pay, and are expected to serve the men in the company.” When a woman gives birth, she is expected to take her full 3 years maternity leave; Japan believes that the child should be held and doted on by the mother for the first three years of their life. Even after the child is three years old, the mother is still expected to do basically all of the raising. Most of them never end up returning back to work. Knowing that having a child will permanently end your career is a major reason women have been choosing not to get married or have children.
As an American, of course a lot of my views are ethnocentric (especially towards what I consider “normal” – ie the Western way).
But enough with that.
I ride the train a lot. And on the train, I usually end up looking at some of the posters, since they are changed pretty regularly (at least once a month, sometimes more). Sometimes the Japanese trains signs are funny, sometimes they are a bit offensive and sexist. I saw all three of these recently- these are my top three Japanese train signs that I dislike:
3. Beware of Sexual Harassment:
The sign itself is not offensive. It has actually been proven to decrease train-wide sexual harassment, by asking passengers to be wary of sexual harassment AND report people who are touching women inappropriately on the trains.
The sign is good. But the fact that this sign is necessary, is a bit disturbing.
Japan also has Women-only trains. As the name suggests, these trains are only for women (and small children/very old men) during the crowded morning rush. While still crowded, these trains offer a sanctuary where women do not have to be crushed up against unknown, strange men who might touch them inappropriately. Instead they are pressed up against other women.
While this a great solution to a serious concern (Japan has a rampant problem with inappropriate touching on trains, by Chikan), it only alleviates the symptoms, not solving the original problem. You can put women in a car so they are safe, but that doesn’t address the fact that nearly once a week, you read in the newspaper about some new pervert who got caught inappropriately touching a woman on the train or a man who got caught hiding faceup in a gutter and looking up women’s skirts near a women’s college (no joke, for more on the story, click here).
I am one of the only people in my friend group who has NOT been touched inappropriately by a chikan on a crowded train. I even have some adult male friends who were inappropriately touched as a small child by an older man on the train. Think about that for a little bit.
2. The Cure for Uncomfortable Work Shoes: Relaxing at Home
Ignoring the fact that women face sexual harassment and a lack of respect in the workplace, there is the irrational expectation that women must look presentable all the time. This rears its ugly face in Japanese high heels. Or more specifically, the “rules” that ever Japanese woman must wear high heels to work (flats or “kitten heels” are a no-no).
I have an internship in Tokyo. I love my job; since it is a start-up company, they have much less rigid dress codes. While most of the women still wear high heels all day, they are not required too.
Other companies are not as lucky. In fact, the Japanese art of shukatsu (job hunting), women are required to wear a specific brand and style of high heels. Flat shoes (or lower heels) are not permitted; if you don’t wear the correct shoes, you will not get the job.
Some high heels are comfortable. The pumps that job hunting and freshman employees are required to wear are not. I dislike the fact that women are required to wear high heels all day, even at jobs that require a lot of standing/moving around. You can still look professional without the heels.
1. Superheros Can’t be Fat!
This is one of my least favorite advertisement campaigns. Last summer they had four or five variations of this obese superhero plastered across trains in Japan. It is for a diet pill (of sorts, it’s actually a diet drink). It runs under the assumption that superheros can’t be fat.
One of the things that a lot of visiting foreigners will say is “Japanese women are so beautiful.” They are. Nearly every woman you pass on the street is thin, well put together, and has a nicely assembled face of makeup. One of the “pros” of Japan, I guess, is that there is one standard of beauty. Thin, pretty face, delicate. If you want to be “beautiful” there is a very real standard you can diet/plastic surgery yourself to look like.
Perfection has a face – and seems to be attainable. All you need is some self-control, dieting, and makeup.
Japanese media is filled with pictures of perfect women, with flawless skin, smooth hair, and skinny frames. There is very little variation of “perfect.” Everyone wants perfect. If you’re not perfect, you are judged.
At 5’6 and 120lbs, I am considered slightly underweight in America (but still in the healthy range). My Japanese doctor insists that I am a bit overweight, and it would be healthy for me to lose more weight.
I don’t want to.
I think that a whole range of body types are attractive – everyone is allowed to have their preferences.
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