'Sekuhara' has been going on in Japan for decades; is 'me too' changing anything?


Two of the simplest words in the English language are changing the world – or at least starting to. The words are “me too.” The global movement that goes by that name was spawned last October by allegations of sexual abuse against American film producer Harvey Weinstein. Suddenly women began tweeting “me too!” Decades, generations of shame, secrecy, a gnawing feeling, reinforced by society, that the fault lay with the victim and not with the perpetrator, seemed to have been blown away. Women came forward boldly, in droves. The male-dominated establishment went on the defensive. Impunity was a thing of the past.

Japan also has its “me too” movement. One of its sparks has been a book, published late last year, titled “Black Box,” by journalist Shiori Ito. The author herself is the subject – she was raped, she claims, in a Washington hotel room two years ago by former Tokyo Broadcasting Service (TBS) Washington Bureau chief Noriyuki Yamaguchi. The trial is ongoing. The online abuse Ito was subject to – she “should have been strangled,” was one comment – suggests what a woman is up against in Japan. But a chorus of “me too!” followed. Sexual abuse is showing itself to be not something that happens to a few unlucky individuals. It’s pervasive.

Josei Jishin (Feb 27) celebrates Japan’s “me too!” coming-out. It’s long overdue, it says – and yet, even now that it’s here, change will be slow. It’s a hierarchical country, and men, 20 years after Japan’s first belated law addressing the issue, still dominate the hierarchy, much more than they do in other countries. The World Economic Forum in 2016 ranked Japan 111th in terms gender equality among 140 countries.

Your boss comes up to you at work: “Hey honey, you seem out of sorts lately, your husband not giving you enough lovin’? I’ll be happy to fill in, you know.” The scene is imaginary but only too typical, Josei Jishin says, of the Japanese workplace. How should a woman respond? It’s a thin line she must walk. If she’s too brusque, her career can suffer; not brusque enough, she’ll seem encouraging.

Osaka University sociologist Kazue Muta traces the roots of the me too movement back to 1989. A Fukuoka court case that year introduced a new word that ever since has been part of everyday discourse: sekuhara (sexual harassment). The case involved a woman suing her employer over sexually explicit verbal abuse she suffered when she demanded equal pay for equal work. She won the case and was awarded damages. Sekuhara was 1989’s “word of the year.” Still, Muta says, it changed little.

Not until 1998 did the Diet pass a law requiring employers to take measures against sekuhara – 33 years after the first U.S. equivalent. But ingrained ideas die hard. Power and authority taken for granted by Japanese men seem to give them license, and women have ample reason to keep their resentment to themselves. Their vulnerability in the workplace is one, says Muta. Another, writes journalist Ito in her contribution to Josei Jishin’s package, is the relative scarcity of professional counselors and police officers trained to deal with victims of sexual abuse. Few police officers are female, and insensitive questioning by male officers can amount to a “second rape,” she says. These are some of the issues Japan has lagged far behind other developed countries in addressing.

 Will “me too” spur change? It already has. It has emboldened women and given men notice that they face exposure on social media, if not elsewhere. But the male-dominated hierarchy remains a fact of life. Until women occupy more top posts, says Muta – in politics, business and the media – new thinking is likely to go only so far.

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Osaka University sociologist Kazue Muta traces the roots of the me too movement back to 1989.

Uhh.. are you seriously trying to say the "me too" movement began in Japan in the 80s?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Sexual harassment is ingrained in Japanese society. Nothing will ever change that.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

First, women should be taught that they are not just born for getting married and reproduce. Tell them they really have the choice.

Then maybe we can get rid of the "it's just the way it is" mentality. But then again, it's Japan.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

"Sexual harassment is ingrained in Japanese society. Nothing will ever change that"

Yeah right, I didn't know that Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Bill Clinton,  Dr. Larry Nasser, Roy Moore and the staffers at Oxfam were Japanese. Did You?

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Working at a large publicly listed company, the answer is definitely yes. The senior managers are very careful around female employees, drinking parties are on the downswing and female promotions are increasing. Interestingly, I find female on male harassment more prevalent in Japan than in the US, especially at drinking parties where the women will ask extremely private questions and make sexually explicit comments.

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Reckless - you certainly work in a company that doesn't appear to follow the norm.

Discrimination against and harrassment of women in society here is surely far more prevalent than the obverse.

It can be witnessed openly. And my wife working in a large financial comp has volumes of stories to describe such actions in the work place. Anything from micro-harrassment such as asking professional skilled women to do serving tea duties or out right discriminatory practices related to salary, pensions, bonuses , retirement age etc. At the annual office spring bbq which I've attended a few times, sees the women running around like maids - and the junior men for that. And when the senior men get drunk and their behaviour turns creepy the young women staff just roll their eyes and bear it. But the men think they're just socializing and spreading good cheer. Groan.

Have yet to see any women put those types in their places.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I must be VERY ugly, but I have to admit I thought that the seemingly sexual advances (if merely verbal) were just compliments made with no intention of acting them out (just as MANGA or comic books have various degraded fantasies that most readers do not dream of actualizing). Is this not often the case after about age 60?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Women unfortunately think what constitutes harassment depends on age and looks. 28 and 48 will draw different reactions. Then throw looks into that.

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I do not quite get your "28 [years of age] and 48 [years of age] will draw different reactions" sentence.

There is indeed truth in your general rejection of "harassment depends on age and looks"! I recall the court case of a gang rape at a bar of a woman who just dropped in to buy cigarettes (USA). The court actually entertained discussion of what clothes she was wearing and whether her scanty skirt might be "blamed" for the rape, in which case some slightly less than a dozen men were arrested. Can everyone reading this "get" the absurdity and cruelty of this questioning of the victim?


1 ( +1 / -0 )

A woman can experience sexual harassment and sexual assault at any age from 8 to 80.

I'm three score and ten and find many older women very attractive including my dear wife.


I must be VERY ugly,

No! I don't think so and have seen photos of you when younger and certainly a beaut by any standard.

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"Washington hotel room two years ago"

You got your facts wrong. It's a hotel room in Tokyo. The name has been revealed in her book too:

Sheraton Miyako Hotel Tokyo

Since you got one of the most basic facts wrong, I will examine your article carefully to point out errors.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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