Yumi Ishikawa holds up a sign for the #KuToo petition on change.org.
lifestyle

An interview with #KuToo founder Yumi Ishikawa

21 Comments
By Amelie MArie Nishizawa

Yumi Ishikawa is leading the #KuToo movement to bring awareness to gender discrimination against women—starting with their feet. She sat down with Savvy Tokyo to talk high heels, social media backlash, and feminism in modern Japan.

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At her job in a funeral parlor, Yumi Ishikawa would work up to eight hours per day. Her work consisted of standing for long periods of time in between running around to ensure the ceremonies were going as planned. Though she rebelled against her company dress code—which required female employees to wear 5 to 7 cm heels—and wore 2 cm heels, she constantly suffered from sore legs, blisters, and bleeding feet.

One day, while aligning shoes at the entrance of a tatami room, she noticed that while her female colleagues had to wear uncomfortable heels, her male counterparts’ shoes were flat, light, and comfy.

“Picking up a pair, I had a moment where I thought ‘wow, they’re so light! I’m desperate to wear the same!’ says Ishikawa, glancing down at her own sneaker-clad feet.

Opening up on Twitter about her feelings, she was surprised when she received thousands of comments and a wave of sympathy from other women. It was at that point she realized this was bigger than just her.

“For a long time, I thought that feeling pain from wearing heels was somehow my fault. I blamed myself for not searching enough for the right pair and not investing in a good pair of shoes. I told myself my feet didn’t have the right shape,” she says.

How a tweet turned into an international debate over gender inequalities in Japan

Struck to hear that high heels seemed to be enforced by a lot of Japanese companies, Ishikawa felt this was no longer a personal issue but a societal one. Researching further, she realized that workplace dress codes for women were also sparking debate and that the topic was being labeled as an issue of gender inequality in countries like Britain, France, and Canada.

That’s when she began to understand the underlying implications of women being forced to wear heels.

“I’d been studying feminism for about a year and a half and suddenly, it occurred to me that workplace outfit requirements for women were actually a gender inequality issue, one that we needed to address and solve,” she said.

Researching further, she wondered how heels ended up being part of women’s professional etiquette. Eager to start the debate in Japan, she contacted the website Change.org for advice about how to organize herself and figure out the steps.

Helped by the website, she launched a petition addressed to the Ministry of Health, Labor, & Welfare and came up with the ingenious hashtag, #KuToo—a nod to the viral #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault sparked by abuse allegations against Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein.

The wave of anecdotes in reply to Ishikawa’s tweet also echoed the viral traction of the #MeToo movement, and media—both domestic and international—began to report on the story. Business Insider Japan even conducted a survey which revealed that 60% of Japanese women have been asked to wear heels for work or job interviews.

For Yumi, all the sudden attention was welcome, if only because it shed light on a problem left undiscussed.

“I started #KuToo because I had something to share with society and my message went through. The movement could get going thanks to everyone’s efforts. This is proof that we collectively need to talk about this issue.”

#KuToo rises in Japan as #MeToo fades away

Click here to read more.

© Savvy Tokyo

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

21 Comments
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Good call and good on her. I’m always struck by how feminine and elegant Japanese ladies are but they are elegant even without such things as high heels. Time the playing field was leveled men.

7 ( +10 / -3 )

For every man that wear heels, let there be a woman that wear heels, that should balance things out

-4 ( +4 / -8 )

My wife started working for a major Japanese hotel chain the other day and she was told she wasn't allowed to wear pants and flat shoes and instead had to wear high heels and a skirt as well as about another 100 stupid rules.

Anyone who thinks Japanese society is becoming more open and progressive only has to walk into any professional workplace and realise that its just lip service.

People keep asking why She is moving to Australia instead of settling in Japan doesn't take a genius to figure that one out, only a fool would stay in a country with backward rules and obvious sexism in the workforce.

13 ( +16 / -3 )

For every girl who's against the shoes you'll find 5 who like them or don't care. At my workplace there is no dress code and especially not for shoes and most of the women wear heels regardless. I asked them about it once and they said they like it because they feel taller and more powerful with them on. This movement will go nowhere.

Also the origin story seems like nonsense. "Yeah just one day while at work I noticed my male colleagues shoes were flat!" Like she had never noticed or worn a pair of flat shoes in her life until that moment? Give me a break.

-3 ( +6 / -9 )

Great campaign. Women should be able to wear what they want on their feet, as long at it fits with the style and culture of the workplace. If her job is to spend all day on her feet, what crazy workplace would require her to wear shoes that actually inhibit her performance??

12 ( +16 / -4 )

My wife is 5'9" and was told NOT to wear high heels because they made her tower over the male manager who is all of 5'7". Go figure.

12 ( +12 / -0 )

fillintheblank movements come and go.
-3 ( +3 / -6 )

If women are forced to wear high heels, how about the neckties? Women are not required to wear it but Men are. It's uncomfortable and choking but we have to wear it and women will definitely not make a noise of it in behalf of men. Can men also demand to stop employers and companies forcing men to wear neckties? Or can we just get rid of this whole dress code and uniforms?

5 ( +9 / -4 )

I’d been studying feminism for about a year and a half and suddenly

I am surprised it took a year and a half to indoctrinate Ishikawa. It seems the gender studies re-education camps aren’t as efficient in Japan as they are in the West.

-8 ( +2 / -10 )

I was once told by a female colleague that I should wear necktie everyday because I look better in it. Imagine if I reply to her asking her to wear high heels for the same reasons.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

The issue with a lot of feminism movements in Japan is that many people seem to be unaware of them.

I work at a prominent all girls university and none of the women could tell me what the movement was when I asked them about it. 103 women students and no one knew what it was.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Allow all (ladies and men) to wear what they like as long as it is reasonably appropriate.

I cannot deny that I like to see lady wearing high heels and a nice dress, but then again only if she loves to do so.... gorgeous shoes mean nothing if you you see a face that feels uncomfortable or annoyed by it.

At the same there is a time and place for everything.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

In a reasonable country, health comes before a dress code in that case.

Company should propose a solution (accept flat shors, limit standing up duration, propose other type of job inside company...) or face a discriminatory lawsuit.

Common sense applies.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

noypikantokuToday  10:48 am JST

If women are forced to wear high heels, how about the neckties? Women are not required to wear it but Men are. It's uncomfortable and choking but we have to wear it and women will definitely not make a noise of it in behalf of men. Can men also demand to stop employers and companies forcing men to wear neckties? Or can we just get rid of this whole dress code and uniforms?

The way the article is written, I agree with you that you could argue about neckties. But, in the petition they talk about heels being a health hazard, causing long lasting pain in feet and backs, and also that it slows down movement when your work involves having to move which is bringing down productivity. Neckties, sadly, don't fit that criteria. Hate having to wear neckties though

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Very discrete of the author not to mention that Ishikawa was inspired by a similar petition in Britain a couple of years ago. Ishikawa herself, however, has noted the British inspiration.

Same thing happened in Britain. A brief flap. Then the movement died out and the government did nothing.

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-39667912

5 ( +6 / -1 )

While there are thousands of more serious problems regarding to the placement of japanese woman in society, dealing with high heels is kind of funny and insincere for me, especially so called movement is lead by not a real careerwoman. How about dealing with other vital problems of woman? DV, power harrassement, sex workers, single mothers, inequality etc...?

I guess they will not bring sympathetic fame that high heels brought to her, especially for the government.

Regarding to women rights, Japan is in the first floor of Maslow's pyramide, there are tons of things to deal before shoes.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Where I work in Japan, women can wear what they want (within reason) but men have to be business formal in a white shirt and tie, all day, everyday.

Things are truly FUBAR...

0 ( +2 / -2 )

If men are forced to wear uncomfortable shoes, then it's ok for women to be forced to wear uncomfortable shoes - that's just parity

But if men are NOT forced to wear uncomfortable shoes, then women should also NOT be forced to wear uncomfortable shoes

If men and women are free to wear whatever suits them as long as it's within regulations, then it doesn't matter whether they wear comfortable or uncomfortable shoes - since they're not forced to do it

The key word here is "forced"

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

103 women students and no one knew what it was.

Doesn't that reflect badly on your role as a teacher? If you're not ok with the blatant sexual discrimination in your home country (I'm assuming you're not) you should be appalled by it in japan and strive to sensitise your students to rise above it and exact some real change. It's about damn time!!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Geez I try so hard to get my wife in high heels and short skirt but she insists that wearing some big baggy dress and flip flops is much better.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Same thing happened in Britain. A brief flap. Then the movement died out and the government did nothing.

The issue did not die out. Existing legislation covering heath and safety in the work place, as well as laws forbidding discrimination due to sex, have been used to enable women to challenge insistances that they wear heels, make up and revealing clothing in the workplace. Employers don't want to be sued or taken to tribunals - recently Virgin Airlines has removed the rule that said female cabin crew had to wear heels and make up.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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