lifestyle

#ThisIs2019: Where does Japan stand in its approach to women rights?

18 Comments
By Brooke Larsen

Japan has a history of strong, groundbreaking women. In 594 AD, Empress Suiko, ruler of Japan, ordered the spread of Buddhism across the nation. Her pioneering efforts created practices still ubiquitous to this day, allowing her legendary legacy to prevail for over a thousand years. The first novel ever, The Tale of Genji, was written by Murasaki Shikibu, a lady-in-waiting at the Imperial court during the 11th century. Female samurai warriors known as onna-bugeisha rode into battle alongside men during Japan’s feudal period. Feminist movements have been around since at least the Meiji Era. Murasaki, legendary Empress Jingu, female author Ichiyo Higuchi (and as of 2024, Umeko Tsuda, a pioneer in women’s education), all appear on Japanese banknotes (we all know not a single woman is portrayed on U.S. currency.) The list of achievements goes on.

Meanwhile, in 2019, women in Japan are still forbidden from ascending the throne—significantly shrinking the number of possible heirs for an already depleted line. The 2018 World Economic Forum’s annual gender equality report ranked Japan 110th out of 144 countries, while in the political empowerment category, Japan ranked even lower at 125th.

What happened, Japan?

One can fairly enough argue that it’s not all that grim. Yes, strides are being made. Yet there are plenty of policies the country could drastically improve. Here we look at the good, the bad, and the ugly realities of women’s rights in contemporary Japan.

The Good: Women are speaking up and their words are affecting the law

protests-1024x768.jpg
Over 100 of women (and men) took to the streets of Shinjuku in the middle of Golden Week 2018 to start their own #metoo movement: #WithYou, insisting that sexual harassment is power harassment. Photo: Victoria Vlisides

In 2017, the Japanese penal code underwent a much-needed update. The definition of rape was expanded to include oral and anal sex in addition to vaginal, allowing more victims, including men and boys, to seek justice. Sentences were also lengthened for the offender—before there was a longer minimum sentence for theft than there was for rape.

A number of factors influenced this change, but one of the most crucial ones was the public voice. Japanese women, non-binary folks, and men are increasingly bringing national attention to issues usually not talked about. A culture of silence characterizes Japan on many fronts, yet women and their supporters are rejecting that narrative by speaking out about sexual offenses and other gender-based harassment.

"Japan’s Secret Shame," a documentary about Shiori Ito, a journalist who shocked the nation by publicly speaking out about her rape in 2017, details the current state of how Japan handles cases of sexual violence. When police refused to arrest the man she charged—Noriyuki Yamaguchi, a former Washington, D.C. bureau chief for TBS and a man with close ties to Prime Minister Abe—despite the wealth of evidence against him, Ito held a press conference to publicly accuse Yamaguchi and unveil the case. Her unprecedented move prompted many men and women to rally against her, calling her names and even sending death threats. But her actions also sparked a dialogue about the unfair and often traumatizing treatment of rape victims in Japan.

Click here to read more.

*If you’re in Tokyo on May 30, TELL Japan will be screening "Japan’s Secret Shame" at Aoyama Gakuin University. For more details, see here.

© Savvy Tokyo

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

18 Comments
Login to comment

I can see two clear cut cases of gender inequality in Japan.

Female staff are allowed to enter male areas at onsens (I presume it would be illegal if the reverse occurred)

Women are granted their own train cars, men aren't.
-11 ( +5 / -16 )

Japan stands somewhere between the 1930s and 40s on this issue

11 ( +13 / -2 )

This article feels like someone without any experience of what they are writing about is finger-wagging demands at the rest of the world to adapt to their way of thinking.

If more women are beginning to enter the workforce, then it only makes sense that more women will have entry-level positions.

However, many of those women will be able to enter into management in 10 years time.

Just because you are of working age doesn't mean you can be a CEO at a corporation.

Feminism really doesn't make anything better.

It makes society worse.

-9 ( +3 / -12 )

Japan stands where it always has, and always will: women are subservient to men.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Burning BushToday 07:47 am JST

I can see two clear cut cases of gender inequality in Japan.

Female staff are allowed to enter male areas at onsens (I presume it would be illegal if the reverse occurred)

Women are granted their own train cars, men aren't.

They don't allow male cleaners inside the women's onsen when women are present because that would make women feel unsafe. It makes women feel unsafe because it is very, very common for men to sexually harass and assault women. Women would stop going to an onsen that allowed any men at all to enter when females are present. This is not only good business practice for the onsen, it is also a good policy because it protects women.

Men generally aren't afraid of women sexually harassing or assaulting them. But if you do feel unsafe, and worry that the obachaan may sexually harass you or sexually assault you, then I urge you to let the onsen owners know you are afraid old cleaning ladies may hurt you, and that you would prefer male staff. I'm sure that will give them a good laugh.

Women are not granted "their own train cars". One train car on each train is reserved for women during rush hours, for two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening. This, as you know, is because sexual assault is very, very, incredibly common on trains.

But again, if you are worried that women might sexually assault you on the train, you can let the train operators know that you are afraid women many harm you and ask for your own train car. Again, I'm sure it will give them a good laugh.

Are these the only clear cut cases of gender discrimination you can see? Because it looks like you only care about the ones you feel discriminate against men (they don't) and are ignoring all the cases of discrimination against women.

But I could be wrong, I guess. I'm sure in your reply you can show me how wrong I am by listing the cases of gender discrimination against women that you have noticed.

10 ( +15 / -5 )

Again, I'm sure it will give them a good laugh.

You're probably right, if I demanded equality people would probably laugh at me. Just like they laughed at Rosa Parks when she demanded equality on public transportation.

First they laugh, then they dismiss, then they fight and then you win.

-9 ( +0 / -9 )

But I could be wrong, I guess.

I completely agree with you

-7 ( +0 / -7 )

You're probably right, if I demanded equality people would probably laugh at me. Just like they laughed at Rosa Parks when she demanded equality on public transportation.

I'm certainly laughing at you comparing a member of a long-oppressed class of people seeking the same rights as the oppressor class to a member of an oppressor class whining about ladies cleaning the men's onsen. It's pretty laugh-worthy.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

Society infantalising women, and making 'cute' and child-like an ideal for women is part of the problem.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Burning BushToday 03:26 pm JST

You're probably right, if I demanded equality people would probably laugh at me. Just like they laughed at Rosa Parks when she demanded equality on public transportation.

First they laugh, then they dismiss, then they fight and then you win.

You're comparing yourself to Rosa Parks? I think I can just leave it at that, because the absolute absurdity of that statement stands for itself.

It really showcase just how far you are willing to stretch just so you can paint yourself as the victim. It's just like American Christians and their persecution complex.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

I say it many times, but I think a significant number of women are happy with the division of labour in the family. They do a bit of part-time work and helicopter parent the kids. They do not have and do not want a "career". This way of thinking and lack of solidarity with career women is one thing that holds them back.

I also think there would be more women politicians if women actually voted for them and stuck up for them in scandals. I feel that women politicians get a worse rap than men. Women should not tune into daytime tv shows where the man talks and the woman says "so desu ne". You get change by demanding it.

All the sexual stuff, groping, date rape etc. is 100% men's fault.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

First and foremost, there should be equal law between men and women on any subjects.

Example, when a man and a woman divorce, the settlement should be equal. A man should never ever need to empty his pocket for a woman they have agreed to separated for life. Not even a penny unless he himself wants to treat her good like an idiot.

Will women agree to accept this equality law? If No, then that is even Greater Life Harrassment.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

I'm all up for equality in the sane, logical sense, but I really don't understand why people think making hashtag Twitter feeds with superficial phrases like "ThisIs2019" think that is going to change anything.

Just make sure it's equality of opportunity and not equality of outcome like people in the west are trying to push on society. And think carefully about how such changes affect culture and social interaction.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I'm all up for equality in the sane, logical sense, but I really don't understand why people think making hashtag Twitter feeds with superficial phrases like "ThisIs2019" think that is going to change anything.

Maybe because they saw #metoo, which most definitely changed things.

It opens up a conversation. And we've seen recently that these hashtags can indeed change things.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Maybe because they saw #metoo, which most definitely changed things.

It opens up a conversation. And we've seen recently that these hashtags can indeed change things.

It didn't change anything besides make a lot of people anxious and socially apprehensive.

The #MeToo movement was a sham: it was a superficial manifestation from Hollywoods sleezy industry, and it got imposed onto the real world as if it had the same problems. The #MeToo movement took away natural social interactions which have been forming in various cultural societies for a millenia. Basically, it did more bad than good.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

It didn't change anything besides make a lot of people anxious and socially apprehensive.

Um, re-read that sentence. The latter half contradicts the first half. which is it, did it not change anything? Or did it make people anxious ans socially apprehensive? Because those two things are logically opposed, meaning that half your statement is wrong.

The #MeToo movement was a sham: it was a superficial manifestation from Hollywoods sleezy industry, and it got imposed onto the real world as if it had the same problems. The #MeToo movement took away natural social interactions which have been forming in various cultural societies for a millenia. Basically, it did more bad than good.

Well that basically shows that it was the first half of the first quote that was wrong, not the second half, as you are clearly pointing out how the #metoo hashtag did change things, in contrast with this claim:

I'm all up for equality in the sane, logical sense, but I really don't understand why people think making hashtag Twitter feeds with superficial phrases like "ThisIs2019" think that is going to change anything.

What it comes down to is that the hashtag did in fact affect change, you just aren't happy with the change that it affected.

That all said, I'd take your discomfort over having to be careful to have to watch what you say, and be careful, over the discomfort women had previously of having to worry about being sexually assaulted all the time.

Neither is ideal, but one is a hassle, while the other takes away a person's dignity as a human being.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

CrazyGaijinToday 09:30 am JST

It didn't change anything besides make a lot of people anxious and socially apprehensive.

If you became anxious and socially apprehensive when more attention was given to the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault, then what I get from that is you are yourself afraid that you will be accused. I wonder why you might feel that way.

The #MeToo movement was a sham: it was a superficial manifestation from Hollywoods sleezy industry, and it got imposed onto the real world as if it had the same problems. The #MeToo movement took away natural social interactions which have been forming in various cultural societies for a millenia. Basically, it did more bad than good.

You think sexual harassment and assault is a "sham" and talking about it is "superficial"?

You also think that the kind of behaviors the #metoo movement has helped to highlighted as sexual harassment are just "natural social interacations"?

No wonder you are afraid. You should be.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

kohakuebisuMay 26 10:14 pm JST

I say it many times, but I think a significant number of women are happy with the division of labour in the family. They do a bit of part-time work and helicopter parent the kids. They do not have and do not want a "career".

You might think I would disagree with this, but I don't. You aren't wrong that a lot of women are happy being housewives and taking care of the children instead of working outside the home.

What you fail to mention however, is that a lot of fathers would also like like to take a larger role in parenting but don't have the luxury of working fewer hours. Even more importantly, a lot of parents would ideally have one parent stay at home, but it just isn't possible financially. There are few families these days that can survive on just one income.

This way of thinking and lack of solidarity with career women is one thing that holds them back.

It's not career women who are stopping other women from being stay-at-home housewives and parents - it's the economy. Generally speaking, women who chose careers don't actually have a problem with women who chose not to have a career. It's all about choice - women should be able to freely chose whether to stay at home or to have a career.

I also think there would be more women politicians if women actually voted for them and stuck up for them in scandals. I feel that women politicians get a worse rap than men. Women should not tune into daytime tv shows where the man talks and the woman says "so desu ne". You get change by demanding it.

I'm wondering if you think women should vote along gender lines, without considering all the issues? There are male politicians who are pro-woman just as there are misogynistic female politicians. Bernie Sanders and Barak Obama are good examples of pro-female politicians. Mio Sugita is a good example of a misogynistic female politician.

I agree that those talks shows are largely sexist. I don't like them either. They are a good window into gender roles and expectations in Japan, since you can imagine how the men would react if the women actually said their real opinion out loud, and it contradicted a man's opinion. They wouldn't be invited back on TV, that's for sure.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites