lifestyle

Will ‘Voice Up Japan’ encourage Japanese women to finally speak up about inequality?

39 Comments
By Brooke Larsen

We’re only a few months into 2019 and already a number of troubling stories involving women’s issues have made the news. A member of J-pop group NGT48 was forced to apologize to her fans for causing them distress after posting online about how she was attacked at her own home by two men. And even though everyone agreed she was not the one to be blamed — at all — she’s off the stage and out of the group now and no one knows what happened to her. Female members of the Imperial Family have been denied the right to attend the throning ceremony of Crown Prince Naruhito—their own relative!—this May. And, considering there’s only one election to go before then, Japan is likely to miss out on reaching its goal to raise the proportion of female candidates in national elections to 30 percent by 2020. Meanwhile, recent movements to improve gender equality have had trouble catching even though such stories abound.

But there’s one new organization in town seeking to end gender inequality by eradicating the stigma associated with publicly speaking out against such issues.

Voice Up Japan was founded this January by a group of Japanese university students who are trying to change the status quo — simply because they believe that injustice is not something they can turn the blind eye to. 

BeFunky-collage-15-e1552024258653-1024x383.jpg
From left to right: Ryo Tsujioka, Asaki Takahashi, Tadashi Kaneko, three of the founding members of Voice Up Japan.

Three of them—Ryo Tsujioka, Asaki Takahashi and Tadashi Kaneko—were kind enough to speak to Savvy Tokyo right in the middle of finals week about the steps this up-and-coming organization is taking to stop gender discrimination for good.

A simple question: Why don’t Japanese women speak up?

When I first moved to Japan I was confused. Where was all the groping and stalking I’d read so much about? In America, I’d been catcalled daily, yet, in Japan, it was as if I was invisible to passersby. However, to my horror, I soon realized sexual harassment and assault did happen—to many women. They were just so very well hidden under the beautifully decorated surface of Japan’s wa (harmony) and omotenashi (hospitality) that you had to dig really hard to find them.

Now I was confused for another reason—why weren’t they speaking out?

It turned out that this trend of silence is so deeply embedded in Japanese culture that most people abide by it without a second (or even an initial) thought.

Click here to read more.

© Savvy Tokyo

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

39 Comments
Login to comment

They were just so very well hidden under the beautifully decorated surface of Japan’s wa (harmony) and omotenashi (hospitality) that you had to dig really hard to find them.

not just sexual harassment, but ALOT of awful things in this country are hidden under this beautifully decorated surface...

3 ( +5 / -2 )

As long as night hostess clubs are still embraced and existing, this cry for women equality is just a pipe dream. It all starts there, I don't know if Japan is really willing to call for equal rights or these groups just want to go with the trend. Are these protesters fierce enough to really tackle the core issue? Are they willing to protest to Hostess clubs and tell them straight to stop making women as commodities? The answer to that is NO for sure.

-2 ( +5 / -7 )

Equality?

Sure, let's start with abolishing women only trains and how come female cleaning staff are allowed to enter male changing rooms but not the other way around?

-2 ( +6 / -8 )

As long as night hostess clubs are still embraced and existing, this cry for women equality is just a pipe dream. It all starts there, I don't know if Japan is really willing to call for equal rights or these groups just want to go with the trend. Are these protesters fierce enough to really tackle the core issue? Are they willing to protest to Hostess clubs and tell them straight to stop making women as commodities? The answer to that is NO for sure.

Many of the women who work at hostess clubs, or in the sex industry, don't have the skills to do other work. I'm not sure how it empowers women to remove the avenue where they can make the money to support themselves.

If you want to get rid of hostess clubs, fix the problems in society that result in these women not having other opportunities. Shutting down the hostess clubs themselves doesn't fix the problem, and just results in more poverty.

0 ( +8 / -8 )

The first thing Japanese woman need to do is stop putting on a higher pitched female voice. I'm sure all of you that have have Japanese wives or GF's have heard inside voices and outside voices from Japanese women. I think this social pressure for women act a certain way pressures them into traditional (outdated) norms.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Although Japan still seems stuck in the 50s with regards to attitudes towards women, and there is work to be done getting out of the dark ages, tread carefully. Learn from the mess in the West, and it is a mess. Hostility between the sexes Has become the norm, everyone nervous and confused.

Also gals, ask yourself this, do you really want the same opportunities to slave away at a desk, not being able to leave until the sleeping mean spirited bucho leaves first? I know I wouldn’t! Careful what you ask for, that’s all. Be very weary of any slogan you can write on a piece of cardboard that you think will solve extremely complex social problems. They often do more harm than good. A very unpopular and dangerous thing to state also is that kids do better with their mums around. It’s a proven scientific fact, so just think everything through. The late start in the game for Japan may even turn out to be an advantage.

-5 ( +4 / -9 )

In case of those women in hostess bars, they (more than often) do it by their own choice, often for some quick and easy money that's more than what they would make working for regular companies during the day.

Or to make extra money after daytime job.

And as for the "high pitch" voice.

They are not necessarily pressured to use the high pitch voice. It is just their "yosoyuki" (outside) voice, not necessarily only to talk to men but anyone outside.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

I'm sure she was catcalled daily. You can say anything these days.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Let's see what these students think after a few years in the workforce. But yeah, things like hostess clubs or clubs which are free for women but charge men just make women the product and guys feel like they have to "get their money's worth", and they start seeing all women in the same light. Get to the root of the problem instead of just making a bunch of speaking events which barely anyone will attend.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Strangerland

Many of the women who work at hostess clubs, or in the sex industry, don't have the skills to do other work. I'm not sure how it empowers women to remove the avenue where they can make the money to support themselves.

If you want to get rid of hostess clubs, fix the problems in society that result in these women not having other opportunities. Shutting down the hostess clubs themselves doesn't fix the problem, and just results in more poverty.

That's exactly my whole point man. They make the society believe that these women are not skilled enough so they put them in that Hostess/ Geisha box to satisfy men's needs, instead of empowering and changing them to become capable as their male customers. So explain to me how equality for women will coexists with this kind of principle together? Prostitution and Nightclubs also exist in other countries but as underground and there are only certain areas where you can find them unlike in Japan where you can find these kinds of establishments around in every stations and it's totally not underground at all, in fact these big executives in corporations who have programs supporting women's rights also go to these kinds of places for business related entertainment. So if these people are serious about fighting for equality for women, it has to start from here.

-4 ( +3 / -7 )

fishy

In case of those women in hostess bars, they (more than often) do it by their own choice, often for some quick and easy money that's more than what they would make working for regular companies during the day.

And that is the other conflict in Japan, as I said this is embraced not only by Men but even their WIVES and the women themselves.The thinking that it's okay for women to be like an object like a Car in a rental shop is fine because they don't have any choices is something that contradicts the principle of equality.Plus  I think there are so many women here who are comfortable of the current system where women are submissive to men, that's the main challenge of the women's equality rights activists have to face, they have to convince not only men but also the women themselves.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

If Japanese women want to be taken seriously, a good start would be to stop choosing careers in the redlight industries, and start taking jobs in the normal economy.

-6 ( +4 / -10 )

That's exactly my whole point man. They make the society believe that these women are not skilled enough so they put them in that Hostess/ Geisha box to satisfy men's needs, instead of empowering and changing them to become capable as their male customers.

A significant portion of hostesses are unskilled. That's not believing they are unskilled, it means that they don't have education and skills qualified to get any jobs that require skills and/or education. This is something quantifiable, not a mindset.

Closing/banning hostess bars punishes the women who work at these places due to a lack of other options, under the guise of 'helping' them. How is taking away their income stream helpful?

The way to fix this problem is to improve the potential and lot of women in Japan. Not making hostess bars illegal. Because even after you bring up the education and opportunity, there will still be a number of women who would rather take the easy route and be a hostess - and why shouldn't they be allowed to do that if it is their choice?

0 ( +3 / -3 )

If Japanese women want to be taken seriously, a good start would be to stop choosing careers in the redlight industries, and start taking jobs in the normal economy.

Ahh, another person who thinks poverty is a choice or something. Entirely clueless as to how the world works.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

As long as night hostess clubs are still embraced and existing, this cry for women equality is just a pipe dream. 

Are hostess clubs worse than the strip clubs and massage parlours that are so common in a number of countries?

There are a number of studies of Japanese hostess clubs done by foreign women beginning with Night Work: Seuality, Pleasure, and Corporate Masculinity in a Tokyo Hostess Club (University of Chicago Press, 1994) by Anne Allison. Her study and others show that women in these clubs are very much in control in terms of what they do and do not do. If anything it is the males and the companies that pick up their tabs that are being exploited.

I have been dragged to hostess clubs several times by executives from top Japanese companies. The women are clearly in control, taking the guys and their companies for every yen they can.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

noypikantoku

Plus I think there are so many women here who are comfortable of the current system

True, and that's what I wanted to say.. many are comfortable, and even more, they take advantage of it.

Also, there are those places where boys/men are working to entertain women - host clubs.

This issue is to challenge Japan's own internal perception of what's right/wrong. I doubt it'll be answered as long as those people entertaining the opposite gender making so much easy money.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

If Japanese women want to be taken seriously, a good start would be to stop choosing careers in the redlight industries, and start taking jobs in the normal economy.

I'd take out the word "Japanese" from your sentence.

Women working in red light industries isn't a Japan specific thing, it applies to countries all over the world.

Also I'd replace the word "women" to men, as there are many men who are entertaining women for big quick money as well.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

In today's world, Women society is very dangerous.

The whole calender is now almost covered by Womens' Day this this and that.

When a man is dashed to a woman, he gets a problem.

When a woman is dashed to a man, he gets a problem.

Go to a shopping mall, there are women section everywhere, from clothings to make up accessories, beauty parlour, lingerie...etc, A man has to walk very carefully there even if he is with his wife or mother or daughter.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

Strangerland

A significant portion of hostesses are unskilled

If what you say is true and if They are indeed unskilled so the solution is to throw them to prostitution and hostessing rather than helping them on how to become skilled and have more positive vocation which is the whole idea of this equality advocacy right? So again my question to you is how can you achieve equality while this whole idea of the hostess industry is embraced? Yes they can go on as it is but don't expect that there will be equal rights for women here in Japan, that is what I am trying to point out and if they are really serious about their goal then they should discourage or condemn the use of women as commodities. If they cannot then forget about it, they are just wasting energy and time.

Many hostesses are universityy students, hair / nail stylist and office ladies. It's not true that they are not skilled people.It's just Japan has given them less opportunities compare to male that's why they have to do that kind of work.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Go to a shopping mall, there are women section everywhere, from clothings to make up accessories, beauty parlour, lingerie...etc, A man has to walk very carefully there even if he is with his wife or mother or daughter.

I know, it's a terrifying world out there. I think we should all follow the [Mike] Pence Rule and avoid any women other than our wives, moms or daughters. To do otherwise is just dangerous. After all, we are noble, harmless males who are clearly beset on all sides by predatory women and their accessories.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

fisht

Women working in red light industries isn't a Japan specific thing, it applies to countries all over the world.

Also I'd replace the word "women" to men, as there are many men who are entertaining women for big quick money as well

Yes I mentioned that in other countries there are also red light establishments, but they are underground and considered taboo. Here in Japan its common for businessmen to go to Hostess clubs after business deals.The wealthier men are the more accepted for them to be in high class hostess clubs and the society here in Japan approves this idea of commoditizing women. So as long as the minds of people are like that these advocacies will not succeed/. Yes there are hosto clubs in some places too  but their clients are 90% hostesses who lost their private lives already due to the night jobs.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Hey folks,

I don't think gender equality has a lot to do with hostess clubs. I don't know exactly what "amount of service" you receive there but let me put it this way. In Sweden (which is number 5 in the gender gap index 2017) prostitution is nearly illegal (illegal to buy, legal to sell). In Germany (which is number 12 in the gender gap index 2017) prostitution is legal. So there are on oposite ends of the scale but in terms of gender equality there are very close together. Japan has stronger laws against prostitution than Sweden and is at place 114 (!) in the gender gap index 2017. 

I am not a long time in Japan and certainly not an expert but i think these students perfectly realized what the problem is. The most important step to tackle a dificult issue is to speak about it! And as much as i love this country and the people which live here, addressing difficult/embarrassing subjects is certainly not their strongest suit. So what the students do their is in my humble opinion the perfectly right thing. Best wishes for them!

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

I have been dragged to hostess clubs several times by executives from top Japanese companies

I don’t move in those kinds of circles but I have been dragged to less exclusive hostess bars by lesser types.

The women tended to be foreign with about 3 or 4 living in the same studio flat. They didn’t seem to be in control.

Maybe the top Japanese hostesses have more control.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Hostess clubs are not a good example of gender inequality in Japan, if you're shooting those down you have to bring host clubs into the equation.

As Bullfighter pointed out, the male customers are being completely fleeced by the hostesses who are in control and as noypikantoku said, a lot of them (at least one's i've met in Tokyo) are university students.

However, I dispute that Japan has given them less opportunities than their male counterparts because on the contrary, many of those students choose that work for part time because they can make way more money than the usual part time jobs.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

In today's world, Women society is very dangerous.

The whole calender is now almost covered by Womens' Day this this and that.

When a man is dashed to a woman, he gets a problem.

When a woman is dashed to a man, he gets a problem.

Go to a shopping mall, there are women section everywhere, from clothings to make up accessories, beauty parlour, lingerie...etc, A man has to walk very carefully there even if he is with his wife or mother or daughter.

Now you're starting to understand how women have always felt.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Bullfighter

Are hostess clubs worse than the strip clubs and massage parlours that are so common in a number of countries?

Yep strip clubs are indeed worse than hostess clubs but it is still commoditizing women and in other countries these establishments are considerred taboo but in Japan hostess clubs are normal and accepted by the society. So please tell me how can you convince the majority of Japanese people to fight for women's equality while they embrace the idea of commoditizing of women at the same time. I am not demonizing hostessing but whole point is I think feminism activists will not succeed in Japan and the hostess industry is one of the few reasons why.

There are a number of studies of Japanese hostess clubs done by foreign women beginning with Night Work: Seuality, Pleasure, and Corporate Masculinity in a Tokyo Hostess Club (University of Chicago Press, 1994) by Anne Allison. Her study and others show that women in these clubs are very much in control in terms of what they do and do not do. If anything it is the males and the companies that pick up their tabs that are being exploited.

I have been dragged to hostess clubs several times by executives from top Japanese companies. The women are clearly in control, taking the guys and their companies for every yen they can.

That's what you think,  but the reality is it's the club owners and club shacho's are actually the ones in control of these hostesses. They treat these women as "THEIR PRODUCT" they are asked to drink, talk, act, smoke, dress up, make up the way their club management want them to do for the sake of male customers and profit. And I said it again, prositution and strip clubs also exists and maybe worse than hostessing, but it is not viewed the way Japanese people see hostess clubs is. Hostess clubs are literally in every corner of Japan like 7-11 and sometimes the same building as cram schools.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

If what you say is true and if They are indeed unskilled so the solution is to throw them to prostitution and hostessing rather than helping them on how to become skilled and have more positive vocation which is the whole idea of this equality advocacy right? So again my question to you is how can you achieve equality while this whole idea of the hostess industry is embraced?

I think you're conflating two things - the way things are, and the way things should be.

We should be aiming for a society in which women don't face barriers to being skilled, and therefore the only people in the industry are those who make that decision by choosing that option, rather than only having the single option of being that industry.

Realistically, it's probably too late for the women in the industry now. We can't suddenly train the thousands of women in the industry to get them out.

So to answer your question, the industry can remain as is. Work on removing barriers and empowering the children of today, so they have options other than working in that industry.

Then watch the industry adjust itself accordingly as it has less staff.

This is how you provide women with more opportunity, while still embracing the hostess industry as it is.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Kniknaknokkaer

Hostess clubs are not a good example of gender inequality in Japan, if you're shooting those down you have to bring host clubs into the equation.

Hosto clubs are not as many as hostess clubs where you can find them in every corner like conbini. Analyze who goes to Host clubs and Hostess clubs. Host clubs' clients are hostesses, because these women don't have private social lives due to their profession. Hosts don't adjust to their clients the way hostesses do to theirs. And the reality is it is normal and well accepted by the society to see Salary men going to hostess clubs than a group of OLs / Housewives going to Hosto clubs.

As Bullfighter pointed out, the male customers are being completely fleeced by the hostesses who are in control

Not true, The club management (who are men) are the ones in control of the hostesses. So officially these women are still men's commodities.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Strangerland

I am not suggesting to change the way things are. I am just suggesting  that "If these advocates really want to succeed, then they should start to change how the Japanese society's view on hostessing". I see hostessing as one of the few reasons why feminism rights advocates will not succeed here. I am not demonizing hostessing and trying to change things. Because these "unskilled" women are are treated as commodities and not human beings with potential to improve and grow.

So to answer your question, the industry can remain as is. Work on removing barriers and empowering the children of today, so they have options other than working in that industry.

Then watch the industry adjust itself accordingly as it has less staff.

You just said above that women who are unskilled should directly be put to hostessing and prostitution than providing them more options then you suggest to remove barriers? and empowerment?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

And, considering there’s only one election to go before then, Japan is likely to miss out on reaching its goal to raise the proportion of female candidates in national elections to 30 percent by 2020.

That is not because women are being prevented from running for office.

It's because not enough women are choosing to run for office.

So, I would not consider that to be an example of "inequality." You can't have women occupying 30% of any group, if few women are stepping up to be in the group in the first place.

A comparable hypothetical example: If a company seeks to hire a woman for a position, but no women apply for it, then the company isn't guilty of "sexism" because it hired a man. They tried to get a woman, but no woman stepped up. That's not their fault.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Haven't you forgotten? Everyone is the same in Japanese culture.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I support this, and also equality for men. As soon as I got married I was objectified as an ATM machine. I know it sounds funny but most married guys I know are miserable being forced into the role of 100% breadwinner because of gender roles in this society. If a man challenges this the woman may divorce them, then welcome to further inequalities. In divorce, there is a presumption that the man did wrong and is at fault, and there is an even stronger presumption that the woman will get custody because SHE should raise the kids. These are huge human rights issues in my mind just as important as the ones highlighted above.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

I am not suggesting to change the way things are.

Really?

As long as night hostess clubs are still embraced and existing...

Seems you're advocating for hostess clubs to be neither embraced nor to exist.

You just said above that women who are unskilled should directly be put to hostessing and prostitution than providing them more options

I said nothing of the sort.

then you suggest to remove barriers? and empowerment?

Yeah. Exactly. Maybe you should try reading what I'm saying, rather than what you want me to have said.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

As long as night hostess clubs are still embraced and existing, this cry for women equality is just a pipe dream. It all starts there, I don't know if Japan is really willing to call for equal rights or these groups just want to go with the trend. Are these protesters fierce enough to really tackle the core issue? Are they willing to protest to Hostess clubs and tell them straight to stop making women as commodities? The answer to that is NO for sure.

What about the male host clubs?

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

The writer claims that Japanese women don't speak out, but provides no evidence.

This type of allegory is dangerous in my opinion.

It turned out that this trend of silence is so deeply embedded in Japanese culture that most people abide by it without a second (or even an initial) thought.

I would like to see the evidence of "it turned out". Why should I believe this type of statement? "Without even an initial thought" implies that Japanese people do not know that sexual harassment is wrong. It's a pretty disgusting thing to write without providing a shred of evidence. ON TOPIC!

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Strangerland

Seems you're advocating for hostess clubs to be neither embraced nor to exist.

Well it's a suggestion that if the advocates want to achieve what they are aiming for then they should start with the change of Japanese society's commoditizing women and the well accepted hostess industry is part of that. If they cannot change these then  I don't think they will succeed with their advocacy, That is my whole point. And in my opinion majority of Japanese women seem okay with being the way things are now , they are totally fine being hostesses so what these "Voice up Japan's'' goal is just a pipe dream, 100% they will not succeed.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Obviously none of you have ever worked in a hostess club and have no idea what actually goes on behind the scenes. The vast majority of the male customers behave terribly. They think that because they’re paying, they can say anything they like; and they particularly like saying things that would normally be unacceptable in polite society. They denigrate the womens’ intelligence and make it clear that she’s looked down on and is nothing but a sex object.

But no matter how crass, cruel, rude, perverted, obnoxious, or just plain mean the man is, the hostess smiles and pretends not to notice or not to mind. In order to make money, you have to keep getting the customer to buy drinks, which mean keeping him happy. That means no talking back, accepting the insults, and ignoring the damp hand on your thigh.

You even learn little tricks such as getting up to go to the bathroom so you can get his hands off you when he gets too touchy, and there are hand and eye signals to give the mama so she will swap you out with another hostess.

You have to tolerate all of that, as well as not really getting paid that much. Unless you work at one of the top most expensive and glamourous clubs that attract CEOs and celebrities, you make about as much as an English teacher.

But most hostesses bars simply aren’t that plush, and most girls barely make enough to live on. And with the economic recession, bars are more likely to put up with bad behavior in order to keep customers.

It’s a sexist and degrading industry, and the men who patronise such places ought to think on that very well.

It’s a microcosm of Japanese society and demonstrates exactly what problems there are in regards to mens’ attitudes towards women.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

By "equality" do they mean the feminist variant where women have all the same rights, and receive extra benefits that men don't get, while women also avoid many obligations that men do.

This cherry-picking of equality is disgraceful feminist propaganda. Some examples:

Men are still the far majority of workplace deaths

Men are still the far majority of full-time employees. Women work more part-time or have the luxury to be a stay at home mother who spends her husbands' money while he's working himself into an early grave.

Men still do most of the heavy, dangerous and dirty jobs. Women consciously avoid those jobs and let men risk their lives instead.

Men are still predominately soldiers by far, women refuse to take equal responsibility to protect Japan.

Prostitution is the oldest profession in history. It will never disappear, and sex workers should have the same rights and support as any other profession.

Men still die 6 years earlier on average and had 3 times higher suicide rate.

Fathers are still treated as inferior and less important than mothers, especially in divorce they often don't get equal access and time with their kids. They're also frequently victims of parental alienation where the mother cuts the ex-husband's connection to his kids.

International Women's Day receives much attention in March. Yet, International Men's Day is still very neglected while there are many major men's issues in every country including Japan.

Feminists claim to be pro-equality, but they really don't care at all about men's rights.

Domestic Violence Shelters are still mostly for women-only, male victims are usually ridiculed and excluded based on their gender (sexism).

Special train coaches for women, is not "equality" it is sexist preferential treatment only for women, while men are treated like second class citizens.
0 ( +0 / -0 )

noypikantoku "Because these "unskilled" women are are treated as commodities and not human beings with potential to improve and grow."

Nobody forces women to work in hostess clubs. They choose such professions. They take advantage of their beauty and fitness to make money.

Men are also objectified as "success objects" and "walking ATM machines". Men's roles are still mostly to provide for the wife and family and pay the bills. Men, especially Japanese men rarely get the chance to be a full-time house husband.

Men are objectified for their strength and bodies to do dangerous, heavy and dirty jobs. Those jobs are still 80%+ men. Why? Women can choose to do those jobs too, but most women don't want to.

Or how in case of domestic violence, the woman is usually believed without any evidence. Men are demonized and many innocent men have been wrongly jailed based on false allegations.

Men die 6 years earlier have 3 times higher suicide rate, and women spend 70% of all the money (the spending gap). 3/4 homeless people are men.

Equality is a two way street, men are also objectified and used as pack-mules, heavy labor. Feminists are sexist, because they don't acknowledge that part of society, because they only want more privilege and special treatment for women. They ignore men's issues.

0 ( +0 / -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