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.
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.
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