2019—How has it been for gender equality in Japan?

Following the downfall of Hollywood mogul, Harvey Weinstein in 2017, the #MeToo movement became a global phenomenon, shaken institutions and challenged the way society views sexual assault. America, last year, elected a record-breaking four women as senators and 24 women as representatives to Congress, and the majority of Canadian women said the campaign had made them hopeful about gender equality in the future, according to an online poll. Despite all the advances women made in 2018, the most visible #MeToo stories came from women in Hollywood, and the campaign’s benefits, which often credited actress Alyssa Milano, come mainly for privileged white women—and certainly not for women in Japan.

The #MeToo campaign only had tepid support in Japan. Japanese feminist icon, journalist and author of “Black Box,” Shiori Ito, who went public with allegations that she was dragged and raped by a prominent journalist and a biographer of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Noriyuki Yamaguchi, told Paris 24 that “To say ‘me too’ is quite dangerous in Japan. So, we came up to say ‘we too’ so no one can target me or [any other] individual”. The police obtained hotel security camera footage that? shows Yamaguchi carrying Ito, who was unconscious and told her they were going to arrest him, but prosecutors suddenly dropped the case after two months of investigation. It is hard for victims in Japan to speak out of their experiences, in part because sexual harassment is not a criminal offense, and legal confinements as well as the other aspect of societal pressure against women.

Japan will be hosting the 5th WAW!/W20—a female empowerment conference, to give suggestions at G20—in March 2019, but the country is far from celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women today. With Prime Minister Shinzo Abe making a key message, “creating a society where all women shine” in his growth policy for Japan, you would expect gender equality in Japan to be making an improvement—but you would be wrong. Last year, a government investigation found that Japan’s leading medical school had manipulated entrance exam scores to exclude women for more than a decade. This generated global headlines. The country, which ranks 110 out of 144 on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, views woman’s main contribution to society as giving birth and raising children deeply ingrained (as the Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare, Hakuo Yanagisawa puts it, women are “child-bearing machines”). Sexism runs deep in Japan.

Japanese Tabloid Magazine Apologizes for Ranking Universities by How “Easy” Women Are

A Japanese tabloid magazine, Spa! caused outcry after publishing the 25th December issue with a list of local universities on the willingness of female students to have sex at parties, and suggested ways men can “coax” them into sex. A petition was drawn up calling for the article to be retracted, accusing the publication of “sexualizing, objectifying and disrespecting women” and demanded the magazine to “take this article back and apologize, and promise not to use objectifying words to talk about women.” The petition was started by Kazuna Yamamoto, a student at the International Christian University in Tokyo, and the online petition gained support by more than 52,613 people.

“We would like to apologize for using sensational language to appeal to readers about how they can become intimate with women and for publishing a ranking, with real university names, that resulted in a feature that may have made our readers uncomfortable. On issues that involve sex, we will do what we can as a magazine to listen to various opinions,” said the editorial department of Spa! Magazine, in a statement obtained by CNN. The apology also faced backlash as it misses the mark on the fundamental problem: not only did the article make readers “uncomfortable”, it degraded women. The starter of the petition, Kazuna Yamamoto and four senior students, who organized the petition, visited the editorial department to discuss the matter. As they put it, “retracting publication would not solve the fundamental problems. What we seek is not the discontinuance of publication, but to start a debate on how media should be within the society”. After a discussion with the head editors, they requested the editors to give feedback to all editorial team members and make an announcement—a reformation of policy within the editorial department—to publish a feature on the importance of sexual consent.

After this sexism backlash, Japanese brand Loft pulled the ad for Valentines Day

The Japan and Thailand-based brand, Loft had its Valentine’s Day commercial pulled from YouTube, after causing sexist controversy on social media. The advert, designed by Chika Takei, a Japanese illustrator, shows women celebrating friendship and having fun; however, behind their seemingly friendly attitude, they are pulling each other’s hair (signifying that they are fighting over boyfriends). The backlash came from users who took offense in the dialogue, portraying women in a negative way and perpetuating a negative stereotype of women, which is often witnessed in Japanese media.

Japanese Pop Idol Apologizes for Being Attacked

Maho Yamaguchi, a member of idol group NGT48, a sister group of one of Japan’s most successful idol group AKB48, has been allegedly assaulted by two men who have been arrested. However, in a statement following the arrest, she apologized for “causing trouble” before a crowd of fans, bowing multiple times. NHK reported that, on December 8th, men in their mid-20s grabbed her face and assaulted her at her home’s entrance. (translation by @jeauexe). Following the attack, she spoke on online streams, saying that “she could have been killed”.

Although it is unclear how the two men found her home address, Yamaguchi discussed the incident on Twitter, claiming that a fellow group member gave out her home address and told the two men when she would return home. Yamaguchi accused the group’s management of covering up the incident, and the official of AKS, a talent company of NGT48, announced that the manager of the group has been replaced. There are speculations that Yuka Ogino, another member of NGT48 was involved in the incident; however, the management of NGT48 denies that another group member has contributed to this assault.