I never thought I’d say this, but sexism in Japan is worse than I thought.
The video above is from the floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly. Ayaka Shiomura, an elected representative, was calling for “government measures to support women who are infertile or need assistance while pregnant or raising children” when the insults started.
"Why don’t you get married?"
"Can’t you have kids?"
In the small snippet above, she stops and appears to take it in stride. According to the Asahi Shimbun, she “tearfully struggled to continue.” The Mainichi quoted her after the incident “”I’m angered especially because I was representing the viewpoint of women. I’m also saddened.”
In the above video she tells FNN “it was like I had been punched without warning, all I could say was ‘wha?’ and laugh.”
Whether she actually cried on the floor is irrelevant. This is outrageous behavior, and the only silver lining seems to be that this is the consensus viewpoint. Numerous politicians from different parties condemned the remarks, though the Mainichi story is oddly calling the harassment “alleged” as if there isn’t video evidence.
As usual, someone brought up the Olympics:
"It is shameful that these kinds of comments would appear at the assembly of a city that is to host the Olympics in six years."
Yeah, not relevant at all to the conversation BUT given how Olympics-crazy Japan is, maybe invoking the name of the great and powerful Five Rings will make sexists take note of how deplorable their conduct is. I’ve already heard the Olympics used as motivation for everything from new signs to English education to building robots, so “decrying sexism” isn’t inconceivable.
I’m not sure how this story will play out. Best case scenario, the anger reaches the party head level and public apologies are made. Worse case scenario, this all fades away because “it can’t be helped” or “that’s politics.” Because I gotta tell you. the previous governor of Tokyo didn’t face insults and he was accused of taking millions of yen under the table.
tokyoreporter for the video
This a great post about the sexism women endure here in Japan. It is also worth mentioning that while many offices in Japan may have posters declaring that sexual harassment will not be tolerated, most cases of sexual harassment are rarely prosecuted or taken seriously. Women that are sexually harassed often face shame and ridicule for speaking out against their persecutors and thus disrupting the harmony of the work environment.
I have witnessed heinous sexual harassment at an office work party that resulted in no disciplinary action and which was so outrageous that I felt obliged to place myself between the harasser and the woman being harassed. (Meanwhile, our other coworkers, male and female, laughed the incident off.)
Moreover, most cases of sexual violence against women (ranging from men groping women on trains or on train platforms to rape) are rarely prosecuted. Every woman I know (foreigners and Japanese) who have spent more than a couple months in Japanese cities with mass transit have been targeted by gropers (except me).
Between living in Fukuoka and Kyoto, I have had about six incidents of harassment (including the time a man physically picked me up on busy public sidewalk). Each time, my Japanese friends and coworkers never suggested I inform authorities; they didn’t even think about it. In fact, when I say I have had six such incidents, most Japanese women have a hard time believing my number is that low.
Thank you for sharing your story. As a man I almost never face harassment, though there is this one old man who, on more than one occasion at after-work dinner parties, groped my breasts as a joke. Each time I was furious but he’s so old and everyone always laughs, so I just stayed quiet. It’s a big reason I avoid dining with that group whenever possible.
I can only imagine the strength it takes to report sexual assault in this country. I bet even the cops tell victims to just walk it off and forget about it.
It feels good to see that what happened to Ms. Shiomura will not soon be forgotten, but it’s still disappointing that no one seems interesting in addressing what really happened here. Instead, we get a quick apology from one disinterested dude and then we move on. I’ve seen far smaller scandals get more legislative attention than this.