By SOHEE PARK
An example of what a sign that people hold in protests look like
On October 2017, when American actress Alyssa Milano used the hashtag #MeToo to show support for her friend who had been sexually harassed, the social movement on gender went viral. Spreading from the entertainment scene to politics and national to a global scale, the #MeToo movement is gaining greater support from more countries worldwide and from more women. In the wake of the worldwide exposé, females journalists and reporters in Japan also spoke out and broke the silence.
When Shukan Shincho, a Japanese weekly news magazine, reported that Japan’s Administrative Vice Finance Minister Fukuda Junichi had allegedly sexually harassed female reporters, the #MeToo movement gained attention in Japan. Fukuda denied the allegation, claiming, “I don’t recognise that I made sexually harassing remarks that would make female reporters feel offended.” The government officials also belittled the scandal and responded to the matter as a trivial matter. Senior ministry official Koji Yano questioned whether the incident actually took place on the first place, making a remark that denounced and caused a secondary pain to the victim who had taken the courage to speak up.
The Japanese public also showed a mixed response. While there were supporters, many people were apathetic and even critical of the women who stood up for a topic considered too taboo to be discussed in public. Astrayed from a stereotypical victim who remains silent, the victims suffer from an unexpected backlash.
Although the #MeToo movement is gradually spreading in Japan, it is lagging behind other nations. To explain the speed in which the movement grows in Japan, the Japan Times call it “the quiet movement” blaming the Japanese government on not taking any actions in the national scale that can draw people’s attention for a change. A female second-year UTokyo student mentioned that she had seen Fukuda’s case on the news but was unaware of the #MeToo movement. As such, the movement does not even get a lot of coverage from the Japanese press, stopping people from learning what is actually happening.
Feeling helpless with no support from the government and the public, the victims of sexual harassment and assault decide to remain silent. Such circumstances aggravate the “quiet movement” to persist. According to Global Journalist, Nobuko Kobayashi, a partner in the Tokyo office of consulting firm A.T. Kearney, explains this phenomenon of concealment to be part of the “[Japanese] culture of shame” in which people do not come out to make accusations that makes the victim herself and her family to feel ashamed of breaking the social harmony with a taboo topic. Japanese people place great importance on maintaining social harmony. Therefore, for the Japanese society, to see a victim of sexual harassment and assault being vocal of such taboo topic is considered an act that causes social chaos and be looked down on.
Ironically enough, the Japanese media portrays a different manner in which the topic of sex is consumed in Japan. The size of the porn industry and the frequency of encountering TV shows with provocative topics and scenes indicate how much sex-related topics are normally consumed in Japan. Therefore, the duality in the way how sex is considered taboo but prevalent in the public space adds question to the way how an exposé of an sexual abuse is treated in the “[Japanese] culture of shame.”
To explain the slow progression of the #MeToo movement in Japan, Makoto Watanabe, an associate professor of communications and media at Hokkaido Bunkyo University, points to the male-centeredness of the Japanese society in her interview with media company Deutsche Welle. She argues the need for a change in male-dominated politics and media that creates an environment for women to feel suppressed and helpless. One second-year male student in UTokyo also agreed with Prof. Watanabe, describing Japan as a “slow society” that does not change quickly as a conservative nation that values tradition.
For women who have been continuously suppressed, the #MeToo movement is revolutionary in its aspect. In early May, 300 people gathered to protest against sexual harassment and the social atmosphere that force silence. The movement that burst opened with the accumulation of oppression and discrimination is likely to continue. Japan is finally entering the moment and the movement will hopefully provide Japan the opportunity to improve the deeply entrenched suppression of women. As Frederick Douglass says, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”