Japan is a little bit sexist. A recent study by the World Economic Forums puts Japan at spot number 101 (at of the 135 countries surveyed) in gender equality. Japanese politicians are split on this issue.
On one hand, there is a declining birthrate (and marriage rate) putting the country at a crisis. As a result, some prefecture offices have begun printing and sending “Women’s Notebooks” that inform women about the dangers of putting off marriage (for the sake of their career, freedom, etc). These “Women’s Notebooks” are meant to encourage motherhood. They also claim that women who reject marriage for their career (or delay marriage) are very selfish people.
On the other hand, as I said before, Japan is a little bit sexist – especially in the workplace. One of the women surveyed said “In the workplace women have… higher working hours, face unacceptable sexual harassment, lack respect from male coworkers, are often never promoted, receive far lesser pay, and are expected to serve the men in the company.” When a woman gives birth, she is expected to take her full 3 years maternity leave; Japan believes that the child should be held and doted on by the mother for the first three years of their life. Even after the child is three years old, the mother is still expected to do basically all of the raising. Most of them never end up returning back to work. Knowing that having a child will permanently end your career is a major reason women have been choosing not to get married or have children.
But enough with that.
I ride the train a lot. And on the train, I usually end up looking at some of the posters, since they are changed pretty regularly (at least once a month, sometimes more). Sometimes the Japanese trains signs are funny, sometimes they are a bit offensive and sexist. I saw all three of these recently- these are my top three sexist Japanese train signs:
3. Beware of Sexual Harassment:
The sign itself is not offensive. It has actually been proven to decrease train-wide sexual harassment, by asking passengers to be ware of sexual harassment AND report people who are touching women inappropriately on the trains.
Japan also has Women-only trains. As the name suggests, these trains are only for women (and small children/very old men) during the crowded morning rush. While still crowded, these trains offer a sanctuary where women do not have to be crushed up against unknown, strange men who might touch them inappropriately. Instead they are pressed up against other women.
While this a great solution to a serious concern (Japan has a rampant problem with inappropriate touching on trains), it only alleviates the symptoms, not solving the original problem. You can put women in a car so they are safe, but that doesn’t address the fact that nearly once a week, you read in the newspaper about some new pervert who got caught inappropriately touching a woman on the train or a man who got caught hiding faceup in a gutter and looking up women’s skirts near a women’s college (no joke, for more on the story, click here).
2. The Cure for Uncomfortable Work Shoes: Relaxing at Home
Ignoring the fact that women face sexual harassment and a lack of respect in the workplace, there is the irrational expectation that women must look presentable all the time. This rears its ugly face in Japanese high heels.
I have an internship in Tokyo. I love my job; since it is a start-up company, they have much less rigid dress codes. While most of the women still wear high heels all day, they are not required too.
Other companies are not as lucky. In fact, the Japanese art of shukatsu (job hunting), women are required to wear a specific brand and style of high heels. Flat shoes (or lower heels) are not permitted; if you don’t wear the correct shoes, you will not get the job.
High heels are not comfortable. The fact that these train advertisements are trying to “fix” the problem of painful toes squished into high heels by a pair of relaxing socks you can throw on when you get home, is a little offensive. The best solution is not wearing high heels in the first place.
And while those little squished toes (that have faces) feel so happy and relaxed at home, with their special socks, this advertisements in completely ignoring the fact that the toes (with faces) will be smashed into the exact same pair of heels the very next day. It is alleviating the symptoms, not fixing the problem.
1. Superheros Can’t be Fat!
This is one of my least favorite advertisement campaigns. Last summer they had four or five variations of this obese superhero plastered across trains in Japan. It is for a diet pill (of sorts, it’s actually a diet drink). It runs under the assumption that superheros can’t be fat.
Girls have enough body issues with advertisements like this. This advertisement is not alone, though. Japanese media is filled with pictures of perfect women, with flawless skin, smooth hair, and skinny frames. There is very little variation of “perfect.” Everyone wants perfect. If you’re not perfect, you are judged.
One woman who works for the Nikkei company said “Japanese women are always expected to look cute, making them, by society’s standards ‘undesirable’ after they’ve reached a certain age.” Japan has very serious issues by what is considered desirable and acceptable; being fat is not. Ever. So they make advertisements like this…
It makes me sad.
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