Friday, 3 January 2014

The Japan Files ~ Sexism and the Salaryman

I got a lot of questions when I told people I was headed to Japan, but the question I received the most (after “when are you going?”) was “why?”. Why Japan? Why don’t you teach in London? What’s Japan got that London doesn’t? And like many others who have crossed the divide, we all have our reasons. We might have had some interest in Japan for quite some time. We might desire to kickstart a new career or enhance job prospects for an old one. Or we might not have had any interest in Japan at all and were simply curious about living somewhere outside of our own norms. On one occasion however, somebody asked me a variation of the above. They asked me why I would want to go to a country that is essentially sexist.

Now I’m aware that in the East, the rules are a little different concerning men and women. There are a lot of what I would consider “old-fashioned” values that are very tried and true here. And while I can’t speak for other countries, I can about Japan, both based on having noticed personally as well as based what I’ve read.

You see, the salaryman – the typical Japanese businessman – is a huge feature here, probably in a similar way to all those businessmen back home. But while being an office jockey in the UK mightn’t mean you’re held in high regard, the salaryman is seen as some sort of ultimate gateway to a comfortable lifestyle. But with this gateway comes long hours, hard work and a lot more than just company procedure because let me tell you this - Japanese people work really hard. So I can understand the necessity to blow off some steam. But as a woman from the west, I can’t help but wonder about certain establishments and what have you that sort of pander to the men here.

Let’s take the izakaya for example. I see this as fundamentally a bar designed for people to get together and drink the night away. Izakayas are popular with Japanese and foreigner alike however, usually because they offer an all-you-can-drink option (nomihodai) for a set price and for a set amount of hours. On occasion, they’ll offer food – more often than not with an all-you-can-eat option (tabehodai). Heck, sometimes they’ll even combine them. These usually manifest as a type of bonding facility as with Japanese workplaces, team-building and togetherness is paramount for the function of almost every company. And what better way really for a group of guys to bond than wile eating, drinking, smoking and getting royally merry.

Next we have the Host Club. Now Host Clubs which target females are in existence as well but I’m pretty sure this wasn’t always the case. I believe I’ve already mentioned the basis for these institutions. You go in, order a drink, select a “host” and spend your evening chatting and/or flirting the night away in their company. And really, what man wouldn’t want to spend his evening with an attractive woman? Men are visual creatures after all and as creatures, they simply can’t help but ogle potential as it skirts by. Maybe that’s why Host Clubs are such big business.

I found this hotel in Nagoya
This brings me to my next point. The Love Hotel. I’ve already heard it said that these were primarily designed for businessmen to sleep with their secretaries while their wives sit at home under the impression that they’re hard at work.  It’s a bold statement, I know and while I’m sure that not everything that goes in there is entirely innocent, I also understand that it’s impossible to generalise. After all, for some, it probably genuinely is merely a basis to spend time with a significant other. At the same time, however, coming from the west, I can’t help but wonder what an ordinary hotel has that a Love Hotel doesn’t – excluding the boutique style rooms. Why the apparent need for secrecy if one’s relationship is legitimate?

Next up are porn mags and other adult reading material. Now these are apparent in the West as well but in the UK are usually kept on the top shelves so as to keep out of reach of minors. What’s more, you aren’t allowed to stand and read them in the shop either. A newsagent is not a library. But in Japan, not only are porn magazines within arms-reach of anyone, but it isn’t uncommon for your typical salaryman to stand there and have a flick through while he makes up his mind as to whether it’s worth buying or not. And apparently, people read these openly on the trains and other methods of public transport as if it’s standard reading material. So our salaryman gets his jollies and no one bats an eyelid.

Chikan or perverts who grope women (usually on trains) are known very well in this country as well. There are often warnings about them all over the place and I believe it still occurs to this day. In the West, if a man gropes a woman on a train I believe she would become rather vocal about it; that or someone else having seen the attack would step in out of pure disgust. In Japan, this isn’t generally the case. It’s quite common here to turn a blind eye and people aren’t generally vocal about such things. But even though Japan has taken steps to try to warn women about them – they’ve even created women-only train carriages to help them feel safe – I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a chikan getting arrested…

Lastly, I’ll talk about the workforce. While the new millennium has seen an increase in working women, it isn’t uncommon for women to ditch the trade here after marriage. There has been an influx of career women however (the equivalent to the salaryman) but in contrast to those women who drop off the work ladder to start families, these career woman usually end up sacrificing married life for the job due to the high demand that work places on people in Japan. And while I’m sure there are some women that manage to maintain working while at home, I wonder if it’s as common as it is in the West.

So is Japan sexist?


But then is Japan really any different from anywhere else. In the West, men also, pay for the company of women – albeit for a slightly different (often illegal) method of company. Pornography, while often viewed privately, is still prevalent. In the workforce, sociologists talk about the infamous glass ceiling that prevents women from excelling and moving up the career ladder. And who needs an izakaya really when all you need to do is head to your local boozer and drink as much as your wallet will allow you.

So all in all, while I do believe to an extent that Japan does cater moreso for the typical salaryman or man in general, I don’t believe the country is any more sexist than anywhere else.

1 comment:

  1. This is very interesting. I had the notion that salarymen were little more than underpaid slaves, but it seems that they're well paid slaves then... :-D