The media do not talk about the Japanese culture of sexual exploitation
When it comes to sexual harassment in Japan, the image appears of the stereotypical train abuser or chikan – the deviant middle-aged man who gets his share of the excitement by stealing female underwear from their balconies.
Even an Osaka police officer was recently caught sneaking his smartphone under a young girl’s skirt. This type of sexual misconduct is still in the headlines, and it is so ingrained in the culture that has been popularized in many manga, the comics so popular in Japan. One is the mythical Kappei, a very short high school student with amazing athletic abilities who has a particular craving for female underwear, especially white panties.
In Japan, there is a well-known concept of social behavior: honne vs tatemae. The former refers to the truth of his feelings, and since they are often contrary to what society expects – because potentially embarrassing – should be kept hidden. The second is what must be shown outside in public, the moral mask.
In matters of sexual harassment, the chikan is the tatemae, what society is allowed to see, but what remains hidden are the real serial crimes, the ones no one would expect in a country like Japan that upholds high moral standards. As we saw again during the pandemic, the behavior of people unconditioned by applied rules has been extremely cooperative, with only gentle advice from the authorities.
A perfect example of lurking serial crimes is something that should have been as widely known as the Harvey Weinstein case was in the United States. But very few people have even heard of it.
A popular female model recently made a lengthy confession on camera via Instagram about her experiences in showbiz which quickly caught on on Twitter and YouTube. She spoke of a famous Japanese host, now retired, who invited models and actresses to his show on condition that they passed a test that required their willingness to ‘lie on his pillow’ – makura eigyo, as the practice is known in Japan.
This is a very good example of the harassment of power that takes place behind the curtains in Japan.
At the age of 18, she was coaxed into having sex with 50-year-old TV show host Shinsuke Shimada. The model at the time was at the start of her career and her agency was basically acting as a pimp telling her that if she wanted a career she had to go with it. To smooth things over, famous comedian Tetsuro Degawa acted as a go-between, trying to “convert” the undecided.
Shinsuke retired about 10 years ago due to his ties to the yakuza (Japanese mafia), but Tetsuro Degawa is still on TV with a popular show and promoting clothing brands like GAP.
In Japan, celebrities are ostracized for being caught smoking weed, and for days their photos and videos are shown on every television channel to signal to the public how much they set a bad example. But apparently being at the forefront of a market for the sexual exploitation of young women is good. Why? Mainly because this huge scandal, which could have involved dozens of young women barely over the age of consent, has been covered up by the mainstream media. Nobody mentioned it. No one dared.
This is a very good example of the harassment of power taking place behind the curtains in Japan, but few have the courage to speak out. When they do, they – not the perpetrators – are ostracized. No wonder the Me Too movement had very little success in Japan.
Of course, those involved dismissed everything as rumors, but no one dared to bring the model to court for libel. Yet days later, MP and former NHK worker Takashi Tachibana released an hour-long video in which he detailed how national broadcaster NHK hosted its most-watched event of the year, the national music competition Kouhaku Uta Gassen, which is watched by 35-40% of the public.
The public does not know until the start of the show who the artists are. According to Tachibana, they are chosen in two ways: through cash gifts or by offering young women to senior NHK leaders. These women, Tachibana explained, are handpicked from a pool of unsuccessful singers or idols, mostly used as cannon fodder to sate the lust of these senior male leaders.
Why is it not in the news? And where are the Japanese feminists, the ones who go wild when they barely hear the words “gender gap.”
Newspapers like Asahi Shimbun (who recently made a ‘declaration on gender equality’) and Mainichi Shimbun who make a big deal out of supporting women have completely looked the other way. Such is the level of professionalism of the media in the land of the rising sun. No wonder the Japanese are turning to Twitter and Instagram for their daily news feeds.