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  • Human Rights Research Center

Inside Japan’s Challenge to Remain Equal

March 5, 2024


#MeToo and Gender Equality in East Asia: Part 3


The fight for gender equality has been a persistent global challenge with Japan’s gender gap, one of the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) countries.


Drawing parallels with other East Asian countries like Korea, Japan emerges as a male-dominated patriarchal society. Japan exhibits a mere 9.5% representation of women in parliament, along with a negligible 3.4% share of board director seats in publicly listed companies [2,3]. Additionally, gender disparities persist in education, with Japan recording the lowest female share of bachelor’s graduates in the OECD (45.4%)3. Over the past 3 years, Japan’s gender gap has increased according to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index Report. In the 2021 report, Japan ranked 110 out of 149 countries, followed by a rank of 120 in 2022 and 125 in 2023 [5,6,7].


Like in many countries, the #MeToo movement showcased the essence of women’s rights and its place within challenging environments, especially surrounding sexual harassment. Despite its global impact, Japan has struggled to take hold of the #MeToo movement. According to reporter Rob Fahey of the Tokyo Review [4], the problem stems from the fact the strategy of exposing sexual harassers and supporting victims speaking out is heavily influenced by very specific cultural contexts that were not seen when the movement initially emerged in Japan in 2018. The prevailing environment in Japan continued to blame or disbelieve women who came forward regarding sexual harassment or assault. These behaviors were often seen as “normal,” with the article concluding that almost every young woman [1,2] in large urban areas has experienced molestation on a train. However, only 50% of people in Japan were familiar with the term #MeToo in 2022, highlighting a significant awareness gap around this crucial movement [12].


Not all is lost though. Compared to older generations, younger ones are more open to learning about this movement and how their actions can impact the lives around them. In 2017, when #MeToo spread around the globe, local phrases and hashtags were created to support this initiative and development: #WeToo, #WithYou, and #Furawādemo (“flower demo”) [11]. Unlike the original #MeToo, these reformulations were made and used by combining Japanese values like harmony and reserve11. While slow, there is still progress in this hashtag movement. Tatsuya Yamaguchi of the idol group Tokio was forced to resign after allegations of kissing an underage girl [4]. Kazuya Nakamura, a former dancer, and singer for Johnny and Associates was only 15 when Johnny Kitagawa, a Japanese entertainment icon forced him to have sex and paid him 10,000 yen (~$125) the next day [8]. Nakamura and Kauan Okamoto (another victim of sexual harassment) stepped forward and gathered more than 40,000 signatures and submitted to parliament a petition demanding tougher laws to protect children [8].



Among the rare #MeToo cases in Japan was journalist Shiori Ito’s accusation against a TV reporter for rape. Like previous cases, she faced neglect from both the police and prosecutors in her own country. Instead of giving up, Shiori took matters into her own hands, conducting a thorough investigation, recording conversations, and compiling enough evidence to win $43,960 [1] in damages which rightfully led to the toughening of Japan’s rape laws the following year [10]. She then bravely told her story in her new film “Black Box Diaries.” However, the outcome wasn’t what you’d expect. The screening of her film in Japan resulted in negative consequences, with Shiori receiving death threats and eventually temporarily leaving the country, showcasing what Japanese society deems a “bad example” if one speaks out [10].



Even so, women are continuing to speak out about their rights in Japan, urging parliament to finally face the issues head-on. One of those statements wanted to reform joint surnames. On International Women’s Day in 2023, women’s rights groups delivered joint statements to lawmakers advocating for the reform of the antiquated 125-year-old civil code, which forced married couples to choose only one surname [13].



With hundreds of years of patriarchal influences in Japan, it’s hard to see how, culturally, this country can successfully continue its women’s rights movement. However, as the saying goes: “Slow, but steady.” Traditions are not changed easily, but thousands of women, especially of the younger generation, are continuing to join the campaign to change women’s role in Japanese society.


View the accompanying visual report here.


 

Glossary


  1. #MeToo: A social awareness movement surrounding the issue of sexual harassment and sexual abuse of women in the workplace.

  2. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD): The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is a unique forum where the governments of 37 democracies with market-based economies collaborate to develop policy standards to promote sustainable economic growth.

  3. Patriarchy: A system of society or government in which men hold power and women are largely excluded from it.

  4. Sexual Indecency: Sexual indecency is intentionally or knowingly engaging in non-consensual acts that deliberately violate the sexual freedom of another. These acts can include indecent touching, public nudity, and the possession of obscene images.


 

References


  1. ABC News. (2019, December 18). Journalist Shiori Ito, the face of Japan’s #MeToo movement, wins damages in rape case. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-19/japanese-journalist-wins-damages-in-high-profile-rape-case/11812256

  2. Adema, W., Fluchtmann, J., & Patrini, V. (2023). Joining Forces for Gender Equality | Japan. OCED. https://www.oecd.org/japan/Gender2023-JPN-En.pdf

  3. Adema, W., & Frey, V. (2017). The Pursuit of Gender Equality: An Uphill Battle. How does Japan Compare?. OCED. https://www.oecd.org/japan/Gender2017-JPN-en.pdf

  4. Fahey, R., (2018, May 25). Japan isn’t ready for a #MeToo moment. Tokyo Review. https://tokyoreview.net/2018/05/japan-isnt-ready-metoo-moment/

  5. Global Gender Gap Report 2021. World Economic Forum. (2023, June 20). https://www.weforum.org/publications/global-gender-gap-report-2021/

  6. Global Gender Gap Report 2022. World Economic Forum. (2023, June 20). https://www.weforum.org/publications/global-gender-gap-report-2022/

  7. Global Gender Gap Report 2023. World Economic Forum. (2023, June 20). https://www.weforum.org/publications/global-gender-gap-report-2023/

  8. Kageyama, Y. (2023, October 25). Former teen performers accuse an agent of sexual assault. they’re hoping it’s Japan’s #MeToo moment. AP News. https://apnews.com/article/johnny-kitagawa-entertainment-japan-metoo-sexual-assault-3767dad42fd38ab84759bed3505e7188

  9. Levy, C. (2022, January 8). Japanese women are fighting back against pervasive sexism. The Nation. https://www.thenation.com/article/world/japan-womens-movement/

  10. Marszal, A. (2024, January 21). Japanese journalist brings lonely #MeToo battle to Sundance. The Japan Times. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2024/01/21/film/shiori-ito-sundance-film-metoo/

  11. Mizoroki, S., Shifman, L., & Hayashi, K. (2023). Hashtag activism found in translation: Unpacking the reformulation of #MeToo in Japan. Sage Journals. https://doi.org/10.1177/14614448231153571

  12. Statista Research Department. (2024, January 9). Japan: Awareness of #MeToo 2022. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1353191/japan-awareness-of-metoo/

  13. Yamaguchi, M. (2023, March 11). Japan activists demand dual-surname option on women’s day. AP News. https://apnews.com/article/international-womens-day-japan-gender-equality-1dd8b9ff4ce24de9aea2dfa6a52af38c

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