Why the Japanese Media Would Rather Not Talk About Brett Kavanaugh

By Kaori Shoji

The Japanese media has been eerily calm about the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, or if you want the truth, ‘downright reticent’ is more like it. Kavanaugh’s confirmation as Supreme Court justice was covered by major news outlets but otherwise, mainstream media seems more interested in Tokyo’s biggest fishmarket moving from Tsukiji to Toyosu.

“I’m really not interested in American politics,” said 28-year old Ayumi who works for Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s four major newspapers. “Since Trump became President, I’ve kind of lost faith in the US. I still love American music and culture but the politics just seems crazy over there.” Before the confirmation, Asahi carried a few articles on the Kavanaugh hearings, but nothing beyond a short description of what was happening. No in-depth analysis or outraged editorials, just brief, straightforward reporting. “You can’t really blame the Japanese media for avoiding the Kavanaugh case,” said an Asahi journalist who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It’s not our battle. Personally though, I think that Dr. Blasey Ford was courageous in coming out like that. I can’t imagine a Japanese woman ever doing the same thing, at least not at that age.”

The journalist was inadvertently (or perhaps deliberately) voicing the opinion of Japanese society in general–that Japanese women of a certain age will rarely if ever, go public about a personal grievance that happened decades ago. A couple of years maybe, and if the woman were under 35. Otherwise, it would be like stumbling upon a blue rose in the desert.

His words remind me of another interview I did when the #MeToo movement was in full swing here, with a woman in her 40s. She had confessed to her husband about a sexual harassment incident that happened when she was 28, and when she tried to say how hurtful it was and ask what steps she could take now to lessen the damage, her husband scoffed. “He said no one was willing to listen to an old woman. He told me not to make waves, and that I shouldn’t embarrass our family.” She said this with a forced, self-deprecating grin but five minutes later she was in tears. Enraging, yes, but I was well aware of how typical the husband’s reaction was. Don’t make waves. Don’t embarrass the family. You’re too old. Don’t come to me with this, I’m tired.

The Japanese media traditionally sucks when it comes to covering issues related to women and sex –primarily because newsrooms have always been dominated by over-worked men too tired to deal with their womenfolk, from their mothers to girlfriends, daughters and wives. “Maybe it would be different if there were more women editors,” said the aforementioned journalist.

No, that’s not really it. It’s more an issue of empathy and the willingness to understand. It would also help if this society were not so youth-obsessed, especially when it comes to women trying to voice their opinions. An American (female) photographer once said to me that no man in her agency ever voluntarily made conversation with an older woman unless she was a foreigner. “So I guess I should be grateful for being 40 and getting attention, but I’m not,” she said derisively.

If the Japanese media is reluctant to discuss Kavanaugh, SNS show that the Japanese public is interested. Right after the confirmation, a large number of tweets expressed fear over America’s swing to the ultra-right, and what this may mean for Japan. “Abe will be executed,” was a familiar comment. But there is almost no mention of Dr. Ford and her ordeal and the ones that touch upon Kavanaugh’s accuser are far from positive. “I guess she went out on a limb for nothing,” said one anonymous tweet. “And then she was shot down like a dog.” Another said, “How can a woman of that age accuse a guy of something that happened so long ago and expect to be heard? She’s probably telling the truth, but at her age she should have known it wouldn’t work.”

At this point, such words feel like a slap in the face, and it’s hard not to feel the pain from old wounds that tend to flare up in bad weather. There are millions of women on the archipelago who have been assaulted, groped, raped, harassed and discriminated against. There are probably thousands if not more, of Kavanaugh equivalents in positions of power. As in the US, the elite boys club network in Japan is seemingly invincible.

There seems to be no antidote to the sorrow and injustice, apart from installing women-only train cars and hotel floors. Because harassment is so rampant here, gender segregation has become a luxury. I was in a hotel in Osaka where the male receptionist presented me with a key to the women-only lounge on the women-only floor, saying, “there are absolutely no men in the area so you can feel completely safe and relaxed.” Wow, um, thanks.

Still. We DO live in a world where it’s possible for an older woman to speak up about a traumatic episode that happened in her teens, and get the world to listen. There’s grounds for hope in that, even in Japan. If nothing else, the Kavanaugh hearings have gotten women talking and sharing about their own experiences of harassment and assault in this rigidly patriarchal society. Not in the scope and scale that’s happening in the US, of course. But a small, precious flame is flickering in the wind.

Should Japanese men have the right to molest women on the train? A close friend of the Prime Minister writes, “Yes!”––the magazine goes out business

“The deepest suffering belongs to the men who are plagued with the symptoms of train groper syndrome (痴漢症候群) in which his hand automatically moves when he steps on a packed train and catches a whiff of a woman. Shouldn’t society protect the rights of them [train molesters]?–Eitaro Ogawa, close associate of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Shincho 45, on the rights of chikan

In this month’s issue of the monthly magazine Shincho 45 (新潮45), Eitaro Ogawa, author of many works praising the leadership of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe–and his advisor–published an essay apparently asserting that men (痴漢) should have their right to grope women be protected. Understandably, that is drawing the ire of the on-line community and the real world. UPDATE: In fact, on September 25, Shinchosha (新潮社) announced the publication was being shelved (休刊) for the time being. 

 

The author of this book, which had sales subsidised by Prime Minister Abe, has asserted Japanese men should have a right to grope women on the train. Yes, according to Eitaro Ogawa, if you’re a woman in Japan and you get groped on the train–it’s because you’re giving off pheromones. The scent of a woman is the culprit and the victim is the chikan (train pervert).

Ogawa’s rant was one of many articles in their special October issue about whether it was acceptable to discriminate against the  lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community (LGBT).

It was a follow up to the August edition of the same magazine which published a piece by lawmaker Mio Sugita bashing the LGBT community as dead weight on society and a waste of any public funding.  In the magazine’s October feature section, ““Is Sugita’s article that outrageous?”, Ogawa and others sounded off on the topic. Prime Minister Abe has refused to admonish Sugita, claiming that she was “young and should be given slack”.

Ms. Sugita is 51 years old which makes the “crazy teenagers having fun” aka Brett Kavanaugh defense even more ridiculous.

She was recruited by the Prime Minister to join the Liberal Democratic Party.  She’s also blamed rape victims for being raped in other past statements.

The October issue in the special feature, has a rambling nearly incoherent essay by Ogawa on LGBT issues. He seems to classify homosexuality as a fetish, like an ass fetish, or a fondness for BDSM. However, his crowning moment comes in the following passage.

“The deepest suffering belongs to the men who are plagued with the symptoms of train groper syndrome (痴漢症候群) in which his hand automatically moves when he steps on a packed train and catches a whiff of a woman. Repeated offenses show that it is an uncontrollable urge stemming from the brain. Shouldn’t society protect and reserve their rights to grope [women]? Oh, you’ll probably say we should think of the the shock it causes for a woman. If you want to talk about shock, well, the sight of the honorable LGBT walking in the streets in mainstream media is shocking to me. Shocking to the point of a being deadly threat to me. I must ask of them to speak only after they have paid me a insurmountable amount for damages.”

〈満員電車に乗った時に女の匂いを嗅いだら手が自動的に動いてしまう、そういう痴漢症候群の男の困苦こそ極めて根深かろう。再犯を重ねるのはそれが制御不可能な脳由来の症状だという事を意味する。彼らの触る権利を社会は保証すべきではないのか。触られる女のショックを思えというのか。それならLGBT様が論壇の大通りを歩いている風景は私には死ぬほどショックだ、精神的苦痛の巨額の賠償金を払ってから口を利いてくれと言っておく。〉

Yes, according to Ogawa, if you’re a woman in Japan and you get groped on the train–it’s because you’re giving off pheromones. The scent of a woman is the culprit and the victim is the chikan (train pervert). Ogawa attempted to walk back his statement on television programs this weekend by saying the meaning of his essay got lost to the reader. A professor at Meiji University who appeared on a television program with Ogawa responded by saying, “If you write this kind of crap, so that the meaning gets lost, you should just stop writing. Seriously.”  Perhaps Ogawa only meant to be rhetorical but the text of his words, on their own, offend most sensible people. He may have been attempting to say that since in his mind, groping people on trains and being homosexual are just two different kinds of sexual perversion, that offering to protect the rights of one (homosexuality) over the other (men groping women on trains)  was ridiculous. Of course, he appears to be the most ridiculous of them all.

Ogawa has written many works lavishly praising Prime Minister Abe.  

On of his books lauding Abe,「約束の日」(The Promised Day) was published in 2012, right before the Liberal Democratic Party General Director elections which put Abe back in power for his second term as Prime Minister. The book was purchased in bulk by Abe’s political fund, 「晋和会」(Shinwakai).  They reportedly spent 7,000,000 yen (70,000 dollars) buying copies of the book, briefly elevating it to best-seller status.

Ogawa is one of several Abe literati profiting from their connection to the politician. Others include his unofficial biographer, Noriyuki Yamaguchi, a former Washington correspondent for TBS. In 2015, Yamaguchi was under investigation for the alleged sexual assault of journalist Shiori Ito and an arrest warrant was issued on rape charges against him. The arrest was stopped by Itaru Nakamura, a career bureaucrat from the National Police Agency, who also served as personal secretary to Abe’s cabinet spokesman. The investigation was then scuttled. Yamaguchi has denied all allegations. Ito is suing him in civil court for damages.

Ogawa was one of several members attending a party supporting Yamaguchi’s efforts to reinsert himself into the media after a period of being shunned.

Takanobu Sato, the president of Shinchosha Publishing Co. made a statement last week that the magazine’s special section contained expressions full of prejudice and was objectively offensive. There was little clarification of what exactly was unacceptable.

Ironically, Weekly Shincho (週刊新潮), in the last year has distinguished itself with outstanding investigative journalism and was the first publication to take up the case of Shiori Ito. It documented how a police investigation into her rape case was hijacked by political forces and how it was derailed by a close friend of the Abe cabinet, abusing his authority as a high-ranking police official.

Unfortunately, Shincho 45, has taken the approach of pandering to right-wing readers in order to boost sales. Or perhaps they are hoping that the Prime Minister’s political fund will buy $70,000 worth of an issue–now and then. Even within Shincho Publishing, there has been concern over the direction Shincho 45 has taken. In the company announcement of suspending the publication,  they admitted that in their trial and errors to boost sagging sales their had been insufficient oversight of the contents.

Ogawa has not walked back his essay.  So while conservatives may lament the loss of another right wing publication, on the other side, Japan’s train perverts can rest a little easier now that they know they have someone on their side whispering into the ear of the Prime Minister.

While Abe has deftly avoided making racist or misogynist statements, his propensity to surround himself with accused sex offenders, misogynists, gay-bashers and appointing rabid racists and sexists to cabinet positions, suggests that maybe he shares their view. One wonders. Under his reign, Japan’s gender equality ranking has sunk to a new low of 114 out of 144 countries.

Mari Yamamoto contributed to this article.