It’s been several months since we announced the publication of the Japanese angsty poetry collection, Molasses and Shochu, but we wanted to share this new addition by Phoebe Amoroso also know as ume’SHHU.
For those of you who are not familiar with long-standing Japanese tradition, Valentine’s Day here is celebrated by women giving chocolate to men, sometimes out of obligation aka 義理チョコ (giri-choco), and sometimes, containing trace amounts of menstrual blood. On March 14th, men reciprocate by giving white chocolate to the women they fancy or who bestowed chocolate upon them.
Although, as you will see, the complexity of this poem, written by Ms. Amoroso, briefly touches upon these cultural traditions. They are important confectionary artifacts that have existed many decades after being created by Japan’s male-dominated cocoa industry and society at large. Please see the annotated version in the hardback edition of the book to deepen your understanding.
This chocolate isn’t black Nor as large as I had hoped. Every March 14th Is my Friday 13th. I have no lover To sweeten the occasion. Ever hoping for a Melty Kiss But forever doomed To Crunky Balls from the conbini– I had, after all, merely been convenient. There is no sugar coating that fact. Even though, Japan Has resigned me to smaller portions I was not expecting this starvation. I stared at the wrapper on my desk And wondered how obligation could be so bitter. Unwrapping the white KitKat I held every total loss, My palm sticky.
The COVID-19 outbreak has hit Japan hard as of late. Classrooms remain empty after spring break, restaurants begin to provide take-out, and factories stall upcoming projects. The number of workers who are predicted to lose their jobs due to the novel Coronavirus was projected in the upwards of 1,021 people last month, according to the Ministry of Labor. Prime Minister Abe did declare a State of Emergency on April 7th, and the Ministry of Finance announced that ¥100,000 would be given to residents (and eventually confirmed that foreign residents were included) but some experts argue that this declaration occurred too late.
While April would normally be the start of new jobs for many in Japan, this April seems to have an opposite turnout for most job-seekers. Lines outside of Hello Work* buildings all over the country would be twice as long as lines for masks outside of drugstores. Certain locations have also reduced the amount of staff members on-duty, causing longer waiting times at local Hello Work branches.
(Hello Work is an employment service center operated by the Japanese government, under the auspices of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. Its main role is to help connect job seekers to companies in need of skilled labor.)
In early April, I became a part of this statistic. My 6-month contract at a city hall in Osaka was not granted for renewal, and the job openings for tourism and English education in the area seemed to have vanished as the governor also declared a state of emergency. I decided to reach out to Hello Work to see if I was eligible for any benefits and to search for jobs through their system.
I arrived on a Thursday morning around 11AM. The line encircled the entire building and moved slowly. There was little distance between us and we stood outside of the building for about two hours. Bottles of hand sanitizer were available to use before entering the building. It reminded me of Disneyland for a brief moment.
Once I entered the Hello Work office, I was greeted by an energetic staff member. Everyone in the office, including the job-seekers, were wearing masks. We were told to sit two to three seats apart from each other, and the seats for the computer lab were 1 seat apart. There appeared to be no multilingual support at this Osaka branch. Many of the people in the room appeared to be elderly or recently graduated from university. Some of the job-seekers previously worked in factories or in retail.
After about an hour, it was my turn. Since my previous contract was only for six months, I was unable to receive any benefits. But the staff member who assisted me thoroughly searched and found about fifteen jobs that I could apply for. The process itself took about 10 minutes. I turned around and saw the computer lab filled to the brim with anxious job-seekers. Most of them has 0 search results, and the staff would try their best to experiment with different search entries to find a match.
Hello Work branches all over the country seem to be facing the same dilemma. For many newly unemployed residents in the Chubu region, they faced the most difficulty with their former employer. “I did not know much about the paperwork I needed to file for unemployment”, said Guillerme Okada. “At the factories, we were suddenly told that we couldn’t work anymore. I had to ask several of my friends first.” Okada had brought someone with him as an interpreter to explain to his Japanese supervisor that he needed to give documents for Okada to receive unemployment benefits. “It is a common issue with factory workers in this area. If I struggle to get legal documentation, I struggle to trust this system. I came with my interpreter to Hello Work, but there were two already available to help me. I had a lot of support from my community and from them during this time.”
Other employers would also push back start dates and avoid paying the contracted salary despite the legal 60% minimum requirement. Maria M., a Tokyo resident, would get last-minute notices and conflicting information about her start date and paycheck.
“I had already given my previous job a month’s notice and quit to start this new one. I was supposed to start during the first week of April but they changed it. It’s at a store so telework is impossible.”
About four or five days later, she was asked to Skype with the human relations chair. Her hiring date was moved to May 15th with no pay in advance. She contacted the labor bureau about her situation. “They confirmed that my company was responsible for me. My friends [who also worked at the company] said that they were receiving part of their salary in April. When I told my employer that I contacted the labor bureau, they quickly agreed to offer me part of my contracted pay.”
During these uncertain times, it may be difficult to navigate unemployment and economic stability on top of acquiring the basic necessities for surviving the pandemic. As the numbers of infected individuals steadily increase, the ratio of available job positions drop to its lowest level in three years. However, with the national and local government bringing out new sources of financial aid for individuals and businesses alike, there is room for growth in the economy and policy change.
A priority item on the agenda of the first Shogun of Japan, Tokugawa Iyeyasu when he seized power in 1603, was to limit foreign travel to Japan. He issued several orders like the ones we’re seeing around the world at this moment: urging the Japanese to stay put in their own communities and urging all foreigners to get the hell out. By foreigners, Iyeyasu specifically meant the European missionaries who were spreading ideas – like a virus! – about an omnipotent God that transcended traditional Japanese values. They also extolled the virtues of non-violence and giving to the poor; two factors that the new Shogun viewed as particularly harmful to his authority. The ‘aliens’ had to go, and those who didn’t, were eventually executed or banished to Dejima Island, off the coast of Nagasaki. Iyeyasu’s son and grandson tightened the screws on the lockdown as they in turn, became the Shogun. Japan effectively bolted its doors to the outside world and Sakoku*・鎖国(shutting down the country)’ went into effect.
Initially, other clan lords were skeptical about this sakoku thing. Before Iyeyasu came along, Japan had a fairly robust import/export system, supported by a prosperous merchant class in Osaka. Without inbound travelers and foreign business, these merchants were sunk, as was the burgeoning currency economy. But Iyeyasu shrugged off their complaints and worries. He chose reclusive isolation over commerce and progress, and for the next 265 years, Japan became a ‘hikikomori (shut-in)’ in the global community. Everything passed us by: the Industrial Revolution and the locomotive, colonialism and corsets, Mozart and coffee, the printing press and chocolate. Everything.
*Writer’s Note – Contrary to the belief that the Tokugawa Shogunate coined the term ‘sakoku’ which literally means a ‘country in chains,’ it was actually invented by German explorer Engelbert Kaempfer in the late 17th century and later translated into Japanese.
In the meantime, the Japanese got a lot of practice on keeping calm and carrying on behind closed doors, in spite of or because of everything happening in the larger world. Sure, sakoku sucked in a hundred ways but it also created a uniquely weird culture that continues to enthrall or amuse people all over the world. Iyeyasu’s capital city of Edo – now called Tokyo, was a haven of stability and prosperity with an unparalleled ecological and recycling system.
The sakoku mind-set made all this possible – a willful and deliberate closing of the shutters to the outside world while making sure that plenty went on inside. Call it aloofness, coldness or a thick-skinned pragmatism. In times like this, such traits can come in pretty handy.
You may have heard that the Japanese aren’t very expressive – well that’s just not true. The Japanese are THE LEAST expressive people in Asia which probably makes us the most rigid people on the planet. Long before this virus thing the Japanese have been wearing masks – as a prevention against all ills including a bad skin day and questionable breath. The mask was also fashionable among teenage girls, as hiding their mouths made them feel more attractive. (Kissing with masks was a real thing in the early aughts too, because many young couples deemed it erotic.) We were also adamant about washing hands, gargling and refusing to eat off communal plates.
Smiling and laughing in public, talking to strangers, physical displays of affection – these things are normal in western cultures but they’ve never taken off here unless it became a fad. Like being friendly to foreigners and embracing diversity was a fad that many Japanese felt pressured into doing because hey, globalism and the Olympics 2020. But now COVID-19 has given the Japanese a very good reason to go back to the way we were. Unrelenting, inexpressive, rigid and distanced. It’s all cool. Show me a person with a secret stash of face masks and 30 rolls of toilet paper and I’ll show you a model Japanese citizen.
As for touching one another, it’s a whole other issue unto itself. The Japanese just don’t do this, and never had. Though many of us love the idea of casual cheek kisses a la Francaise, we just couldn’t muster the courage to try it on a Tokyo street. Now, we don’t have to pretend anymore. Social distancing may be a new and scary concept for the west but to us, it’s very familiar, like our parents to whom we pay the obligatory visit over New Year’s.
Speaking of which, I don’t ever remember being hugged by my late father, who devoted much of his life to wedging a good, 1.7 meter distance between himself and the rest of the world. It wasn’t just him of course, many Japanese males can’t bring themselves to get close to anyone they know, which paradoxically explains why there’s so much groping on the trains. But the virus has resolved that snag–what with schools closed and people ordered to work remotely, the morning trains are far less crowded and consist mostly of masked salarymen clutching phones with one hand and briefcases in the other, studiously avoiding all eye and physical contact.
You might say the Japanese are good at this. There is little of the sense of deprivation and loneliness that say, an American person might feel about the loss of casual physical contact. We’re not touching, we’re not smiling, but who’s to say we’re not having fun underneath our face masks?
Editor’s Note: And judging by the hanami crowds this weekend and in accordance with the Ministry of Health’s “Let’s go outside!” admonitions, it seems like Japan’s 鎖国（sakoku ) period may end very soon.
Just for the record, while big concerts and public events are not happening, there’s still plenty going on in Tokyo and most restaurants and department stores have stayed open. Other venues include:
1) Shinjuku Gyoen Park Located in Sendagaya, this place is heavenly for a stroll among the greenery and themed gardens.
Unanswerable questions of the year: Is Japan really going to war? Is Japan’s peacetime constitution going to be trashed by the ruling party and returned back to the Imperial Constitution, which did not give suffrage or equal rights to women?
This question will be on the mind and haunt your waking hours after reading “The Only Woman in the Room” by Beate Sirota Gordon. In this memoir, she takes us through the various events in her life made remarkable by the fact that in late 1945, she became a member on the US Occupation team that drew up Japan’s National Constitution. Not only was she the only woman in the room, she was just 22 years old.
Her passport said she was an American citizen, but Beate Sirota had lived for 10 years in Akasaka, Tokyo with her Russian Jewish parents (her father Leo Sirota was a celebrated musician from Vienna and a close friend of Kosaku Yamada). For the past five years, she had been in the US while her parents had been in detention in Karuizawa. The only way to catch a plane out of America and into a ravaged, defeated Japan to see them again, was to get a job in the army. Beate’s Japan experience and the fact that she could speak, write, and read with fluency got her that position.
“The Only Woman in the Room” is honest, plain and straightforward – written not by a professional author but an extremely well-bred, cultured woman who had forged a career for herself in a time when women – even in America – were expected to marry, have babies and sink themselves in domestic bliss. Or just sink. Across the Pacific, American women her age were sizing up future husbands at cocktail parties. Beate was commuting from Kanda Kaikan to Occupation headquarters and working on the constitution 10 to 12 hours a day. She often skipped meals, since food was scarce and the work was so pressing. Her male colleagues pushed themselves harder and put in more hours – and Beate mentions that she admired and respected them for that. Her tone is never feminist, probably because she comes from a generation told to revere males and elders. Besides, she grew up in Japan where women shut their mouths and looked down when a male spoke to them, and that was exactly what she did when she first landed in Atsugi and an official asked to see her passport.
On the other hand, though her tone is consistently soft and modest, her voice is clearly her own – and when it’s time to stand up for the Japanese and their rights, she apparently didn’t give an inch. What an ally the Japanese had in Beate, especially Japanese women whom she describes in the book and in interviews she gave later on: “Japanese women are treated like chattels, bought and sold on a whim.”
Rather than change the whole world, Beate wanted to contribute to the building of a modernized Japanese society. Rather than yell out for women’s’ rights and organizing feminist rallies, she sought to raise awareness about the historical plight of Japanese women and children. And just as earnestly, she wished to help her parents, in particular her mother, who was suffering from severe malnutrition. Beate wasn’t a saint nor interested in being one. Without meaning to, she came pretty close. Her prose is never condescending, nor does it brim with self-congratulations as in the case of many memoirs. She had a story to tell and she told it and as far as she was concerned, when the story was over there was no reason for fuss or lingering.
After the army stint, Beate Sirota Gordon returned with her parents to the US in 1948, married a former colleague in the Army and later worked as the director of the Asia Society and Japan Society in New York. She continued to give interviews about her work on the Constitution but only because she felt that the peace clause (the controversial Article 9) had to be defended repeatedly. She venerated her parents and remained very close to her mother until her death, while raising a family of her own, because family and love were precious and she knew first-hand the tragedy of losing them.
What culminates from her memoirs is her selflessness. Helping others, being fair, and maintaining a striking modesty in spite of her many accomplishments were the defining factors of Beate’s life. She died in 2012 from pancreatic cancer, four months after the death of her husband Joseph Gordon. The Asahi Shimbun printed an extensive obituary on the front page, lauding her work and reminding the readers how the Constitution had protected Japan all these decades, for better or worse. Mostly for the better.
We in Japan tend to take the Constitution for granted. Many people remember and harp on the deprivation of the war years but few bother to recall the dismal details of everyday life before that. Women couldn’t go to school; they were expected to serve their parents and male siblings before marrying into households where she continued to serve and slave her husband and his clan. These women brought up their sons in the traditional way – which resulted in an unending circle of entitlement and arrogance for men, and toil and servitude for females. In poor families, parents sold off their children. Soldiers and military policemen detained ordinary citizens on the slightest suspicion and beat them during interrogation. They were responsible for committing unspeakable atrocities in China and Korea.
There was happiness, peace, equality, and respect in the Sirota household when Beate was growing up, but she knew too well how the average Japanese in Japan fared; how women and children were cut off from beauty, culture, or anything out of the familial box. She wanted a magic wand that would somehow change all that, and her idealistic, 22-year old mind told her that if she couldn’t get a wand, the Constitution was bound to be the next best thing. The task was daunting – she was working for peace and gender equality in a country steeped in tradition and ‘bushido’ feudalism. At this point in 1945, not even American women had gender equality and there she was, giving her all to ensuring that Japanese women would get that right. And just for the reason, there wasn’t nor has there ever been, anything in the American Constitution that resembles Japan’s Article 9.
At the end of the book is an elegy by Beate’s son and part of it goes like this: “Your legacy is the art of living in beauty and truth, of speaking up and out for what is right, and of finding our best selves and sharing them.”
Johnna Slaby is an abstract painter, from Osaka, Japan who’s work is gaining attention nationwide. Her paintings are evocative of some of the best artists of the genre, with a Nippon twist. She is also the twin sister of photographer, Reylia Slaby,
Join her at Look Close Look Far, an exhibit of works on paper and canvas that incorporate text, gestural marks and imagery from a day in the life.
Johnna works to mirror her own experiences and the elements she finds in her surroundings through the current series. Through the work there is an emphasis on how stories can be unfolded by both stepping back and taking a closer look; whether that be observing how morning light that enters the room, glancing up at the commuters on the train, or examining serendipitous moments in an everyday setting.
In Japan, the convenience store “baito” or part time job, is a rite of passage. Teenagers work at their neighborhood ‘conbini’ after school as a way of padding their allowances and college students work graveyard shifts to pay for living expenses. I did it, my friends did it. Most every Japanese person I know has worked at a conbini at one point or another. And in 2016, Sayaka Murata won the prestigious Akutagawa Literary Award with her autobiographical novel “Conbini Ningen,” in which the protagonist woman is addicted to her conbini job, to the point that she can’t think about anything else.
“I know it has a lot to do with the fact that I’m hyper sensitive but honestly, I feel that women shouldn’t have to deal with porn, especially in a convenience store. It’s sexual harassment.”
In case you think conbini work is boring and easy, let me tell you right now that the job calls for brains, guts and ace reflexes. For women, it’s often a test of mental endurance as well. A woman I know, in her late 30s, has been working the 9 to 7 shift at her local Family Mart for the past 5 years. She says the job is fine, except for one thing: she hates handling the porn magazines that comprise a “not insignificant chunk” of the store’s revenue. “I hate touching those things,” said this woman who has been diagnosed as an HSP. “I know it has a lot to do with the fact that I’m hyper sensitive but honestly, I feel that women shouldn’t have to deal with porn, especially in a convenience store. It’s sexual harassment.” Twenty-seven year old Reina, who quit an office job to work at a Seven Eleven run by her mother, says she feels “slightly sick” every time she has to ring up a porn mag for a male customer. “I’ve been at the job 3 years and I still can’t get used to it,” says Reina. “I don’t lose my cool or anything but I get really uncomfortable. I don’t talk to my mother about it but I call tell she knows how I feel.”
But Reina and thousands of conbini workers like her are about to get a break. In deference to the Tokyo Olympics and the expected soar in foreign tourists including families and minors, major convenience stores Seven Eleven and Lawson have announced the decision to abolish all porn magazines from their outlets by August 31st. The third member of the conbini triumvirate Family Mart, has announced that the company has “no intentions of following suit.” Bad news for my HSP friend (who wants to remain anonymous). At her place of work, the porn stays.
Reina says that the announcement gave her much “relief,” though there are some months to go before she’s free from the unpleasantness of handling porn for work. “That stuff is always about rape,” she says. “The covers show women being tied up and the headlines are violent. Frankly, they’re scary.”
In Japan, the public display of porn – rape or otherwise – has long been a sore point. In 2004, then Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara issued a law that required convenience store porn magazines to be partially bound in cellophane, to prevent casual riffing. “If anyone wants to look at those things, they’re going to have to show some courage, go up to the register and pay for them, right in front of everyone else.” This was a statement Ishihara apparently made to an aide, and later picked up by Japan’s sports tabloids, infamous for their own abundant porn content.
For some weeks afterwards, “show some courage” was a popular, mirth-filled punch line among Japanese men. Whether Ishihara really said those words isn’t the point – the move was classic ex-Governor. Always a gung-ho macho, one of Ishihara’s pet laments was the “pathetic-ness” of the slinky, under-confident Japanese male. He didn’t need to trot out the Olympics to turn the screws on their source of fun.
Unfortunately, his cellophane law simply gave rise to another problem: “harmless porn.” Instead of riffing through X-rated content, men turned to “gurabia,” magazines that featured bikini-ed young women on the covers in provocative poses and more of the same inside the pages. Since the women weren’t nude, the magazines couldn’t be described as hard porn. And the blurbs were all about how “beautiful” or “cute” the girls were so how could it be offensive, right? (Though their cup sizes were loudly touted along with their prettiness) Emboldened by this new wave of accessible and ‘kawaii’ porn, salarimen took to visiting the conbini on their lunch hours and picking up the magazines along with their bento and canned coffees. The early naughts were also about “tosatsu,” or shooting voyeuristic pictures of random young women on the streets, or catching them unawares through open windows. And these photos often found their way into – you guessed it, “harmless porn” magazines, stacked on conbini shelves.
Now, 15 years later, porn magazines (whether hard or harmless) comprise a dismally shrinking market. In the late 1990s, the conbini magazine market sold to the tune of 500 billion yen a year and the adult genre made up nearly 50% of that revenue. Retail analyst Hiroaki Watanabe says that those heydays are long over, and the market has been reduced by almost 70%. “These days, the main clientele of adult-only magazines are seniors, who don’t have smartphones or Internet access,” he says. Indeed, the aforementioned Reina says that porn mag buyers are nearly always “older men, who never make eye contact and have an air of shame.”
Indeed, the aforementioned Reina says that porn mag buyers are nearly always “older men, who never make eye contact and have an air of shame.”
At this point, Mini Stop is the only major convenience store that has completely cleared theirs shelves of adult mags. This is understandable, as Mini Stop is owned by retail conglomerate AEON known for a squeaky clean, family-oriented image. As for the conbini triumvirate, about one-third of their outlets don’t carry adult magazines, according to the companies’ PR.
The PR for Family Mart stated that ultimately, the company leaves the choice to stock porn up to the individual outlet owners. “Some of our outlets don’t carry magazines at all, regardless of content,” said the PR spokesman. “Anyway, we’re heading toward an era where customers can purchase and download magazine content right at the cash register. Paper magazines will be obsolete.”
Ex-Gov Ishihara probably didn’t see that coming. If a tap on a smartphone is all it takes to buy porn at the local conbini, what’s going to happen to male courage?
The Slaby Sisters: Johnna Slaby (painter) and Reylia Slaby (photographer) are pleased to present their first joint exhibition at the Intercontinental Hotel Osaka until July 31.. The exhibition features five pieces from each of their collections, and will be shown. Reylia and Johnna Slaby, twins, were born and raised in Osaka, Japan.
From a young age theywere free to explore and play within different facets of the art world. They began to develop a strong relationship with both Japanese and Western art, inadvertently creating their own fusions within the juxtaposing styles.
Johnna Slaby is an abstract artist born and based in Osaka, Japan. Originally on the road to becoming a classical pianist, her career took a sudden turn when shediscovered urban sketching and fell in love with the rough lines, textures and the different ways of representing life. She made the transition from sketching to abstract painting from 2014. She currently experiments with incorporating physical objects and coffee (literally) into her work, creating pieces that start conversations of culture and the beauty in our everyday lives.
Reylia Slaby-Fine Art Photographer
Having been born and raised in Japan, Reylia Slaby uses the influences from her unusual upbringing as the main theme in her artwork. Her photos are a rich blend of the Japanese aesthetic, and is greatly revealing of her personal experiences and thought. Her desire is to weave all the different aspects of her life into her art. She strongly believes in an empirical body of work, and is adamant when it comes to adding an individual and unique meaning to each image. Photography entered her life as a gradient. Originally a semi-professional graphite pencil artist, Reylia made a gradual switch to photography around her teen years, and then discovered fine art photography in 2012. It instantly struck a chord, and she knew that she had finally found her ideal outlet of self-expression, and for years immersed herself in the fine art world though books, online sources, and other artist’s work that inspired and moved her.
About the space:
STRESSED patisserie is proud to present fine works of art on periodic exhibition. Having invited leading artists locally and from around the world to display their outstanding works at STRESSED, the patisserie has become a gallery of fine art with paintings and prints displayed and on sale throughout. Patrons can obtain a catalogue in the patisserie for more information about the artists and their works as well as listings of the artwork for sale.
The argument that “It’s worse in XXX (China,North Korea, US) so it’s okay to have XXX (sexism/racism/fascism/wage slavery/death by overwork) in Japan” is silly. It’s like the accused in a murder trail arguing, “I should be declared innocent because I only killed one person in the robbery but my partner killed three.” Some things are never okay. Whataboutism is the last resort of the intellectually dishonest weasel. (Sorry kids).
I don’t think that the work we do is shouting to the wind. Every effort matters. Sometimes sarcasm is an effective tool. We try to be polite in our response to the comments but rudeness is sometimes met with rudeness. 親しき仲にも礼儀あり
Does any of our work make a difference? Yes.
Actually, in my time as a reporter, me being “Jake Adelstein”, on editing duty today–criticism of huge problems in Japan, via articles that I have written and written with others, resulted in better laws against human trafficking, comprehensive measures to deal with dioxin pollution, and the Japanese government recently admitting that there is a huge problem with exploitation of underage girls that needs to be dealt with.
I and many of the writers on this blog who live in Japan, love this country, and loving a country doesn’t mean remaining silent; it means speaking up about what is wrong, and correcting it. The effort doesn’t always work but sometimes it yields results. And people who can’t see any fault or social problems in their country or refuse to do anything about it or just as complicit in the rise “dark corporations,” greedy nationalists, death by overwork, exploitive enterprises, corrupt politicians, and the nuclear industrial complex that have done so much harm to the nation. For decades many warned of the dangers that TEPCO and its poorly managed nuclear power plants held. They were ignored. It doesn’t make them any less correct.
The battle to protect human rights, worker rights, equal rights, the environment, democracy, the public right to know, justice, gender equality and to fight poverty and end corruption are important struggles. All over the world. Japan is no exception.
I’m a Soto Zen Buddhist priest in training, which is a part of Japanese culture–surprise! I wouldn’t argue the metaphysics of Buddhism are true, but there are universal truths and there is a motto that I have as an editor and journalist and try to keep in my own personal life. Pardon the idealism but I believe this creed applies everywhere in the world.
So below is a modified version of our editorial policy, adapted from the Dhammapada (法句経）. Thank you for your consideration.
Jake Adelstein, Japan Subculture Research Center, editor in chief
Conquer anger with compassion. Conquer evil with goodness. Conquer trolls with humour & sarcasm Conquer ignorance with knowledge Conquer stinginess with generosity. Conquer lies with truth
Some men in Japan just don’t seem to get that objectifying women is wrong.
In the land of the rising sun, the objectification of women is not only a thing, it’s a solid tradition and time-honored marketing ploy. Sometimes though, the tables can be turned the other way. This happened when Weekly SPA, a magazine famed for insisting that sex and money are the only things worth striving for, came out with a story in late December about which colleges had the most number of ‘yareru’ (i.e., easily f*ckable) women. Honorable first place went to Jissen Women’s University, followed by other prestigious women’s universities Otsuma and Ferris. Co-ed universities Hosei and Chuo came in 4th and 5th.
Normally, this would have caused a total of zero ripples on the calm surface of Japan’s societal pond (all the scum lurks beneath) but one young woman dared to raise her voice. This is Kazuna Yamamoto, a senior at International Christian University. Yamamoto saw the article and wrote to petition websitechange.org – that Japan should stop objectifying women, and noted the nation’s women “do not exist [soley] for the benefit of men.” In two days, Yamamoto’s petition amassed close to 30,000 sympathizers.
SPA editor-in-chief Takashi Inukai issued a public apology, saying that ‘yareru’ was in this case, inappropriate. Sorry. What SPA really meant to say, was ‘become on friendly terms with.’ Come on guys, is that the best you could do?
To make matters marginally more demeaning, SPA’s article was really about the practice of ‘gyara nomi,‘ which is a thing among young Japanese. (The ‘gyara’ comes from guarantee – in this case, cash.) In a ‘gyara nomi,’ a group of men meet a group of women at a drinking party. The men pick up the tab, and they are also obligated to offer money to women they find especially attractive. The women may or may not be pressured into sex by accepting the monetary gift but according to ‘Reina,’ a woman who regularly attends such gatherings, says “the sex is sort of mandatory. I mean, you can’t say no after the guy pays you. For myself and a lot of other girls, it’s a side hustle.” SPA covered an actual ‘gyara nomi’ party and an app that matches up college girls from the aforementioned universities wanting to earn a little cash, and men looking for a quick roll in the hay. It goes without saying that gyara nomi are limited to women under 25, (pre-Christmas cake age) though men do not face that censure.
Two factors are at play here: the objectification of women surely, but it’s also about women seizing the opportunity to cash in on their objectification. In a pathetically perverse way, you could say this is a win-win situation, or at least a supply and demand equation. Such a scenario is nothing new under the rising sun. Until Japan finally opened its doors to the West, objectifying women was so taken for granted the women themselves thought nothing of it.
By the way, the geisha trade of old was all about pushing the envelope of objectification: the closer a geisha got to simulating a perfectly made-up doll who danced and poured sake for her male clients (with a hinted promise of post-party sex), the better.
And in spite of all the water under the bridge and modernization with a vengeance, not a whole lot has changed. The practice of gyara nomi attest to the fact that Japanese men would would rather pay for sex, than god forbid, having to go through the arduous process of talking with a woman and getting to know her, and her consent– before taking her to bed.
As for the women themselves, like the aforementioned Reina many see their youths as a side hustle. If men and society insist on viewing college girls as ‘yareru’ cuties slinging Samantha Thavasa handbags over their arms, then there’s no shortage of college girls who bank on that view. Wearing short skirts, attending gyara nomi parties and then the next day, laugh about the men with their girlfriends at Starbucks. What’s the harm – but more to the point, how will they finance those Samantha Thavasa handbags if not through men? No self-respecting college girl wants to admit she had to buy one all on her own. With the exception of a weird few who want to waste their precious youth pursuing a medical degree (we know where such lofty ambitions wind up), young women find it easier to cater to male fantasies, and be compensated in one way or another for their trouble.
An apology from SPA will not likely change the way things are, but maybe, just maybe – it’s a tiny step taken toward…not anything so drastic as equality but non-objectification? On the day after the SPA fiasco, Peach John – one of Japan’s most lucrative women’s lingerie companies – issued an online apology about ‘inappropriate wording’ on one of their products. This was a supplement, touted as a ‘love potion.’ “Slip it into a loved one’s dish or cup, to get that person in the right mood for love” said the product description. (Editor’s note: At least that sounds better than menstrual blood in Valentine’s Day chocolates ) Peach John terminated its sales and promised that they will be “more careful” about choosing the right phrases. Cash, potions, deception, discrimination…would this all go away if Japanese men and women just learned to talk to each other?
Recently a Company called Shuukan Spa has released a ranking of “University students with easy-access girls” on a public magazine. (Published October 23, 2018)
2018 was a year where women from all over the world fought for women’s rights, so that our voices were delivered.
Japan will be having the first G20 summit this year, 2019 and it is ridiculous for an article such as this to be published. It’s not funny at all.
I would like to fight so that especially on public articles such as this one, sexualizing, objectifying and disrespecting women would stop.
We demand Shuukan Spa to take this article back and apologize, and promise to not use objectifying words to talk about women.
This sexualizing of women is not funny.
In Japan according to a study done by the Ministry of Justice, only 18.5% of the women report sexual assault or rape.
How about the left over 81.5%?
They don’t speak up. Can not speak up.
Because sexual assault, random guys touching your butt in public trains, having their crotch up your butt, rape, is something women have to deal with.
Because We use underaged girls in bikinis to fulfill the fetish of those who love baby faces.
Because we idolize young girls.
Because honestly, the society hasn’t changed ever since the time of comfort women.
Because men and women do not believe that we are worth the same as men.
In this world, 1 out of 5 women are raped or sexually assaulted before their 18th birthday.
According to the ministry of Justice, only 1 out of 10 people actually get convicted, after being sued for sexual assault.
In 2018, the world fought.
In some countries, abortion finally became legal.
100 year anniversary since Women got voting rights.
Women in Saudi Arabia were able to drive.
And using Social Media, people spoke up using #MeToo #NoWomenEver and in South America, #NoEsNo and #AbortoLegalYa.
This year we will not only hold the G20 nor but the W20 (women 20)
We demand that the media stops using words to discriminate women, objectify women, disrespect women and sexualize women.
We, women are not less than men.
We are human too.
We do not LIVE for men.
We do not exist for men.
Let’s raise our voices because I am sick of this society where women are objects.
“You want a no-data plan? We have one, but it’s almost the same price as having data…”
Last week, I walked into a U-NEXT store to check out smartphone plans. I’ve had a Japanese flip phone since 2013, and I wanted to see if I could buy a SIM-only plan from them instead. This is when I learned that no salesperson today is prepared to deal with customers who want data-free plans. The assumption is that everybody wants mobile data — the more, the better.
I walked out of U-NEXT without buying anything. Data is cheap, but you can’t put a price on attention and presence.
The cost of data has fallen considerably over the last few years. Even here in Japan, where the de facto cartel has kept contract prices and cancellation fees high, you can, at the time of writing, sign up for a u-mobile 1-year contract for a relatively low monthly sum of JPY1,360 per month for 3.3GB of data with no cancellation fees after one year.
(The salesperson really tried to upsell that data plan to me.)
Prices never used to be this low. When I lived in Tokyo from 2012–2013 as an exchange student, your options for mobile data plans were 2-year contracts with hefty cancellation fees for breaking them a year in. The only option at the time that didn’t involve a cancellation fee was a Softbank prepaid flip phone. I took it. Public WiFi was virtually nonexistent back then. I recall mild inconveniences, but nothing particularly terrible.
Moving back to Japan in 2015, I continued using the same phone and number. Barring a period of around 6 months where I owned a company-sponsored smartphone with data, I have not had mobile data since 2015.
Everyone I have talked to about this has bemoaned their various states of addiction to their phone, for whatever reason; very few do anything about it. Fortunately, I have not really needed to do anything — doing nothing to change my data situation is exactly what’s keeping me sane.
It’s hard to say without data (ha!), but it seems that owning a smartphone these days equals having a data plan. It is inescapable, maybe even inevitable. There’s plenty of talk about switching off the phone, but few discuss the merits of actually forgoing mobile data altogether. Most articles indexed on Google talking about this are dated to several years ago. (See Further Reading below.) But given the conversations and growing awareness surrounding internet addiction, I think eliminating mobile data should be one choice in an arsenal of options to manage the time we spend on our phones.
It’s a weakness
Not having mobile data began as an exercise in moderate frugality , but as the years went on it became more about preserving my sanity, preventing myself from free-falling into constant swipe-mode. Airplane mode isn’t enough for me because it’s too easy to switch back to cellular mode. My last job left me so addicted to looking at email that every instinct in me now has to fight the constant and imaginary demands on my attention, to consciously stop myself from reaching for the phone. I fail at this dozens of times a day, sometimes stopping at just lighting up the phone screen with the home button.
I then imagine how much worse this would be if I had mobile data and did this outside my apartment. So every year I wonder if I will succumb and pay for the convenience of a data plan; every year I find myself increasingly unwilling to do so.
Everyone I have talked to about this has bemoaned their various states of addiction to their phone, for whatever reason; very few do anything about it. Fortunately, I have not really needed to do anything — doing nothing to change my data situation is exactly what’s keeping me sane.
I think I’m lucky: most of my friends are great at being present. They turn their phones face down, or keep them in their bags. I hear this is becoming rare, which feels like a deep loss. Mobile data has, in the last few years, reduced everyone’s collective ability to be present in the moment.
I’ve sat at dinner tables where everyone’s face is lit by the glow of a smartphone screen as they post something to Instagram, reply to a WhatsApp message that just flew in, or deal with an ‘urgent’ work email (which is never really all that urgent; such is the tyranny of capitalism). I have watched people I have been just a little in love with read emails on their phone or scroll through Facebook, while we’re out somewhere in the city, and have felt my heart break a few hundred times. I can see the involuntary twitch of their hands reaching for their phones when we talk.
It happens to me too. When I’m in a place with WiFi, I am more distracted, more prone to flipping my phone open. Some part of my brain is low-key reminding me that I have messages to reply to, emails to send, Instagram feeds to check. I have frittered away hours and hours scrolling and swiping. I am also a bit shit at being present in the moment even without my phone. The only time I can’t look to my phone is when I’m outside in the world without data.
None of this is to say that having mobile data makes everyone automatically become a little bit shit. But the ubiquity of mobile data has made it easier for otherwise lovely people to disregard social courtesies. It helps people justify scrolling through their phone at the dinner table because everyone else is doing the same thing.
The other part of being present when I’m out is seeing the world in ways I might otherwise never notice if I’m walking around staring at a screen. I might never have begun photographing doors, or plants. I might have been too busy uploading photos to social media to pay attention to the mountain in front of me. I like to think I’m better than that — but I’m not.
Why I don’t need mobile data
A few things make it easier for me to opt out of mobile data:
I don’t have a job that requires me to look at emails 24/7. No watching the stock market, or employers who breathe down my neck asking me if I’ve seen this thread. No customers who want urgent answers to their trivial questions. And so on.
It’s quite the opposite: I focus substantially better when writing in completely disconnected environments.
(Yes, I think I’m very lucky — and I wish everyone else could have something like this, obviously.)
I read, write, and speak fluent Japanese. Which means no need for Google Translate. Navigating Tokyo is not an issue.
I don’t have kids. I mean, people have raised children for centuries without mobile data, but modern parents seem to think that constant connectivity is necessary for parenting. (Another kettle of fish altogether. Please talk to someone else about this.)
I have high-speed WiFi at home. This is something I’m lucky enough to be able to afford, and it’s also necessary for my work. Given the choice between mobile data or an internet connection, I’d choose the latter every time.
There’s free, public WiFi all around Tokyo. Yes, really! See the last section of this piece.
The truth is that I am as addicted to social media as the next Instagram junkie. I’m not proud of this, but it’s true. I find myself reaching for my phone every few minutes; on the train I sometimes even open apps that I know won’t load just to quell my dopamine-addicted brain. It’s precisely because I know myself too well that I continue choosing not to have mobile data instead.
(Plus, that’s an extra $15 a month I can spend on runny eggs — which give me more pleasure and joy than any amount of feed-refreshing ever could.)
But but but
Isn’t it inconvenient? Sometimes. But that’s all it is — an inconvenience. I don’t miss having it when I’m outside. If I need it, WiFi access is available at home, at cafes, in train stations. Plus, public WiFi is great for accessibility across socioeconomic classes, and for tourists.
Sure, I’m an impatient motherfucker and rage as much as anyone else at certain inconveniences. But if there’s anything Japan’s million bureaucratic procedures has taught me, it’s to be patient with inefficiency. I don’t love inconvenience, but the cost of convenience is so much higher. Tim Wu says it more eloquently than I can.
What if we’re meeting and I’m running late? I don’t usually know when a friend’s running late, so I just have to trust that they show up, whether it’s on time or a few minutes late. That’s what we all used to do pre-smartphone. Again, much depends on having a reliable public transportation system. I remember it being significantly more difficult to be punctual in Malaysia.
If someone flakes on me and decides not to show up, that reflects badly on them. The upside is that this encourages specificity in deciding on meeting points (“Let’s do Exit B6 at Ginza Station, I’ll be above ground at the fire hydrant”) but also weeds out flaky people who you probably shouldn’t be friends with. If they can’t respect your time, they don’t deserve it.
Besides, if they really need to contact you, that’s what a phone number’s for. I hope I have your numbers for when the next earthquake hits.
What if you need to look something up? What burning fact would I need to look up right away that I couldn’t look up later? Do we really need to watch that video right now? See also: delayed gratification.
But you’re using your phone outside? Like on the train? Yeah, I’m usually reading articles I’ve saved to Pocket, writing/taking notes on strange people around me, or editing photos.
What about Google Maps? Look up routes and directions before setting out. Offline maps are useful and work well. There’s also something to be said for looking at the scenery around you instead of at your blue-dot-self moving around on a screen.
There have definitely been times when my offline maps stopped working while I was on the move, or things didn’t update. So I also like asking strangers for help, or looking at area maps in the neighborhoods. Talking to people! What a novel concept.
Uber? Grab? Lyft? Thankfully, none of these exist in Japan. Tokyo’s incredibly efficient public transportation system eliminates the need for ride-sharing apps… for now.
Maybe ride-sharing apps would be useful in more remote areas where there are fewer train stations. But then again, they probably wouldn’t be operating in those areas, and I’d still have had to walk for miles along Route 207 from Nagasaki to Saga prefecture just to find a bus heading to Tara. (True story. I don’t think having mobile data would have changed anything, except I’d have spent more time complaining about it to friends online — and maybe found a bus slightly faster.)
What if you need to drive? On the off-chance that I ever sit behind a steering wheel in Japan, I hope the car comes with sat-nav. Otherwise it’s back to pre-2007 days of parking by the roadside flipping through a map book.
What if you’re in the countryside? Even better! I can switch off! Researching stuff to do before you travel/leave your accommodation, or just using whatever WiFi is available there. I’m usually visiting someone who knows the area (and probably has mobile data, let’s be real.) There were also a couple of times I thumbed rides in Hokkaido and Aomori when I was stranded and couldn’t figure out buses.
I remember Couchsurfing with a couple in Aomori City back in 2013. They lived, insofar as was possible, a very off-grid lifestyle — no internet (they’d check their email at Internet cafes), only flip phones (one of the few things they used electricity for), no refrigerator, no washing machine. We’re no longer in touch, but it left a huge impression on me.
The only times I’ll have mobile data are when I travel to places I’m unfamiliar with and where I don’t speak the local language(s), like Morocco or Thailand; or, when I’m back in Malaysia and rely on Grab to go places. Even then, it’s optional. I went without a data plan in Busan because most cafes had free WiFi and I spent most of my time with a friend living there. It’s quite fun muddling through menus and going through the usual motions of cross-cultural communication — hand gestures, smiles, everything you need for your fellow human beings.
And so it is
Frankly, I like not having data. I like being able to say no to looking at emails. I love having my mind back, wandering into other connections and thoughts without the constant drip of stuff from the internet. I love looking at my friends when they talk.
If you have mobile data and like it, good on you. I don’t wish to suggest that living without mobile data is a viable choice for everyone, nor do I want to sound like I’m preaching some ‘elite’ hippie lifestyle from a pedestal way up high. There are plenty of reasons to have mobile data — war refugees using social media to keep in touch; not being able to afford high-speed internet at home (though given the price of mobile plans in Japan this is pretty much similar); work conditions (which is a problem with society at large).
But if you think you can’t go through daily life without mobile data, you are wrong. We’ve survived for millennia without it, and when the next natural disaster in Japan knocks out mobile data providers for a bit, it’ll be useful to have actual phone numbers or to be okay with being a little disconnected for a while.
A Short List of Free Public WiFi Places in Japan (Mostly Tokyo)
Tokyo is a pretty great place to live without mobile data these days if you already have an internet connection at home. Try the following:
Tokyo Metro stations. Very rarely, the internet is down, and I feel a flash of irritation — and then I chide myself and take out the Kindle instead.
JR stations. It’s patchy and sketchy, but many major JR stations in Tokyo now have free WiFi (under the JR East Free WiFi network)
Some libraries, like the Hibiya Library with its characteristically low-security password (numbers 1 through 9. FIGHT ME HIBIYA STAFF). The Tokyo Metropolitan Library’s WiFi has so far been unreliable.
Some cafes have it. But it doesn’t really matter if they don’t.
7–11 and Lawson’s have reliable WiFi. Accessing Family Mart’s WiFi requires a lengthy registration process before you can even go online, and it’s slow as hell. Don’t bother.
Yes, it’s all unsecured WiFi. Don’t buy stuff with your credit card, use it only when you need to, don’t register with your real email address, and all that.
Flory Leow is a sporadic writer, photographer, foodie and student of history living in Tokyo and blogging here and there. This article was previously published on her blog and has been reprinted here with her kind permission.