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.

Published by

Kaori Shoji

Kaori Shoji

Kaori Shoji is a film critic for the Japan Times and write about fashion and society as well. 欧米の出版物に記事を執筆するフリーランス・ジャーナリスト。The Japan Times、The International Herald Tribune、Zoo Magazineへ定期的に記事を寄稿している。

4 thoughts on “Why the Japanese Media Would Rather Not Talk About Brett Kavanaugh”

  1. hello! i have been following your page for quite some time now, and i am a bit surprised about the flow of your article from the issues in Japan to suddenly to the issues in the US. Why?

    This one captured my attention though, the “Kavanaugh-Ford-Fiasco”, I used the term fiasco because one if indeed proven that Judge Kavanaugh is guilty beyond reasonable doubt; SCOTUS is a wee bit fecked up, and If Mrs. Ford was proven lying what happens then? We all believe in the presumption of innocence dont we?

  2. I find this article somewhat self deceptive. Rampant patriarchy is not unique to Japan, far from it. Just look at the way women have to sexualise themselves in order to get jobs so or be socially validated in the US or Europe for example, nothing twisted about that right. Or the fact that women can’t have meaningful jobs because of insufficient, or insufficiently funded, childcare. There are at least a thousand ways in which the prevalent patriarchy manifests itself, and to say it’s worse in Japan just because it’s not yelled about from the rooftops only serves to undermine the scale of the problem everywhere else.

    1. Your argument is whataboutism. Japan ranks 114 out of 144 countries in gender equality. The point of the article isn’t ranking Japan–it’s the problem.

  3. The ‘Bushido’ culture that permeated Japanese society for so many centuries, giving rise to lunacy like that seen in the ranks of the ‘kamikaze’, is not something which can be ‘switched off’ or even winnowed out — especially not in a society still as incongruously phallocentric (*referring to the androgyny and femininity that much of Japanese popular culture exudes) as Japan’s. Such ingrained ideologies can only be ‘BRED out’ through successive generations . As such, and seeing as we are only a few generations removed from WW2, it might take another century or so for females to be on equal footing with males.

    As for the U.S., well… the issues there are also underlying and deeply rooted. But theirs has more to do with an unwillingness to confront their past and the “fake news”, vetted histories their uneducated / ill-educated minds have been poisoned with. A nation that cannot come to grips with the realities of why their Civil War was fought, or the warmongering that has underpinned their post-WW2 hegemony, or the wholesale Zionist zealotry that pulls the nation’s every string, is forever a powder keg ready to explode… And explode it will — you can bank on that!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *