When it comes to sexual harassment in Japan, the image emerges of the stereotypical train mugger 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 slipping his smartphone under a young girl’s skirt. This type of sexual misconduct still makes 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 incredible athletic abilities who has a particular craving for feminine underwear, especially white panties.
In Japan, there is a well-known concept regarding social behavior: honest 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 to show 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 holds itself to high moral standards. As we saw again during the pandemic, the behavior of people unconditioned by applied rules has been extremely cooperative, with only whispered advice from the authorities.
A perfect example of serial crimes that are hidden is something that should have been as well 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 to the camera via Instagram about her experiences in showbiz which quickly caught on on Twitter and YouTube. She spoke about a famous Japanese host, now retired, who has invited models and actresses on his show on condition that they pass a test requiring their willingness to “lie on her pillow” – makura eigyo, as the practice is known in Japan.
This is a very good example of the harassment of power going on 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 then model was at the start of her career and her agency basically acted as a pimp telling her that if she wanted a career she had to follow it. To make matters better, famous comedian Tetsuro Degawa acted as a go-between, trying to “convert” the undecided.
Shinsuke retired a decade 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 TV 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 affected dozens of young women barely above the age of consent, was 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 scenes in Japan, but few have the guts to speak out. When they do, it is they – not the perpetrators – who are ostracized. No wonder the Me Too movement had very little success in Japan.
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Of course, those involved dismissed everything as rumors, but no one dared to bring the model to court for libel. Yet days later, Congressman and former NHK employee 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: via cash gifts or from young women given to senior NHK executives. These women, Tachibana explained, are handpicked from a group 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, those who go wild when they barely hear the words “gender gap”.
Newspapers like Asahi Shimbun (who recently made a ‘gender equality declaration’) and Mainichi Shimbun who do a lot to support women have completely turned their backs. This 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.