Harassment rife in local assemblies

Until Tokyo attack, victims have suffered in silence

by Masami Ito

Staff Writer

The sexist taunting of a female politician during a recent session of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly drew rapid condemnation from some quarters, but little disbelief.

The problem is long-running and many victims tend to accept it and suffer in silence, some assembly members say.

Mitsuko Nishizaki, secretary-general of the Tokyo Seikatsusha Network political party, told The Japan Times that sneering, mockery and even overt sexual harassment is routine and often goes unreported.

In 2010, she said, a fellow assembly member shouted that Nishizaki “must enjoy being groped” when she voted against revising a youth ordinance to regulate extreme sexual images in manga and anime.

“It is difficult to address the jeers as an issue at the assembly meeting because you need to identify who made the remarks in order to initiate disciplinary measures,” Nishizaki said. “Unfortunately, I had to swallow my humiliation that time. There are many people like that.”

Yuki Mizuno, 31, a member of the Abiko Municipal Assembly in Chiba Prefecture, said fellow lawmakers had bullied and sexually harassed her on several occasions, with jeers such as, “You can’t get married.”

Mizuno also recalled being humiliated by a fellow female lawmaker. During a session in the assembly hall a year ago, the woman called out in a loud voice that she could see Mizuno’s underwear line and asked, “Are you menstruating today?”

“I’ve experienced pretty horrible bullying and sexual harassment and I think that there are many more cases,” said Mizuno, who lived in the U.S. as a child. “The treatment of women as inferior to men is still strong in Japan’s political world and I think that Japan has fallen way behind other countries.”

Nobuko Nakamura, a member of the Nakano Municipal Assembly in Tokyo, said on Twitter last week that she has been “told more than 100 times to quit as an assembly member and get married.”

“I think many female law-makers have had similar experiences and that’s why we must change the current state of politics,” Nakamura tweeted.

Liberal Democratic Party member Akihiro Suzuki admitted to some of the sexist sneering in the Tokyo assembly last week, and issued a public apology to the victim, Your Party lawmaker Ayaka Shiomura. The incident came at a time when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the LDP president, is pushing for greater inclusion of women in the workplace as a key part of his growth strategy.

“Even if the policy is to be implemented on a national level, it lacks credibility if the local members don’t have the same awareness. And if that’s the case, I think this growth strategy is just wishful thinking,” Mizuno said.

  • otisdelevator

    If this article is indicative of the way that Japanese men treat women, then I think there is no doubt that the real reason the population is in decline is because Japanese men are so thoroughly distasteful that Japanese women want nothing to do with them.

    Get your house in order ‘boys’!

    • Gordon Graham

      Says the gaijin staying at your house

      • Steve Jackman

        Profound, as always!

    • Steve Jackman

      You make an excellent point. The percentage of Japanese women who don’t want to be in relationships or get married has been rising and is now quite high. I think a key reason for this is that many of these women just don’t find Japanese men attractive due to the the backward attitudes and lack of social skills of these men. This is the real elephant in the room, even though, mainstream media usually attributes Japan’s declining marriage and fertility rates to financial and workplace pressures. Having worked at Japanese companies here in Japan, I can vouch that everything in this article about the shameful treatment of women by men applies to the private sector as well. That’s why I’ve always felt that the recent hype about womenomics is such a farce.

      • Warren Lauzon

        It is not just in Japan, it is happening all over, especially in China and Korea. It seems like even in China the number of women that are staying single has even prompted the Communist Party there to issue such statements them being “old maids” and the like.

        It used to be in Japan that it was the norm for women to rely on the man and have no aspirations of her own. But that has changed a lot, especially with the younger generation. I think that more and more women are finding out that they don’t need to do that anymore.

    • phu

      That might be part of it. Another is likely that Japan is still in a bit of upheaval due to its belated women’s lib changes, part of which is significantly increased independence, irrespective of women’s general attitudes toward the men in their nation.

      Besides, you don’t need fewer couples to have a declining population. People can still date, live together, and/or get married and not have children. In many if not most developed countries it’s no longer realistic to raise a family and live well on a single income, which definitely impacts the number of people who choose to have kids.

    • Warren Lauzon

      LOL – “..Japanese men are so thoroughly distasteful that Japanese women want nothing to do with them..”.
      That might sound stupid, but I have actually had a couple of Japanese women tell me exactly the same thing. One told me that while alone with her ex-boyfriend, he was as nice as could be, but when with other men he became part of the “animal herd” as she put it.

      • Steve Jackman

        I’ve also been told by Japanese women that they find Japanese men nerdy and repulsive.

      • Gordon Graham

        Atta Boy, Stever! I knew I could count on you to show your true colours. Doesn’t that feel better?

      • Steve Jackman

        Gordon, it’s funny how some trolls never learn. We just finished a discussion a few minutes ago in the comments section of the other story on this topic here on The Japan Times. I asked you why you had gone back to your earlier comments days later and changed the poster’s name from “Gordon Graham” to “Guest”. To this, you wrote back, “I attempted to delete comments I regretted writing. In retrospect I thought they were too harsh. Heat of the moment and all…”

        What possible credibility do you think you have left here? You were trolling then and you are trolling now.

      • Gordon Graham

        You can try to deflect all you like, Steven…Look above! Those are your words…not mine.

      • Steve Jackman

        Yes, Gordon, my words are mine and your words are yours. That’s why your comment makes no sense whatsoever.

      • Gordon Graham

        I’m sure “blonde-in-japan” would agree…

      • Steve Jackman

        Gordon, looks like you got a second wind and decided to troll some more in your comment above by editing it and adding a lot more insulting stuff. It’s hard to reply to your comments when you keep going back and editing them hours or days later. Anyway, chill, dude, no point having a heart attack about it. We just have a difference of opinion, that’s it. Now, take a deep breath, have some milk and cookies and go to bed.

      • Gordon Graham

        You see, Stever, it’s like this…I have a life. I have kids, a wife and a great job. So, it’s akin to having a conversation that gets interrupted when someone or something much more important comes along and I have to say “pardon” me…but I haven’t quite finished what I’m saying , so after I’ve enjoyed a fulfilling interval in which I enjoy the most joyous part of my life, I return to the conversation at which time I complete the message I was in the middle of conveying…No heart attack or fretting in the least is going on over here, Steven. Just joyous living in a beautiful society. Cheers!

      • Steve Jackman

        Gordon, for all your claims of joyous living, you sound like an awfully lonely, uptight and angry old man. Off the Prozac again?

      • Gordon Graham

        Stever, it’s clear that through your perspective “sounds” and “seems” has little to do with is.

      • Steve Jackman

        Gordon, typical right winger demagoguery from you again. I wouldn’t expect anything less from you. Have you tried taking anger management classes?

      • Gordon Graham

        Take solace in your grade 9 political science terminology, Steve. I’m sure your fellow malcontents will be along to comfort you with a little vote-up hug. Have a nice day, (or should I say evening…as it appears you do your whining in the middle of the night)…

      • Steve Jackman

        Old man, Gordon, unlike you, my bedtime extends beyond 9:00 pm.

      • Gordon Graham

        An awful lot of sweeping going on here. How about “I’ve heard black men are lazy” while you’re at it?

      • Warren Lauzon

        I must have missed what the relevance of your comment is to an anecdote that I posted about a totally different subject.

      • Steve Jackman

        You have to forgive Gordon. He has a habit of firing off comments first and thinking later. He has difficulty with reading comprehension and understanding simple concepts. He’s earned his reputation as the resident joker here.

      • Warren Lauzon

        I must have missed the “thinking later” part :P

      • Steve Jackman

        Yes, you’re right, I was feeling charitable and gave Gordon too much credit.

      • Gordon Graham

        Truth’s a dog must to kennel

      • Gordon Graham

        Gleefully perpetuating a mean-spirited idea of your own and hiding behind the cowardice of attributing that sentiment to someone else in order to belittle Japanese men en-masse is tantamount to saying “I’ve heard black men are lazy”. I’m certain you miss a lot, Warren.

      • Steve Jackman

        Gordon, you’re off your rocker again. You may have had a point if all black men were a homogenous group and acted like college fraternity boys in heckling a woman colleague with sexist remarks and if they all joined in the laughter, like what happened in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly. Since this is not the case, you’re completely wrong to try to compare all black men to the statements being made about the dispicable behavior of the Japanese men involved.

      • Gordon Graham

        Somewhere in there, you’re getting closer to the truth, Steve. I’ll give you a hint..”the dispicable (sic) behaviour of THE Japanese men INVOLVED”. I’m impressed by such progress in just these few short days.

      • Steve Jackman

        What you’re missing Gordon is that the entire block of the ruling LDP party, including the Governor of Tokyo, were involved in the sexist jeers and the laughter that followed. So, we’re not talking about just a handful of people here. Furthermore, these assemblymen are elected representatives of the people. So, this implicates a very large part of Japanese society. I don’t know why I even try reasoning with you, since reasoning is certainly not your strong point.

      • Gordon Graham

        That that a very large part of Japanese society is appalled by Suzuki’s remarks is to be ignored I suppose.

      • Steve Jackman

        See, that’s where you’re wrong, Gordon. The problem goes much beyond the one person, Suzuki. Almost all the LDP assembly members were involved in either making the sexist remarks or laughing about them. Furthermore, as the other article here in the JT by Masami Ito shows, sexual harassment and sexist comments are commonplace in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly. Why haven’t we seen more people come forward and more heads roll? The Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly has taken no action against anyone. It’s business as usual and that’s pathetic.

      • Gordon Graham

        Again, you ignore the multitude of voices against Suzuki’s comments. Just as you did with the Urawa Reds racist incident. You want the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly to drop all business at hand and go on a witch hunt when an apology has already been made. That’s the outsider in you, Steve. Even Ms.Shiomura has accepted the apology and has moved on. She is Japanese and values the gesture of apology whether genuine or not. You are not Japanese, you won’t be satisfied until there’s a public inquiry costing millions of yen.

  • http://www.sheldonthinks.com/ Andrew Sheldon

    There is a bigger issue here than disrespect for women and that is the failure of a political system based on extortion to actually engage in rational discourse. The implication is that a legislature is only as good as its constituency. Considering that values (like prices) are set at the margin; that’s a pretty low standard. It usually leaves radical parties vying with rational (libertarian) parties for votes and real libertarians wanting out of this system.

    • Hanten

      Japan ranks 105th in gender equality out of 137 countries worldwide. South Korea is 106th. As a woman, I would say lack of respect for women is the biggest issue here and one Japan would do well to redress. The economy needs more workers and more workers earning more money means more tax for the government to spend.
      Have you seen the statistics on how many Japanese mothers want to go back to work but can’t for lack of childcare? Or how badly women here are paid compared to men (yes, even for doing the same type of work for the same hours)? It’s a disgrace! Ask a Japanese woman about sexual harassment at work and you’ll see why everyone’s lives in Japan would be better if we women were treated with the proper respect at work and at home.

  • Hanten

    Although, our politicians are our leaders we can choose to elect them or not. Japan has voted for these people to represent them and continues to re-elect some of the most sexist dinosaurs I’ve ever seen. If they act in ways that are both unethical and illegal they need to be held accountable. They are leaders and they need to be leading. As Abe has called for greater participation in the workforce by women to help solve many of Japan’s economic woes, the rest of the politicians need to see what they can do to help with that.

    Sexually harassing one woman is bad enough and you might say it’s uncomfortable for her. Systematically sexually harassing many women and doing it in a public way you think is just more discomfort for more women but no big deal in the larger scheme of things. I am going to illustrate why that cannot be further from the truth. Allowing continued sexual harassment of female politicians tells Japan and the world that it’s business as usual here. Little respect for women in The Diet and other houses of parliament means fewer women will feel safe enough to go to work. Why? Because they will know that if sexual harassment can happen to an elected official in a public place with multiple witnesses and even video records and yet without repercussions for the offenders then what hope has the regular working got? The stress of working in an unsafe environment is unhealthy and lowers productivity. Secondly, if treating women with such illegal disrespect is condoned and continues, getting women to be paid their worth will be harder. It may be illegal in Japan to pay women less for the same work but it happens on a massive scale in almost every business in the country.

    Less working women as well as less women working productively will continue to affect the bottom line in businesses and the public sector all over Japan. With the low rate of workforce participation in Japan, the government is missing out on billions of yen in income tax. With women earning less money, businesses are missing out on billions of yen that women could be spending. With women earning less, the government is missing out on billions of yen in sales tax. More significantly, allowing women to be devalued means they’re less able to work and work well. The whole country is missing out on what women are truly capable of.

    • Steve Jackman

      You’re trying to make a logical argument and assuming that people like Suzuki and similar minded Japanese men think rationally and logically. I’m afraid, they are driven by ideology, not rational or logical thought. That’s why change and progress is so hard for them.

      • Hanten

        The ideology being? I would’ve thought that the idea of Japan’s economy improving massively if all of Japan respected women in and deed would be attractive to these ideologues. And that’s how to sell the idea to them.

  • Daniel Francis

    Blame the electorate for voting in such degenerates. Remember, in a Democracy every elected member must have had some woman supporters.

    • Hanten

      The media here doesn’t report many cases of sexual harassment or discrimination, so many voters may not be aware of it happening let alone who has done it. It’s especially rarely documented at the political level.
      One recent exception was during the last Tokyo election when some women threatened a sex ban for any man who voted for a politician who has repeated said some outrageously sexist hings. It got some national and international coverage and he did not win a seat.

    • Hanten

      Also, I blame the people making the sexist remarks for making them. If the voters choose to vote them back in then they’re, in fact, condoning the bad behaviour. Although, how can the voters react to the harassment and discrimination if they don’t know it happened?