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A salaryman is left blinking in the dust left by the #MeToo charge

by

Contributing Writer

This narrative is based on an interview with a 43-year-old man who works for a Japanese auto corporation. He spoke on condition of complete anonymity.

名前を言えなくてごめんなさい (Namae o ienakute gomen nasai, I’m sorry I can’t give my name) but the current atmosphere in my company is so bad, anything that leaks out is likely to be deemed as 裏切り行為 (uragiri kōi, an act of betrayal).

Back in November, I didn’t even know what #MeToo was. People in my department started talking about it and one night, riding the train home from work, I looked it up on my スマホ (sumaho, smartphone).

Even then, 実感なかった(jikkan nakatta, it didn’t sink in). I didn’t know any colleagues who harassed women. I myself have never harassed a woman. 自分は関係ないと思ってた(Jibun wa kankeinai to omotteta, I didn’t think it had anything to do with me), until my wife said that maybe she could 告発 (kokuhatsu, accuse) her former male boss of セクハラ (sekuhara, sexual harassment) over an incident that happened when she was 28.

I laughed and said, おばさんの言うことなんて誰も聞きたくないよ (Obasan no iu koto nante dare mo kikitakunai yo, No one wants to listen to an old woman). I meant it as a 軽い冗談 (karui jōdan, a light-hearted joke), but then I saw her face.

She was looking at me like I had turned into a bag of 生ゴミ (namagomi, wet trash) left out overnight where the crows could pick at it. What happened next was pretty bad.

She said I was unfit to be a father to our 10-year-old daughter and that Japanese men had no idea how to be ちゃんとした人間 (chantoshita ningen, proper human beings).

We didn’t speak for a week after that. We rarely have conversations that are unrelated to 日常茶飯事 (nichijō sahanji, day-to-day matters) anyway, but this time I got the feeling that she was fed up.

Now we’re well into the new year and women at my office are starting to resemble my wife. I work for a major auto corporation — in the 総務課 (sōmuka, general affairs division), where the ratio of men to women is 60-40. It used to be less but our current CEO is all for hiring women, even on the assembly lines. I have no problem with that.

変な意味に取らないで欲しいんだけど (Henna imi ni toranai de hoshiin dakedo, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way but) I like working with women; they brighten things up. But after this #MeToo thing, I’m not so sure.

At the company 新年会 (shinnenkai, New Year’s party) last month, the women sat together at the far end of the room like the men didn’t exist. This was supposed to be a gathering for people to 親睦を深める (shinboku o fukameru, deepen ties). It was anything but.

Last night we had a 7 p.m. meeting that ran for an hour and a half, and when it was over I tried to tie up loose ends with a female 部下 (buka, subordinate) at my desk. She cut me short and said we could go over it again in the morning.

“But I have an 8 a.m. meeting,” I protested. She blinked once and said, 今日はもう帰ります (Kyō wa mō kaerimasu, I’m going home now), which is a phrase that I myself have never uttered in the 職場 (shokuba, workplace). Who does she think she is?

大きな声で言えないけれど (Ōkina koe de ienai keredo, I can’t say this out loud but) this #MeToo thing has ruined a lot of things for Japanese men — like the shinnenkai, where I didn’t get to exchange more than a sentence with the female staff, and the 冷たい戦争 (tsumetai sensō, cold war) going on between me and the 嫁 (yome, wife or woman of the house). Most crushing is the absence of conviviality and communication in the office.

This year, the department has decreed there will be no giving of chocolates on Valentine’s Day, except for a boring 大箱 (ōbako, big box) purchased at the local supermarket, with all the women chipping in ¥200 each. A month later, on White Day, the men are expected to reciprocate with a box of sweets that’s a bit more expensive, but not by much.

One of the young guys in our department said he had to cancel a 合コン (gōkon, matchmaking party) because he couldn’t get enough 女の子 (onnanoko, girls) — an endeavor that’s becoming increasingly difficult to pull off, unless you happen to be some IT長者 (IT chōja, IT millionaire).

どうなっちゃったの? (Dō nachatta no?, What’s happened?) Five years ago it was perfectly acceptable for me to 誘う (sasou, invite) a female colleague out for coffee to discuss things. Now that’s taboo. So are innocuous questions like 週末は何してた (Shūmatsu wa nani shiteta, What did you do over the weekend?). Or, God forbid, the 最低最悪 (saitei saiaku, absolute worst) query a man can ask of any woman under 30: 彼氏はいるの(Kareshi wa iru no, Do you have a boyfriend?).

The only solution, it seems, is to conduct my life like a monk. No more casual conversations, no more Valentine’s Day chocolates, even if they were mere 義理チョコ (girichoko, “obligatory chocolates” given to acquaintances on Valentine’s or White Day). No more of anything that made me feel like a man.

On the train, I avoid all eye contact and immerse myself in my sumaho screen. これが一番安全だから (Kore ga ichiban anzen dakara, Because that’s the safest thing to do).