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#MeToo movement confuses media in Japan

by Philip Brasor

During a recent discussion on Bunka Hoso’s radio talk show, “Golden Radio,” about sexual misconduct in the U.S., the participants wondered if the #MeToo social media movement would catch on in Japan. “Me Too” as a movement was started more than a decade ago by American social activist Tarana Burke to call attention to widespread sexual harassment, particularly in underprivileged communities. Now, on social media, women of all walks of life are encouraged to come out and describe their experiences of being sexually harassed. The host of “Golden Radio,” Makoto Otake, found the news puzzling.

“America has powerful opinions about human rights,” he said, “My image of American women’s rights is that it’s strong, so it’s hard to imagine this happening now.” What Otake couldn’t imagine is American women not standing up to sexual harassment earlier. What must he think of the way Japanese women address the problem?

A 2014 Cabinet survey found that only 4.3 percent of women who say they were victims of sexual violence reported the incident. In July, the Sex Crime Law was revised for the first time since 1907, allowing harsher sentences for those convicted of sex crimes and indictments that don’t require victims to press charges. Nevertheless, hurdles remain. Attorney Yukiko Tsunoda, in a recent Tokyo Shimbun article, pointed out that merely accusing someone of sexual assault is not enough for a conviction. That’s why she wants the #MeToo campaign promoted aggressively in Japan. In order for any progress to be made in eliminating everyday sexual harassment, more victims must feel able to come forward and name their offenders.

Journalist Shiori Ito has inadvertently become the standard bearer for the #MeToo movement in Japan. In May, months before Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was outed as a sexual predator by The New York Times, Ito gave a press conference in which she accused Noriyuki Yamaguchi, former Tokyo Broadcasting Service Washington bureau chief, of raping her two years ago. Ito reported the assault to the police and thought Yamaguchi would be arrested, but in the end he wasn’t.

Initially, Ito withheld her surname at the request of her family, but last month she published a book about her ordeal, “Black Box,” under her full name, just in time for the arrival of the #MeToo movement.

In her review of the book for the Asahi Shimbun, media critic Minako Saito said that one of the important things she took away from Ito’s story is that “Japan goes easy on sexual assault” and, in fact, the country hardly acknowledges that it takes place. The support system for victims of sexual assault, including police, hospitals, the judicial system and the media, are grossly ineffectual. Moreover, victims do not know what to do because no one has ever told them what to do. This sentiment was echoed in a recent article that also appeared in the Asahi Shimbun. Kyoko Kitazawa, who runs a publishing house that promotes sex education for children, said that Japanese do not teach children about sexual predators.

Former vice minister at the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry Atsuko Muraki, who became famous in 2009 when she was falsely accused of forgery, spoke at a symposium on Nov. 13 about her own experience with regard to sexual abuse, according to BuzzFeed News. Before elementary school she was molested by an older boy whose family was close to hers. She had no idea how to articulate her anger and frustration and kept the incident to herself until she finally told her husband about it years after they were married.

The media has an obvious role in exposing sexual harassment, but there’s a fine line between exposure and exploitation. The weekly magazine Bunshun recently accused two Diet lawmakers, both of whom belong to the new Constitutional Democratic Party, of sexual harassment. According to the magazine, Akihiro Hatsushika, then a member of the Democratic Party, attacked a supporter in the back of a taxi in 2015 while he was drunk. Bunshun’s rival, Shincho, reported last year that Hatsushika had coerced a women into going to a love hotel with him (he said she went willingly) — and was merely “scolded” by the party.

The other alleged offender is Masayuki Aoyama, who Bunshun said badgered a member of his staff for sexual attention before she quit. As with the Washington Post’s coverage of Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for Alabama senator who has been accused by various women of sexual impropriety when they were teenagers, Bunshun was not approached by the alleged victim. Instead it heard about the woman and sought her out. The woman provided the magazine with suggestive text messages from him.

The messages also show that the unnamed woman never explicitly told Aoyama to leave her alone. Fearful for her job, she rebuffed her boss in the gentlest possible way, which may have actually emboldened him. When Bunshun confronted him with the woman’s assertions, Aoyama said he had had “problems” with her, implying she may be trying to get back at him.

Bunshun’s purpose was to bring down a powerful man, but not necessarily because he’s a jerk around women. According to the credo, “the ends justifies the means,” however, if such a motivation causes more women to come out into the open and confront their offenders, what’s the problem?

The problem is that when women do come forward it’s usually long after the fact. The desired ends in this matter is that those who are sexually harassed are able to stand up to offenders at the time the offense occurs and not suffer consequences because of it. Makoto Otake seemed to think American women were already at that stage, and though they aren’t, they are closer to it than Japanese women are.

Otake is nominally a comedian whose cohort trades in the kind of coarse sexual humor that got former comic and U.S. senator Al Franken in trouble two weeks ago — and which could end his political career. Japanese comedians do those sorts of jokes every night on TV, an irony that wasn’t lost on Otake.

“Now that I think of it,” he said. “Maybe I did something like sexual harassment in the past.”