National / Media | Japan Pulse

Embracing social media to protect others from danger in Japan

by Patrick St. Michel

Contributing Writer

Japan has developed a reputation for being a safe country, an image bolstered by recent record lows in reported crime. The reality, though, is that life in Japan can be just as dangerous as it is overseas.

A recent viral post on Twitter sparked debate on this issue, and it’s worth taking the time to examine why it caused the uproar it did.

In early June, Twitter user @y37336878 shared a tweet highlighting an accessory they believed women in modern Japan could find useful. The item was clip-on hair extensions available in a variety of bright colors, allowing users to give their locks a Technicolor streak.

The Twitter user suggested that such a product could be useful because women with dyed hair are considered by many to draw less attention from creeps in public or gropers on trains. The product is easy to remove, so women can feel safe going to work and then remove it once they get to their destination.

The tweet has garnered more than 30,000 retweets and 50,000 “likes,” with many in @y37336878’s responses thanking her for the advice and saying how once they adopted it they didn’t have to deal with any potential annoyances (or worse). Others pointed to cheaper extensions for those looking to save some money.

It didn’t take long for other suggestions on how to avoid harassment and assault to trickle in. One user thought the original idea was great — but would work even better when paired with a black face mask. Another individual had been using the colored hair attachments for a while and reported no problems on trains, but pointed out that students could get in trouble with their schools by using them (a point echoed by several other people online as the post spread). Another said no amount of makeup or extensions guaranteed total safety. Perhaps not surprisingly, this prompted all kinds of discussion on Twitter.

As the online outlet Finders noted in their write up on the issue, it isn’t the first time someone has suggested altering one’s hair to avoid sexual predators. A former TBS announcer went on the radio to say she avoided molesters as a high school student by using lots of makeup. Last December, freelance writer Kei Himeno shared a tweet where she revealed that, after dying her hair blonde, she has avoided the usual issues women in Japan face in their daily lives, which also includes being maliciously kicked by people on public transit.

It’s all a reminder that despite the prevailing image of Japan as a safe nation, there are many situations where that frankly isn’t true — especially as far as women are concerned. While some media reports say the number of sexual violence cases is low, the reality is that many go unreported or victims aren’t aware of what has happened to them. Then there are the thousands of posts online from women who have faced assault, molestation or violence while simply going about their day in Japan.

Where Japanese society appears to have fallen short, social media has stepped in as a place where women (and other concerned individuals) can help one another deal with their problems and share vital information.

The hair extension and dyeing advice is just one recent example. A recent drawing done by one Twitter user showed the ways women in Japan are assaulted at nearly every age, offering a place for victims to talk things over and offer advice.

Other posts have offered warnings of specific men to avoid at train stations, while others have alerted people to men in Shinjuku Station who deliberately walk into women (an issue that has been in the spotlight online since last year).

Another viral tweet found a user calling for an unofficial organization made up of lawyers to defend women who stab attackers with safety pins. It received a lot of positive responses.

There’s a long way to go before Japan becomes a country that is actually safe for women, but online spaces have given them a platform to trade tips and stories in a way that might help others stay safe.