Monday, June 30, 2014

Japan's changing attitudes toward women

At Bloomberg View, I talk about Japan's recent sexist heckling scandal, and how it shows that gender roles in that country are changing:
On June 23, a middle-aged male Japanese politician, dressed in the traditional dark suit and '80s-retro haircut, walked in front of a waiting line of news cameras, to where a younger female politician waited. As the cameras flashed, he apologized to the woman, and bowed deeply; she looked on gravely. 
To a na├»ve Western observer, this scene might look like just another day in the byzantine, hidebound world of Japanese politics. But I’ve been watching Japanese politics and civil society for more than a decade now, and when I saw Akihiro Suzuki bow to Ayaka Shiomura, I caught my breath. I knew what I was seeing was big. Epochal, even...


  1. Anonymous8:35 PM

    It feels like you're playing up the "break with the past" angle, when in truth Japan has seen steady change for near seventy years now. After WWII ended Japan has been among the most liberal Asian countries, it's just that Asia as a whole is rather conservative, so being the most socially progressive in that club still means being a step or two behind the cool guys in the Anglo-European club.

  2. Change is happening in Japan for sure, but there is also a long way to go.

    Another driver you did not mention is the demographic crisis. It has been gradually sinking in for awhile that throwing women out of the workforce when they have a child and providing near zero childcare and so forth has boomeranged back in the form of very low birth rates that have led in a society that restricts immigration to a falling population since 2006, with these low birth rates also showing up in more sexist societies such as Korea, Italy, Spain, and Germany.

    The trend is a lot worse than many think. They already have an elderly dependency ratio of 36, compared to 30 in second place Germany and about 17 in the US. By 2050 the US might be at the level of Germany, but Japan is forecast to be at 75 if trends continue, a decline in population from 130 million to 100 million, with 40% of those over 65.

  3. Anonymous10:49 PM

    Change? Are you kidding me. This is exactly what you say it is not: "just another day in the byzantine, hidebound world of Japanese politics". I have been in Japan for more than a decade. Yes, change is happening, but it's so incremental that the Japanese will be an endangered species before any substantial change. Did you read Abe's draft for a new constitution, it backtracks on women's rights. What did Abe do after this incident, that everybody in his LDP thinks was blown up by the media? He went to apologize to a MAN. He wouldn't even think of calling the victim, she is a woman, after all. Did you ever note what his buddies, Aso, Ishiba, the little Ishihara (not to speak of the old one) publicly say about women -- and other "minorities", as they would say, like the elderly, the contract workers.

    Change in Japan could only happen if the women take the initiative, but even this poor harassed young deputy is reluctant to fight.

    At the end of the day, the whole thing is another PR-coup for Abe, he makes people like you think change is happening.

  4. Interesting to see her own posture too; humility in receiving an apology; gloating is not allowed in any circumstances.