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Japan and Gender depicted by recent BBC programmes

I have recently had my book chapter proposal: ‘Reimagining the Gender Roles within Japan to achieve sustainability of the Japanese Population and Economy’ accepted for an upcoming Routledge book entitled 'Gender and Sustainability in a Cultural Perspective, so I am very excited to be looking at this topic academically whilst using business experience and case-study analysis. The BBCs recent offerings on Japan have given me some food for thought surrounding this topic.

Sue Perkins in Japan

This was an uncomfortable watch for me. Although I realise that the featured topics were chosen due to their ‘entertainment through weirdness’ potential that programmes about Japan are often subjected to (lonely single woman in Japan marrying herself, business men idolising grown women acting like little girls, maid cafes with waitresses speaking/dressing like pre-pubescent girls and of course the inevitable geisha), the programme glossed over the realities of these situations and the dysfunctional gender roles they represent, namely woman as child-like, submissive and cute. Japan is experiencing both a gender and demographic crisis, alongside having one of the worst records for gender equality in the developed world. Instead of being discussed in these terms, Sue Perkins not only sensationalised them but in some cases rationalised them, by frequently and insincerely finding the ‘beauty in it all’. In the scene with the poor Geisha, who was completely traumatised (any woman watching this must surely have noticed that), I cannot fully express my disgust at the way this was glossed over by a presenter who seemed so overwhelmed with the beauty of Japanese culture that she could not even see the truth-this is prostitution and female subjugation regardless of how beautiful the dancing is and there were two very young girls about to be initialised into it.

Child-like women

The scene with the grown men idolising the female pop stars who looked and acted about 12 was disconcerting. Grown men fixating on such young girls is disguised paedophilia and yet this preference for women to display non-threatening child-like qualities is still an acceptable feminine archetype and is often used to appeal to men on a sexual level- a British male executive from Hornby recently asked me why the marketing booklet the Japanese gave him for model-making featured numerous school girls sat on top of tanks in provocative poses! Women acting like children or subjugating themselves for other people’s comfort and sexual gratification is demeaning and has no place in a society whose main economic focus must be taking seriously the creation of more gender equality, less sexual harassment & discrimination and healthier relationships between the sexes.

Giri/Haji was fun for me to watch not least for refreshing my Japanese language skills and enjoying the split London/Tokyo settings. The traditional Japanese gender roles were depicted in full force here showing the Japanese wife living unhappily with her Japanese husband's family shouldering all the care responsibilities in his absence. This mirrors the male breadwinner/female caregiver model that shored up the social economy of Japan during their economic miracle and is still ingrained today within society and many workplaces.

Gendered division of labour

Japan faces one of its biggest economic challenges to date-a rapidly declining labour force due to low birth rates. Despite many recent initiatives to support women to work and have children, the gendered division of labour has not changed enough to make this sustainable- housework and caring duties are performed primarily by women and they often face a stark choice between work or family. This in turn is contributing to marriage becoming a less attractive option for women, which in turn is contributing to falling birth rates. Most of the government's ‘womenomics’ initiatives have been implemented within this context of ingrained gendered norms and have therefore faced a backlash of maternity/paternity harassment and outright institutionalised discrimination against women. I will argue in my book chapter that unless gender roles are re-aligned, real progress cannot happen.

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