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    A lawyer in Yokohama has had his license (is that the way to refer to what the bar association gives you?) suspended for three months because of a sexual harassment charge:


    According to the [Yokohama] Bar Association, on 3 July 2002 Aoki invited a female client involved in a debt collection case to dinner, then in the course of a drive made sexual conversation and caused the client to fear that he was planning to take her to a hotel.

    Sexual harassment in Japan is a big issue, of course. With more and more women putting off marriage until their early thirties, many offices have a bevy of pert, fresh-faced girls in their twenties…and a senior layer of men in their 50’s who came of age when women only worked until they married. To complicate things, today’s women often meet their future husbands at the office (as opposed to the old method of getting introductions to approved men through parents or other elders), so there is a sense in which many are on the lookout for a man.

    Throw in Japan’s idiosyncratic brand of sexual uninhibitedness, the tension of living in a 30-million-person megalopolis, and an educational system that hammers at people not to make waves, and you get some grossly fascinating varieties of sexual offenses. Example: some of the more crushingly-crowded commuter lines here, though the difference between the worst and the best is minimal in that regard, have instituted women-only train cars during rush hour. The reason is epidemic 痴漢 (chikan): in this case, groping of breasts and buttocks when people are so smashed up against each other that one can be confident of being unobserved or passing it off as unintentional.

    I once spent a horrified 40-minute cab ride back to my old apartment in Yokohama during which the driver casually explained his theory of how to get away with chikan when the train was not quite crowded enough to keep people from lowering their chins and thus seeing what you were doing: You choose a woman in the more crowded section of the car and keep your hand flat. If you cup it, she’ll know what you’re up to and may protest. I swear, he had it all worked out and talked about it as blithely as if he were recommending his favorite ramen place. And he wasn’t particularly at the extreme. While rapes of the knife-wielding-stranger variety are uncommon here, a lot of Japanese women I know admit pretty freely that there’s pressure to feel flattered and respond favorably if a management-level man at the office issues an invitation. Conversely, there’s little pressure to stand up for yourself, since it inevitably involves ruffling feathers higher up the hierarchy.

    Yes, I know: These things are as old as the integrated workplace, and they exist in the States, too. But the attitude toward men’s thinking of women as mindless sex objects is so blasé here that…well, when I read the article above, I wondered what on Earth had caused this particular lawyer to be singled out. Not that he doesn’t deserve it if he took advantage of a client’s trust to get her into an enclosed space and come on to her. But if everyone in his 50’s or 60’s who pulled something similar since July 2002 were punished for it, it’s hard to imagine who’d be left to run the Japanese economy. Maybe the client was one of the few women brave enough to file a formal complaint, or maybe someone has it in for Aoki and decided to make a play.

    2 Responses to “男尊女卑”

    1. Toren says:

      Like most Westerners I find the whole chikan thing infuriating–especially when I hear it from my wife. Thoughts of mayhem fill my mind. Japanese women aren’t too happy about it, either, but there sure is a sense of inevitability and “I hate it but whatyagonnado” isn’t there? It doesn’t set them off the way it would an American woman, unfortunately–or maybe fortunately, as there seems to be little that can be done about it in most cases. The subtlety is impressive.
      In packed trains I make it a point to keep my hands high, because it don’t want anyone to even think that way about me.
      All that said, there have been a couple of instances when a rather cute young thing is smushed firmly against me while the train bumps and bounces and…one feels rather bad about feeling good. :-/

    2. Sean says:

      Well, you kind of have to disembody yourself before you enter a packed train, even if you’re a man, right? If you don’t just cocoon yourself in your own little world (pretty easy for me in general), you drive yourself crazy thinking, What is that in my ass crack? A hand? a forearm? The strap of a tote bag? For most women, I’d imagine, it just doesn’t seem worth the energy to wonder whether everything that touches a breast or thigh or worse is there randomly from the crush. And, being immobilized, you can’t exactly do anything about it, as you pointed out.