Sent a Letter of Protest against the Absurd Ad that Encourages Sexual Harassment!

Written by Kazue Muta

A disgusting ad encouraging sexual harassment was printed on page 5 of the Asahi Shimbun newspaper (page 10 of the Osaka Head Office version) issued on September 23, 2014..
It is a fully-colored ad of the first issue of MADURO, a magazine for men in middle to senior age, which features a Sean Connelly look-alike male model. The ad is a tie-up with the sound equipment manufacturer, Bose, featuring their headphones as the copy reads how comfortable it is to wear them on the plane. The line goes as the following:

“Once you get settled on the plane, try teasing a cabin attendant. When she talks to you, pretend you can’t hear her (actually you do hear her) and lean toward her as if you were asking what she just said. There is no other chance for you to get close in a 12-cm distance to a himena (Note: term coined by the writer to denote a lady) whom you’ve never met in such an open manner. Now, all you have to do is demonstrate your hard-earned skills.” (the bold text is as it is in the original)
                         The entire ad

This is already disgusting enough, but what’s more annoying is that a message from the overall ad can be read that in a way that such a behavior is called “naughtiness” that all fashionable middle-aged and senior men are supposed to practice. This is nothing more than instructing and encouraging the readers to sexually harass cabin attendants, which is quite a problem.

Even here in Japan, sexual harassment has been recognized over a quarter-century as a serious social problem that violates womens human and labor rights. The sexual harassment case at the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly was found in June and the aftermath yet continues. This shows that sexual harassment still is a deeply-rooted and hard-to-solve problem. Considering these circumstances, I do not understand why anyone would ever print such an anti-social ad that encourages sexual harassment on such a major newspaper. This ad is planned and produced by the Advertising Bureau of the Asahi Shimbun Company. The Company is seriously liable as it not only allows an ad that encourages sexual harassment to be printed but also proactively produces these ads. MADURO magazine and Bose, the sponsors, are both equally liable as well.

As an activist and researcher on sexual harassment and violence, I was just unable to overlook that a newspaper, part of mass media, encourages sexual harassment by placing an ad like this.  On the 24th, a day after the ad was printed, I sent a document to the Advertising Bureau of the Asahi Shimbun Company, MADURO magazine (yanG Co., Ltd.) and Bose K.K., protesting against the ad and questioning why they placed such an ad that encourages sexual harassment. This is the letter sent to the Advertising Bureau of the Asahi Shimbun Company: 201409朝日広告局御中(抗議と質問)wanアップ用 (personal information has been deleted). The documents sent to the other two companies have the same main message:

I found this newspaper ad on the 23rd and sent a message via Twitter around noon (my Twitter account: peureka). Since 3,000 users re-tweeted my tweet by the 24th, I learned that a certain number of people felt as unpleasant and critical about this ad as I did. Among these people were middle-aged and senior men who are supposed to be the target audience of the ad. This ad accepts abuse of womens human rights by encouraging sexual harassment, and at the same time, assumes that middle-aged and senior men want to practice such sexual harassment. Isnt this quite offensive to all middle-aged and senior men?
I am not sure how much impact one citizens protest can make, but strongly hope that many people can learn about the problem through these various means, which could be the first step toward the society that does not allow sexual harassment. I would appreciate your cooperation in spreading and paying attention to this matter.

The Asahi Shimbun Company is currently facing almost excessive criticism due to their false reporting. Having sent another criticism to them at this timing was not quite easy for me as I do appreciate the Companys continued proactive reports on womens rights and human rights for women including the comfort women issue. This is why I protested against this ad that could weaken the foundation of their reporting attitude, wishing for their thorough review of this problem and improvement so that this will never happen again.
Let me use this opportunity to introduce my book in which I wrote that how insensitivity of middle-aged and senior men can be linked to sexual harassment:

Book title: Manager, The Relationship Is Sexual Harassment!
Author/ Translator: Kazue Muta
Publisher: Shueisha
Price: 799 yen

Original Article on the WAN website (September 25, 2014): http://wan.or.jp/group/?p=3316
Translated by Kumiko Moriya


A Social Mechanism that Binds a Definition: The Reappropriation of “Housework Harassment” in Japan.

by Mieko Takenobu

Recently an advertisement by Asahi Kasei Homes Corporation’s has come under fire in the media and on the internet. This advertisement dealt with the concept of “housework harassment”. The term, “housework harassment” was coined in my book, “Housework Labor Harassment – the core of making it hard to live,” published last year. In the book I defined housework labor harassment as harassment by social systems which insult, disrespect and exclude housework. The book also outlined the hardships suffered by women in poverty and hardships they endure for their on-going survival working in the home. The Asahi Kasei advertisement however, transformed the meaning of the term “housework harassment” into “hardships of men who do housework”. I would like to point out “the social mechanism” in which power holders bind a definition of terms and nullifies the terms defined by the others like women and minorities.

Turnaround of the definition
Housework is an important labor that supports lives of people. Daily activities such as child care, nursing care, and feeding children and the elderly, are important tasks that can be linked with housework. In Japan, such housework labor is done by “invisible” women and housewives whose work often goes unnoticed in society, and thus tend to receive weak political attention.
Under such a social system, women are having difficulties faced with long working hours and the lack of accessible child-care services. Nearly 60% of women quit their full time jobs after childbirth. Upon returning to the labor force, women generally work in part-time and/or irregular employment so that they can keep earning an income while raising children. Under this system, men are the main breadwinners and often women cannot be economically independent with their low salaries since they often work only for their pocket money in between their housework. Nearly 60% of women work in irregular employment, and have become a leading reason behind the increased incidence of poverty in Japan. Men, on the other hand, are expected to support women economically and have to endure long working hours, which sometimes even results in death by work (Karoshi). I published my book intending to raise awareness among people of the role and value of housework and inventing the term “housework harassment” to review issues surrounding working styles for both women and men.

Asahi Kasei Homes’ mis-adaptation of the term “housework harassment” devalues the original meaning and reinterpreted it meaning to be more about family squabbles over housework between wife and husband. In addition, the ad stated that wives’ attitude complaining about quality of housework done by their husbands is harassment. Such an ad may destroy the real meaning of housework harassment. Asahi Kasei Homes spread such distorted meaning of housework harassment among media through press releases. Furthermore, the ad was put out on several commuter trains in Tokyo. The distorted definition of “housework harassment” as harassment against men doing shoddy housework was reinforced through TV programs which took up and commented on the Asahi Kasei Homes’ ad.      

A wave of criticism from women
Soon after the ad was released, women took action against it. The very next day, a woman criticized a decrease in her husband’s motivation to do housework by hearing wives criticism in relation to this ad on FB, stating “How can you even think of deserving complements for your housework like a child?” She also mentioned about misinterpretation of the definition stating, “There would be a misunderstanding of the concept of housework harassment with the one in Mieko Takenobu’s ‘Housework Labor Harassment.’ One of my friends who read this comment called me showing her concern over the misinterpretation. Readers of the book also showed their concerns one after another. After careful consideration, mainly because of concerns that their usage of “housework harassment” caused women to hate the words and the intension of my book will be ruined before reaching out to those who need help, I decided to lodge a complaint directly with Asahi Kasei Homes asking them to stop misusing the term, housework harassment.

Asahi Kasei Homes quickly responded to my complaint. In response to the complaint, the company voluntarily removed the ad from the train and posted the definition of “housework harassment” from my book on their homepage. It also submitted an apology letter for its inappropriate usage of the words “housework harassment.”

A Social Mechanism that Binds the Definition Made by Women
I reacted responsively to this misuse of the definition of “housework harassment” because I have observed similar situations surrounding word changes in the past.

Seku-hara (sexual harassment): In 1980s, the wording “sexual harassment” appeared in Japan. It meant a serious infringement of human rights which results in excluding one gender from a workplace. However, it was abbreviated to the shorter wording “Seku-hara,” which turned the original meaning into somewhat less serious behavior as “mischiefs such as touching the bottoms of women” or “office romance” through the ways it was featured in male weekly magazines.

Work-Sharing: “Work Sharing” appeared in 1990s when the unemployment rate increased in the end of 1990s. It was originally meant to prevent unemployment by sharing work in Europe; however, the Japan Federation of Employers’ Association changed its definition into “preventing unemployment by lowering wages,” which in effect made it easier to lowering the wages of workers.       

Soushoku-Danshi (herbivore men): In 2006, “Soushoku-Danshi” (“herbivore men” which means opposite to macho men) was invented by columnist Maki Fukagawa. It showed a new male figure with whom women are able to socialize equally and frankly. However, the meaning has been transformed through magazines into “a men who cannot go out with women.”

What is common among these examples is the way that power holders changed the definition of new terms which do not suit them and are then new meanings are attached and distributed through media, watering down innovative elements that the original definition used to have. 

Distorting the original meaning of the particular terms and spreading it with its power nullifies the new images of the society that the original meaning wanted to realize and destroys the movement of restructuring the society.

I wanted to express a serious side effect of the turnaround of the original definition      in the complaint to Asahi Kasei Homes.

Women’s Pushback
It was a strong pushback from women (and men) who have been fed up with “the housework harassment society” and the power of the internet that eventually caused Asahi Kasei to pull their advertisements.

One of my friends who witnessed the misuse of the words on Facebook called me and told me her frustration, “Is this situation same as the one with ‘Seku-hara’?” It suddenly reminded me of the turnaround of the definitions of “Work Sharing” and “Soushoku Danshi (herbivore men)” I thought that all our frustration with these words whose definitions have been forcefully transformed would be meaningless if I remained silent.

I lodged my complaints with Asahi Kasei for three reasons I felt troublesome and five demands to improve these points. When I called the company for a meeting, the appointment was quickly set up as, according to Asahi Kasei, they were about to get in touch with me due to the reaction they got from female reporters who were following the discussion on Facebook.

Soon after I lodged the complaints with the company, I also made it public by posting it to Facebook. I thought it was necessary to disseminate it to the public many times in order to correct the misusage of “housework harassment” through mass advertisement.  
Many people shared my comments as well as posted it on their twitter and individual blogs. Many also mailed their complaints directly to Asahi Kasei Homes. Analytical articles on the ad of “housework harassment” were put on the web one after another by female cyber journalists. I believe these voices as a whole made the company reacted quickly to my complaint.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Council’s sexual comments generated a large swell of criticism spread through twitters. The wave of the criticism against Asahi Kasei’s distorted usage of “housework harassment” may have been small compared with the swell of the Council’s sexual comments, but it was a valuable experience for us since we succeeded in pushing back the powerful mass media through the use of the internet and social media as an effective tool.

I hope that this success can be used by others in their struggles against the social mechanism in which powerful forces misuse and transform terms and meanings for their own benefit and simultaneously devalue the original meanings of words and concepts of those less powerful than them.

Original Article (August 2, 2014): http://wan.or.jp/reading/?p=14247
Translated and Adapted by Fumie Saito


In the Muddy Waters of Historical Revisionism: Isolated from International Society (Part 3)

by Kazuko Itō, Lawyer and Human Right Activist
Excerpt from her Blog

(Part 1)
(Part 2)

Unusual Criticism by UN Human Rights Top Official

High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, who is retiring the position in September 2014, made a public statement to criticize the Japanese government’s response to the issue of wartime sexual slavery on August 6th. It is unusual for a UN top official to criticize Japan so harshly. It made me feel the seriousness of the situation and the severity of international criticism.

She had never stopped sincere talks with Japan and had been negotiating with the government persistently. Obviously, she felt the attitude of the Japanese government for this time was inexcusable. Here is the whole statement.


I don't repeat her statement but what she points out is true. The Japanese government should respect her statement sincerely not because she is a UN human rights top official but because she is an expert on this issue.

Ms. Pillay was formerly a judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and sat in judgment on serious human rights infringements committed during the Rwandan Civil War. She earned a reputation for a groundbreaking judicial decision that sexual assaults on women that were prevalent in Rwanda as a means of "ethnic cleansing" could correspond to the crime of genocide (The Case of Akayesu).

This decision contributed to the development of an international law; the Rome Statute of International Criminal Court which, for the first time, stipulated that rape constitutes genocide or a crime against humanity. She is remembered as a lawyer who had the greatest influence on forming an international law that states wartime violence is an inexcusable crime. After that she served as a judge on the International Criminal Court.

Because of her rich experiences in an international law, she is respected everywhere and represents how far international law reached. It seems that she was not able to overlook Japan's attitude since she strongly believed that violence against women in conflict should be treated as an issue of human rights.

International common sense is based on an idea similar to the one held by Ms. Pillay. Therefore, Japan will never be able to go unpunished regardless of the sophistry they employ.

Suppose South Korea brings this issue to the International Court of Justice or it asks for advisory opinions from the court. While the judgment of such a civil claim is uncertain, those who have studied international laws even just a little are certain that Japan's responsibility should be clarified, judging from how far the international jurisprudence has reached.

Most Importantly, Lack of Decency is a Problem

If Japan continues to neglect the issue, whether Japan is a civilized state respecting basic human rights will become suspicious. It affects how other countries evaluate Japan even if they don’t show their true feeling obviously. Henceforth, Japan will be isolated from international society.

It is highly regretful.

If you value your country's honor, you should not hide or distort facts. In such a political climate, Japan will have only disrespectable people who have no true self-respect and lack overall sensitivity to human rights in the next generation.

Besides their international reputation, I wonder how they can neglect the issue as decent human beings. Aren’t they ashamed of themselves?

Each one of us needs to think whether it is all right to deny the responsibility by making the above excuses.

If this remains unresolved, it will affect future cases. Whenever an infringement of women’s human rights is committed, the truth of the case will never be investigated.

Not investigating the truth of a case and covering the facts is a long-lived tradition that has survived in issues such as sexually offensive heckling in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly. These issues have the same root. This is also the problem of current Japanese women.

My major concern is that as the result of hiding and distorting the facts and shelving offenders' responsibility, Japan might become such a disgraceful state that it goes to war again.

A state might make the same mistake by convincing its people to think a war is unavoidable, by paralyzing their imagination of agony from damage and sacrifice people in other nations faced during war or their decent sensitivity to human rights.

Each individual has to think by themselves whether this is right or not and has to take action accordingly.

If you don't know much about this issue or the Japan's responsibility as a perpetrator, read various books and study so that you can understand the facts.

Read the following documents, too.

Concluding observations on the sixth periodic report of Japan - announced by UN Human Rights Committee in July 2014

Why Does Japan Re-Examine the Kono Statement Secretly? (Japanese)

Hashimoto, Osaka Mayor, Says, "Comfort Women Were Necessary." Why Is It a Problem? (Japanese)

Original Article: http://wan.or.jp/book/?p=8093&page=3
Translated by Atsuko Ishikawa