Inbound Ambassador

Japan’s at All-Time-Low for Social Equity

Olympics head and previous PM Yoshiro Mori made sexist comments last week prompting calls for him to resign, but he is unlikely to be pushed out of power unless people in power hold him accountable.

I feel inspired by AOC speaking out against people telling her to Get Over It, or even apologize, about being harassed during the Capitol riot of Jan 6th. She was compelled to speak her truth and not give into these tactics of abusers. It is also important for us in Japan, or wherever we are, to also speak our truth and not give into pressure to Get Over It.

As a long-time sustainability seeking woman resident of Japan, it is also important for me to speak my truth, to speak out against blatant sexual harassment and inequality in Japan when it happens. The head of the IOC Mori’s comments have compelled me to deviate from my usual positive-focus of content creation to address inequality in Japan.

When I first came to Japan in the early 1990’s women in power were more often in the news for the sexual harassment done against them than for any of their own policies or behavior. I can’t think of any female leaders in Japan in business or politics who has been esteemed as a leader without harsh criticisms.

Over these 27 years, I have also had experiences with sexual harassment and power harassment at jobs by men in power. Complaints and apologies lead to nought – in fact, I was the one disadvantaged from promotion or opportunities despite going through the proper channels. And yes, even after letting it go, and moving on with a positive look to the future, they moved up, and I was the one disadvantaged, or compelled to leave.

I’m sure I’m not alone in Japan, the US or anywhere in the world- but the difference in Japan now is that there is no clear consequence for men who misbehave and break rules of sexual harassment and power harassment. The reason is quite simply because it is other men, like them, who hold the power.

Now in 2021, despite gender-equality being one of previous PM Abe’s 3-arrow aims over the last ten years for a stronger economy, Japan has sunk even further in the gender equality rankings worldwide to a dismal 121 out of 153.

Mori’s comments will likely go unpunished and be out of the news cycle by next week as most people in power shake their head in fake-disgust but will actually cheer and support him behind the scenes. This is because his comments represent the common view of men in power in Japan, and women, or other minority groups, are disruptive to their status-quo style. Without accountability and consequences for his comments, this will never change.

I had a superb talk the other day with Kimono-Sheila who described how Kimono fashion, in the Edo-period, adapted to strict policies of government not to be “showy” in outward designs. The outward beauty of Kimono was seen as a threat of the growing middle and upper class to those in power. This created a semi-secret fashion trend of making the inside and bottom areas of Kimono more vibrant, detailed and beautiful.

It made me wonder, How can we find ways within Japan’s strict male-dominated society to show creativity, color and diversity in society?

The IOC as an international organization actually could put pressure on the Tokyo Olympic Committee to pressure him to step down, but with the pressure to proceed with an Olympics that 80% of the Japanese public do not want, in just 5 months time, they are unlikely to do so. There are clear rules against sexual harassment and promoting diversity and inclusion in the IOC which could make it easier to enforce than typical Japanese government policy.

This is one of the depressing moments when I feel it is rather hopeless to stay in Japan as I’ve seen no progress in social equity in 27 years. Without meaningful, actionable policy that is enforced to make people in power accountable for sexual harassment and power harassment like this, Japan does not have a sustainable future.

51% of Japan’s residents are women, yet much less than the targeted (by Abenomics) 20% of women are represented in business and governmental positions of influence and policymaking. If women cannot be treated equally, what chance is there for people with disabilities, non-binary LGBTQ+ members, and international residents of our community to be treated fairly? Without representation, there is no social equity.

Equity is not the same as equality, it has a much more meaningful, deeper meaning – an estimation of value in order of influence and quality of life. It is equity which we should aim for in a sustainable society.

Many people are saying they are “outraged” and trying to “shame” Mori, but without actual consequences, it is meaningless. If Mori won’t resign, he needs to be fired to send a clear message that this blatant sexism is simply not allowed. We need to change the hashtag from #MoriResign to #FireMori in order to strengthen the message from the people.

Our hidden stories inside our lives are our secret weapon that won’t have any effect until people know it. If we reveal the glimpse of color, design, and diversity in our life – just as those designing and wearing internally colorful kimono in the Edo era did – maybe we can also create lasting change.

If we want Japan to be a sustainable society that is successful in future generations in balancing the needs of people and the planet with profits, we must find ways to create social equity for all residents. Without equity, the economy will suffer as much as social structure and preservation of nature. Our role as people without power is to speak our truth, make our voices heard, and demand accountability.