The Gender Divide in Japan- No Boys allowed?

If you have done any travel in Japan, you will, most likely, have encountered special “Women-only train carriages”. This usually makes for an amusing story to tell your friends, about how you rushed onto a train as the doors were closing, only to find yourself surrounded by confused, and occasionally irate, women. However, the reasons behind the special carriages are not as amusing.

At first glance, the problem seems to have started with widespread reports of groping on trains. The Metropolitan Police Department reported a rise in cases of groping or obscene conduct.

One explanation for the increase of reported offences is not that they are becoming more common, but that they are much easier to report. Since most people carry a phone, capable of taking pictures and videos, it is becoming easier and easier to report crimes. However, as the problem was gaining a lot of attention, the authorities decided to implement a new strategy, which, in my opinion, is a mistake: female only train carriages.


But first, let’s look at some reactions from Japanese women. Aside from the feeling of greater security, some women enjoy the lack of typically male smells and the ability to talk with friends without being judged. However, the measure has not been without controversy. Many mothers complain about being separated from their junior high-aged sons since, apparently, as soon as a boy becomes a teenager, he qualifies as a potential sex pest. Some women also worry that should they ride in a mixed carriage, even if they are with male friends, they will be seen as a ‘willing victim’ for sexual advances.

Most male commuters also object to being crammed against fellow sweaty salary men while women ride in comfort. And I’m serious about being “crammed in”, check out this video of the Tokyo Subway.

Unfortunately for modern society, the policy on trains has now spread to other public areas. The reasoning is more acceptable in some cases, such as segregated sleeping-cafés or hostel dormitories. However, gender-separation in other venues has provoked accusations of discrimination.

In the Taito City Library in Tokyo, 10 of the 50 seats are reserved solely for women, while a co-ed university in Saitama Prefecture has a women only café. Discounts for women on restaurant and bar menus or cinema tickets are common, and exclusively female gyms, hotels and bars can be found.

Japanese lawyer, Yukata Iwaki argues that this runs the “risk of breaching the laws of equality”. It should be clear to everybody that maligning all men as potential sex-pests creates an unhealthy environment for modern gender relations.

The legal system in Japan offers little comfort either. 95% of people arrested in Japan sign confessions, and Japanese courts convict 99.9% of those who appear before them. Thus, when men stand accused of sexual crimes in an already suspicious climate, it threatens to ruin their lives regardless of veracity. There have been numerous cases of people being falsely accused and imprisoned.

The recent case of Iwao Hakamada highlights how the Japanese police can use force, or fabricate evidence to achieve a confession, and once the confession is signed, conviction is a sure thing. Hakamade was sentenced to death, and spent 45 years on death row until eventually the evidence against him was proven to be insufficient, incorrect or in some cases, wholly fabricated. Incidences of suicide following false accusations of groping have also been reported, such as the case of Shinsuke Harada in 2010.

In fact, the legal situation is so skewed, that Tokyo lawyer Takashi Nozawa advises against claiming innocence in court. He even suggests that the best way to avoid conviction is for accused men to simply flee the scene and not report the incident to police. Opponents of female-priority policy argue that it promotes an anti-social atmosphere in which women are assumed to be unsafe around men. This atmosphere could prove toxic to modern gender dynamics.


The operation of the segregated trains ultimately relies on the cooperation and discretion of male passengers: it is not a legally enforceable rule as it breaches equality laws. Female-only spaces are but of company request. If a man goes into one of these carriages, the most he will get are some angry stares, or a request to move to the cramped mixed carriage. That said, continuing to vilify men in this way will not lessen the gap between the genders, but reinforce the idea that the genders are different and should be treated differently.


 For further reading check these stories out:

Colin Joyce, ‘Persistent gropers force Japan to introduce women-only carriages’.

Andrew Miller, ‘Has preferential treatment for women gone too far in Japan?’.

John Stuart, ‘Guilty and never proven innocent – every male train rider’s nightmare in Japan’.


Whaling in Japan

Whaling on trial

Whaling on trial

Once, a few months back, I was invited to a teacher’s house, and was served a very special kind of fish. Upon eating it, the teacher eagerly told me  that I had just eaten whale, possibly hoping to get a reaction from me.

He was disappointed. I personally have no problem with the idea of Japanese people eating whale or dolphin meat. This may make me unpopular, but I don’t believe that any group of people should be able to tell another nation or group of people what they can and cannot do in their own territory.

Whale sushi and sashimi doesn't taste that bad...

Whale sushi and sashimi doesn’t taste that bad…

I would call groups of people who behave in such a manner terrorists (or at least extremists), because they use force and intimidation to persuade others to adopt their beliefs. No matter how noble the intents of Sea Shepherd and other groups like them may be, they don’t have the right to impose their values on other people.

Sea Shepherd’s founder, Paul Watson, spent fifteen months evading authorities at sea, after he fled courts in Germany and had an Interpol Red Notice placed on him. Thankfully, many of Sea Shepherd’s supporters and members do not fully support the drastic measures taken by this small minority.

In December, a Japanese whaling fleet left Shimonoseki for the Antarctic Ocean 4. The hunt is went on until March, and the fleet hoped to catch roughly one thousand minke whales.

The stated purpose of this hunt was scientific research, however, the majority of the meat usually ends up being processed and sold to markets and stores.

Whale meat in stores

Whale meat in stores

The Japanese government is quick to defend the tradition, saying that whaling is a part of Japan’s culinary heritage, and that the hunt is done with research and sustainability in mind.

Recently however, the hunts have been encountering problems, reporting a catch of only 103 whales last year. This last hunt was a bigger success, with about 250 whales caught, but that’s still only around a quarter of their goal.

Whales for processing

Arguments surrounding the issue revolve mainly around the twin points of sustainability and sovereignty. The pro-whaling side insists that they are practising sustainable whaling, and that any attempt to interfere with them is a violation of their national sovereignty. The anti-whaling side maintains that there is no such thing as sustainable whaling, and that whales may unknowingly
stray from protected areas into whaling areas.

Regardless of the arguments, the whaling industry—in Japan at least—is facing a serious decline in popularity. In fact, the industry relies on subsidies from the Japanese government to remain afloat. In 2012, those subsidies reached 2.28 billion yen

In modern Japan, with fiscal belts being tightened and Tohoku Earthquake recovery efforts taking top priority, the whaling industry may find itself dead in the water without government funds.

On March 31st, the UN International Court of Justice in The Hague declared the Japanese Whale Research Program(JARPA II) illegal. The decision was made to “revoke any extant authorization, permit or license…and refrain from granting further permits” to carry out annual whale hunts in the Antarctic. Despite global criticism, Japan’s fleet carried out annual whale hunts taking advantage of a loophole within international that permits the killing of whales for scientific research. The sitting judge, Peter Tomka, said that the Japanese program resulted in the killing of thousands of minke whales and a number of fin whales, but that its “scientific output to date appears limited”

The issue initially earned global criticism when Animal Planet introduced “Whale Wars,” which followed Sea Shepherd USA, a branch of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and its attempts to deter the Japanese fleets, through violence if necessary, from hunting whales. The Institute of Cetacean Research initially stated its disappointment, but that it would respect the ruling.

However, on April 11th, the institute stated that they intend to hunt whales in the Antarctic for the 2015-2016 season under a newly designed research program.

Government ministers eating whale

Government ministers eating whale

In the end, though, it appears as though whaling industries will collapse, not because of international sanctions, or action by a small group of activists, but because of a lack of demand. The times of London recently reported that there were over 2,700 tons of uneaten whale meat left in storage last year. Such is the way of the world; old ways often sink into the background and disappear. So if you don’t support whaling, simply don’t support it. Without money, it will fade—not with a bang, but with a whimper.