Is Japan biased

It was not clear on Friday whether equality in Japan was really making sustainable progress. But at least the island nation seemed to have received a wave of political correctness. Seiko Hashimoto, the new president of the organizing committee for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games (Tocog), said she would resign from the right-wing ruling party LDP; the opposition had previously called for neutrality for their office. It also leaked that Hashimoto's predecessor, Yoshiro Mori, who had given up the presidency after sexist statements, will no longer get a Tocog post.

A woman has been appointed to succeed Hashimoto's head of the Ministry for the Olympics, Women's Empowerment and Equality: Tamayo Marukawa, previously LDP parliamentarian, previously a minister. At the start, she said: "Unfortunately, it has recently become clear that Japan is only halfway to gender equality." And in a full-page newspaper ad, a software company apologized for its women-less board of directors. "This is really embarrassing," it said in the text.

Amazing what can spark outrage in Japan. It has been almost three weeks since former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, 83, as Tocog President, warned at a meeting that board meetings with more women would "drag on". This was followed by criticism at home and abroad, which even Japan's male-dominated political elite could not so easily wave through. Because the persistent negative mood fell back on the summer games, which are already unpopular with the population because of the pandemic.

When he stepped down, Mori said the media had sparked the debate - he didn't seem to understand that his objection to more women on executive boards torpedoed a core demand for more gender equality. And now everyone wants to show more understanding of women.

Improvement is not in sight

The question is whether the excitement will be followed by real change. Experts have long warned that anger should not be reduced to the behavior of a single old man. "This problem has to do with how decisions are made in Japan and how biased men are in power," said Kiriu Minashita, a sociologist of Tokyo's Kokugakuin University, in the newspaper Mainichi. "Mori's resignation is not enough, we should correct the background of his remarks."

And this is where the debate gets complicated because Japan's society is not just dominated by men. It is characterized by a will to persevere, which makes sustainable change difficult.

In 2013, the then LDP Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that he wanted a "Japan in which women can shine". His so-called womenomics policy was better than no progress. But it wasn't really about equality, it was more about a strategy to reduce the labor shortage in an aging society.

You can now see the consequences: Last year the government had to postpone the goal of 30 percent women in management positions. According to their figures, the rate for listed companies in 2019 was just 5.2 percent. There are only two women in the current government cabinet. Of the 47 prefectures, only two are led by a woman. The proportion of women in the lower house of the national parliament was 9.9 percent last October. Things don't look much better in the country's local parliaments.

There is no improvement in sight for the time being. The LDP depends on the voices from Japan's strong nationalist circles with their traditional role models. There they grapple with women-friendly reform ideas: For example, the imperial throne should remain taboo for women. Wives and husbands should not be allowed to keep their respective surnames when getting married. But progress is also slow on more important issues. Sexual criminal law was tightened slightly in 2017, but remained essentially the same as it has been since 1907: According to this, those who have been raped have to prove that their tormentor has caused them physical or emotional damage.

Japan's feminists complain that their struggle for real reform is being disregarded by the male-dominated mainstream media. But otherwise the consensus society seems to stick together, as journalist Shiori Ito discovered. Since she made public in 2017 that she was raped by a well-known journalist, many Japanese women have attacked her.

The traditional role of women as a chaste family member is deeply anchored in the consciousness of many Japanese people, said the sociologist Chizuko Ueno, Japan's best-known feminist, in an interview with SZ last year. "Hence the tendency to blame women for wrongdoing when they are victims of assault."

Women and Japan. The topic is bigger than the debate about a wet research LDP veteran suggests. That the media will pick up on them before the pandemic games gives rise to hope. But in the LDP, the old powermen are still protecting their benefices for the time being. And when they do have something like the advancement of women in mind, that sounds more patronizing than respectful. Toshihiro Nikai, the 82-year-old LDP general secretary, announced a new plan for the party executive this week. In the future, they want to invite five female MPs to its meetings. "It's important to fully understand what kind of discussions are going on," said Nikai. "Look, that's what it's about." The women are not supposed to have a say. Yoshiro Mori would have been delighted.