“Monstrous sexism” in the Tokyo Assembly: Female politician jeered in session by older male peers

Written by: William on June 20, 2014 at 12:17 am | In LIFESTYLE | 6 Comments

Your Party (Minna no To) member Ayaka Shiomura (35) was jeered yesterday in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly as she tried to introduce a motion for better government measures supporting infertile women or women who need assistance when pregnant or raising children.

The opposition politician was abused by older male members apparently from the ruling LDP during a June 18 assembly session.

shiomura ayaka your party sexist jeers tokyo assembly abuse sexism ldp japanese politics

“You are the one who must get married as soon as possible,” one assembly member shouted, which was clearly audible to the TV cameras filming the session. Another joined in: “Can’t you even bear a child?”

Shiomura continued making her statement, though she paused and then sort of laughed in disbelief. She became more emotional, though, as she finished off her speech shortly afterwards. Later she was seen wiping tears from her eyes when she has sat back down. It was the first time that Shiomura, a politician representing Setagaya in west Tokyo, has asked questions to the assembly.

You can hear the jeers from around 08:48 on this video (sorry, no subtitles).

Leading national politicians from both the LDP and opposition parties denounced the comments and interruptions as “monstrous sexism”.

Shun Otokita, another young member of Your Party, has led the accusations, saying that Tokyo Governor Masuzoe, a known chauvinist, was reported to be smiling during the jeering, which came from the LDP benches. The exact offenders have yet to be identified.

Japan has a very poor female workforce participation ratio, since women receive little support during childrearing. This makes it hard both to afford children in the first place and also pay for day care if women wish to return to work. Right now, most women effectively cannot resume their career if they choose to have children since it doesn’t make financial sense, all of which does nothing to stop Japan’s birth rate from sliding.

Women returning to the workforce would help to assuage the fiscal crisis that will emerge as the large Baby Boomer generation retires and ages.

The Tokyo assembly has 127 members, but currently only 25 are women. In the national Diet, women fill only 78 of the 722 seats in the two chambers.

Your Party is a small liberal opposition party originally formed by Yoshimi Watanabe after he left the LDP. Though still a fringe party, it has made relatively quick gains, though it has suffered setbacks recently from both an internal split that reduced its numbers, and a scandal involving now ex-leader Watanabe and party finances.

Before her recent entry into city politics, Shiomura had been a model and broadcaster. As a young and attractive women in a world of old and unattractive men, she is an easy target for sexist abuse and we sadly suspect this will not be the last time we hear of such incidents.

Update: The Tokyo Assembly has been flooded with hundreds of angry emails and telephone calls, Shiomura’s tweet about the incident was re-tweet tens of thousands of times, it received nationwide and international coverage… but the LDP has closed ranks and is refusing to identify the hecklers. Remember, this is the city that is going to host the 2020 Olympics!

Update (June 24): LDP Assembly member Akihiro Suzuki, despite denying it before, has now admitted he was one of the jeerers and will leave the LDP.

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Shiseido SK-II Pitera-rium Dock beauty counselor bus tours Japan telling women the future of their skin

Written by: William on June 5, 2014 at 11:56 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Have you spotted this red bus?

Shiseido is currently running a big SK-II Bihada Pitera-rium Dock campaign where women can see their “future skin” in 20 minute counceling sessions. A special pop-up store bus is now touring Japan for women to go and get predictions of their skin at special Pitera-rium events. It launched in January at Roppongi’s Midtown, and there are also similar services being offered at Shiseido branches and counters at department stores nationwide.

shiseido sk-ii pitera-rium dock beauty counselor bus magic ring bihada skin analysis haruka ayase campaign

It starts with a photograph being taken of your cheek using a large red round machine called a “Magic Ring”. This is then analyzed as a map of five elements, the results of which are printed out into a carte for women to take home and study.

The campaign is fronted by Shiseido regular actress Haruka Ayase and is a campaign for its SK-II Facial Treatment Essence. Here is Haruka demonstrating how to use the “Magic Ring” measuring device.

shiseido sk-ii pitera-rium dock beauty counselor bus magic ring bihada skin analysis haruka ayase campaign

Here is the bus around Tokyo.

shiseido sk-ii pitera-rium dock beauty counselor bus magic ring bihada skin analysis haruka ayase campaign

It’s actually an old American school bus that has been re-decorated red for the campaign.

shiseido sk-ii pitera-rium dock beauty counselor bus magic ring bihada skin analysis haruka ayase campaign

This is what the inside of the bus looks like.

shiseido sk-ii pitera-rium dock beauty counselor bus magic ring bihada skin analysis haruka ayase campaign

Japanese department store beauty counters and cosmetic brand flagship stores have long offered free beauty counseling services with use of sophisticated skin analysis devices. The idea is that the brands are not just flogging make-up to you; they are looking after your beauty and offering customized cosmetic experiences. This SK-II campaign is using the special “Magic Ring” device developed for Shiseido, which they claim is the most sophisticated in the world.

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Where to Buy a Kimono Without Breaking the Bank

Written by: Tokyo Cheapo on June 2, 2014 at 3:59 pm | In CULTURE | 1 Comment

This article by Yulia Mizushima first appeared on Tokyo Cheapo.

Some outfits never go out of fashion. Kimonos are a prime example – they’ve been making people look elegant for centuries. These stylish rags certainly aren’t cheap though – unless you know where to look…

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Kimono girls image via Shutterstock

If you stand in the middle of a scramble at Shibuya crossing, how many internationally-renowned, high-fashion outfits can you spot? I bet it wouldn’t take even a minute to spot at least a dozen without turning your head. Tokyo might be glorified as a fashion capital of the world, but no matter how “it” the handbag or how tailored the suit, chances are there’ll be someone else with the same outfit somewhere nearby. Next time, before you waste money on another unfulfilling retail therapy session, think about checking out your local second-hand kimono shop instead.

In today’s fashion world where unique stands above all, what’s more exclusive than the kimono? Leaders of the time-honored industry have traditionally catered to the status-conscious elite, but modern-day kimono designers and manufacturers are having a hard time selling what typically costs thousands of dollars to anyone who isn’t a refined and wealthy middle-aged Japanese woman. As a result, while most of today’s kimono industry is struggling to stay above water, budget second-hand shops are gaining popularity.

furugiya kimono shop tokyo
Local furugiya. Image by Chris Gladis, used under a Creative Commons Licence

You can pick up an authentic kimono for $100 or under, if you rustle around the right places. Your local furugiya (the name for a second-hand clothing store) is your first stop when looking for kimonos at an affordable price.

If you don’t know where to look, don’t stress — a lot of second-hand kimono shopping can be done online. Rakuten’s kimono page is a cheap, mix-and-match stop for easy access to inventory from hundreds of shops from all over Japan. it also gives you a quick and informative overlook of the different types of kimono and accessories out there. Random fact — Rakuten apparently is responsible for a full 10% of the kimono industry’s sales these days. Kimonos on Rakuten range from below a hundred dollars up to a couple of thousand — keep an eye out for special deals.

Another competitive option is Ichiroya, an online flea market that sells genuine, family-owned kimonos from Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, and Kobe, with the goods ranging from vintage to practically new. Their kimonos cost anything from 28 to 1 800 dollars, but most seem to range in the low hundreds. They have a handy Youtube page with short guide videos on kimono purchasing and wearing too.

If you can speak decent Japanese and are more inclined towards brick and mortar shops, any of the numerous Tansuya stores are ideal places to score a routinely-offered discount, as well as face-to-face kimono dressing assistance. A popular chain that sells new and recycled kimonos, Tansuya is a go-to choice for both kimono experts and newbies. Their prices are known to be a bit higher; second-hand kimonos usually cost a couple of hundred dollars, but if you’re just after the experience, you can rent one for around ¥8,000 a day. Depending on the branch, you can complement your shopping by exploring Japanese tea culture at the historic tea house district in Kagurazaka, ride a rickshaw in Asakusa, or do a bunch of equally cool stuff near the 38 other stores scattered around Tokyo.

inside a kimono shop tokyo buy cheap
Inside a kimono shop. Image by Okinawa Soba, used under a Creative Commons licence

Lastly, my favorite second-hand kimono shop is only a five-minute walk away from JR Harajuku Station. The family that has been running Sakaeya for over 50 years is now on Facebook and Tumblr (in English), making their social media a great place to start your kimono quest. The ultimate in cheapo kimono, Sakaeya not only sells second-hand kimono for as low as ¥1,000 (yes, you read that right), they also rent starting at ¥5,000, which includes dressing assistance and a tea ceremony. For a little extra, you can join their dance and photo shoot events as well. Plus, their CEO is an adorable cat named Totoro and their bucho, or department chief, is a raccoon who lives at the nearby Meiji Shrine. Why aren’t you trying on a kimono already?

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Ed’s note: Once you’ve got your cheapo kimono, all you need is a sword and bit of bamboo to complete your experience. Death stare optional. Woman in bamboo forest pic via Shutterstock.

Read on Tokyo Cheapo.

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Married to the Army: Japanese Women Recruit Husbands from Self-Defense Forces

Written by: William on May 21, 2014 at 11:58 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

As we know, officially Japan does not have an army, it has the very large and well-funded Self-Defense Forces (Jieitai). While its defensive role is currently up for debate, the SDF is ostensibly there to “protect” and look after Japan and its population. And this of course includes Japanese women.

The SDF’s Mamor magazine, which tends to feature women on the cover (typically Gravure idols in SDF uniforms, known in Mamor terms as the “Monthly Venus”), is popular with readers for the information it offers on the exploits of Japan’s soldiers. The title of the publication is a play on mamoru, meaning “to protect” in Japanese, though spot the “amor” in there too.

mamor jieitai japan self defense forces magazine sdf gravure idol

Yes, in between plenty of articles on gear and military matériel, Mamor has also run konkatsu “marriage hunting” articles about single SDF soldiers.

Women in Japan are increasingly interested in finding a future partner from the ranks of the SDF, apparently because the men are good at cooking, washing, cleaning and repairing things. The SDF’s public image also got a huge boost in the wake of the 2011 Tohoku disaster, where thousands of soldiers were dispatched to take part in rescue and recovery operations.

“After the quake, they looked very reliable,” said one woman who attended a matchmaking event in 2013 that was heavily oversubscribed with female applicants. “Even though the SDF soldiers all had their own families, they worked hard for the victims.”

jieitai konkatsu self defense forces matchmaking konkatsu marriage partner introduction service

One foreign woman married to a Japanese SDF soldier says “she thinks her husband’s job is something to be proud of because it reveals the strengths of his character, like loyalty, commitment and discipline.”

There are even numerous special konkatsu introduction services for linking women with prospective soldiering hubbies, such as Jietai Premium Club and I Vision (pictured).

The question now is if the government has its way and turns the SDF into a proper army, will Japanese women be put off — or turned on?

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Japanese single moms get new start in life in Osaka share house

Written by: William on May 20, 2014 at 9:46 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Mon Place is a share house in Osaka’s port district. Shared living facilities have been increasing recently in Tokyo. But this is a new take. It’s shared living for single moms.

Traditionally Japanese cities, with the exception of student or company dorms (and so-called “gaijin houses” for foreigners), haven’t offered many options for house shares, in part because apartments tend to be designed as compact boxes for living alone or as larger condos for small families, and also for cultural reasons (the “home” is often said to be more private than in other countries).

mon place osaka share house communal home single mothers mom divorce parents

This has been changing in recent years as a new generation of urbanites with unstable incomes and lifestyles seek out more flexible abodes where they can escape the often ridiculous upfront fees required when renting a regular apartment.

Mon Place offers a home for young moms who lack the resources to live alone. The renovated condo opened last August. It has six private rooms plus a communal kitchen, living room (with tatami), bathroom and toilet facilities.

mon place osaka share house communal home single mothers mom divorce parents

Rent is cheap, around 40,000 yen per month, and there is no “key money” (a gift you pay to the landlord) or agency handling fee, nor is a guarantor required. It is one of several shared houses in Osaka and Hyogo prefectures run the same company.

Why is there a need for this? It is not easy for single moms or divorcees to start a new life with their child or children. They often have to show proof of income to a landlord or real estate agent but they won’t have much except for some alimony and a part-time job, plus they would need quite a bit of money upfront for expensive deposits and the first month’s rent. Public housing is available but there is usually a lottery or waiting list, and it can take time to secure a place. If the women are victims of domestic violence, time is not something the women will have.

mon place osaka share house communal home single mothers mom divorce parents

In 2011 there were over 1.2 million single mother households in Japan, according to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Of these, 81% were divorcees and 8% were widows. Of the divorcees, a mere 8.6% were living in a house rented or owned under the mother’s name. When this is compared to single father households, 37.3% are living in a residence under the father’s name. The discrepancy is evidently due to women being unable to live with their child in their own place due to limited incomes and the intractable real estate system in Japan. They are forced to live with their own parents or rent somewhere under someone else’s name (e.g. their own parents again).

Affordable share houses like Mon Place are practical ways to give single moms independence and a safe place to live with their child, even if just temporarily.

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Monomane Make-Up: Zawachin and “impersonation cosmetics” makes copying culture in Japanese fashion

Written by: William on May 16, 2014 at 10:35 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Do you remember in the 1990′s when everyone wanted to have Jennifer Aniston’s “The Rachel” haircut? Well, right now in Japan girls are also trying to copy a look. Nothing new in that, except this “copying” itself has become the trend.

It is called monomane meiku, literally “imitation make-up”, and involves the use of both cosmetics, hair styles and strategic face masks to turn yourself into popular models or celebrities.

TV personality Zawachin (21), aka Kaori Ozawa, started things off by posting pictures on her official blog where she impersonated famous people’s look, especially former AKB48 idol Tomomi Itano. She attracted such a following that a talk event in late April attracted 300 women, many of whom were wearing her signature face mask and make-up.

zawachin monemane blog

Japan is an imitation culture. The idea of mane is ingrained, from cosplay (dressing up as characters, typically from anime or manga) to fake food samples in restaurants and the way Japan has long imported, assimilated and then reproduced (with changes) foreign ideas and objects, from weapons to cooking.

Combine this with a strong native idol culture, where on top of “idols” like AKB48, models, actresses and singers also attract a following for being talented or attractive, but also for representing a certain kind of look that female fans want to acquire. This means that fashion models regularly release books and get thousands of hits on their blogs where they post pictures of their look that day (along with their lunch).

zawachin monomane make-up cosmetic itano tomomi kyary pamyu pamyu

Zawachin can transform herself into actress Keiko Kitagawa, singer Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, figure skater Mao Asada, model Miranda Kerr (who is very popular in Japan), and more. Her book “Zawachin Make Magic”, released in January and in which she gives tips on cosmetics, has sold 120,000 copies. Her blog, in which goes into detail about the transformation process, has at times attracted over 1 million hits a day.

zawachin monomane make-up copy impersonate namie amuro miranda kerr

Zawachin has a repertoire of 60 people, including even male pop idol group Arashi. She says that “monomane meiku is different to ‘monomane‘ (impersonation) since anyone can do it”. With the right techniques and know-how, apparently you can become a star.

zawachin monemane make-up arashi

According to the Nikkei Marketing Journal, Zawachin is inspiring people as young as five years old to get in on the trend.

So next time you see someone on the streets of Tokyo who looks like a famous singer or actress, think twice before asking for their autograph. It might just be Zawachin or one of her many disciples.

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Hostess culture magazine Koakuma Ageha closes down

Written by: William on April 21, 2014 at 11:27 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

The end of an era.

Hostess culture magazine Koakuma Ageha will cease publication in the wake of the bankruptcy of its publisher, Inforest Publishing. The title first went on sale in October 2005 under a different name, it went on to become famous as the magazine of choice for gyaru. It promoted a unique kind of overtly glamorous look and featured actual hostesses as models.

Koakuma Ageha’s name meant “little demon swallowtail” (a play on agejo, another name for women who work as bar hostesses) and its target was female readers in their late teens and twenties. It spawned several “sister magazines” and special editions, such as Kimono Ageha (gyaru in kimono), Ane Ageha (for slightly older gyaru) and I Love Mama (for young gyaru mothers, naturally).

koakuma ageha hostess gyaru magazine fashion japan

Not only was it a media platform for disseminating gyaru and hostess culture, it also provided fashion and beauty tips, as well as dealing with the “darker” side of the lifestyle, such as depression, sex and other problems that may result from being a hostess.

It first came out as a special issue of Nuts, a magazine targeting Shibuya gyaru. This was so popular that circulation was increased within days and a follow-up came out in April 2006. It then lost the Nuts umbrella and from October 2006 became a separate monthly magazine in its own right.

koakuma ageha hostess gyaru magazine fashion japan

It hit circulation highs of 400,000-plus (who would have thought there could be so many wannabe hostesses and gyaru?!) in 2009-2010 and was defying the economic slump that claimed many other major magazine names in Japan. However, it has now apparently fallen victim to declining advertising revenue and the woes of its parent company.

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Japanese government funding dating services to boost birth rate

Written by: William on March 24, 2014 at 6:00 pm | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

In between pushing through a controversial secrecy bill and annoying its Asian neighbors, the Japanese government is hoping to combat the country’s chronic birth decline in a pretty unexpected way.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration assigned 3 billion yen ($30 million) for birthrate-boosting programs in this fiscal year’s extra budget, which include consultations and marriage information for singles, reports Bloomberg.

konkatsu marriage hunting spouse dating services machikon japan

Yuriko Koike is one of Abe’s politicians leading the efforts to increase the fertility rate, currently a very poor 1.41 per woman.

Under the central government’s program, prefectural governments can apply for grants of up to 40 million yen for new projects to support marriage, pregnancy, birth and child-rearing. Party expenses are excluded from this allocation with participants paying for themselves.

The Kochi government plans to apply for help to set up a consultation booth for people seeking spouses. Ibaraki prefecture intends to use funds for projects such as improving its existing marriage-support centers.

The rise of spouse-hunting services — called konkatsu and closer to traditional matchmaking than the kinds of dating services popular in the west — has been a signature of the Heisei era in Japan, where uncertainty over social status and employment has created a less confident generations who wait much longer to get married, if they bother at all. This isn’t such a problem — in fact, it’s far better than the situation before where many marriages were still more or less arranged for people of a certain class — but it will put a strain on the social welfare system. More singletons and less babies means less money coming in and more going out on people with no dependents to cover their health costs. Japan is a demographic time bomb, set to lose a third of its population by 2060.

Funding konkatsu services is all very well. However, isn’t this missing the wood for the trees? The government is still reluctant to provide maternity and paternity leave and benefits on a par with European nations. One major factor that isn’t being addressed is that many women don’t want to get married and/or have babies because they know it will likely spell the end for their career. It is much harder to return to work and taxation literally makes the extra salary worthless after you have accounted for childcare expenses. And this is before we even start talking about the severe lack of kindergartens.

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AKB48 now recruiting new member over 30 years old

Written by: William on March 5, 2014 at 11:54 am | In CULTURE | 1 Comment

Fancy joining AKB48?

It was announced yesterday that the idol mega group is now recruiting a new member to join the ranks for a limited time only. The newbie will be over 30 years old, a stark contrast to the ever-younger girls in the group, typically in their teens or early twenties.

The Adult AKB48 Auditions campaign is looking for a female idol to join the group from April 12th to August 31st. She can be a professional or amateur, married or single — but she must be 30 or over.

She will be a central part of advertising fronted by AKB in the spring and summer, as well as participate in concerts, hand-shaking events and more. The whole thing is part of a campaign for Papico, an ice cream product by Glico.

akb48 over 30 years old new member recruit

We look forward to seeing an older AKB girl, though it remains to see how far they are prepared to take it. After all, Japanese women tend to look much younger than they are and there are plenty of famous models and actresses in their forties and fifties still regarded as beauties. But will AKB genuinely accepted a middle-aged “idol” or rather opt for a “still” cute-looking lady just into her thirties?

At present, the oldest member of AKB48 is Haruna Kojima (just under 26 years old). Mariko Shinoda graduated last year in July when she was a ripe old 27.

Applications for the new “older” AKB48 idol have already opened and close on March 28th. Ladies, what are you waiting for?!

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