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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Staying Safe As A Woman In Japan

When you look at the headline, you might wonder just what the hell I would know about staying safe as a woman in Japan.

Certainly I wasn't privy to the problems of many women in Japan, but I did sometimes make a great sounding board to a few who trusted me.

Over on the whimsical Maia Does Japan blog, Maia, a current JETer writes about another female AET (assistant English teacher) who seems to be getting unwanted attention from her male supervisor.
Read about that HERE.

I'm going to reprint it below, because there doesn't appear to be a direct link to THAT article - an impressive bit of advice from Maia.

Disturbing the Wa -
There is an ALT who has been posting on a  JET facebook group about being put in an awkward situation with her supervisor. She is quite young and he is much older, married and giving off creepy vibes - like insisting they hang out, changing plans so she can attend events, and even so far as practically kidnapping her under the false pretenses that they were going to a student sporting event that she later found out while en route was cancelled.

Situations like this happen. Extreme ones like this are rare, but they still sometimes happen. 

When ALTs first arrive on JET sometimes they have a mentality that they’re going to try and be “Japanese” about situations. For example: being non confrontational, avoiding negative situations and not disturbing the “wa” (harmony within the work place) However in doing so sometimes they find themselves in awkward, uncomfortable and even dangerous situations. 

Please remember that you are not Japanese, nor expected to act Japanese while on JET. You are also not required to put up with or silently deal with anything that makes you feel uncomfortable let alone, dangerous situations.

If something is bothering you, please speak up!
    •    Directly mention it to the person who is making you feel uncomfortable (maybe he/she isn’t aware their actions are having that effect)
    •    Talk to a teacher at your school you trust, talk to your Principal/Vice Principal. Tell them how you feel.
    •    Talk to your PA (prefectural advisor) - while they technically cannot counsel you on your problems due to the new CLAIR Counseling changes, they still are someone that cares about your well-being and will listen.
    •    Talk to your BOE. Directly report the issue, especially if you have directly mentioned it to the instigator and the actions have persisted.
In Short, there are people here to talk. Do not be afraid to speak up and make a fuss - you don’t have to accept something just because it is happening. Especially if you are uncomfortable or in a potentially dangerous situation.

Well… good on Maia. That's great advice.

Being a man in Japan, I, of course, never had any problems with my male supervisors. Sexual or otherwise.I'm not sure I should have said 'of course', but... I didn't.

I do know of one AET who was told he should get a haircut by his Board of Education, because it was a bit long - but in my mind he had a perfect right to have his hair any way he wanted. He was a former professional soccer player after all…. but besides that… we are foreigners and aren't put up to the same standards as the Japanese when it comes to living in Japan.

Yes… I wanted to fit in, but not at the expense of my individuality. That was, after all, why we were originally selected to go to Japan. To celebrate both our differences and our similarities with the Japanese.

Now… I was there in Japan starting in 1990-1993… beginning in the third year of the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme. So things were still pretty different.

But while my pal was asked to cut HIS hair, my Board of Education in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken celebrated my individuality.

I can still recall one of the office workers there telling me I looked 'cool' as I grew my hair longer and longer to pony-tail it, resembling the still-famous Japanese comedian Shimura Ken (surname first).

The students loved my individuality and hair and style of dress… I wore suits and ties every day at the various seven junior high schools I taught at in the city… but I wore color! I had a teal (more green than blue) jacket, a red silk jacket with purple threads I had made in Singapore, along with a silver suit, a blue pin-stripe suit and a black suit with red and white striping in it that was thick and perfect for winter.

Along with that, I also wore shirts that had color - yeah, white like every other Japanese business man, but I also had purple, blue silk with purple threads and a green one with red threads (also designed and made for me in one day in Singapore.

And, when my hair grew long and I was able to pony tail it (20- to 30-cm long tail), I would use colored ties that matched my shirts - many a gift from the female Japanese student population.

I even wore a black leather eye patch after I scratched my cornea… changing the string attachment color to match my hair band on a daily basis. The fact that I continued to wear the eye patch long after my eye healed because I liked the cool pirate look is another story.

The fact is, my office was nonjudgmental and non-interfering in my life in Japan.

It wasn't like that at the beginning, however. They were quite concerned when they learned that I had never been on my own before and had no clue how to cook, clean, shop for food, do laundry, sew or anything else.

But no big deal… neither did any Japanese man, according to the Japanese women I talked with.

For the men, if they weren't married and had a wife to do this, they were single and lived at home and had their mom do it for them. Or, if lucky, a girlfriend.

Now, back to Maia and the poor JET being harassed' by her male Japanese supervisor. Sucks.

For any foreign woman living in Japan, it can be dicey when alone with men, let alone Japanese men, who (back then) did not seem to have the same boundaries as the gaijin (foreign) men.

It's why when some of the AET women wanted to go down to Tokyo for a night of dancing, rather than have to beat away the unwanted advances of men (gaijin and Japanese), I would be asked to accompany them as their sole male guardian.

I was the bouncer.

It seems kind of strange, because back then I wasn't nearly as bulky with muscle as I am now.I was not the 'bouncer type', nor am I now.

But, despite a predilection for sleeping with a lot of women - both gaijin and Japanese - I was still considered honorable enough to be their security.

I'm still unsure if that's a compliment or not, but let's assume it is a compliment.

In my third year in Japan, Pamela (a first-year)… an absolutely drop-dead gorgeous American blonde that could easily have been a professional model if she had so desired, would call me up. That first time she just laid it out for me saying I seemed honest… a good friend - Ugh, the 'F-word'… and would I be interested in accompanying her and some friends to Tokyo to go dancing - not as a boyfriend or anything like that, but as protection.

Great… I am now a condom. Still… being asked by Pamela… that was an honor. When it was time to meet her down south at her part of Tochigi, it turned out it was just her and me.

Naturally, I wondered if that was all just a trick to get me alone because I was such a catch (LOL), but I decided to play it exactly as laid out.

We went to Tokyo, I took her to the dance clubs and bars I knew about in Roppongi in Tokyo, we had lots of drinks, sweated and danced our asses off - and as such didn't really get drunk - and stayed up all night before catching a Sunday train back up to our prefecture, where I walked her to her door, said 'see ya later' and caught the next train back to my city.

We did this a few times… and like I said, I was her friend and her guardian. I learned a lot about her - none of which bears repeating here, suffice to say that I hope she is alive and well and happy and I am thankful for the opportunity to have gotten to know her even just a little bit.

So… she knew that in Japan, an unaccompanied woman can be harassed by men. She took steps to avoid being placed in such a situation. I was duty-bound to be her friend.

Yeah, I wanted nothing more than to jump this tiny dancer, but my momma didn't raise no ass clown. Well, maybe my brother.

Japan… yeah… the women do need to take care.

I believe that back when I was there - or maybe a year before or maybe after - the daughter of a Canadian rock and roller went missing. Neither hide nor hair of her was ever discovered. I believe the band member was part of the group Crowbar. HERE.

Ashley, my US girlfriend that first year in Japan… she had her ass squeezed by the local pharmacist. Others had Japanese men talk about their large breasts right in front of them, as though it was no big deal and that the women should be happy for their attention.

Maia, however, is correct. Don't allow a situation to spiral out of hand.

Per my blog, don't allow yourself to be placed in a situation you aren't comfortable with.

As for being concerned about not having privacy - with your bosses always wanting to know what is going on in your life... let's look at it from their point of view.

You... the dumb gaijin in a strange land, are THEIR responsibility.

If something happens to YOU, it is a stain on their reputation.

My bosses were completely flabbergasted when I was hit by two different cars on two separate occasions less than one week apart - just two months into my stay in Japan.

Holy crap, they must have crapped their pants.

Then when I scratched my cornea (twice)... got some weird stomach bug... or weird allergy to Japanese black pine that was horrible for a couple of days... oh, and when I had my own personal female sexual stalker that wouldn't let me sleep because she kept wanting sex, it was a big deal for my supervisor and the Board of Education.

Naturally, on that last point, I was very reluctant to tell my supervisors about that because... well, dammit.... it was sex with a super hot Japanese babe who was into all sort of kinky stuff I had only heard of but never experienced before.

But... the ceaseless sex was both physically and emotionally draining as I went days and days without sleep, as my stalker girlfriend Junko eventually quit university to sleep during the day while watching me at work.

I eventually confessed what was going on to a male teacher at a school, who got the Board of Education involved, who got her away from me and got her some much needed help.

See... help is available in Japan should you need it.

I know, I know... I'm all over the place in this blog... but just know that there are people you can talk to. Talk to other teachers... talk to other people at the BOE... talk to other AETs... talk to the head of the JET Programme in your prefecture. Don't hide.

Do not put yourself in a compromising position where you are left alone. Don't accept a first-floor apartment - that was something JET mentioned to us before we left Toronto... to complain if that was the case. But... not every JET department in every city was as smart as Toronto's. Ashley... from Georgia, USA, she was on a first floor... but I didn't know that for a couple of weeks after arriving, and, as she says, it was too late by then. Find out in advance, if you can. You don't need any pervs trying to peek into your window or stealing your unmentionables (underwear - there, I mentioned them).

Travel with a companion. Travel with a male companion if possible. Lay out the rules beforehand so HE doesn't get any wrong ideas. What's wrong with being honest? Nothing, as far as Pamela or myself was concerned.

Concerned about about the Board of Education knowing your dirty laundry? Don't be. They can be a great help. As far as that poor JET being stalked or made uncomfortable by her male supervisor... wow...I suppose you should talk to a JET (Japan Teacher of English) and ask for help or advice. If possible, talk to a male teacher... yeah, that sounds sexist... but it's still a male dominated society.

Perhaps that JET is simply misconstruing his attention as unwanted advances... but with the help of a JTE that subject can be broached. Perhaps he/supervisor just lacks the social skills to do his job properly.

Of course, perhaps she was not misconstruing the attention... and by airing her concerns, that supervisor might then learn that his actions are being followed.  

Whatever... the important thing is to take action. Sooner, rather than later.

Andrew Joseph

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