Dickens in China: Industrialism and the Perpetuation of Social Divides

by Marcel Koníček

We probably all own something made in one of innumerable factories in eastern Asia, be it China, Taiwan, Thailand or somewhere else. These articles are so ubiquitous that we may sometimes wonder, which of the things we own are not “made in China”.

Even though the news outlets inform us quite frequently about the problems of factory workers and the conditions they live in, they do not tell us much about the system that enables Chinese work force to be as cheap as it is right now.

When I first started to inquire into the issues of Chinese factory workers, a striking comparison came to my mind. The system clearly reminded me factories of nineteenth-century Europe. Twelve hour shifts, meagre pay, harsh working conditions, overcrowded accommodations and no possibilities of moving up the ladder of the company, all that was very common in the European factories of nineteenth century was also clearly present in the Chinese factories of the twenty first century.

However, the main difference between them lies in the way the system was created and sustained. While in Europe, the industrialization came into being without the will of the ruling class of the time, the landed gentry, so the governments consisting mainly of the members of the landed gentry did not feel much obligation to pass laws that would serve to disrupt the, so the development was guided mainly by the invisible hand of the market, this is not true for the current Chinese situation. Chinese government consciously enacts laws that perpetuate the factory work in its current Dickensian state. The main part of these policies is the hukou system, which limits migration of the rural population into cities.

While in the nineteenth century the rural workforce freely migrated to the cities, rising their population several times, and lived their life there with their families, raising up new generation with much better chance to climb the social ladder, rural workers of China cannot.  They are limited by the hukou, house registration, system that prevents rural workers from permanently settling in the city. They can live in the cities only for a limited time based on their employment and their children cannot attend schools in the city. This system also bars them from doing any urban jobs “except of those considered dirty and low paying” (Kam and Buckingham, 583) and keep their children from attending schools outside the district they were born in. This basically creates system of “urban-rural apartheid” and “cities with invisible walls” (Kam and Buckingham, 583), that makes the rural workforce very cheap and thus perpetuating the industrial system. Also, since the workers come from many language backgrounds, their employment is not long-term and they are basically at mercy of their employers, it is very hard for them to organize into unions or similar organizations. Thus, the system perpetuates itself and the social divides between the migrant workforce and the city dwellers broaden.

The ones gaining profit from this system are the rich industrial companies and their stock owners, not the people working there. It is quite ironic, that the country that uses this perfected form of unequal social organisation is the one that has “People’s” in its name and that claims to be “socialistic”. Only the future can say if the system holds.

Works Cited

Kam Wing Chan and Will Buckingham. 2008. “Is China Abolishing the Hukou System?” The China Quarterly 195:582-606. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20192236

The Consequences of Being a Migrant Hostess in Japan

English: Host and hostess clubs in Ginza (Plac...

English: Host and hostess clubs in Ginza (Place – Ginza-7-Chōme) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Luke Kariniemi

In class we have been speaking about the advantages and disadvantages of Filipino women migrating to Japan and working there as “hostesses”, the experiences they have, and how Japan as a country deals with the perceived image these hostesses create.

Many Filipino women migrant to Japan to work as a hostess for a variety of reasons. Mainly, they migrate for the large increase in wages compared to what they could receive in their home country. They are paid to entertain male clients, pouring their drinks, offering flirtatious comments, singing karaoke and sometimes dancing. Many of the women enjoy doing this work and often see themselves as professional singers or dancers. The higher wages they receive from doing this can be sent back home to help support their families better than if they had stayed working in their domestic country.

However, there are many downsides to working as a hostess too. As Rhacel Salazar Parreñas says in her book Illicit Flirtations, “sexual harassment is the norm in hostess work”. Hostesses have to bear the harassment for however long the client has paid for. In many cases, this can be seen as male superiority. Men basically pay hostesses to compliment them and to have the ability to choose which girl they want, dismissing the less attractive ones. Essentially, ‘fluffing’ up the men’s ego. This can be soul-destroying for women and many of them would not be able to put up with being so insulted, let alone sexually harassed.

All of these problems can escalate very quickly when it comes to the world of migrant hostesses. Usually, a Filipino women with an ‘entertainer’ visa gets the job as a hostess through a ‘middleman broker’—similar to hiring agencies in western countries, apart from the fact that once they get a job for the woman in a specific club, the woman then ‘owes’ them a debt for doing so. This stops them from quitting their job before the contract with the middleman expires, because they will often be penalised if they do so. This can lead to them doing jobs that they do not want to perform, often including sexual acts, because they cannot quit. Hostesses become vulnerable to human rights violations because they end up depending on their sponsoring employers.

When the U.S. State Department labelled around 80,000 Filipina hostesses as “trafficked persons” in 2004, thinking that they were suffering forced prostitution, the Japanese government imposed new restrictions on the entertainer visa, believing that it would help the women be rid of the ‘hostess’ title. Although it did just that, lowering the number of Filipina hostesses in Japan by 90%, it may not have been for the best after all. When all of these women were sent back to their home country, they also went back to a much lower wage and therefore couldn’t care for their family as they could when working in Japan as a hostess. For a lot of them, their skill sets would only include things that the hostess job involved, and so there’s a chance they would end up going into prostitution which would have been a lot rougher in impoverished countries like the Philippines. Altogether, Japan managed to get rid of the image that other countries perceived it to be concerning the so called “trafficked persons”. Nevertheless, when in fact these women were not being illegally trafficked into Japan, but going through their own free will, the consequences may not be that great after all.

Human trafficking’s profit, risk, and victims

Red Light district in Amsterdam: Dark shadows cast by global flesh trade. (Copyright © 1996-2000 Bruno J. Navarro/Fotophile.com)

Anonymous student post

Human trafficking entails recruiting, transporting and harbouring of a person through “coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power, as well as abuse of vulnerability of women” (Clark 2003). It is a low risk, high reward endeavor for those who organize it. Women in impoverished countries have limited options for supporting themselves and their families, leading them to look for work outside of their country of origin, making them vulnerable to a trafficker’s false promises of high-paying jobs as a waitress or entertainer. Traffickers, exploiting the economic need, often confiscate the victims’ travel documents during or after transport or physically imprison them in brothels, houses, or bind them by dept. In some cases the women choose to subject themselves to the traffickers knowing the danger, as they might end doing the same work at home for lower pay.

People are trafficked into the sex industry not to satisfy the demands of the traffickers, but that of the purchasers. Hence, human trafficking is a lucrative market for all persons involved, except for the women, and/or children involved. Even if it can be argued that some women decide by themselves to subject themselves to traffickers, the majority of women are not aware of what kind of labor that is expected by them when arriving at another country. Moreover, traffickers are extremely good in manipulating the truth and take advantage of the poor living conditions the women have in their country of origin. Therefore, it can be stated that it is a chain of people who take advantage of  vulnerable women in mainly impoverished countries to satisfy their demands. Moreover, in some countries it is a extremely profitable market, and therefore government in impoverished countries take rather small action towards the traffickers. One reason is that the sex industry can be linked to tourism. It can be argued that Asian countries have a different view on women than for example, the western culture, and therefore become an popular destination for people who not originates from the Asian culture. It can be difficult for government to stop trafficking and sexual industry when there is a growth in the tourist sector, and especially since it may require a lot of assets to track down and get evidence against traffickers.

Trafficking humans is a cross border movement where several actors are involved. It is not only humans that are smuggled  between borders, it is a complex net where cash flow and illegal documents cross borders around the world. Even if there are several International laws against human trafficking it is as mentioned extremely difficult to track down the trafficker. Moreover, it is also difficult to find women, and / or children that are willing to testify against the smugglers, since they are afraid that their families will be either hurt by the traffickers, or feeling ashamed by their daughter’s occupation. It is also very difficult for the vulnerable women to escape their situation since they are being illegal immigrants in the hosting country, and some countries treat illegal immigrants in a rather harsh way, and the fear of police and immigration officers forces the women to maintain in the hands of traffickers, sex buyers and other persons involved in the profit chain.

Reference

Clark, Michele A. 2003. “Human Trafficking Casts Shadow on Globalization.” YaleGlobal, April 23. http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/human-trafficking-casts-shadow-globalization

Immigration, gender structures and their present roles

Cover of "Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, a...

Cover via Amazon

by Ludvig Bergman

Men have since way back dominated over women with authoritative power, remnants of that might still have some effects on the relationship between the contemporary “equal” men and women in our global contemporary society. Global Woman by Ehrenreich and Hochschild describes how women from third world countries move to developed contries to do “women’s work” with hopes of a higher salary to provide for her family in her home country. Even though this method in many cases secure the financial problems, it also contributes to splitting up families, mothers leaving their underage children without the nurture and care they need.

This shows how third world citizens now take on the role of the traditional suppressed woman in developed countries where the women, due to becoming more “equal” to the breadwinning men, no longer have time to attend such matters as upbringing and childcare. The gender norms expect women to take care of the home and the children while the man should support the family and work long hours.

In the Swedish modern society where I grew up, this might no longer be the case. Men and women more and more split the parental leave between them to give each other the oppurtunity to spend time with the child as well as not loose to much days off from work because of the new addition to the family. The issue comes first when the parental leave is over and the child old is enough to no longer need constant attention from it’s parents. When both of the parents return to work, who is now supposed to take on the traditional role of the mother? This is where the immigrant nannies come into the picture. Nannies whose care for their own children gets neglected to help maintain the gender roles of the developed west.

The salary gap between men and women are in contemporary times static. Unlike past times where men were considered to be the sole breadwinners of the family, in contemporary times that no longer applies. With men no longer being the only breadwinners of the family, services such as daycare and kindergarden allows women to have a family alongside with having a career.

Maatz describes in her Forbes article “The Awful Truth Behind The Gender Pay Gap” how full-time working women in the U.S for the last decade have had median earnings equivalent to 77% of men’s earnings. That such a big difference actually exists in our modern society shows, in my opinion, how either unmotivated any change must be or how uneducated people must be of the current situation. This doesn’t only affect women’s financial status over time but have immediate consequenses regarding issues such as repayment of student loans. Women pay the same tuitions and have the same student loans as their comparative male students. The result of this financial unequality is, according to the article, women already from the beginning being financially behind men in a race where they most commonly cannot ever catch up.

References

The Awful Truth Behind The Gender Payment Gap by Lisa M. Maatz http://www.forbes.com/sites/forbeswomanfiles/2014/04/07/the-awful-truth-of-the-gender-pay-gap-it-gets-worse-as-women-age/

Ehrenreich, Barbara, and Arlie Hochschild. eds. 2004. Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy. New York: Holt and Company.

Do as the Romans Do, Turn the Other Way My Dear We are in The East

by Sarah Aartila

From the many mangas about the pure girl, if she were judged according to western philosophy on the case of chastity she would be described as a ‘slut’. The Western philosophy praises individualism, straightforwardness and linear logic, unlike Eastern philosophy which believes in a circular logic with both sides given equal due, and collectivism which sees what is best for the group as a whole. It is true that trafficking is an issue, but what can be done when poor countries have an ever increasing population and a shrinking of available jobs?

Throughout the world women have been and still are considered second class citizens whose only worth is to be a commodity. From the dagongmei in China who toil away to make home better in the factory via honest work, to the foreign hostesses of Japan who freely or sometimes unwillingly offer extra services. These women have freely left home and while many do it for individualistic reasons, most still send money home. Not all hostesses are trafficked nor are all of them illegal aliens (Parreñas 2011). The returning migrant worker comes home a hero. They are pressured like peers by the bar into getting requests. Requests come via promised sex. Some are forced yet they are not the majority like Noini who was forced into prostitution, yet Noini returned again for hostess work. According to Noini:

“We return from Japan with lots of presents and (are) well-dressed. We are the dream of any girl who wants to help her family. I could never tell a Filipino what I told you. They would consider me the lowest possible person in the world. I could not face that. Everyone here pretends” (Schmetzer 1991).

These women sacrifice themselves for the greater good of making the lives of their families at home better. To them being a hostess is better than being a nanny in a middle eastern country where they have a greater potential to be beaten. The salary of £30 an hour offers more buying power than a professional job (Quinn 2012). Besides such pay is fuelled by the many companies who pick up the tab for their salarymen. Many claim that the reason for such clubs is due to Japanese males who fear rejection from Japanese women and that Japanese men look down on all other asians. Also many Japanese people do not like the idea of Filipino women taking care of their elderly. Besides these views justify the right of these men to harass women on the job.

In order to improve the lives of these workers laws Parreñas suggests that laws should be created to protect such women from sexual harassment. These women shouldn’t even be considered as migrant workers, but rather as contract workers or indentured servants as many now can’t enter without the rigorous training required of those entering with an entertainment visa. What was originally intended to eliminate trafficking; the strict regulations for an entertainment visa has caused more to become contract workers. Perhaps the West is meddling too far into the East, trying to press Western morality into an Eastern mindset.

In the end these women are faring way better than their at home counterparts and are helping their country. No one may feel proud about such work as they keep it a secret from home, but even with the Western morality that has been pressed onto the Philippines Eastern morality still seems to prevail overall.

References

Schmetzer, U. (1991, November 20). Filipina Girls Awaken To A Nightmare. Chicago Tribune, 1-2. Retrieved October 28, 2014, from http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1991-11-20/news/9104150088_1_recruiter-japan-filipina/2

Parreñas, Rhacel Salazar. 2011. Illicit Flirtation: Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Quinn, S. (2012, September 10). The grim truth about life as a Japanese hostess. The Telegraph. Retrieved October 28, 2014, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/9524899/The-grim-truth-about-life-as-a-Japanese-hostess.html

Is the real goal of Japanese whitening cosmetics to be white-skinned?

by Umene Shikata

When you walk around Japan in the summer time, no matter whether it is in the city or rural areas, you will see women wearing long sleeves, hat, sunglasses, or long gloves that reach their elbows. You may also see those ladies (most of the time above their 20s) using a parasol also on a sunny day. These behaviors of Japanese women are understood as an indication of their preferences for white skin.

Ashikari Mikiko, a social anthropologist who studied at Kenbridge University, argues that the Japanese white-skin preference does not have anything to do with being like westerners, but rather cultivate “a Japanese form of whiteness which is based on the Japanese identity as a race” (2005:73). This means that she does not think Japanese people have this tendency for white skin because they have a complex towards their ‘yellow’ skin (since Japanese are often seen as a yellow-skinned race), neither do they have a desire to get westerners’ white skin. They want to be white because being white is a demonstration of belonging to ‘us’, which in this case means ‘being Japanese’.

I agree that Japanese people do not try to be western through whitening their own skin. However, the relation between white skin preference and sense of belonging to the ‘us/Japanese’ remains unclear to me. I asked my Japanese friends (a total of 15 people, both men and women, 20 to 22 years old) what they thought about Ashikari’s connection of being white and belonging to ‘us’, and all of them thought it was not fully explaining their feeling towards whitening their skin.

Then, to understand better what they are actually thinking and feeling, I made further question whether they prefer white skin or black skin, the reason of feeling in such way, whether white skin preference was based on admiration for westerners and, in the end, what is a ‘beautiful skin’ for them. All of them answered me that, as Ashikari mentioned in her article, their, or Japanese people’s white skin preference has nothing to do with westerners’ skin color, neither with a race issue. Rather, all of them answered that people doing whitening care are doing so for their own preference and happiness, in the other words, to be “cute” (kawaii) or “beautiful” (kirei). What should be underlined, however, is the fact none of them brought up ‘white color’ or ‘white skin’ to their idea of ‘beautiful skin’ image.

Their concept of beautiful skin, including boys’ opinions as well, could be divided in three categories; smooth (nameraka na hada, sube sube shita hada), no skin trouble (hada are no nai hada) such as acne, dry skin, and blotches, and finally transparency (toumeikan no aru hada). If you research ‘essences for beautiful skin’ (bihada no joken) on the internet, the results are the same.

It seems that Japanese people, both women and men, put skin condition above actual skin color. Some of my friends who answered me mentioned that they do not really care whether the skin is rather white, yellow, or well-tanned as long as it is healthy looking with no skin troubles. For instance, if you read Shiseido’s whitening product haku’s promotion page you may realize they are talking more about how to avoid blotches, or to make smoother skin condition rather than to actually having white-colored skin.

Moreover, Shiseido’s answer to the question “what is the containment of skin whitening products” is “active ingredient which suppresses the generation of melanin and prevent a blotches or freckles”. This means that when Japanese says white skin, they are not talking about actual skin color. However, they are talking about skin without any blotches, clean and beautiful skin condition.

If you take this assumption as the real fact, then it might be easier to understand Japanese women’s preferences, opinion and behavior. They prefer “white” skin, because it is clean, literally beautiful in the way there is no skin problem, and also shows they care about their own selves which in Japan is considered as a “high womenness” (joshi ryoku ga takai). They try to avoid being tanned because with the sun, tan skin tend to have more blotches and is drier (kasa kasa). It also may cause skin problems. This is why many people, including my own self, felt the reason of whitening as demonstration of belonging not appropriate to explain their tendencies and feelings.

Indeed, there may be some culture which considers blotches as a good thing, or something that has no importance. However, in this case we are talking more about cultural differences to see the world. However, it can be said that, at least Japanese whitening tendencies are not related to racial issues or belonging to us/Japanese, but rather to a pure cultural beauty concepts.

References

Ashikari, Mikiko. 2005. “Cultivating Japanese Whiteness: The ‘Whitening’ Cosmetic Boom and the Japanese Identity”, Journal of Material Culture 10(1):73-91.

Watashi by Shiseido, Questions and answers: https://www.shiseido.co.jp/faq/qa.asp?faq_id=1000000335

Watashi by Shiseido, Shiseido no bihaku tokusyuu: https://www.shiseido.co.jp/beauty/bihaku/

Women on the move, but can’t men do domestic labour too?

English: Domestic worker in Colombia Nederland...

English: Domestic worker in Colombia Nederlands: Huishoudster in Colombia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Lisbeth Damsbo Lyngs

Women in the 21st century are on the move as never before, as labour migration has become a response to demands created in mostly America and Europe. As women in these areas of the world have increasingly joined men in working outside of the home, less time has been left to do the the traditional housework labour, such as taking care of the children. Women from poorer countries in the world respond to this demand and migrate from their home countries to work as care takers and nannies, fueled by the need to support their own family financially. They then work in other people’s houses, do the laundry, cook dinner, clean the house, take care of children that are not their own, but all for a salary much higher than the standard they come from.

Ehrenreich and Hochschild discuss this movement of labour and it is consequences in their text “Global Woman”. They also discuss how the migrant women workers leave their own children to be taken care of by the children’s older siblings or grandmothers, how sons and daughters do not see their mothers while growing up and may experience neglect, while their said mothers’ affection is being given to other people’s children in a foreign country.

Additionally, not every domestic woman worker gets what she was promised. A minimum wage a month gets cut in half. Eight hours of rest a day gets ignored, seven days a week. They get overworked, stressed and in many cases abused and forced into giving sexual favors. The problem is, that many of these women are under migrant contracts through United Arab Emirates, which ties them to a single employer to act as their visa-sponsor. Even if they experience abuse and mistreatment, it is not possible to switch employer. The following video is a short documentary, encouraging this contract system to change, so the domestic workers can be protected by law:

My question is, why does it have to be like this?

It is great how women in first world countries today work outside the homes and more frequently do “men’s work”, as it fuels equality. It is no longer expected of the woman to do the domestic labour. She can get an education and work just as much as her husband. But the domestic labour still needs to be done, and so it transfers to migrant women workers with little to no other options of making enough money to support their family. Add to that an ill mentality of the employer, “I bought you, therefore I own you,” and you have grounds for a dangerous situation.

So how can we change this pattern of women from third world countries leaving their family behind, migrating to do domestic work and risking abuse?

Since the demand comes from countries where women’s position has shifted from being at home to being out in the work market, I have a question:

Where are the men?

If things are falling apart because women cannot do all the domestic work anymore, shouldn’t there be another half of the population to step up? If men in first world countries split the labour at home with their wives, picked up the children from daycare institutions and cooked dinner while the other did the laundry, etc., wouldn’t it work?

I am aware that it is not as simple as “get men to do more housework”. But as the social expectation has shifted for women to get an education and a job in first world countries, so is it shifting for men. Slowly, but surely, the traditional gender roles are fading and it is becoming more common for men to do more household chores that is not “fixing the light when it’s broken” and “cutting the hedge”. I believe, even if I may simplify it too much, that there is a way to balance work, children, house chores, and free time if we divide the effort and prioritize the right things.

Finally, as a result the demand for domestic workers would decrease, and women from third world countries would not have to face poor treatment, non-satisfying salary, discrimination and abuse when migrating to a first world country. They could stay with their family, raise their own children and focus their energy on their own household.

But the money really has to come from somewhere, doesn’t it?

Seeking Whiteness: For Asian Women Only?

by John Wang

As Ashikari (2005) mentions in “Cultivating Japanese Whiteness: The ‘Whitening‘ Cosmetics Boom and the Japanese Identity”, in contemporary Japanese society, the strong preference for light complexions and skin tone was actually expressed as a dichotomy of ‘white’ and ‘black’. Another interesting result coming from the survey she conducted was that although in contemporary Japan the dark skin was spoken of negatively, “many informants, both men and women, insisted that white skin was the ideal only for women, and that dark skin was the ideal for men.” I found similar arguments in many Chinese media, although recently I was actually against this argument since I felt that seeking whiteness is no more a social phenomenon, which just limited to the Asian women. Asian men are also gradually involved.

According to International Enterprise (IE) Singapore, the sales of skin care products for men increased 30 percent to over $280 million in China. Some industry giants including L’Oreal from France and Shisedo from Japan are looking forward to the boost of their business in China. China is going to account for half of the global growths in the men’s skin care market within the next five years.

Personally I did not realize this tendency until I met one of my roommates in my high school. In the first day of entry, the small bags he brought to the dormitory surprised all of his roommates, including me. There were so many bottles of cosmetics that we had never heard about and there were also some foreign cosmetics. He was always the last to go to class since he usually spent around twenty minutes to put on makeup. We were even more surprised that after a month, some female students started to ask him for advice on choosing the right white-lightening cosmetics. His skin was truly lighter compared to most male students, due to long-term use of different kinds of cosmetics. After I came to study in Japan, I also found male students using white-lightening cosmetics in order to keep their skin looking good and white. Some of my classmates in my high school have also started to use whitening cosmetic products.

So question here is whether lightening cosmetics are also “must-haves” for Asian men?

Research conducted by Zheng (2010) shows that the main reason for the increase in men’s use of cosmetics is that cosmetic use has become a symbol of men who care about their appearance, while previously this use had been regarded as feminine. Zheng argues that this change is due to the influence of mass media and advertisements. Meantime, rapid economic development has made cosmetics affordable for more men. Being able to using cosmetics is also one way to show one’s social status. These factors have made whiteness more appreciated. However, Zheng also pointed out that this tendency does not challenge the idea that tanned skin is a proper skin color for males. These two standards have become parallel in Asian countries.

The spread of whiteness as a standard of beauty seems unstoppable in Asian countries. With globalization and the spread of western aesthetics, whitening cosmetics are becoming must-haves for both men and women. It is creating massive business chances as well as changing people’s taste of aesthetics. I feel it is interesting if Ashikari can do her survey again, this time focusing on the opinions of Japanese men. They result might be similar as it was for women in contemporary Japan.

References

Ashikari, Mikiko. 2005. Cultivating Japanese Whiteness: The ‘Whitening’ Cosmetics Boom and the Japanese Identity. Journal of Material Culture, 10 , 73-91.

Cosmetic market for men in China booming – Media Centre – International Enterprise Singapore (2011). Retrieved from International Enterprise (IE) Singapore, Web site: http://www.iesingapore.gov.sg/Media-Centre/News/2011/2/Cosmetic-market-for-men-in-China-booming

Zheng, J. (2012). 男士护肤品掀起热潮. 日用化学品科学, 10 10-16.

Progress and Subjugation

Trafficking of women, children and men

Trafficking of women, children and men (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Michael McDonnell

The introduction to the 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report notes, “The common denominator of trafficking scenarios is the use of force, fraud, or coercion to exploit a person for profit. A victim can be subjected to labour exploitation, sexual exploitation, or both”. In Illicit Flirtations: Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo, Rhacel Parreñas explains the identification of the majority of Filipino women working as hostesses in Japan as victims of trafficking, and how the clampdown in visa sponsorship that resulted has in fact been detrimental to their freedom overall. According to Parreñas, the women she encountered who came to Japan to work, came of their own free will and many already knew what to expect from having spoken to women who have previously made the journey. They enter Japan with legitimate entertainer visas and employers willing to sponsor them.

She states that rather it is the restrictive conditions of these visas that make women more susceptible to forced labour and exploitation. For example, in order to be granted a permanent spouses visa, the applicant has to remain married to a Japanese citizen for five years creating a situation where the wife is indebted to the husband. If an employer asks a worker to do a job she is not comfortable with for whatever reason she cannot leave the job without becoming an undocumented illegal worker, becoming reliant on an employer to provide both work and protection from being found out. These unbalanced relationships are, according to Parreñas, what increase the likelihood of forced labour and abuse, not the position as a Hostess itself.

This exploitation of vulnerable workers exists all around the globe. In Bangladesh, workers, more than 85% of whom are female, in clothing factories many making goods on behalf of international sportswear companies are still paid below the minimum wage, are forced to work overtime, and are sometimes verbally and physically abused. Attempts to protest or strike are met with police brutality. Their dependence on this money to support their families prevents them from leaving.

HK Victoria Park Philipino Migrant Workers

Photo credit: Wikipedia

The anti-poverty charity War on Want, who are involved in ending the exploitation of Bangladeshi workers in the clothing industry, advise against boycotts of the goods produced in these factories as it could lead to job losses for the people they are trying to protect. War on Want are instead pushing for a change in the practices of these sportswear companies and the guarantee of improved pay and conditions for the workers.

The labeling of migrant workers from the Philippines as victims of trafficking by TIP led to a 90% drop in women being sponsored to work in the hostess industry further reducing their options for advancement. The answer to this problem is not to crack down on the employment of foreign workers in this industry but, much like in the case of the Bangladesh, to improve the conditions for the workers. By giving more control to the women working in the hostess industry to choose their own employers and to change jobs if they want the likelihood of exploitation would be greatly reduced.

References

Parreñas, Rhacel. 2011. Illicit Flirtation: Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

War on Want. (2012). Race to the Bottom. Available: http://www.waronwant.org/attachments/Race%20to%20the%20Bottom.pdf

Exploring Japanese Whiteness

Photo by Robert Moorehead

by Wang Xinyi

美白 (bihaku) is a Japanese commercial term that refers to beauty products with functions of skin whitening or brightening. Aiming at prevent or reverse skin imperfection and provide a clean and fair complexion, bihaku has becoming very desirable among Japanese women since the late 1980s. I’m very surprised to find out that the skin-whitening market in Japan essentially is way more massive than I had thought. Products are comprehensive from head to toes. Regardless of using cosmetic products such as BB cream to create a lighter skin, Japanese women have been also purchasing whitening skin-care products like whitening toner and cream that not constrained to target on face but also other parts of body. Despite of that, quasi-drugs that contain vitamins and other ingredients to promote skin regeneration are also very popular. Japanese women will also go to clinic for whitening their skin. What’s more, with newly developed technologies, nowadays people can also do whitening injections either in a clinic or by themselves.

Just by walking into any drug stores in Japan, it won’t be hard for you to find skin-whitening products. Therefore people start to question why Japanese women have been so obsessed with a lighter complexion? Some people claimed admiration for Caucasians should be the vital factor, whereas objection voices argued ‘white’ has been a significant standard of beauty historically.

Ashikari (2005) pointed out, such a Japanese whiteness idea which based on Japanese identity as a race should not be devalued simply as a beauty issue nor as western mimicry. First and foremost, throughout the whole representation by mass media including tv programs, idol image-building, magazines, etc., light skin tone has become an important feature for defining beauty.

Secondly, Japanese people turn out to believe that they originally share a special Japanese skin that is soft, resilient and slightly moist, which is highly related to racial factors. Therefore, they consider people without that kind of skin are either of other races or are Japanese who have been tanned by sunshine. In this sense, white skin tone then works as one medium to express and represent Japaneseness. By being a “proper” Japanese, you need to have a light skin tone, and the same goes for being beautiful in Japan. Hence, to be a pretty and proper Japanese woman, light complexion turns out to be crucial.

Nevertheless, why is that the consumption of whitening cosmetics boomed around the late 1980s? From my perspective, it could be linked with Japanese political as well as economical conditions at the time. After the economic bubble burst, the Japanese government decided to be more liberal and international, both politically and economically. This means that cross-cultural communication had been also stimulated. Is it possible to say that, by sensing so numerous foreigners Japanese people then gained a crisis awareness of their own culture so that began to cultivate tons of “Japanese uniqueness” to separate themselves with others? If that could be taken into account, in such a globalized world how long can Japan maintain such a unique Japanese whiteness concept without being influenced by global trends?

Another question is that, why there is only a “Japanese whiteness” which is marked as unique from all other types of whiteness? As a Chinese, I don’t think there is anything specifically defined as “Chinese whiteness”. Or I’ve also never heard people talk about “special Korean whiteness”. Why do we only see this in Japan?

Reference

Ashikari, Mikiko. 2005. “Cultivating Japanese Whiteness: The ‘Whitening’ Cosmetics Boom and the Japanese Identity.” Journal of Material Culture 10(1):73-91.