Flower Men of Korea

by Lilia Yamakawa

“Beauty” and what one considers beautiful depend a lot on a person’s own culture and ethnicity. On the streets of Korea, it is not unusual to find Flower Men (FMs), called “kkotminam” (“flower handsome men”). You will know them by their pretty and “soft masculinity” and by their attention to the way they look. They are willing to spend a lot of time and money on their appearance and lifestyle. They may use make-up and other beauty products, pluck their eyebrows, manicure their nails, gel and style their hair, get facials, get massages, and even have cosmetic surgery. They are also associated with soft speech and traits such as gently caring for their families. They are seen as being pure and innocent, and they are very polite. In this report, I will examine some of the reasons to explain the Flower Man boom.

First, the boom is part of the larger global phenomenon of the “metrosexual” male, which has spread throughout both the East and the West. The metrosexual man is one who takes care of his physical appearance through means that were once considered feminine. The FM is just one example of this wide global trend. The East Asian metrosexual trend is so prominent that Time magazine did a cover story on it in 2005. Ling Liu wrote in this article:

A few years ago it may have been considered sissy for a guy to be fussy about his clothing and appearance. Real men demanded the world accept them on their own uncouth, unkempt terms. But in Asia nowadays, the definition of masculinity is undergoing a makeover – and narcissism is in, thanks to economic growth, higher disposable incomes, shifting gender roles, and fashion and cosmetics industries eager to expand their customer bases. No longer content to be the drabber sex, Asian males are preening like peacocks, perming, plucking and powering themselves to perfection in an effort to make themselves more attractive to their bosses, their peers and, of course, to women.

Although the boom is worldwide, it seems that Korean Flower Men have taken it to a further extreme than men of any other ethnic group and nationality. In 2013, South Korean men spent roughly $900 million on skincare. This was almost one-fourth of sales worldwide for men’s skin care. There are many salons and spas just for men that offer hair, facials, massages, and other procedures. Plastic surgery is also common, and there are also a number of clinics that cater solely to men. In 2013, Korean Air began training male staff to use beauty products (Fujita 2005).

The FM phenomenon itself began in the 1990s, around the time the Korean government began to allow more pop culture from Japan to come into the country (in 1998). Many manga and anime, which were previously hard to find, could now be bought and read in public. Young male actors and singers, especially in the boy bands, began to look like Japanese and Korean manga and anime characters, especially those in “girls’ comics” or “shojo manga” where the ideal image of a male is “bishonen” or “beautiful boy.” The flow of media between Korea and Japan also included tv dramas, cinema, and advertising (Sun 2010). The “yaoi” type of manga, which became very popular in Korea, is also said to be a big influence on the FM trend. The men in these manga often look like elves or fairies, and they are soft, sweet, and sensitive.

Up to the 1990’s the popular image of male beauty in Korea was a rather macho-type man. Since then, the soft male type has become much more popular. Two groups of FBs best exemplify the phenomenon today. One is the Korean boy band DBSK of idols. The other is the Korean tv drama called “Boys Over Flowers.” It was based on the Japanese manga and anime called “Hana yori dango” and was broadcast in Korea in 2009. It is a typical shojo Cinderella story of a poor high school girl who is befriended by the four richest, most handsome boys in the school, the F4. It became super popular in Korea, and later, in many other Asian countries including Japan. With “Boys Over Flowers”, the male image of the “kkotminam” became even more popular in Korea. More and more males aspired to look soft and gentle and pretty. Men’s fashion came to include pinks and floral prints, and cute “boyish” hairstyles with long bangs became the rage (Lee 2010).

Advertising has played an important role in spreading the FM image. Cosmetics companies have been very eager to sell cosmetics to this whole new group of buyers. Large areas of department stores are now devoted to men’s beauty care. Famous idols and actors, including members of both the DBSK and the F4, are used to advertise men’s beauty products. More and more men in Korea aspire to look like these idols.

The Korean economy is very strong now. This makes it possible for many Korean men to spend their money on personal beauty. With the economic power they become more confident, and more men want to look good even if it costs them.

A major reason for the “kkonminam” craze is that men want to look good to be competitive in the job market. They want to have “the right face”, which looks youthful, lively, friendly, and upper-class. Job applicants must send in photographs with their applications. Many Koreans believe that a person’s character can be read in the face, and even that their looks are more important than their skills (Jeffreys 2007).

Historically, Korean is a country ruled by strong Confucian ideals, which emphasize taking care of and making both the mind and the body strong. It is said that one reason for the “hallyu” (“hanryu” or “Korean Wave”) throughout East Asia is that the men are good-looking but show “a lack of profanity and sex, as befitting Confucian morals” (Maliangkay 2010).

David Coad believes that sports figures, such as David Beckham have been important in popularizing the metrosexual and the FB trend. They stand for traditional masculinity in their sports skills, but they also take care of their personal appearance in ways that were once thought feminine. The long-haired Korean soccer player, Ahn Jung-Hwan became very popular at the 2002 World Cup. He is known not only for his soccer skills, but also for his looks and his actions that show a softer side of men. He kissed his wedding ring after winning a major game. Then, he went on to advertise men’s liquid foundation. Coad writes:

The immediately obvious hyper-masculine and generally assumed heterosexual status of most sportsmen has been vital in changing attitudes about exposing, eroticizing, and taking care of the male body. Without some of the most celebrated heterosexual athletes in the world endorsing and embodying different facets of metrosexuality it is uncertain if masculinity norms would have changed so rapidly in so many different cultures. Metrosexuality, in a way, is indebted to sportsmen for its very existence. (Coad 2008)

Some people believe the most important reason the FM phenomenon is spreading throughout Korea, but especially in urban areas, is that women like it.  Bae Yong-joon, who was so popular in the tv drama “Autumn Sonata”, is also well liked among somewhat older Korean women. His popularity is based on his character in the drama which was soft looking, passionate, sincere, and polite. James Turnbull, who writes for The Korea Times, has an interesting theory about the origins of the FM.

When focusing on men, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that it is actually women’s changing tastes in them that drive changes in their fashions and grooming jabits, and accordingly it ultimately proves to be married Korean women in the late-1990s that are responsible for flower men’s origins. (Turnbull 2009)

Turnbull goes on to explain that during the “IMF Crisis” of 1997, many more women were laid off from their companies than men were because it was assumed that their husbands could support them. They had only recently gotten the legal right to not be fired upon marriage. Then they were encouraged by society to support “Korean’s hardworking men” to help get through the crisis. He says that many women, at this time, started to reject “the ideals of men as strong, provider types, and it is no coincidence that a sudden glut of movies appeared featuring romances between older women and younger men, and that this was when the first, identifiable, flower men began appearing in advertising too.” Korean women wanted men who were more interested in satisfying them than their companies (Turnbull 2009).

It is obvious that many females from mid-teens to their 30s also like the FM. They fill social media sites with comments about popular singers and actors. They use various interesting words to describe the men: pretty, sweet looking, a hootie, cute, looks like a pretty girl, etc. One blogger on Korean pop culture expresses what seem to be the views of many young women:

So why do flower boys act like women? There is only one answer to this. Because their fans love it. I guess there is something about a handsome man trying to act like a woman which makes them even more endearing. Somehow, there is an inexplicable and irresistible urge that makes women want to pinch flower boys’ cheeks every time they do their “cute acts”…flower boys are pretty to look at and they are cute and entertaining. But, why are they so popular? The ultimate reason, I believe, is that flower boys represent certain qualities of a man women look for – a man unafraid to explore his soft side…his emotional side and admit that he is vain after all. (Deen 2011)

About those pretty cheeks the women want to pinch, many times they might be pretty as a result of plastic surgery. The Korean Association for Plastic Surgeons estimated that in 2010 approximately 15% of Korean men had plastic surgery. The Korean Herald reported that 44% of male college students were considering plastic surgery (“Think plastic surgery” 2013).

In an excellent article on cosmetic surgery in Korea, Ruth Holliday and Jo Hwang point out that plastic surgery is popular and accepted in Korean society. The former president of Korea, among many other famous people have had work done on their faces. They write that “the body emerges as a site for negotiating and reinforcing national identity.” After1945, Koreans wanted to look more western in order to look very different from the Japanese colonizers. Later, they wanted to embrace their Koreanness by consulting with fortune tellers of physiognomy to find out what is their particular auspicious face. Surgeons and physiognomists often work together in the clinics. A survey found that 7 of 10 Koreans approve of plastic surgery, and even more say they would do it if they had the money. The government supports plastic surgery tourism, does not control the industry strictly, and even approves of it through the insurance program in many cases. With plastic surgery accepted so widely in Korea, it is not surprising that men are commonly having surgery on their eyelids to make them look bigger, on their noses to make them more pointed, and on their jaws to make them look less angular. Liposuction to suck out fat is also popular among men. (Holliday & Hwang n.d.)

The Flower Man as a positive male image partly has its origins in the worldwide metrosexual trend and in Japanese manga and anime. It is, however, uniquely Korean. It was made popular by the “soft masculinity” of pop idols and actors in dramas. It has been promoted by advertising of cosmetic firms who want to open up and make money in the new market of male beauty aids. This happened just at a time when the Korean economy was relatively strong. The Korean job market is very competitive, and appearance is important. Nonsexual boys fit in with traditional Confucian ideals. Sportsmen have shown that a man can be traditionally masculine and traditionally feminine at the same time. Some women want men to be a mixture of male and female, more androgynous, and not masculine Rambo types. Finally, striving for ideal beauty (and the range of what is considered “beauty” seems to be quite narrow in Korea) and using means such as plastic surgery to get it has been a part of the Korean culture for a long time. Procedures such as cosmetic surgery are readily accepted by the general public.

South Korea is a country with a military draft. All men must serve in the military for at least one year. Some men said they started using face creams as soldiers because they wanted protection in the sunshine. It is even possible to buy a set of camouflage face paint, healthier for the skin than the usual, to wear during military service. (Ling 2012) This shows that the traditionally male identity and the newer Flower Man identity are blending well in Korean society.

References

  1. Coad, David. (2008). The metrosexual: Gender, sexuality and sport . (p. 196). Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
  2. Deen, Catherine. (2011, November 30). Understanding the lure of ‘flower boys’. Retrieved from https://ph.omg.yahoo.com/blogs/okpop/understanding-lure-flower-boys-050944369.html
  3. Fujita, Akiko. (2005, October 28). South Korean men cosmetics-crazed. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/lifestyle/2013/05/south-korean-men-cosmetics-crazed/
  4. Holiday, Ruth, & Jo Hwang. (n.d.). Gender, globalization and aesthetic surgery in south korea. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/726850/Gender_Globalization_and_Cosmetic_Surgey_in_South_Korea 
  5. Jeffreys, Daniel. (2007, April 28). Koreans go under the knife in a cut-throat race for jobs. Retrieved from https://www.google.co.jp/webhp?hl=en&tab ww&gws_rd=cr&ei
  6. Lee, H. (2010). Men, be beautiful for spring, summer. Retrieved from http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/…/199_39427.html
  7. Liu, Ling. (2005, October 28). Asia’s metrosexuals: Mirror, mirror…. Retrieved from http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2005-10/28/content_488529.html
  8. Maliangkay, Roald. (2010). The effeminacy of male beauty in korea. Retrieved from http://www.iias.nl/sites/default/files/IIAS_NL55_0607.pdf
  9. Sun, J. (2010). Pan-east asian soft masculinitity: Reading boys over flowers, coffee prince and shinhwa fan fiction. Retrieved from http://books.publishing.monash.edu/aps/bookworm/view/Complicated Currents/122/xhtml/frontmatter1.html
  10. Think plastic surgery is only popular with girls in Korea? Take a look at the guys – See more at: http://yourhealth.asiaone.com/content/think-plastic-surgery-only-popular-girls-korea-take-look-guys/page/0/1#sthash.FsaKcvCZ.dpuf
  11. Turnbull, James. (2009). Flower men: the hot topic of 2009. Retrieved from http://thegrandnarrative.com/2009.04/03/flower-men-the-hot-topic-of-2009/
  12. Williamson, Lucy. (2012, December 3). South korean men get the make-up habit. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20522028

The Role of Skin Tone in Konkatsu (Looking for a Marriage Partner)

by Mitsumi Yamamoto

In 2007 sociologist Masahiro Yamada proposed a new term “konkatsu” to describe the act of looking for a marriage partner (Yamada & Shirakawa, 2008). Konkatsu is an abbreviation of “kekkon katsudo”, which means marriage hunting. Since the first use of this term in a weekly journal AERA, there has been a big boom in konkatsu with mass media actively broadcasting about this phenomenon in Japan.

Today there are around 3,700 websites aimed to support people in konkatsu and Yahoo! has sponsored two websites that encourages konkatsu and arranges parties for unmarried people (Yahoo! JAPAN). The number of single men and single women in konkatsu who have struggled, and currently are struggling, with selecting their marriage partner is not small.

By studying konkatsu we can see what kind of qualifications people are looking for in their prospective marriage partners. This blog post will highlight how skin tone plays a role in the process of choosing a future wife or husband in Japan and how there is a correlation between race and gender regarding skin color.

Firstly what kind of qualifications and requirements do people set for choosing their partner? According to a survey released by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, both men and women tend to consider a good personality (honest, kind, considerate etc.) as the most important factor. Personal values come in second (Co. dentsu, 2004).

Although both men and women consider personality and values as major points when choosing their partner, there are differences in how they evaluate the possible candidates. The same study indicates that the third most common qualification men tend to consider is their partner’s appearance while women rather ask for financial stability. Possibly due to the importance men place on their partner’s appearance, women themselves seem to take good care of their appearance for konkatsu.

For example, the ladies’ magazine FRaU featured an article about konkatsu-hada (skin for marriage hunting), explaining how women can make konkatsu-hada with skin care products such as liquid foundations, body oils and cheek blushes in order to succeed in konkatsu (X BRAND, 2013). The article suggested that they help to make your skin whiter and clearer, showing your purity and honesty like Cinderella appearing in a fairly-tale.

It seems that the article implies that light and clear skin is regarded as favorable for finding a marriage partner. How about men’s skin tone? According to an investigation carried out by Panasonic, 70% of women answered they prefer men with tanned skin rather than men with white skin (Co. Panasonic, 2007). The electronic commerce and Internet giant Rakuten Inc. also researched about the connection between the use of sunscreen and maintaining white skin. When comparing results between men and women in their twenties, it seems that only 13% of men use sunscreen in order to maintain a lighter skin tone, while 60% of women answered that this is their main goal. In fact, as many as 50% of men answered that they do not even care about sunscreen, whereas 90% of women were keen on using it (Rakuten, Inc., 2013). The results of this survey that show men are often not concerned about the lightness of their skin.

It can be said that men and women consider different attributes in konkatsu and that skin color is gender-specific, with skin color playing an especially important role for women. Having lighter skin is considered an important factor for women who are looking for future husbands. This shows us that there seems to be correlation between skin color, race, and gender, since favorable skin color varies greatly between different races and between genders. For example, recently it seems that tanned skin is favorable among Caucasian men and women, however in Japan and India women with lighter skin are preferred. On the other hand in Japan it seems that men who have tanned skin are preferred over men with light skin tone, showing that there are great variations between ideal skin tones.

References

Yamada, M., & Sirakawa, M. (2008). Konkatsu Jidai [KONKATSU Period]. Tokyo: Discover 21

Yahoo! JAPAN. Retrieved from http://omiai.yahoo.co.jp/

Co. dentsu. (2004). Syoushika ni kansuru ishiki chousa [survey about decreasing birth rate]. Retrieved from http://www.mhlw.go.jp/topics/bukyoku/seisaku/syousika/040908/

X BRAND. (2013). Kirei no takurami [trick for beauty]. Retrieved from http://xbrand.yahoo.co.jp/category/beauty/10947/1.html

Co. Panasonic. (2007). Otokomae Chousa [survey about man’s good looking]. Retrieved from http://panasonic.jp/beauty/men/chosahoukou/chosa/

Rakuten, Inc.. (2013). Shigaisen taisaku ni kansuru chousa [survey about UV protection]. Retrieved from http://research.rakuten.co.jp/report/20130802/

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Changes in the beauty standard for men and women

by Satona Kato

Jyotsna Vaid’s research shows us that lighter skin is a requirement for marriage. We learned many people think lighter skin is better and is one of the conditions of beauty in various countries.

However, it is also true that the standard of beauty varies by regions or countries. In Japan, it also has changed depend on the generation. There was the time when the skin browned by the sun was seen as more beautiful. For example, in the ‘ganguro’ boom or ‘komugihada’ boom, people preferred dark skin and many people went to tanning salons. When I was 3 or 4 years old, many Japanese high school girls made their skin dark and I longed for their skin and I wanted to be like them. In that time, the models who had sunburned skin were popular and that was the standard of ‘kawaii’ for young girls. But when I became a high school girl, there were no girls who made their skin dark and the standard of “kawaii” was having white skin. Most advertisements of cosmetic products also uses models with white skin.

More and more people come to think we want white skin, not only girls, but also boys. Surprisingly, recently the boys who have white skin are increasing. In the Japanese drug store, there are many sunscreens or whitening lotion for men and many men use that, especially young boys between the ages of 15 and 30. Nippon TV interviewed 55 boys whether use whitening lotions, and 33 boys answered “Yes”.

Then, which do women like better, white skin boys or sunburned boys? The answers about this question were different depending on the women’s age. Young girls (10~30) tend to like boys who have white skin better, but most of women over 30 years old like boys who have sunburned skin. The reason why that difference exist is the influence of media. Today, many young actors and models have white skin. But, it was different 20 to 30 years ago. You can see this difference if you compare the popular actors 5 to 10 ago with actors who are popular now.

As you can see, the trend of skin color has changed. In Japan, both boys and girls become to more and more like the white skin. Last year, we were surprised the publication of the popular young men’s magazine “Men’s Egg” was suspended. When I was a junior high school student, many young boys read this and tried to be “Gyaru-o” by having browned and meshed hair, and tan skin. The reason for suspending the publication was that young people’s trend were changing. Today, most Japanese people like white skin better, and use whitening lotion. But there are possible that standard of beauty “white skin is beautiful’ will change in the future in Japan.

Are such changes in views toward skin color occurring in countries that have a connection between skin color and social status?

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Distortion or evolution of culture?

by Anna Dreveau

In our globalized world, information is transmitted, exchanged and shared throughout a big part of the planet. As information is shared, so is culture. Movies, TV shows, books and even commercials from different counties would be known across the world and deliver a certain reflection of its country of origin. However, this image of the culture do not get the same treatment as it is used to in its own country: should we be talking about “distortion” of culture and condemn it?

If the distortion of culture is considered as negative – as the choice of the word “distortion” clearly conveys – what about the evolution and mixing of cultures? Being exposed to other cultures has inspired local artists in a different way than if they would have been without globalization. Music is mixing genres with Da Arabian MC, as they took Black-American Hip Hop and Arabic poetry. They revitalize what Hip Hop has been – a music of protest – and while letting aside what it became – merchandised music –, mixing traditional Arabic poetry and Palestinian way to write songs to convey a message that is fully them, but similar to Hip Hop messages used to be.

This mix of cultures thus enrich every single cultures involved and create something new, part of a more globalized culture.

Nevertheless, the fear about distortion can be real. Steve Derné have written an article about culture globalization in India. He describes the attitude of middle-class Indian people towards Western views about gender roles. While being exposed to a culture promoting women liberation and love marriage, they refuse those same principles, as they would rather stick to the traditional gender roles and arranged marriage. However, they are more than accepting toward the image convoyed by action movies as they stress male domination and violence, which find echoes in Indian culture.

By only taking a part of what American culture proposed about gender role, India get to stick with its traditional values, reinforce them and does not change in any way while America values get impoverished in foreign soil.

Those thus are extreme reactions; one is understanding and adapt the culture and its own to create something new and even more striking while the other is closing its understanding of other cultures to only select what suit him best. The biggest difference between Da Arabian MC and those middle-class Indians is not only open-mindedness and also their feeling of closeness with the other culture. Da Arabian MC choose to work with Hip Hop music because they feel that Black-American back then suffer from the same fate they are currently coping with.

Yet, middle-class Indians do not have the means to stick to love marriage, as parents still play a very important role in young couples’ life and thus see those egalitarian ideas as completely foreign. However, as Steve Derné mentions in his article, give them the means (i.e. high income class Indians) and even Indians will be more than willing to accept those new ideas, as they convey something that can find echo in their economic and living situation.

Transforming a culture while it is sent overseas seem to be the fate of those undertaking globalization. Whether it is just a interpretation restriction, an evolution by mixing cultures, culture changed for the people who will receive them. When you think about it, it is not so different from interpretation of books. As books are written, the author was hinting a certain message but the readers can not see it. It can interpret it in a completely different way, but can you say that it is the wrong way to interpret it if it makes sense with the content of the book ? Umberto Eco stresses something though: do not ignore parts of the book to make it suit your own message. This criticism can transposed to middle-class Indians way of interpreting American culture, which is too restrictive to bring the positive effects of being opened to others cultures.

Skin Color and Beauty in Japan

by Miyu Fujino

Compared to other countries, there is less racial diversity in Japan. Non-Japanese people who live in Japan for a long time will notice that there are many implicit customs which follow an old Japanese tradition. One of the traditions is to try to be same as people around us and not out stand too much from them. Many Japanese people believe that if they follow the custom, they can live peacefully in the society. This is an element of Japanese culture, and there are many sayings which are related to this idea.

  • 和して同ぜず (washite dou zezu) -coordinate with other people but not do immorality thing or loose independence.
  • 出る杭は打たれる (deru kui ha utareru) -if you stand out too much, people will accuse you.
  • 付和雷同 (fuwaraidou) -do same thing as others

Therefore, for a long time, Japanese people have tended to follow and be normal and try not to stand out. I think that is one of a reason why Japanese people do not prefer dark skin because dark skin is unusual in Japan.

In Japanese society, for a long time, having white skin is one of the features of beauty and regarded as a good thing for women. There is an old proverb (色の白いは七難隠す iro no shiroi wa shichinan kakusu) which translates to “white skin covers the seven flaws,” meaning a fair-skinned woman is beautiful even if her features are not attractive.

However, there was a period when this idea didn’t fit. Ganguro: An opposition to the idea of fair skin beauty grew. This subculture appeared in the 1990s but died out in the early 2000s. Young girls preferred to be tanned and wore unique makeup and clothes. This Ganguro was started as an anti-tradition movement among young people. Young people challenged to Japanese traditional society and the stereotype that women have light skin, black hair and stay calm and not stand out.

Recently, white skin has been strongly supported by women again. I’m sure you have seen women who wear sunscreen, umbrella, gloves, sunglasses, big hats, spray, and powder. They are trying hard to protect their skin from the sun. But the reason why they are doing is because everybody is doing. Now, the word ‘bihaku’ is getting attention from women. Bihaku is a Japanese marketing term and often used for representing skin whitening products and cosmetics. Bihaku products are highly popular among women. They are also popular with teenage girls and those in their twenties who strongly affected by the information from the internet and media.

Japanese media and cosmetic industries install in women the idea that only small amount of sunshine can damage their skin. Therefore, Japanese women try to avoid to be exposed to sunshine even a few seconds. Many beautiful actress and models who have white and clean skin appear on the TV and that’s also a reason why people use bihaku cosmetics which is advertised by those beautiful famous people. Japanese TV often broadcast many programs to introduce UV care goods and suggest people to avoid sunshine. Media is helping to plant the thought in people’s minds that they should avoid sunshine and should use bihaku products.

Media often make people believe lighter skin is more beautiful by using white skin beautiful actresses or models. And use them to advertise bihaku cosmetic products as if by using the products, people can be like them. As media has a power to affect people (especially young people) strongly, they have to have an awareness and responsibility for their influence and try hard to give correct information to people.

Face lotions and creams from 8brand from kanebo have caused accidents. (September 2013) People who used these got white spots in their skin. All of the products contain skin lightning component called Rhododenol which is treated as a medicine and effective to control melanin in skin. Kanebo is the 3rd highest earning company in Japanese cosmetic industry and most people know the name. Many TV commercials were broadcasted and the company had a pretty high reputation among women. Therefore, people who trusted the brand got damaged both physically and mentally. More than 10,000 people got the white spots.

It is a normal thing for women to try hard to be more beautiful and that means to have lighter skin in Japan. People’s willingness to have lighter skin is one of a reason why this company to cause this accident. In Japan, skin color does not affect social status or salary. People want white skin just because they believe lighter skin is more beautiful and that is what other people say. However, I think Japanese people have to rethink what beauty is for each of them but not only following other people.

Discrimination causes self-discrimination and vice-versa

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Anonymous student post

It is bad sign to start with triteness, but for my defense I can say that sometimes we need to remind ourselves simple truths which we always tend to forget. So here is a well-known fact: gender as opposed to sex is created by people, not nature. We all understand that since it follows from definition of word ‘gender’ as ‘socio-cultural sex’, but we somehow forget that if gender exists in people’s mind, not in real world, then it is people who put sense in this concept. But here comes great paradox of our society: we talk about gender inequality as a problem that must be solved, but still wear newborn baby, who is too young to even say word “gender”, in pink if it is girl and in blue if it is boy. We start with clothes while baby don’t understand anything about its sex yet, and continue cultivate gender with imposing socio-cultural role on grown-up child. From now on girl will wear uncomfortable dress and play with doll and boy will climb trees in his pants. And this is the very beginning of discrimination.

Such paradox is common occurrence in patriarchal (or “masculine”) societies, which Japan is related to. In such societies gender roles are clearly distinct as well as characteristics that women and men are supposed to have. Patriarchal culture implies that woman is object of men’s desire, which he admires, that is why the main thing that matters about this “object” is its appearance. But I could not help but wonder: isn’t it women, who maintain this status of themselves? Isn’t it women who dress their daughters in pink and say to them that the most important is to find a good husband?

This thought was getting stronger while I was reading the articles “The care crisis in the Philippines” and “Global women”. Migrant mothers challenge the dominant gender ideology, which holds that a woman’s rightful place is in the home, but in fact these mothers migrate to do in other houses abroad that very work they are supposed to do in their own house. “Migrant mothers, who work as nannies carry for other people’s children while being unable to tend their own.” In masculine society underpaid and not prestigious work designed for women, in short, woman is supposed to be engaged in the same work that she does at home – that is service sector. And immigrant women, engaged in service sector, support masculine society’s view on woman, even though they want to earn more money and become independent. That is what I call self-discrimination. And the best example of this self-discrimination is the fact that middle-class families come to depend on migrants from poorer regions to provide child care and homemaking. It means that women from the First World who almost achieved gender equality support gender inequality for women from poorer regions!

Japan provides best examples of women’s self-discrimination. Being patriarchal society, it considers woman as an object, and that’s why it provides great variety of places where women should entertain men. There are not only Hostess Clubs, but also so-called キャバクラ “Kyabakura” (cabaret-club), スナックバー “Snack Bars”and メイドカフェー “Maid Café”. It is obviously represents Japanese society’s view on woman. Yes, not Japanese men’s view but society’s view, because quick look at modern situation is enough to understand that women don’t oppose this view at all. They try very hard to be かわいい “kawaii” (cute), and they even created new category of Japanese TV show – “obaka-chara” (stupid character), where women acts pretending to be stupid and be laughed at – and, therefore, to be “kawaii”. Where is demand, there is supply, in other words, discrimination causes self-discrimination, and self-discrimination supports discrimination. Is there any exit from this vicious circle?

References

Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, “The Care Crisis in Philippines: Children and Transnational Families in the New Global Economy,” pp. 39-54, in Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy, Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild. (New York Metropolitan, 2003).

“Introduction” by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild, Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy, Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild. (New York Metropolitan, 2003).

Banning Sex-Work Backfires

Hostess club sign, Roppongi

Hostess club sign, Roppongi (Photo credit: Susanna Quinn – Book Group Author)

Anonymous student post

In 2004 a newly required Trafficking in Persons Report was released by the U.S. Department of State. The report stated that Filipinas working as hostesses in Japanese clubs constituted the largest group of sex-trafficked persons, making up more than 10 percent of the total worldwide. In response to the deeply embarrassing report, the Japanese government decided to take quick action. New visa requirements and a more rigorous screening process were hurriedly enacted for those seeking the “entertainment visa,” which is how most sex-workers would classify themselves.

The result looked great on paper. The number of Filipina hostesses in Japan dropped 90%, from 82,741 in 2004 to 8,607 in 2006. But in reality sex-workers were still being trafficked into Japan, worse yet they now were rendered “illegal”. The sex workers coming into Japan were coming on their own volition for the most part. But now, they find themselves at the mercy of their employers without any laws to protect them. Since they are no longer legally in Japan, they have little ground to defend themselves from abusive or even dangerous employers. Even though Japan has improved itself in the eyes of the Trafficking in Persons Report, the short-sighted tactic they chose backfired making the matter worse for trafficked workers.

Since required workers are required to prove 2 years of training or internship as performing visual artists, Filipinas have resorted to coming in through illegal means. The new sex-workers are tightly coupled to their employers due to their illegal nature. The problem being they still needed jobs, and there was still a lucrative market to fill. No matter what laws the Japanese government imposes, there will always be loopholes that the illegal market finds around them, and in this case it was at the expense of the victims themselves.

It is no surprise that Japan was at the top of the list of Trafficking in Persons report. As long as the market in Japan for sex-workers exists, the problem with migrant sex-workers will coexist. The market for sex-work in Japan is disproportionately large for a country among the 5 highest in GDP.  If paying for sexual services had the taboo reputation it does in other world powers, the demand for sex-work in Japan wouldn’t be large enough to cause embarrassment. If the Japanese government could convince citizens that paying for sexual services is unpopular, they could do a much more effective job at mitigating the issue, and better yet, it wouldn’t be at the expense of the migrant sex-worker victims themselves. Additionally, new markets for the migrant workers would appear.

Criminalizing migrant sex workers does not aim for the core of the issue. Rather, a reduction of the market for sex-workers needs to take place in order to mitigate the demand. The sexual objectification of women is rampant among males in Japan. Gender inequality in Japan is partly to blame for the sexual objectification of women. The popularity of hostess bars and other payed-for sex work is deeply entrenched in masculine Japanese culture today.  If women were seen equally, the Japanese would begin to see what’s taboo, or even wrong with sex work. Societies view of women leaves migrant workers with little choice outside the uncomfortable opportunity for sex work. The government needs to work from the ground up with education of Japanese youth. The distinct, unbalanced roles of men and women need to be flattened out for society to understand the detriments of objectification of sex.

References

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-10-13/what-i-learned-about-migrant-sex-workers-by-being-one-part-1-parrenas.html

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

“Ikumen” – The real situation in Japan and comparison to Sweden

A father and his children.

A father and his children. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Aki Yamada

Ikumen” is the expression and slang of the father in Japan who takes care of his children positively instead of the mother, and who enjoys child care. In 2006, one Japanese company started to use Ikumen in order to encourage father’s participation into childcare and stop the decreasing of population of Japan. After that, Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare began to project of Ikumen in 2010 trying to make better society for business men to take part in domestic work and encourage childcare. In this essay, I would like to discuss how Ikumen made an impact for Japanese father trough the gap between ideal purpose and real situation in the first part and in the second, I will compare systems and laws between Japan and Sweden, which quite famous for its developed childcare system for father.

Firstly, possibly if you are Japanese, many times you might hear about the word, Ikumen in dramas, books and magazines. Actually, according to the public-opinion poll in 2000, 70 percent of family agreed that father take caring of their child and 10 percent of father strongly desire to do childcare by himself. However, most of their real opinions say that I want to do childcare but “I want to focus on my work” or “women have to take care of child”. Therefore, I think more and more father think that they want to help mother, however, still stereotype of gender role reminds in Japanese soiety.

Second of all, I would like to see the Japanese government’s movements for supporting Ikumen and compare them to Sweden’s processes of how they adopt father to take care of child. In 1992, the Japanese government made the law about Child‐Care Leave Law for men for the first time. And after that, in 2002, they made an agenda for the goal that archive 10 percent increase of childcare leave. Additionally, they also made the law for companies to have the system of enough childcare leave for men.

Those movements made Japanese society easier for father to have childcare leave and take care of child, however, it is not enough because we need more comprehensive support system from both government and companies. At that same time, when we see the system of Sweden, they also spent 30 years to adopt their Ikumen support system from 1974 such as making childcare leave system for 240 days for each gender, giving 80 percent of salary for father when he is taking childcare leave, and providing money for $18 for each day as an allowance. Therefore, I can say that Japan also need more long time to be good society for Ikumen like Sweden did.

How Legal is a Hostess Bar?

English: Signage for hostess bars in Kabukicho...

English: Signage for hostess bars in Kabukicho, Tokyo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Miranda Solly

The issue of women from the Philippines working in Japanese hostess bars, as described in research by Rhacel Parreñas, was thought-provoking for me. One point I would like to address in particular is the stereotype of these women. There is an apparently widely held expectation that the women working in a hostess bar would be illegal immigrants, as can be seen in videos of Japanese police raiding hostess bars. This is also a common belief surrounding places like lap dancing bars in the UK (my native country). As was demonstrated by those videos, very few of the Filipino women were actually in Japan illegally. Why does such a misunderstanding about this kind of work exist?

While the past 50 years or so have seen a huge change across the world in the way race, gender, and sexuality are perceived, I don’t think it’s controversial to say that we’ve not managed to reach equality yet. In a way, hostess bars in Japan are a perfect example of this. First of all, consider gender and sexuality. If a group of men go to a hostess bar, it is seen as a good night out. If a woman works at one, however, there are suppositions made about her morality, her economic position, and her vulnerability. Why is it socially acceptable to use a service, but not to provide it?

Moreover, the women who come to Japan from the Philippines to work in hostess bars are assumed to be illegal, and most probably trafficked to Japan against their will. As Parreñas’ research demonstrated, for the majority neither of these is true. Often, women find that they can earn much more as a hostess than other jobs, so the work makes economic sense. This reason is probably no different to the reason why Japanese women work in hostess bars. Why does a female immigrant’s nationality play such a large role in the way she is perceived at her job?

As a foreign student in Japan, I can apply for a work permit and am free to take up a job such as teaching English, as long as it does not interfere with my studies. But that work permit does not allow me to work in a hostess bar. On the other hand, the entertainment visa that allows you to work in a hostess bar is specifically targeted at women from the Philippines. This distinction is made because of our different goals in entering Japan. But why should a part-time job at a hostess bar, talking in Japanese with clients, distract me from my studies more than a part-time job at an English school, speaking English with clients? I would have thought that the former would actually give me more of a chance to improve my Japanese. However, hostess bars apparently sit uncomfortably close to immorality for Japanese lawmakers. They appear to be tied up with all kinds of crime; mafia, trafficking, prostitution. While it is not actually prostitution, an unsuspecting foreign student would no doubt be in serious danger if allowed into such an environment. But if the work is so dangerous, why are women on the entertainment visa allowed to work there? In fairness, the Japanese government did also attempt to protect female immigrants from the Philippines from these threats, by changing the entertainment visa laws. However, it was shown that this actually forced some of the more vulnerable women into prostitution in other countries.

I’d like to suggest that instead of treating hostess bars as more illegal than they are, we do the opposite. They may offend a conservative person’s sensibilities, but the sex industry exists in one form or another in most parts of the world, and has done so for a very long time. As can be seen with hostesses from the Philippines, if conservative attitudes discourage native women from this kind of work, immigrants often fill the jobs; this also appears to be true in the UK. Looking at history you can see that making sex work illegal does not make it go away, and while some people attribute it to our endemic gender imbalance, that is unlikely to be rectified any time soon. In any case, hostess work is as emotionally taxing as, say, a flight attendant’s job, but no-one views foreign flight attendants with the same mistrust. Hostess work is also much less open to abuse than prostitution. By allowing hostess bars to exist on the same level as mainstream society, it would be easier to police visas and abuse, and an open discourse might help to dispel some of the myths surrounding women who immigrate to work there.

Migrant women in the third world and gender ideology

be Jeawon Moon

Imagine you are a career woman who has a family in a first world country. If you struggle to persist with working and housework together, it is really easy to find a cheap maid or nanny service with a click of the mouse. There are a lot of maids and nannies in the first world who are migrant women from the third world.

The growing crisis of care in the first country has increased demand for caring service especially caused by women’s advancement in the society. The migrant women workers are an invisible power to sustain the economic participation of women and global cities in the first world.

Above this, there are two more factors influencing the significant increase of the migrant women workers. The third world has faced serious polarization of wealth and devastated economies due to global capitalism. The migrant women workers are considered as the way to revive the economy at the national level. Lastly, they decide to migrate to gain better economic opportunities for themselves and their family.

Let’s think about the gender ideology involved with this trend of migration. Does the trend have a positive influence on developing gender egalitarian views on society? At first, the answer looks like yes. Even though it is hard to ignore the structural factors forcing third world women to migrate, it is also an important fact that they decide to migrate autonomously, unlike previously when many migration women were tied movers.

Also, the migration of women workers challenges traditional gender portrayals that woman takes care of housework and child caring and man is the breadwinner. They decide to migrate for their poor family and become the main breadwinner. They have even played an important role in national economy. In other words, it seems that society is moving towards gender equality.

However, there are some doubts that the migration challenges traditional gender roles. It may actually solidify them. In truth, much of the work for the migrant women is limited to reproductive labor, which refers to caring work to sustain households. Typically, reproductive labor has been considered a woman’s duty and identity. They fill the blank of traditional roles in the houses of the first world since women of the first world do not want to take the roles because of their work.

Also, because women leave their families to go to the first world, there will be the blank of caring in their families, which will be filled with another woman of the third world who is too poor to migrate to other countries or by female relatives. In this global care chain, there is an almost complete lack of man’s role to care for a family after the woman has migrated.

Especially in the Philippines, the government and media condemn migrant mothers with concerns that they are causing a family break-up. Although the economy has been sustained by remittances from migrant workers, they shift the responsibility of family crisis only to migrant mothers and insist that return is the only solution.

The trend of migration illustrates that both career women of the first world and migrant women workers of the third world have an unfair social status compared to that of men. Even though more and more women are entering the workforce in the first world, they are still considered as the main player of housework. So, they would like to hire migrant women workers to do caring work instead of them. In the third world, migrant women workers’ absence is filled with other women. This contradictory, unfair gender ideology dominates current global society.