Lady Tunnel Gods and Xenophobia: Japan under the surface

山の神 (The Mountain God)Even though it is widely believed that Japan is one of the most male chauvinistic (anti-female rights) countries in the developed world, it is hard to get a Japanese person to admit to that fact. Why is that so?

We all know that Japan and the Japanese like to appear to keep the peace and abide by the rules. There certainly are plenty of laws and even international treaties protecting the rights of women, and most Japanese will tell you that females enjoy the same rights as males when it comes to work and all other economic activities, the right to an education, and of course they will let you know that Japan has universal suffrage (however, they will forget to tell you that this was actually forcibly pushed into Japan by General Macarthur in 1946).

Nevertheless, even though maybe not on the same scale as Muslim countries and other male dominated societies like Cuba, Japan is still a prominently male-dominated domain, where men generally enjoy more perks when it comes to every day living and working, whether it be salary wise, or just stature in the home and/or work place.

The mere fact that Japan is taking “affirmative action” (that word grates on my nerves) to give nominal rights to women – ladies only cars on trains etc – shows that the men of Japan are still in a safe haven where ladies are fighting an uphill battle. There are still many places and events that are off limits or taboo to women in Japan (there is a list of these here). One of the more interesting ones, is that women are barred (by law!) from entering tunnels that are under construction in Japan. This has a long superstitious history, but the reason behind this, is that because the “God of the Mountains” (山の神, known to be a woman, see picture at top of this article) would get jealous if other women were to enter tunnels, and allure her male construction workers away. To avoid her wrath, and the accidents that would incur in such circumstances (cave-ins etc), women are banned from entering into the mountain at all during construction periods. In this day and age of course, the reasoning itself can not be written into the legal code, but the law itself still remains in force and can be seen here 労基法64条2項. Recently however, the government has faced calls from women engineering associations, and other womens rights groups to be revised, and is now apparently under review. Some reports mention that the no-women-in-tunnels clause is to be abolished as early as April 2007. Male dominated construction conglomerates on the other hand are up in arms against the proposed revision, and are lobbying for the immediate termination of any such change to the law.

On a topic closer to home, sexual harassment is another cultural part of Japan, that happens on a daily basis at most places of work in Japan. Here again, the CEO down to the low level managers will preach how they are stamping out all traces of it, but get them in private and it is soon evident that most of them still have a healthy level of pride fed by female belittling words and actions. It is usually they however, who will be first to have an affair with a younger lady at work, or flirt with the women in titty bars while they tell their wives that that are working back late. Sexual harassment is all done under the covers in Japan, and therefore never becomes an official issue, even though it is blatant to most people. For this reason, it is generally accepted as part of working in Japan.

The Japanese are sexist in the same way that they are racist. Caused by the homogeneous demography of Japan, it is subconscious nature for the Japanese to also be generally racially intolerant, in the same way that many men are blindly chauvinistic. In saying this however, I must mention that the Japanese way of chauvinism, and their inherent xenophobic sentiments are subtle, and just below the surface enough to be provocative, but not enough to attract condemnation from those around them, or society in general. Being sexist, and racially intolerant in an almost undetectable manner is part of Japanese nature, and is here to stay.

Parents with small children for example, would not see any wrong if their children blurted out, 「ママ、みてみて!外人だ!」(Mummy, look, there’s a foreigner!) or 「パパ、黒人だ!黒いね〜」(Daddy, there’s a black man, he’s so black isn’t he..), and almost certainly would not reprimand their kids for these types of racial slurs. Most Japanese would even regard these comments as taking an interest in other cultures, and would be proud of their ankle biters for being so “kokusaiteki” (international minded).

Depending on how it is said though, “Gaijin” can be swung off the tongue in quite a spiteful tone. Those gaijin who have lived in Japan for a long time, are usually immune to this, but are rudely awakened from time to time, when somebody who was thought to be a friend or colleague is lets his lips loose with the “G” word. For many foreigners in Japan, “Gaijin” in most circumstances means “You are an outsider and will never belong to Japanese society” (exclusion), “You are an outsider, ignorant of Japanese ways” (cultural ignorance), “You are different from us ! Hahaha !” (childish differentiation), and can be extremely offensive. If nothing else, it certainly will stop you looking at that person in the same light as you had done up until the day they called you a gaijin to your face in a crushing inappropriate way. In most cases though, it is only the Japanese feeling a complex toward foreigners, and they use the word gaijin as a defence mechanism. Sites like (which now has been taken down, but we cached it here) are a clear example of the complex which Japanese people have when it comes to dealing with gaijins, take a look at the banner at the top of their site!.

Living in Japan brings a new dimension of methods to cover over dirty areas of human nature with a thin layer of superficial nicety, so that they are a little more socially acceptable, or just easier to ignore. How many other thoughts/words/actions can you come up with that are prevalent in Japan, but would never be acceptable in the Western world?

23 thoughts on “Lady Tunnel Gods and Xenophobia: Japan under the surface”

  1. That’s a good point blue. I was trying to work out if I could think of any female CEO’s in Japan. Can you? The best I came up with was Tomoyo Nonaka from Sanyo Electric. Boy, did she get a good old “bashing” from the media when she was made chairman last year. (To be fair, her background as a journalist wasn’t the most appropriate for the role, but I do have a funny feeling that if she had’ve been a male, the uproar would have been a little more muted.) Is there anyone else in senior roles of Japanese companies?

  2. A beach house at Suma in Hyogo Prefecture has an interesting name. くろんぼう is a popular establishment, serving food and drinks while providing facilities like warm showers. It lies right outside the station, and on a busy summer weekend would have hundreds of customers and thousands of onlookers. This despite the fact that the word they have chosen to use for their name is banned from broadcasts throughout the nation. Definitely too taboo a name for the West.

  3. To westerners who are upset at being prejudiced by us Japanese. I want to let you know that Japanese people were not allowed to become American until WW2 ended. Even the Nisseis who were born in USA were interned, and the US tried to strip them of their citizenship. In Canada, they took away the property, and charged head taxes. I feel good to see us Japanese standing up to white people saying to them that they get no special treatment, and that we can make even white people second class.

    If Lt. Ehren Watada wants to run back to Japan, he having Japanese blood could run back here to our country and be recognized as a full Japanese citizen and can seek exile like Alberto Fujimori did from Peru.

    What I don’t like is seeing Japanese American second lieutenants who work the Okinawa bases with III Marines as translators. What is a Japanese doing wearing an Eagle, Globe and Achor with white soldiers and negros under their command to occupy and control the land of their grandfathers? This is disrespectful to the ancestors land.

    The USA should not be using Nikkeijin to work the US bases stationed in Japan wearing the American flag. This is, treason as a Japanese.

  4. Takeshi, I don’t live in Japan.. But I’ll tell you something our wise-men say..

    “Two wrongs don’t make a right” (wakaru?)

    When we all can forget about what happened in the war (what we did, and what your country did!) we can all get along with our lives and live the “here and now”, rather than living post WWII.

  5. I’m late to comment, but I have to mention that I know several Japanese men who are sickened by the treatment of women and the way some men treat their wives. I’ve personally never been in a relationship where cheating is acceptable and, though I’ve always planned to be a housewife and the men I have been involved with want that as well, many of the men I have known have valued what’s inside of my head.

    Maybe it’s important to remember that younger people in Japan are very different from older people. A lot of the younger men I know are looking for love and don’t seem to accept cheating. And several care about women. Though, it’s not just younger men. It’s obvious that there are happy marriages of older people as well. However, as in anywhere in the world, there are cheaters and lousy men. That’s just expected.

    I’m just tired of hearing such a negative view of Japanese men. A lot of foreigners in Japan who start feeling very negative seem to continually express opinions that Japanese men are abusive cheaters who don’t love or care for women. This is, of course, true for some and I definitely think that Japan can make it perhaps too easy for some men to act in that way and I have seem some ignorance towards how some harrassment affects women, but it’s not fair to describe Japanese men so often in that manner. It’s not fair to the respectable and loving men of Japan who really do care for their wives.

    Excuse any of my poor spelling or grammar.

  6. @ Takeshi

    Perhaps you would do better to refer to the ‘whites’ and the ‘negros’ as ‘Americans’.

    I think that you are worse than any supposed ‘Gaijin’ as you actually believe that those in Japan who aren’t Japanese are second-class and not worthy of your attention. Also, not every White or Black person is an American. As a European, I don’t really appreciate being lumped in with a country that I have absolutely nothing to do with. Perhaps you would feel the same way if you were referred to as Chinese were you in a different country?

    Though I suppose it is in a sense good to have the views of a very definate racist in response to this article. Your comments and views only serve to emphasise what has been said in the article.

    Perhaps it is that you feel second class yourself as a Japanese person in the international world? Don’t worry, it is your racist views on others, not your race itself that make you a second class citizen.

  7. all this talk about racism and culture and people and stuff is all CRAP. it’s nothing more than mere ‘human’ dellusion of life and all that is in existence.

    i will tell you what you are, not you but me and all creatures that are ‘alive’

    they are nothing more than a bunch of cells clustered together in system. you and me and all are just chemical reactions and these reactions of chemicals has no ‘meaning’ or ‘identity’ or ‘importance’ or ‘race’ or ‘culture’.

    and you may say well we as a ‘human’ does have culture and race’ WRONG.!!!!!!!!11


    ‘self lying to self’

    then to others and then others actually ‘believing’ the crap of human dellusion due to passing down from generation to generation and thus not accepting or SEEING the ‘TRUTH’ of reality and life.

    that it all is ‘meaningless’, and ‘unimportant’ and ‘feable’ and ‘laughable’ and

    ‘simple humans’ feable and pointless and meaningless attempt and trying to be something that TRUTH BE TOLD we are not……trying to make meaningless chemcial reactions and process into something special, spitritual, important and GODLY.

    we are ants, and nothing more……no gods or something grander for GOD ITSELF is imaginary.

    peace out my chemcial reative ‘brothers and sister’, i share your ‘pain’ but PAIN, is again just an illusion of the mind, same as happiness, and love and hate and racism and the feeling in this case, RACISM,

    THEY ARE MERE NOTHINGS. see the truth and don’t live in the lies of human dellusion.

    but as i said, i do share your pains and sufferieng. for we all go through life the same, REGARDLESS OF OUR HISTORY, OUR DNA, OUR so-called CULTURE AND COLOUR AND RACE AND CREED (FOR THESE AREMAN-MADE) And being man-made, can be fallible and it is….and of course ging man-made can me MAN-UNMADE,

    into something that is more ‘tolerable and nice and pleasant’ (though all these feelings and words are again just human dellusion) for in TRUTH

    natures sees not anytihng… doesn’t differentiate between colours and races and people and plants and animals and love and hate and death and life and important or unimportant, meaning or meaningless.

    THERE SIMPLE IS ‘NOTHING’…………………………… emotion, no knowledge , no nothing. and we as humans AS LIFE………….in sad truth is the same. NOTHINGNESS…

    AND IF YOU FEEL THERE IS SOMETHING, (for even me writing this message and these word need soemthing and meaning and feelings and thoughts and fingers and computers and electricity)

    it all really is JUST INT HE MIND OF THE DELLUSIONED HUMAN………..(in absoulte unbias truth)

    for other life forms and creature think nothing of us or our thoughts and messages as you read now RIGHT NOW before your eyes and in your minds (constantly trying to comprehend, be conscious and aware and ‘KNOWING’)


    IT IS THE BEGIINING AND THE END THAT COUNTS. (the middle is the journey and all we can do in life is focus on that coz we have nothing in the beginning and nothing in the end and really nothing in the inbetween (but we force ourselves to BELIEVE THERE IS SOMETHING…………..MY FRIENDS IT IS SIMPLY MERE HUMAN DELUSSION CLOUDING THE ULIMATE SAD TRUTH OF EXISTENCE, REALITY AND OUR LIVES.


    but peace out anyways and treat each other ‘good’ right and ‘decent’ for if there is nothing really to reality and exitence, then the ‘kindest’ gestures and the ‘nices’ acts.







    ITS NOT…………………………………………


  9. RIGHT ON angel kage! NOW WHO CAN argue with THAt?!?!!

    But seriously, Takeshi, what you have said just confirms the xenophobic attitude in Japan. Keep in mind, this isn’t the 1940’s, things have changed in the US. The US is not an internment camp for the Japanese, we don’t own slaves anymore, attitudes have changed in the US. Of course there are small backwards places that are racist in the US, but it is such a small part of this country and people get called out for it all the time.

    From what I hear about Japan, things are much different. The Japanese are not culturally diverse at all and have grown up in a closed society. Even after WW2, when the US helped rebuild Japanese society by dumping millions of dollars in modern factories, which still hasn’t been paid back to this day, to help Japan become a World power nothing has changed when it comes to cultural equality. Not to mention an “evil white American” was the one to bring standardization through statistics to Japanese companies and help them vastly improve their products so that they are recognized as some of the highest quality in the World. Before that, Japanese products were garbage.

    Of course if Japan really doesn’t like the US, us “whites and negros” can just take our billions of dollars out of the Japanese companies we’ve invested in, drive American and imported German, English and Italian cars, and buy American and European Electronics. We wouldn’t want to dirty up the yen with our unpure Dollar and Euro….

  10. I feel really sorry to know there is people like Takeshi, because he pretend us to understand a racist and ridiculous point of view about the reality. One thing should be said “japanese people will never accept something is wrong in their society”, and i have to be enphatic about it because ussually when they go to any country as tourist and later go back to Japan, they use to tell their friends “this or this doesn’t work well in that place”, or could complain they dont have some of their silly things “what makes life better” [enough hashis or tissues, for example], and if you are french, italian or american, they never doubt to tell you “i didn’t liked too much for this or this reason”, but if you say something like “i dont like this thing about japanese society” they feel really offended, and you could lose a friend, only for saying that.
    Do their know their teenager sell their bodies with salary men? [most of them old men], maybe Takeshi’s sister make enjo kosei (could he feel proud about this?) or if his sister is groped in a train for another salary man, or if some chimpira bother his sister or girlfriend to appear in a porn video. Please, we are talking about hypocrisy, because japanese people as they see each other japanese as an equal, feel inside like “if i am japanese and attack another japanese, i will share that shame”.
    Is absolutely stupid why one country pretend to be one of the most civilizated of the world and economically grown is still keeping some stupid predjudices from the middle age. Japanese should be careful with this racist and nationalist behavior, because if they continue this way they could repeat their history and nobody wants a WWIII and another Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

  11. And i’m sorry about mention the atomic horror of Hiroshima or Nagasaki, but it started when militarist japanese goberment though they could rule Asia (if japanese people dont remember, or don’t want to remember, their soldiers turn in prostitutes a lot of women and girls, even children, and killed thousands of innocent people), and now they pretend to have a real army, build ships, aircrafts, and make their own weapons (about the army nobody know if they could win any war having lots of men using colout in hair and make up), but anyway… they offend chinese people, but Chine has grown more and faster than Japan in the last 10 years and Corea, when Corea is on the same way than China. What they want?, what they pretend?…, start some stupid war and later go running and cry to Bush inquirir for help to fight?…
    They are no good about anything… arts, literature, sports… nothing, they never invent something to help civilization… and never tried to do it… only electronic garbage copied from Europe and America…
    So please…, accept diversity or die (because little by little your population is getting older and you have to accept YOU NEED US).

  12. Takashi:

    Let’s review what you have said (your words are in dashes.)

    —To westerners who are upset at being prejudiced by us Japanese. I want to let you know that Japanese people were not allowed to become American until WW2 ended. Even the nisseis who were born in USA were interned, and the US tried to strip them of their citizenship. In Canada, they took away the property, and charged head taxes. I feel good to see us Japanese standing up to white people saying to them that they get no special treatment, and that we can make even white people second class.—

    The year is now 2008. Sixty-three years have passed. In that time America has gone through a massive social upheaval, roughly from 1957-1972. In that time most nisei and issei have been apologized to and generally garner sympathy from the average citizen. In that time the Quota System on Asians died, the Civil Rights Act has been passed (don’t be fooled into thinking it applied to blacks only, that is a fallacy) and the Supreme Court totally altered the dynamics of race forever: it was an issue that once didn’t speak its name and now not only is it debated around the table there is a black man running for President who looks like he may win.

    The current powers that be include Daniel Inouye (a nisei himself) who both holds the highest honor the Army can bestow and has been a loved Hawaiian Senator for decades. Tetsuya Fujita did groundbreaking work in meteorology. John Meada is a professor at MIT and a Japanese American man whose applications of technology to the arts would be worth billions to Nintendo or Sony. Ann Curry is set to cover the Olympics (her mother is issei) and Eric Shinseki was a Japanese American who bravely stood up to the President and his band of morons over Iraq (he is now a great voice of dissent with some influence in the military.) We have made horrible mistakes in the past (we still do), we are far from ideal, but we DO deal with it every damned day. It is ugly, sordid, and innumerably pointed out to Americans wherever we go, even as the Germans seldom get reminders of their Nazi past and the British of its actions in India and Ireland. But we DEAL.

    Since when can Japan claim any of the same? Since when has a gaijin ever been able or allowed to accomplish any of the achievements of the above, especially considering all the American cases were either naturalized Japanese or Japanese by lineage? Since when has Japan done anything except allow national shame to cripple the people so badly that the normal choice is to bury it in the cupboard so deep that the word “Narnia” comes to mind? -It is extremely hard for a foreigner to get a resident’s visa in Japan and quite frankly the treatment of gaijin I have witnessed ranges from the ignorant to the vicious: An Irish woman does not like to be groped by some creepy businessman and then get jailed because she fought back. An Australian father doesn’t like having his heart broken when his children are abducted to Japan by his ex-wife and the Japanese courts NEVER rule in favor of a foreign parent. A black American woman does not like being treated like livestock/ostracized for her skin color/ogled for her exoticness or being called a “negro.” She even is capable of understanding Japanese: hate to break it to you, but I have some bilingual black pals coming back from East Asia/Japan reporting that the offenders may not use the word “nigger”, but in practice and in conversation they heard things that would make the Klan proud.

    –What I don’t like is seeing Japanese American second lieutenants who work the Okinawa bases with III Marines as translators. What is a Japanese doing wearing an Eagle, Globe and Achor with white soldiers and negros under their command to occupy and control the land of their grandfathers? This is disrespectful to the ancestors land.

    The USA should not be using Nikkeijin to work the US bases stationed in Japan wearing the American flag. This is, treason as a Japanese.—-

    Okinawa and the Japanese government have the right to ask the soldiers to leave at any time. Okinawans can simply refuse to do business with the bases: no alcohol, no parties. The same is true in Germany, Qatar, Taiwan, etc. Whereas I don’t deny the denizens of the bases at Okinawa are pigs, the victims deserve justice, and that Bush can barely walk without having to remind himself where his feet are let alone revamping a 60 year old agreement I do think that shall change in the coming election if Obama gets it: diplomacy is one of his top priorities and that shall be needed on an issue of particular interest to both the US and Japan: North Korea. (Funny how as a black man he’d normally be shunned in fair Hokkaido…..)

    Furthermore, what is most treasonous to an ancestor is not learning from the past and endangering the future. Japan sadly, doesn’t do very much in this regard: textbooks don’t discuss much about the Rape of Nanking, the hostile takeover of Korea, or what the social climate was that precipitated the attack on Pearl Harbor. Instead there is a cultural preference for preaching nihonjinron/pride in insularity. The only problem is that it has taken its toll in the past and shall do it again, in fact already does: American businesses have to send ASSOCIATES AND LACKEYS to deal with Japanese businessmen in the case where board members/CEOs are female or black. The fools are so taken with chauvinism they don’t realize they would get more of what they want if they’d just meet with the normal board or CEO. (This is not unique to America, but true of companies found in six of the eight G8 members.)

    If Japan does not change and solely defines nationality by jus sanguinis and everyone else as barbarians it puts itself at great risk in the long term: a homogenous society has much higher risks of genetic diseases. (Japan already has a large pool of sufferers from CIPA, rare in other populations except Ashkenazi Jews.) Japan has a decent sized population however only a trickle of new genetic material is getting in now-if the birthrate continues to fall and xenophobia gets any worse it may mean danger (foreign brides will be harder to find in the future as there shall be a lot of fighting with China and Korea to get them due to their own gender imbalances and prejudices.)

    So go ahead Takeshi. Enjoy your insularity and ethnocentrism: my country is coming out of a nasty misbegotten war because of our ignorance and arrogance and because we failed to learn the lessons of Vietnam. I’d rather not entertain what will eventually explode in the East.

  13. I married an oriental, even the females themselves refrain from doing things while on menstrual. They think it will hinder, harm or inhibit works. In superstition scale, I know they don\’t even bother going in certain places, I think this is a pass me down tradition without any solid reasoning or scientific ground. I am not surprised on this, unexplained things should be investigated first before any suicidal attempt. Any man on Oil-Rig can tell you much.

  14. why are the japanese always blame foreginers for problems in japan and no anti-rape laws there? because the truth is japanese are always was and always will be racist and sexist,that’s the main reason why birthrates are very low in japan? because japanese men grope thier women,japanese women rejected thier men for foreginers but took thier mixed-race children to japan and won’t let their husbinds both japanese and foregin see their own children,this is the 21th century Japan needs to stop living in the past and stop that made up lies about their part in world war 2.

  15. The things that I like to do in Japan is helping poor people, caring for disabled and try to help hopeless Japanese to get back on their feet rather than talking down against their behavior or whatever bad things that they do. The only time that I talk down to Japanese is when they are evil and do crimes. I don’t really care about girls, celebrity and high status people or special people. As far as I am concerned, they can do whatever they like and they don’t have to include me because I won’t feel left out, lonely or isolated at all. I am not even offended if they treat me like a ghost. I am not a shellfish person who does things for pleasure. To be honest with you I don’t have a happy life. All I want to do is to help Japanese and I don’t care whether they like me or not. I treat them all the same and respect no matter who they are. The reason that they are in a poor condition because of capitalism and ‘democracy’. Two ideas that are not ideal for Japanese society. I don’t mean to sound like a hypocrite because I ran one company with my business partners and now I’m managing to get a profession in case of economic collapsed or anything bad happen. I have no choice because of this capitalism crap. This is the American and their allies game. Destroy other country’s government and implant democracy and capitalism. No body is good or right in World War 2. All of them are evil including Japanese government members who overthrew the Tokugawa Shogunate and put the Emperor in power. I am going to do something very special for Japanese one day and it is going to be
    absolutely secret. However, I don’t want to be popular or famous or getting credit and I don’t even need to use nuclear power to achieve it. To the Japanese people you don’t have to repay or honor me for good or great things and just enjoy what you received till your end.

  16. The sure fie way to belittle a racist is to hold up a mirror to their paper thin nihonjinron argument.

    Next time you get heckled or made known of your ostracism just ask this question:

    ”Are Ainu, indigenous Japanese or Gaijin?”


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