Saturday, June 24, 2006

Speaking Up Against Antiquated Sexism in Japan

It is not uncommon for me to feel disgust at the way women are treated in this country. I am often amazed not only at how men treat women, but also at how women treat women and how children view women. I am appalled and shocked by women’s subordinate position in Japanese society.

I am well aware that in other “advanced” nations too, there are a handful of problems between the sexes, from domestic violence to child pornography. However, of all affluent nations I have lived in or visited, I have never come across such a display of ignorance and discrimination against women as in Japan—a so-called “advanced” society and a member of the Group of Eight industrialized nations.

The other day, while teaching an English conversational class to a group of junior high students. I caught a glimpse of a pencil case. On it was the brand name “BITCH.” Drawn in stick figures on the pencil case was a man pointing a gun to a woman’s head. I immediately asked my student if she thought this was OK. She passed the buck, stating it was her sister’s.

“How can this be possible?” I thought. Then I was magically struck with the realization that I am in Japan. I am in a country that constantly reminds me that the only reason women were put on this earth was to be at the beck and call of men. Articles in magazines point out that in Japan, men have the money and power, while women serve sex and are only allowed to say “So desu ne…!” (Well…!)

There are many “sick” sex ads everywhere. Junk mail promoting juvenile prostitution are sent to e-mail boxes every day, and many Japanese men (educators, government officials, doctors and lawmakers) jump on the opportunity to buy sex. Under-18 pornographic magazines are in book stores where children can easily see them. Very weird adult videos are in video shops where young people can easily purchase them. What is worse is that many Japanese voters, especially parents and educators, don’t complain about these things to their representatives—they are not even considered problems.

Whenever I ask Japanese women about sexual harassment or why many women in Japan allow men to treat them as “sex objects,” most of them have no answer: they just giggle. A Japanese acquaintance told me she has often seen “decent-looking” guys touching women buttocks in crowded trains, but surprisingly the victims do not complain or react at all. She also told me she is extremely tired of sitting in subways next to, or near men openly gazing at pictures of nude women, reading manga that often includes violent rape, then being stared at from head to foot by these same men.

In the past, Japanese men forced a tremendous number of women to become sex slaves; today, Japanese men gaze hungrily on the subways at pornography. Video rental shops and television senders provide not only lust on film, but worse, violent and aggressive sex toward women; and finally, groups of Japanese men (including educators, diplomats, government officials and even lawmakers), who are married, proudly carry their prostitute guidebooks and parade through Thailand hoping for sex, while their wives and kids stay at home.

Even if not all Japanese men purchase pornographic materials or sex guides, I am unpleasantly shocked that this society continues to condone or at least passively observe as men continue the ancient tradition of classifying women as objects rather than human beings. In Canada, the nation of which I am a citizen, we have a bit of these problems, but Canadians stand up against them. Women, especially, are united in trying to stop sexploitation and sexual inequality.

Acknowledging that there are differences between women and men, they do not determine the superiority of one group over the other. Japanese women must fight for their reputation, rights and dignity. They need to take care of their own children to protect them from the negative influences of this “filthy” society so that they can earn respect and better circumstances. Many Japanese men do not care, as they have treated women like “sex toys” for centuries.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Marriages and Families for Thought

A revolution is going on in marriages and families. Psychologists and sociologists tell us that one of the overriding problems in our contemporary societies is the family--tensions within the family, leading to divorces and separations and uncertainties within the family. Magazines and newspapers are filled with articles titled "How to Hold Your Marriage Together," "Spice Up Your Sex Life to Prevent Divorce" and "How to Be Happy Though Married." We are beginning to assume that there are no good homes.

But I can assure you that in spite of all the statistics and all facts, there are today tens of thousands of happy marriages and homes in the world. And those homes are happy because spirituality is in the home; you cannot leave morals and spirituality out of your marriage and expect to be happy.I deeply believe almost all of the problems that our nations face begin in the home. Dishonesty is learned in the home, and honesty is learned in the home. Children hear their parents curse, and they learn to curse. Children hear, "I love you forever!" and they say, "I love you forever!" In my judgment a nation cannot rise higher than its home life. Bitterness, crime, alienation, even perversion, starts in the home.

I would like to express my opinion about three types of people in regard to marriage:

Married couples who are disillusioned
Firstly, some people have already experienced marriage -- the joys, the hardships. the sorrows, the boredoms and the frustrations of marriage. And they have become disillusioned; they haven't yet decided on divorce, but the marriage is shaky. They ask, "What ingredient is missing in my marriage? What's wrong? Marriage is not what I thought it was going to be. It's not the ideal that I thought it would be." How many people marry with stars in their eyes in June, and are disillusioned by Christmastime? He didn't know she looks like that without her hair combed; she didn't know he can't always get his "stuff" up at night, and he has bad breath when he gets up in the morning. People learn all types of things when they marry and start living together.

Married Couples Who Are Disconnected
Secondly, some people have been married for years -- two people just living under the same roof. They may have too much pride or too many external pressures to be divorced, or even admit that anything is wrong. The household becomes merely an accumulation of individuals who come together for room and board. They have become accustomed to that arrangement, and they have ceased asking questions about how to improve the condition. They are to be commended for keeping the home together rather than seeking escape through divorce, but they still have that fragile feeling about marriage. The marriage is not the perfect ideal that they thought it would be, but they are sticking together for other reasons.

Married Couples Who Are Happy
Thirdly, some people have happy marriages. What makes up a happy marriage, a happy home? We could set up guidelines that say a happy home is one where they husband and wife help each other, or they have a great "sex life", or the children attend good schools, or they are engaged in charitable causes, or they fit into the accepted social life of the community... But I personally believe a great marriage is a spiritual commitment, not a contract. It means that you are committed to each other for your lifetime. You truly love, respect and support each other forever.

Some people today sign a prenuptial contract. Before they marry, they sign a contract that says something like, "We must have sex at least 3 times a week; if we divorce, you get this and I get that..." But commitment means that we give in faith. We entrust everything to the other person. And if we are blessed with children, the family relationship is a three-way commitment. Each member of the family cherishes important universal values such as love, compassion, respect for life and spirituality.

I deeply believe marriage is a spiritual commitment to each other; it's for life. Marriage is a complement: it is the spiritual blending of two personalities. Because of selfishness, alienation, pride and perversion, sometimes, they don't mix.

How can we quarrel with each other or victimize one another?

I believe the nature of an animal is very simple and easy to grasp. In comparision, a human being's nature is like a bamboo forest that is extremely hard to penetrate.

Human relations are not easy to handle. Misunderstandings between husbands and wives, conflicts between couples and their in-laws, arguments between parents and children and so on are as old as human history, but they still remain very difficult to resolve. However, if even one person embraces the firm view of life that "Because of that, this exists" or in other words, "Because of that person, I can develop," then he or she need never experience pointless conflicts in human relations. The other party's good or bad points do not determine one's happiness or unhappiness.

In a case of a "sexually unsatisfied" wife, for example, her present existence is in relation to her husband, whatever sort of person he may be. One who realizes this point can turn everything, both good and bad, into an impetus for personal growth.

Of course I am well aware that this is easier said than done. I think, therefore, it is all the more vital that we foster a sense of community and coexistence based on the awareness that we are all inter-related.

We are all imperfect human beings who, through some mystic bond, were born to share the same limited life span on this Earth, a small green oasis in the vast universe. Then, how can we quarrel with each other or victimize one another?

I firmly believe that profound mutual compassion is what will change discord into harmony. People who are accusing me of preaching puritanism should try to read my essays in depth. My views do not focus on difference of faith, ethnicity, nationality, or religion. My views focus on important universal values ("true" love, equanimity, peace, nonviolence, anti-racism, morality, ethical behavior, character, wisdom, compassion, respect for life...) that are missing in our societies.

We have many countries in the world, but only one Earth. At night we have many stars above us, but only one sky. Faiths may differ, but I believe the pathway is one. Human beings may differ, but I believe the divinity in a person is one. Let's all get together and make the world a better place for all the future generations.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Limiting immigrants: naked racism or blatant stupidity?

How can Japan, a nation which depends on foreign countries for its very survival succeed in closing doors to immigrants? Aso, Abe, Koizumi and "Kozumi children" must be kidding!

Even a "not-so-smart" layman can see that if Japan limited the number of immigrants to 3% or less, its future would surely be gloomy. If the Japanese are to maintain their relative position in the world or even avoid a substantial or perhaps catastrophic decline, there must be significant flow of foreign workers to Japan. There also must be a steady or even rapid growth in world trade, which itself is possible if there is continued world peace (especially in East Asia) and a marked improvement in the handling of international tensions and global problems.

If the Japanese refused to share their nation with others (especially the Chinese and Koreans), economical and political nationalism on the part of other nations (especially China and Korea) would not be surprising, and this could lead to increasingly restrictionist policies and trade wars. In these, Japan, because of its poor hand in natural resources and manpower (recently), would certainly be the loser.

To state the case in positive terms, Japan has as great an interest as any nation in the maintenance of world peace, the expansion of world trade, and the solution of the problems its own citizens face (the problems of aging society, low birthrate, labor shortage ...) Japan in its own interest needs to do better. Japan, with its great potentialities at the moment (various industries that need workers; many abandoned lands, houses, shops and schools that need to be revived, many universities and research centers that need "brains" from other nations ...), should be attempting to maximize its effort to the solution of these problems.

To do this, Japanese leaders and ordinary people would have to have a much stronger sense of mutual trust and cooperation between themselves and others. Without a greater sense of fellow feeling on the part of Japanese for other peoples and, perhaps more difficult, of other peoples for the Japanese, there may not be enough mutual trust and understanding to permit the solutions of these problems Japan faces.

The needs go much deeper than the enthusiasm for the United Nations and the formal "internationalization" (Let's study English, French, Korean, Chinese, Arabic, Swahili and all the languages in the world ...) that Japan have espoused. The Japanese must overcome their sense of separateness and, to put it bluntly, show a greater readiness to join the human race. They must really identify themselves with the rest of the world and feel a part of it.