Monday, May 19, 2008

social problems, social issues. (Japan)

On the ground observations.

As most of you know, I am currently taking a Japanese language course here in Japan, and have decided to share some things I have seen while here. (This is not my first trip to Japan, for those of you who don’t know, I come as often as once every two months.)While walking to the train station after dinner a few nights back, I saw a little scene that made me think about some fundamental social issues in Japan (I believe in Korea too, thou I have only been to Korea once, and would not attempt to comment on Korea). A girl (probably in her mid-twenties) was walking by a road-barricade with one of those pull-me-luggage (the kind that could be stowed in the overhead compartment on a plane), when a much older man (probably in his late-fifties or sixties), – who seemed drunk from the way he talked and redness of his face –, leaned over to grope/touch the girl’s butt. This is not entirely uncommon here in Japan. So the girl, in an extremely unorthodox-Japanese manner, turned around and swung the little suitcase at him and demanded an apology. Of course by then, a little group of onlookers began to crowd, and the elder man was forced, probably in drunk reluctance, to apologise. I say unorthodox-Japanese manner because in many similar situations, the girl(s) would either turn, give a little stare, then walk on off, or continue walking away with her head down, without so much as a head-turn, so please do not ‘bite’ me on the usage of unorthodox-Japanese manner. We all know that Japanese mannerism and culture is among the few that has retained its historical origins very well.

So I come to my point. Is this a socially accepted norm? Is this a social education issue?

For some of us, especially those living in the extremely well protected (by governmental laws and the police organization) nation of Singapore, such acts of molestation would result in a hefty wrist slap (monetary fines and even a police case). Furthermore, the reaction from a girl in an above-similar situation would probably have resulted in the taking out of cell-phone, and the punching of three digits.

So argue with me here. “YES! It is a social education issue, and should not be socially accepted. Punishments should be imposed on offenders, police officers should be more vigilant, and more stringent laws have to be in place.” Easier said than done.

On to my next topic, partially related to the one above. Train carriages. For many of you who have been to Japan, you would know that Japan is covered in thousands of miles of tracks. From the Shinkansen (bullet train) to the daily commuter types (some are much like our subways, while others are inter-state types). I commute daily on the JR (acronym for Japan Rail), a vast inter-Japan rail network, from my uchi to my school. On the renowned JR system, train lengths range from 6 to 10 carriages, and of these 6 – 10 carriages, there is always at least one carriage that is meant solely for elders, the handicap, and the pregnant. Very commendable. And of these 6 – 10 carriages, there is also at least one carriage that is meant for ladies.

“Huh?” you may ask.
“Exactly!” is my reply.

This ‘female only’ carriage has a time-period, mainly peak hours. For those of you who indulge in vices such as pornography and adult videos (AV as it is known in Japan), the train carriage should be a sick but familiar scene; a place where molestation occurs, especially during peak hours. So the government decides to do something for the ladies of Japan, and thus, the introduction of ‘female only’ carriages.
Now ask yourself this basic yet simple question: “is that how you solve a problem?” While I am not able to fully provide examples of how such crimes could be curbed, I am sure governmental think-tanks could. But from my personal understanding and rationalizing, ‘female only’ carriages would only further worsen this social issue. The solution has to be dealt with from the root, and not form some feeble attempt at solving a much deeper issue. I have also read that women are not the only ones who suffer from groping problems, men too, are sometimes victimized by scheming girls who target a victim, and create a scene of false-accusation. This embarrassing scene could then be dealt with by the man, with a private settlement fee. In this case, exploitation is the key word, and I shall not dwell too much into it, as it is a separate issue altogether. While laws are indeed in place against such crimes, the enforcement is lacking.

On to my third issue. Catch Sales. I believe many of you may not be familiar with this term. From a logical perspective, this term seemed to be coined for people who run after you around malls and try to push the sales of various products. Make sense? You couldn’t be more wrong. Catch Sales is a term used to label people (I believe 99% of them are men) who wait at busy pedestrian junctions or the entrances to malls, and target lone girls (usually better looking ones) to join their various ‘phoney’ companies or modelling agencies. While it is a common tactic employed by many head-hunting firms, the objective of these Catch Sales are drastically different. They aim at targeting girls for various jobs, ranging narrowly between pornographic magazines to pornographic AV. They used to be dressed seemingly decently in suits, and I believe recent laws have banned such attire. So now, the Catch Sales are dressed in less conspicuous clothing (I am being sarcastic, when you have the opportunity to see one, you would be able to tell them from the other normal people, relatively clearly.)
These people usually target lone girls, and would follow them for a distance, consistently pestering them with questions and compliments alike. Sometimes, they might even daringly walk up to couples holding hands, thou seldom the case. Another annoyingly amusing fact is that these Catch Sales sometimes operate when there are police officers nearby. Furthermore, shopping centres and areas that are mainly populated by the young would have PA loudspeaker systems blasting both the latest chart-topping music hits, and warning messages for girls of such Catch Sales activities nearby.

On now, to my forth and final point; once again partially related to the abovementioned issues. While walking around downtown Sannomiya, Kobe earlier today, I saw a few young girls from a distance, all dressed in trendy clothing and smoking. Then as I got closer to them, two police officers seemingly materialized from out of nowhere, approached them, and demanded an ID check. It seemed obvious that the girls were underage, as I saw one still wearing a uniform-skirt hiked up, despite of the funky top she adorned. While it is both right and dutiful for the police officers to perform such routine checks, why is it that the same officers are not trying to reduce the three above mentioned issues?

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