The creepiness of men in Japan (homegrown and imported) has become something of a standing joke. The male expats are creepy, and it’s a joke. Japanese men leer on the subway, and it’s a joke. Dance floors in Japan are jokes, because women will inevitably end up grinded on or groped by someone too sketchy to “read the air.”
The whole thing is a big joke, really, until it isn’t. Then, people stop laughing about it, because that would mean talking about it, and nobody wants to do that. You’d upset the wa.
The Entitled Mind of the Expat Male
Many female expats in Japan will tell you the decks are stacked.
For one, expat communities are small, and more men tend to come to Japan – especially if you factor in American military. The rest are young, recent college grads who arrive in Japan and are instantly able to find interested Japanese women.
This is a common stereotype, so I’ll be careful here: I’m not saying “all Japanese women are interested in foreign men.” It’s untrue, and for many Japanese women, foreigners can carry a stigma. It’s a small percentage of Japanese women that see foreign men as desirable, but with a smaller percentage of foreign men, it’s enough.
These men do not have to be attractive. If you’ve ever had that borderline-racist thought that “all X look alike,” that is the ally of the dorky white expat. We all look alike. If you like white guys, it’s not really gonna matter; Western features are all the same.
So, even socially awkward, moderately attractive men find a steady flow of interested partners, in a complete reversal of the culture they’re typically from. And these are aggressive women, whereas expat women tend to be comparatively aloof and selective. Traditional Western courtship begins to just take too much time.
Pick-up artists are everywhere. Braggarts are everywhere. Absolutely incomprehensible dating strategies are everywhere, and seem to work. I once watched three guys in matching goatees, top hats and cigars doing magic tricks at a club. They scored the phone number of practically every Japanese woman there, because no one could tell an exotic and interesting foreigner from a creepy clown, or else they just didn’t care.
Japanese men are not, as assumed, timid or afraid, or uninterested in Western women. The culture of Japan assumes women will strike up a conversation first. (Though, they usually don’t – so there are no babies).
It’s the old samurai thing – a guy loses face approaching a woman. The girl’s supposed to be pouring his drinks and chatting him up. And even when the rare, Western-minded guy does approach a Western girl, the courtship can be notoriously awkward.
Courtship anywhere is notoriously awkward. Dating rules are defined by culture and then refined by people – “deal breakers” vary from person to person, not city to city. I can’t date a girl who says “FML” in any serious capacity, but I doubt that’s true for the entire male population of New England.
Luckily, men and women usually have some overlap in the cultural norms of dating: Chivalry, in the west. Men buy dinner or whatever, flirtation commences, you lend her your cardigan and affix a carnation before asking her to prom.
Japan has no tradition of chivalry. People don’t even hold the door open for each other. Japanese “dating culture” doesn’t exist, because Japanese romantic rules during the West’s age of chivalry were based on Samurai taking tribute from villagers, rather than wooing spoiled aristocrats with lutes.
(Much has been made of pervy Japanese men on trains – the chikan – who have become so unpleasant that Tokyo subways now have women-only cars. And I’ve met train creeps, men playing pornographic audio from their handbags… these guys aren’t the norm. But they’re around).
Men and women are lonely and emotionally isolated, with Western men having outlets in a freshly rotating harem of women they can’t communicate with and Western women trying to adapt to a dating culture that seems more suited to Don Draper.
Take a bunch of damaged or lonely people, add alcohol, stir.
At its worst, the expat community is a train wreck of loneliness, alcohol, dark rooms and late-night hookups. Add aggressive men, the early end of train service, and the emotional neediness (and corresponding repulsion to that neediness) by both genders, and you have drama at best and trauma at worst.
Which takes us to an awkward and uncomfortable word.
In rape cases across America, conservative statistics paint the picture clearly: 74% of rapes are committed by people the victims knew; 47% of rapes involve both parties drinking. 20% of rapes involved only the perpetrator drinking. 86% of rapes occur in the victim’s home.
So, staying at a friend’s apartment because the trains have stopped and you’re both drunk should be something a normal person could expect to do safely, but the stats say otherwise.
Coupled with the weird emotional minefield of expat anxiety and the match up of non-communicative, sexually aggressive Japanese women with inexperienced male dorks who “learn” to be aggressive in return, and you don’t have to be paranoid to see that this situation is prone to coercion, harassment and disaster.
You’ll be called paranoid anyway.
Maybe your definition of rape isn’t the same as mine, but I’m not interested in that discussion. Rapists never consider what they’ve done to be rape. Verbal coercion, drinking with the intent of “pulling out a yes,” emotional manipulation, etc, all qualify.
I think we can all agree, though, that men in Japan don’t have to be creeps.
So how about we just agree that if someone’s passed out, they shouldn’t wake up to someone trying to have sex with them. If someone needs a place to stay, they should not endure 40 minutes of sexual harassment before being left alone to sleep. If you’re rolling around in your own bed with a girl and she says it’s time to go to sleep, shut up and go to sleep.
A study of rape-prone fraternities conducted at UPenn – which knows a few things about the subject – suggests the following formula: “The level of the perceived male peer support system for exploiting women through alcohol, plus the amount of alcohol actually consumed by men when they drink, are the primary predictors of whether they will report themselves as sexual victimizers of women.”
In other words, if your friends agree that getting a girl drunk is an acceptable form of seduction, and your friends paradoxically believe that you are not responsible for the things you do while drinking, then you are more likely to get women drunk and coerce them into saying yes. Factor in other male-dominated social noise: Rape jokes, boasting, one-upmanship, etc., and you further escalate the social context for rape.
Expat men already become extreme versions of themselves, encouraged to simplify and exaggerate one’s differences from other expats and from the host culture at large out of “the narcissism of minor difference,” or the need to self-express in a culture that seeks to confine you to set stereotypes.
This leads to extreme drinking, for one, and if we follow the formula of the study, that alone increases the risk that they’ll abuse or pressure women. But the culture that grows up around restricted expat hives is another factor: If men are allowed to indulge in trivializing behaviors, like making rape jokes, quantifying sexual exploits, or bragging about the extremes you went to for the sake of getting laid, then that culture is going to amplify itself into a crescendo of shitty guys and shittier actions.
We don’t talk about it often, because of Japan’s emphasis on social harmony, the close-knit nature of gaijin bubbles, and because rape generally never gets reported even in comfortable, familiar environments.
Men have a pretty simple task: Don’t rape anybody.
If you’re a dude in Japan who cares about women, you are obligated to call people out on their bullshit. Be a total killjoy when the predatory creeps come creeping. Get in the way of unwanted groping. Make a scene when someone makes a rape joke, even if you’re the only one. Especially if you’re the only one.
And don’t, ever, buy into the new definition of consensual when it’s served up by a locked-down expat culture feeding itself delusional talk about what “yes” means. It damages women, and it damages you.
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