On Being a Total Creep in Japan

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.

The Culture
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.

Sincerely yours,
Don Quixote

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34 Responses to On Being a Total Creep in Japan

  1. I appreciate how your language becomes more general in the second half of your entry. Rape culture is definitely a global phenomenon, but one that manifests itself differently across various cultural contexts. I feel awkward commenting on, for instance, how Japanese women, through Boys Love Manga, perpetuate cultural norms that are harmful to both women and gay men. (Not that they’re characterizing “real” gay men, but that’s another discussion…) That’s what internalized misogyny is. Sexism and rape culture are not just problems perpetuated by men, they are deeply-rooted systemical problems we all have to work toward combating. (And when I say “we”, I’m really talking about combating rape within our own cultures.)

    As a Westerner, I experience my own version of rape culture. I can’t even take my son to the grocery store without some creep commenting on my “swag” or the size of my ass. Even though the way I dress and express my gender is, most of the time, very masculine, I still can’t escape it. I’ve dealt with rape too, but in my own way. This is the main reason why I don’t feel it’s my place to criticize or shame Japanese women (again, like the Boys Love mangaka) for responding to her experience in her own way. The vast majority of women (ok, every woman who doesn’t live in the Yunnan province of South East China) have been socialized to not seek out or enjoy sex, and on top of that, we all exist in a culture that (at every turn) programs us to believe that, for women, rape and domination are the norm.

    I also believe western feminists, myself included, could benefit from more knowledge of Japanese feminism and culture before we start applying our own “truths” to their experience. Because Japanese feminism does exist, and often completely separate from western influence. I read Broken Silence: Voices of Japanese Feminism recently, and it was very eye opening in terms of how it conveyed the diversity within that movement.

    I hope that made sense!

  2. You know, you and I are going to have to sit down for coffee sometime.
    Its starting to get a little scary how much our thoughts line up. And there’s even a running trend in not only the article theme, but timing of when we are posting.
    I just released http://www.thejapanrants.com/blog/japanese-upskirt-chikan/ and found myself thinking that although there was so much more I wanted to cover, that I had already allowed the article to go a little too long.
    I was thinking about doing a second piece talking more about what happens when things go too far, and pulling expats into the mix, and here’s your post!

    And so once again, I’ll probably just link to it lol.

    Good detail and a good angle to write from man.

    Thanks for another good read.

  3. “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.”

    Absolutely true. Great read, thanks Eryk.

  4. kamo says:

    Ah, this sounds like it’s coming from an uncomfortably personal place. That sucks, if so. I know that’s a really banal way of describing a hideous thing, but I’ve got nothing better, I’m afraid.

    I have to say that I’ve nevery really heard of this kind of stuff going on in the expat community round my way. But then that’s the nature of it and in itself proves nothing. Everyone so busy obsessing over the less savoury aspects of relations with the locals that it’s very easy to see how gaijin-on-gaijin stuff could get ignored.

    Also, it sounds like you could really use some time outside that gaijin bubble. And outside your own head, as well. I love the stuff you put up here and wouldn’t want it to stop, but are you this introspective all the time?

    • owwls says:

      I don’t think you’d hear much about it in any expat community, for a lot of reasons, many having to do with the way Japanese cultural norms start encroaching on people.

      As for introspection – yes, unless I’m in a karaoke booth. But I’m not bothered by introspection at all! I find it an unusual comment for this post, though, because all of this was purely based on observations of other people….

      • kamo says:

        Sorry, yeah. The introspection thing does look a like a bit of a non sequitur there.

        In general you can be quite damning of the expat crowd here in Japan. Not entirely without reason. And to me it feels like this post is clearly a response to something happening to someone you’re close to (and I could be wrong about that, of course). Which prompts the thought that maybe you need to find a different crowd to spend time with, if possible. You’d have to deal with fewer idiots and spend less time in your own head. If that’s what you want.

        God that sounds patronising. See? this is what happens if I show my working. It’s just I recognise a lot of myself in some of the stuff you put up here and know that’s a cycle I’ve been through too.

        I’ll stop projecting now. As you were.

  5. mypandahero says:

    I’m not good at discussing things, so I’ll just leave it at this; excellent article!

  6. Sophie says:

    “Make a scene when someone makes a rape joke, even if you’re the only one. Especially if you’re the only one.”
    Yes. Thank you. Yes.

  7. Kathryn says:

    “Men have a pretty simple task: Don’t rape anybody.” = brilliant. It says it all really.

    Sometimes I feel physically ill when I hear Western men talking about Japanese women.

  8. jthornburg says:

    It’s like those personal ads where Western males just want someone with whom to practice their Japanese, then specify that the “someone” must be female, young, single, etc.!

  9. Caroline says:

    I haven’t read many articles (or any, sadly) with men saying the things that you’ve been saying in this article. I really appreciate the fact that you’ve described the context for rape and the fact that those who have raped, don’t believe it was rape (it’s eye-opening but true). Also, bringing up that men have a responsibility to call others out and step up and say something. True! Even bringing up subway ettiquette and horrible leering, etc which I can relate to all too well. I have been grinded against on the subway in clear view and no one has said anything. I get leered at constantly, making me wish there was a women-only car on all Toronto trains. Somehow when I mention the leering to other people, they make it seem like I should be flattered… I recently read an article at the Globe and Mail news site, where one male writer wrote about leering at women (well, it seemed to go beyond mere glances for him) and somehow made it all seem okay, healthy, natural, flattering, expected, etc. But leering has never been flattering or comfortable for me, rather extremely uncomfortable, unsafe, stressful. From my experiences with the police as well, when I had to deal with a mugging, the police completely ignored the fact that I could have been raped and flirted with me as they took the statement. The things that women have to deal with really erks me. Anyways, the point is, I’m glad you wrote this article. I wish that more men would talk this transparently about this issue without dodging responsibility or discussion. Thank you.

  10. the pigman says:

    Good. Very good. If you want a cracking good novel (with slight psychedelic bent) that deals with many of the topics you cover (including mistreatment of Japanese women by gaikokujin males) you should have a read of Carl Shuker’s “The Method Actors”. It holds the mirror to our faces in a similar way to your posts. You will definitely enjoy it if you like Tim O’Brien’s writing, too.

  11. addison says:

    My worry is that whilst its true -in order for a male not to be a rapist is very simple and i wholeheartedly support that at what point does it stop. My line is physical contact but if i see a girl i like why can I not look at her? is my gaze so abhorrent that i must avert it? if so should i be offended when girls look at me? should i be wary of a girl who returns my glance and it leads to something?

    i dont want to hurt anyone – and certainly never have done intentionally. I dont want to make people feel uncomfortable but I imagine I may have done. But feeling uncomfortable because a guy you dont fancy is looking at you, is not the same as being co-erced in to sex by being made drunk, or being groped or any of the other things

    • owwls says:

      If anybody, male or female, seems uncomfortable with you looking at them, why would you keep looking at them? Your gaze is not “abhorrent” on principal, but your disregard for the comfort of the people around you might be. It’s a problem if you are staring at someone, yes, regardless of who they are. Of course nobody likes to have some stranger staring at them.

      Why would “a girl returning your glance and it leading to something” be a problem?

      • addison says:

        I dont keep looking at them -im not staring either. I suppose my sadness is not when my gaze is met with indifeerence but absolute hostility- Im not as insensitive as my post may indicate. I fear this shift in where the line of acceptability is going too far – a situation where “your pretty (or hansdsome depending on preference) and I noticed” doesnt feel like abuse of anyone.

        On the rare occassions a girl has returned my glance and it lead to something – a conversation, coffeee and on one occassion a really special relationship – it absolutely wasnt a problem …which is kinda why Id like to carry on looking without feeling Im also a creep.

  12. nicholette says:

    I am travelling in japan for 2 months with my sister and have never receieved such worrying predatory behaviour as I have here. We have had to fend off groping, leering and ppl making noises at us because we have boobs. Its extremely offensive but nobody blinks an eye as it is seen as acceptable! I even witnessed a guy push his girlfriend down the subway stairs shouting abuse and everyone turned away. I thinks it terribly unsafe for women here and despite how beautful the country is and how interesting the traditions and culture is I will be happy to leave so I feel safer once again.

  13. Archana says:

    at gaijin parties (i think i went to 2 as it wasn’t really my scene) – some people were pointed out to me and i was advised to stay away from them because they were not good people. it was just random advice given to me by my husband’s friend. it turns out that they preyed on school girls 14 and over at the schools they worked at – and were able to get work again anywhere else if they got found out because companies didn’t do great background checks. i remember applying to work in the JET programme a long time ago – the interviewers made it seem like only a privileged few can do this. but after speaking to other teachers, i found out it is actually pretty easy to get a job via a phone interview and just book your flight.

    • owwls says:

      True. The JET Programme is much more stringent than private companies (JET is the government’s recruiting arm for local boards of education, so technically we’re government workers and must pass the background checks, etc). That isn’t to say that JETS are the best kinds of people. I’m met creeps on both sides of the private and public sphere of teaching English in Japan.

  14. Eric says:

    I find the whole “rape culture” generalization incredibly insulting. Yes, all that men need to do is not rape women (although guess what? It happens the other way too, but “rape culture” doesn’t care about that, minority offenders though women are in this case).

    Gender bias aside, though, why not leave it at that? It’s the perfect answer: Rape is the problem, so stop with the rape. Why move on to ridiculous assertions about rape jokes? I know more women who make rape jokes than men, and the men I know who do — even in the company of other such men — don’t magically become rapists. Even in college this wasn’t the case. There are environmental factors, I would most certainly not dispute that, but to me this is just another nature vs. nurture debate: It’s not one or the other. It’s both. And that does NOT mean all men are rapists; that means rapists are rapists, and the environment they’re in may or may not bring it out of them. If you have that in you, it’s not because your friends were making bad jokes. It’s because some part or parts of your personality work that way, perhaps amplified by alcohol or encouragement. That’s not the same as “be careful, if you make the wrong jokes at the wrong party, you might set someone (or yourself!) off.”

    Censorship is not a good answer, and certainly not based on anecdotal evidence and arbitrary ideas of taste. Don’t talk about these things, they lead to bad actions; don’t make these jokes, they will encourage your peers to violate the rights of others. Next we should probably stop people from writing about them as well. Where do you stop? Who decides? There is no good answer to these questions because they come from a terrible premise.

    Women should be safe, and to the extent possible, they should feel safe. To the latter point, though, some women never will: Some have been through or near too much relevant trauma, and some simply have such a dim view of men that you can be the nicest guy in the world and some will still glare at you as though you were threatening them with a dangerously erect phallus. That is outside of our control, and I for one am not interested in being held accountable for the attitudes of people with an overinflated idea of how dangerous or base I am simply due to being born with an outie rather than an innie.

    Anyway, the only real point I’m making here is that rape is awful and shouldn’t be tolerated, but at the same time it just does further harm to promote extreme measures and grotesque generalizations that the rest of the male sex has to live with.

    • owwls says:

      Well I guess when I say “rape jokes” I mean jokes that reinforce the idea that rape is socially acceptable, or that plying women with liquor to get them to take their pants off is cool. There are a lot of boundaries worth making exceptions for, and a lot of “good” rape jokes that make sure that the idea of rape is satirized and shown for being stupid. I wouldn’t suggest people stop making Hitler jokes, right? But I am less cool and more guarded when someone makes a joke about Jews. Sometimes people actually use jokes to advocate actually pushing the boundaries of what is actually socially permissible. Most of the time what people call “rape jokes” aren’t hilarious jokes about how actually raping people is a good idea, they are jokes that reinforce the idea that rape is pretty a horrible thing to do (Louis CK is good on these). I think the problem with the rape joke argument is that one side thinks it’s a huge swath of material being covered and the other side is like “No actually it’s probably not the shit that most normal people laugh at.” Could be wrong though. Someone is bound to correct me.

  15. Elizabeth says:

    This article makes some good points, but at closer inspection I disagree with some of the underlying views. The suggestion that you can “get women drunk and coerce them into saying yes” is insulting. Adult women are totally capable of saying,
    A: Yes or no to another drink and,
    B: Yes or no to sex.
    Suggesting otherwise is pratonizing and robs women of their agency.

    • owwls says:

      It’s not insulting. You go out for drinks, keep refilling their glass, make them feel like they are ok to get very drunk with you, then when they’re about to pass out you start making out with them. But I guess that method is more dignified than asking men not to pressure women to drink or have sex with you? Your post is insulting because you’re basically insisting that women have a “right” to get date raped.

  16. Elizabeth says:

    No, I’m saying that women have a right to drink and have sex, and are perfectly capable of saying yes or no to those. This underlying idea that men are aggressive and manipulating and the poor weak women need to be protected from them is sexist. Don’t get me wrong “no” means “no” I totally agree, but similarly “yes” means “yes.” If you claim otherwise you’re essentially holding men but not women responsible for their actions while drunk, which is a sexist double standard that doesn’t accomplish anything except undermining women’s rights.

    • owwls says:

      This post has nothing to say about consensual sex. It’s about deliberate manipulation and coercion. Which is creepy shit. Not sure where you’re getting the idea that having a few drinks with a guy you want to sleep with is being presented as a problem.

      • Sophelia says:

        Elizabeth, I think you need to do a bit of reading about what date rape is.

      • Elizabeth says:

        What is your definition of “deliberate manipulation and coercion”? If a woman says “yes” to sex, in what case would you still consider the sex non-consensual?

        Thanks, I’m familiar with the definition of date rape. I’m not talking about cases where a woman says no or is passed out. Those cases are obviously rape. What I’m questioning is this idea that in some cases “yes” actually means “no.” Unless we’re talking about obtaining a “yes” through physical violence or threats of violence aren’t we invalidating their decision in our attempt to “protect” them?

      • the pigman says:

        These attitudes (that women have a right to be exposed to predatory male behaviour) are “way out there”. They would be in the UK, and they are moreso out there in Japan. Without indulging in too many wild generalisations, I know PLENTY of Japanese women who have had difficulty saying no (or worse, have had difficulty saying it loud of clear enough that these predatory men are actually willing to back off and examine their behaviour.)

      • Elizabeth says:

        As I said before, cases where women say “no”, say “maybe”, or don’t say anything are definitely date rape. I’m only interested in talking about the situation proposed by the author where a woman says yes, and it’s somehow still rape.

      • owwls says:

        When you are too scared to say no or too drunk to mean it, a yes still doesn’t transcend the body language and context. Im merely advocating for the good judgement required for a decent human being not to take advantage of it.

  17. ambr says:

    This is great

  18. Pingback: On Sexual Harassment in Japan (Part 2): For ALTs | This Japanese Life. | 生命を外面九天です

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