Sex myths without substance: Mislabelling Japan

I wrote a piece for the Independent after the ‘No sex please, we’re Japanese’ BBC documentary and a number of articles that have cropped up recently on Japan’s declining population:

Every few months, as if to remind us what a disturbingly odd place Japan is, an alarming Japanese news story explodes online. Western media outlets clamber over each other in their haste to cover the story, with every report of bagel headssnail facials or ritual head shaving being used as further evidence of a unique Japanese weirdness. A lack of understanding (and, sometimes, basic fact-checking) means that entire stories are lifted, often without critique, and churned into dubious clickbait. Earlier this year, widespread coverage of a supposed eyeball-licking epidemic among Japanese teens that turned out to be a hoax left more than a few editors red-faced.

This round was kicked off with an article in the Guardian looking at reasons behind Japan’s rapidly declining population. Since then, sound-bites have been repeated and distorted, and the spiralling birth rate figures have become a hook for a spate of ill-informed, voyeuristic articles that fail to note that the ‘weirdness’ they see before them is far from representative.

Read more here.

Japanese pop star sleeps with boyfriend, shaves head

I wrote a piece for Indy Voices on the AKB48 singer who shaved her head as self-inflicted punishment for sleeping with another pop star. Turns out doing a Japanese degree does sometimes come in useful!

Shocked at the Japanese pop star who shaved her head for having a boyfriend and betraying band rules? Look around you

Minami Minegishi’s band AKB48 embody the disturbing schoolgirl fantasy: naïve and submissive, yet unattainable – and the hypocrisy isn’t unique to Japanese culture

When a video emerged last week of a Japanese popstar’s heart-wrenching apology for betraying the rules of her band, the British reaction was predictably dramatic.

It was difficult to fathom why a 20-year-old would go to the lengths of shaving her head in order to communicate the depth of her shame for having spent the night with a boyfriend. The offence was barely newsworthy. Although a traditional form of repentance in Japan, the self-inflicted punishment hardly seemed to fit the crime.

Yet Minami Minegishi’s response is perhaps less shocking in the context of idol culture in Japan. Minegishi, who was photographed leaving boyband dancer Alan Shirahama’s apartment, is part of the phenomenally successful girl band AKB48. Tickets to the band’s nightly shows are so sought-after they are allocated through a lottery. The band is divided into three teams, allowing them to perform in different locations, or even different countries, at any one time, and they are a powerful export. In 2011, AKB48 opened a café in Singapore: a replica of their own venue in Akihabara, the electronics district of Tokyo after which they are named…

 

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