Saturday, April 8, 2017

Orientalism seen in BBC Journalism: A Reaction to Stacey Dooley’s Report on Japan

I am fond of overseas journalism. It enables me to have another perspective, which helps identify the root cause of various issues within my country, Japan. However, in some of that journalism, stereotypes and inaccuracy can often distort the argument. The farther the topic from you, the more skeptically you had better watch the program.

In the BBC Three documentary “Young Sex for Sale in Japan” aired in February 2017, English journalist and human rights activist Stacey Dooley investigates the question of child abuse in Japan. In this sensationally-titled film, she first visits a cafe in Tokyo where teenage girls in school uniform work as waiters. Seeing that most customers are aged men, Dooley concludes that those girls were probably unwillingly manipulated. There are 300 schoolgirl cafes in Japan, and some offer “walking dates” to their clients. Such business “could be a gateway to prostitution,” Dooley maintains. (Dooley, 2017)

Dooley next scrutinizes the “borderline” DVD industry. She interviews a producer of an “erotically clothed” film. Because there is no nude scenes in the video, it is legitimate to picture underaged models, but Dooley finds it too sexy. When Dooley asks the producer why people buy his videos, he comments, “buyers want fantasy.” Later, Dooley walks into a DVD shop and gets surprised when finding a porn model who looks as if she were under ten. Dooley believes such videos are targeted to pedophiles. Dooley’s narration emphasizes that owning child pornography was not prohibited until 2014 in Japan.

In the final section of the documentary, Dooley explores the comic industry. Comics are ubiquitous in Japan; domestic sales of comics topped over £2 billion in Japan in 2015, and visitors can find cartoon characters displayed everywhere in the cities. Some x-rated comics include sexually-explicit images of children, which, in Dooley’s opinion, must be banned, as is the case in the UK. She meets comic translator Dan Kanemitsu, who argues against the ban. Dooley claims that those images of sexualized kids help the pedophile normalize themselves, and that such desire eventually leads to a sexual crime. Kanemitsu disagrees, stating that a fiction is a mere fiction, and it can even function as a venting mechanism for those who have pedophiliac urges. Dooley ends the film by pleading with the Japanese government to take action.

I, as a Japanese man, understand her concerns. We must not abuse docile children or teenagers for the sex business, and we definitely need to eradicate any types of sexual assaults, no matter what age and gender. But, at the same time, I am afraid that this document exhibits a biased image of Japan as well as inscribing negative, stereotypical images to the Japanese pop culture.

First of all, the document cleverly shows an image of Tokyo rife with indecent schoolgirl cafes, but such is not true. There are 90,000 cafes in the country, and that type of cafe amounts to only a fraction. In addition, the impression Dooley gives that those teenagers are in poverty and are exploited by malicious adults, is a delusion on her part. They work according to freedom of choice in employment; they like charming school uniforms, and they enjoy chit-chatting with clients. And the Japanese population —for the most part— does not view the girls in a sexual way. As for the connection to prostitution, again, there is no evidence. For example, in Akihabara, the town where the most, five, schoolgirl cafes are located, no prostitution has been reported. (Yan, 2016)

Another misleading aspect of the report lies in the explanation of the prohibition of child pornography in Japan. The BBC program tells that “[o]wning child pornography became illegal in Japan in June 2014.” (Varley, 2017) This is true, but in 1999 the production and distribution of child pornography had already been banned; child porn had not been visible for almost two decades. Even before 1999, a girl’s nudity was seen as artistic rather than erotic. Models and photographers were proud, not ashamed, of their work. The notion of child pornography was imported from the West. If the possession of such materials had been made illegal immediately, quite a few people might have been falsely accused. That gap period of time was necessary to avoid confusion in the society. Dooley provides none of this context.

Dooley’s documentary contains very shocking visual images of pornography captured in Tokyo, as if all Japanese men are sexually interested in teenage girls. But, of course, those videos are sold in a niche market. Isn’t it unfair that BBC purposely chooses the most sensational images to support their argument and conveys, to the UK audience, the image of pedophiliac Japanese men? I can imagine Dooley’s disgust when she witnessed a child-like model filmed in a porn video. However, we should not judge people by how old they may appear.

Lastly, Dooley concludes that cartoon characters represent the Japanese mindset of sexualizing children. This is a big misconception. Yes, Japan has an enormous comic and anime (cartoon) market. Not surprisingly, the most successful movie in Japan last year (2016) was an anime movie, “Your Name.” It drew 15 million watchers, double as many as the audience of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Most comics are enjoyed by men and women of all ages without any improper eroticism. X-rated comics are properly zoned at the stores, and those with sexual and/or erotic images of children are not as common as what the BBC document implies, simply because they do not match most buyers’ interest.

Dooley harshly claims that such fictional images must be eradicated from the society, saying, “I worry that the cartoons will never be enough and you will have those urges and you will want to move on to the real thing, perhaps. That's what scares me.” (Dooley, 2017) Here we find the hidden assumption that pedophiliac men are all potential criminals. She labels their demand itself as abhorrent; they are insane! She demands that all comic writers who create pedophiliac materials be arrested, as well as those who read such comics. This is an erroneous leap of logic.

Do comics encourage crimes? In 2002, US Supreme Judicial Court refuted this idea, concluding that virtual child pornography —novels, comics and cartoons— is irrelevant to real crimes. Numbers speak more eloquently. The rape rate in Japan is relatively low, at 1.5 per 100,000 population in 2006, while that in the United Kingdom in the same year was 25.6 per 100,000. Child victimization, especially, has been increasing in the UK; 47,008 under-16-year-olds were sexually harmed in 2014. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) brings attention to the fact that 1 in 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused. Recent headlines in the UK shook us with sensational scandals. The Rotherham child sexual exploitation  case revealed 1,400 innocent victims in 2014. BBC commentator Jimmy Savile was accused of 214 acts of sexual abuse, involving an 8-year-old boy and many teenage girls, over a period of 50 years. (Evans, 2012) Unlike Japanese comics, which negatively affect very few, the UK has much more severe, distressing issues.

A well-known comic writer, Takeshi Nogami, reveals that he was also interviewed by Dooley. He recollects that her tone was intimidating. She argued about the comic ban, “Why don’t you Japanese follow the UK, or the world standard, rules?” Nogami countered, “The UK should learn from Japan, a more cultivated country having a lower crime rate.” Then he noted the difference between how they perceive human nature. He maintains that everyone has various types of desire, from pure to dirty, and sometimes we need to release it via a fantasy. Dooley takes another view, saying, “Humans are born innocent and inherently have no evil thoughts. But once they read an immoral book such as a comic with abusive images of children, they soon get degraded.” Nogami spent three hours discussing this with Dooley, but the interview was never used in her film. (Nogami, 2017)

I see a relationship between Dooley’s view and Christianity, where a malicious thought itself is a sin. In her mind, where pedophilia is seen as perverted and abusive, such thought, even though not a crime, should be punished. That child abuse is more pervasive in the Western countries than in Japan might have contributed to her strong abhorrence. I understand such sins are emotionally unacceptable for the majority of Westerners, but if religious beliefs and cultural preferences were to determine the only-one, absolutely-correct standard in the world, the consequence would be the denial of any other national standards and minorities. In fact, quite a few groups, such as Muslims and/or LGBTQ, are unfairly judged by the majority.

In contrast, the Japanese, most of whom do not believe in God, think that no one can violate freedom of thought. Freedom of speech and unfettered imagination must also be protected. The Japanese people have been permissive towards fictional sexuality throughout history. Specifically, shunga —erotic art— flourished in the 17th-19th century as part of our cultural heritage. It includes sexual images of all ages from virginal teenagers to old married couples, to even octopi, but nobody condemns them. This is not that we may behave as freely as we desire. We have a clear distinction between fiction and reality. People are rather restrictive in the society; each citizen is expected to have a high level of morality, conscience, and self-regulation.

Interestingly, this BBC’s documentary reminds me of the literary term “orientalism.” Orientalism, or cultural imperialism in post-colonial theory, is defined as the process by which “the Orient” was constructed as an “exotic other” by European academic studies and cultures. Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre” (1847) is an arena of orientalism, where she depicts Bertha Mason, a beautiful woman from Jamaica, as an insane character, nearly impossible to communicate with. Even today, Eurocentric universalism remains alive. Westerners, both consciously and unconsciously, see the non-European as inferior to the West, immoral, cruel, sensual, decadent, lazy, yet somewhat exotically fascinating. By doing so, the Western societies justify themselves and maintain their pride. (Barry, 2009)
Dooley’s documentary is not an exception. The filmmakers evidently determined to find eccentricity in Japan. And, without doubt, they obviously believed that “educating” such a “deviant” society is their mission and duty, which makes the reality a little bit more complex.

While investigating schoolgirl cafes on the street, the BBC crew were stopped by the police for two hours because they had filmed without permission. Dooley then yelled, “I am saving teenagers from child abuse. I’m a strong woman.” (Dooley, 2017) Yet her “justice” disturbs our nation’s peace and order. I believe that different standpoints make journalism more meaningful. Should we ban William Shakespeare, who suggests teenage intercourse in “Romeo and Juliet?”

Works Cited

Dooley, Stacey. "BBC Three - Stacey Dooley Investigates, Young Sex for Sale in Japan." BBC News. BBC, 28 Feb. 2017. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.

Yan. “Akihabara being targeted.”, 13 Mar. 2016. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.

Varley, Ciaran. “Is Japan turning a blind eye to paedophilia? - BBC Three.” BBC News. BBC, 28 Feb. 2017. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.

Evans, Martin. "Sir Jimmy Savile: Fourth British TV Personality Accused in Sex Allegations." The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 11 Oct. 2012. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.

Nogami, Takeshi. “Interviewed by BBC.” Togetter, 7 Mar. 2017. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.

Barry, Peter. "Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory." Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.

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