The young Japanese woman Yumi Ishikawa, a writer and actor who works in an undertaker’s, decided to try to put an end to an unwritten rule in her country that reflects Japanese society’s gender inequality – wearing high heels.
Wearing 5-7 centimetre heels at work was leaving her in a lot of pain so she decided to complain on social media. This act had an unexpected impact – over 30,000 people shared her tweet.
In this way, Ishikawa kickstarted a digital campaign to stop companies from demanding that their female employees wear high heels, and by the beginning of June, her petition had accrued the support of more than 27,000 people.
In a nod to the international feminist movement #MeToo, this initiative has been branded #KuToo, a play on the Japanese words kutsu, meaning shoes, and kutsuu, meaning pain.
The debate reached the Japanese parliament, where the Minister for Health, Work and Welfare, Takumi Namoto, eventually said that he would not support a campaign to ban dress codes that force women to wear high heels.
The politician mentioned that these shoes were “accepted by society” as “necessary and appropriate”.
A rule or a custom?
Although dress codes are not a part of legislation, activists maintain that in Japan wearing high heels is seen as mandatory, when, for example, applying for jobs.
Many Japanese businesses do not explicitly require their female employees to wear them, but women do so out of tradition and above all to comply with social expectations.
The results of a questionnaire circulated by Japanese agency Kyodo backs up this perception by showing that over 60% of women feel pressured to wear heels in the workplace and when job hunting.
This same study revealed that more than 80% of female respondents suffer health problems as a consequence of wearing heels, whilst a quarter of them received information sessions at work on why wearing high heels was considered a rule of basic etiquette.
Almost across the board, the internal rules in Japanese businesses and public bodies stipulate that men must wear a suit and smart, dark shoes, and women, a skirt and high heels. However, despite the respect in which the Japanese hold tradition, things have already started to shift, for men at least. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government invited its male office workers to leave their jackets and ties at home in the summer and allowed them to wear trainers, as a way of reducing energy spent on air conditioning.
At an event in Tokyo, the #KuToo campaigner posed the question, “Why do we have to ruin our feet at work when men are allowed to wear flat shoes?” In the petition sent to the Japanese government, Ishikawa explained that high heels can cause bunions, blisters and lower back pain.
Even if Japanese law enshrines gender equality, critics like Ishikawa claim that such ideals are not achieved in real life.
As an experiment, #KuToo supporters gave a group of men 5 cm high heels and asked them to walk around.
The experience gave them an insight into the discomfort and inconvenience of walking in high heels.
“I would be quite annoyed if someone told me to put these on,” said Jun Ito, one of the young men, in an interview with local press.
For the time being, Ishikawa’s petition to the Minister for Work that women should be able to wear comfortable shoes at work has not received an official response, but #KuToo has shone a light on a problem more deeply embedded in Japanese society: gender inequality. (PL)
(Translated by Elizabeth Dann – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org) – Fotos: Pixabay