- Meg Hoffmann
The hypersexualization of mixed-race and foreign women in Japan
cw: mentions of sexual assault
"Damn, foreigners have big boobs"
I think I was around 11 at the time. I remember stepping onto the train in Osaka and hearing the two men across from me and my sister say this. They presumed we couldn't understand what they were saying, but I heard everything and I felt so embarrassed. It was mid-summer, and my sister and I were both wearing tank tops and shorts. Even after I got off the train I couldn't help but notice the way other people kept staring at me and my sister. Up until that point I had been raised in California where it's sunny all-year round and I never thought twice about the way I dressed before leaving my house. However, after hearing those men speak about my sister and I in such a way, my mother also started pointing out the way I dressed and I decided I was never going to dress like that ever again.
After that incident I started middle school, and unlike most middle schools in Japan, my school did not have a uniform or dress code. However, one day, a male teacher told me that I had to stop wearing clothes that were so revealing. It's not that I was wearing "revealing clothes" it's that my body had "developed" earlier than most of the girls around me so no matter what I wore, my breasts would "stand out" more. On top of the fact that I was told to change the way I dress, the fact that it was a male teacher that told me made me so incredibly uncomfortable and ashamed. It meant that he had been looking at me and had noticed my breasts. I remember I immediately changed the way that I dressed and even started wearing sports bras so that it would make my chest look flatter. Even during my commutes to school on the train I increasingly became more aware of the way that men looked at me. And at school, I became known as one of the girls with big breasts. It made me so embarrassed and ashamed of my body.
In the summer when I went to the beach, I would hear older men say things like "foreigners have nice asses", "damn she has a nice body", or "I want to touch your breasts". The entire time older men were saying this to me, I was still only 14 or 15 years old. I didn't take this as a compliment and it never made me feel "good" about myself, it was straight up sexual harassment.
By the time I was 18, I had experienced being secretly filmed on trains, been stalked, been groped in the middle of the street, and been asked if I was interested in "night (sex)" work.
I know that being mixed race isn't the only reason I experienced such things at an early age as I know that many non-mixed Japanese women have also experienced such forms of sexual harassment. But amongst my friends and I, I definitely see a correlation amongst being mixed-race and being hypersexualized.
A lot of it stems from the fact that Japanese women are constantly portrayed as submissive and shy both within Japan and abroad, whereas foreign women on the other hand are considered to be more "outgoing" and "open" about their sexuality. They naturally become an easier target for Japanese men.
Furthermore, mixed race and foreign women in Japan are always seen as more mature and older looking. It's interesting because the same can be said with the hypersexualition of Asian women in the eyes of foreigners (which I experience when I go abroad).
As I've gotten older and started going to university abroad, the way I view my body has changed and I have become more confident. That being said, whenever I come back to Japan I change the way I dress as I'm more aware and sensitive of the way people look at me. But I've realized that this doesn't change the way certain people view women here in Japan. That's why I think it's important to talk about these experiences and bring up these issues to show that this treatment of women is not okay. I hope that through my work I can continue to contribute to a society in which all women of all race, religion and sexual orientation can live safely in Japan.