TV & Radio
The Times July 24, 2006
Battle of the sexes leaves men groping for equality
By Leo Lewis in Tokyo
SMACKING her lips, Yukari Suzuki, a young housewife, descends the steps of the Men-ya Sora noodle house in Kanda. She has enjoyed some of the finest ramen in Tokyo and, even more delicious, the knowledge that her gourmet lunch was a privilege of gender.
For the Men-ya Sora, like a growing number of Japanese shops, restaurants, cinemas and services, has turned “women only” — welcoming to its upstairs dining room the free-spending fairer sex, but turning away its supposedly more uncouth counterpart.
What started as a desperate measure to protect women from gropers on trains has blossomed into a fully fledged movement. Single-sex places have become a lifestyle choice for many women and a source of outrage for men.
Once women-only carriages became standard on many Japan Railways services and the Tokyo Metro, other businesses quickly followed. Spas and gyms were among the first to pick up the trend, with restaurants, comic-book cafés and convenience stores joining the no-men-allowed movement.
Hotels, apartment blocks and pachinko gambling parlours are experimenting, and restaurants that do not exclude men have taken to giving free desserts to women.
The “women only" trend flies in the face of a massive government effort to put Japanese men and women closer together. Facing tumbling birth rates and a potential demographic crisis, the Government has tried to promote marriage matchmakers and encouraged companies to give staff time off for dating.
“If men want not to be discriminated against, they should have better manners,” Ms Suzuki said. “They sit so they take up lots of space, read newspapers wide open, leaf through pornography in public and some are really arrogant, too.”
Takashi Naito, the male owner of Men-Ya Sora, said: “I wanted to have as many repeat customers as possible and I noticed that female diners often asked me to give them a table away from men who were drunk and noisy.”
The emergence of single-sex restaurants has created an unprecedented storm of fury on 2Channel, Japan’s biggest internet chat room, where the majority of comments denounce the trend as unnecessary and discriminatory. Establishments such as the Men-Ya Sora are described as O-oku, the old word for the living quarters of royal concubines.
Academics believe that the trend will hurt society. Asaho Mizushima, a Professor of Law at Waseda University, says the rot set in with single-sex railway carriages, which implied that women needed protection from men in general, rather than from a few criminals.
“Women’s cars may work as a psychological shelter to women who fear groping, but it doesn’t decrease gropers,” he wrote on his website. “But one clear result is that men are rejected from particular carriages just because they are men.”