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Japanese Women Demand the Right to Wear Glasses at Work

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Japan has gained a reputation for being one of the most demanding workforces in the developed world, but Japanese women are taking a stance against one particular demand: not being able to wear glasses at work.

After a Japanese television show exposed businesses that were imposing restrictions on female staff, women took to Twitter to demand the right to wear glasses in the workplace with the hashtag ‘glasses are forbidden’.

“The emphasis on appearance is often on young women and wanting them to look feminine,” Banri Yanagi, a 40-year-old sales associate from Tokyo, told the Japan Times. “It’s strange to allow men to wear glasses but not women.”

The hashtag has inspired thousands of tweets in solidarity with Japanese women who have to abide by what they call “outdated and oppressive standards of beauty.” One Twitter user, @wine_kimono, tweeted about repeatedly being told not to wear glasses at her restaurant job because it would come off as “rude”  and they didn’t go with the conventional kimono she wore.

“The most questionable thing about working in Japanese food service is the idea that you should take off your glasses,” she wrote. “…I’ve heard things like ‘glasses look funny in a kimono’, ‘what happens if you drop it when you cook?’, ‘It’s rude to see customers through glasses’ and so on.”

The tweet, posted last month, has since been shared more than 14,000 times. 

“If the rules prohibit only women to wear glasses, this is a discrimination against women,” Kanae Doi, the Japan director at global advocacy group Human Rights Watch, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Friday.

This is the latest social media outcry against rigid rules on women’s appearance in Japan—earlier this year, a group of Japanese women submitted a petition to protest against what they claim is a ‘de facto obligation’ for women to wear high heels at work using the hashtag #KuToo, a play on words from the Japanese kutsu, meaning shoes, and kutsuu, meaning pain.

Even though the petition was signed by more than 31,000 people, the government’s response was underwhelming, with then Japan’s Health, Labor and Welfare minister, Takumi Nemoto, telling a legislative committee that he was fine with the status quo, adding that heels were “occupationally necessary and appropriate” for women to wear in the workplace. 

Yumi Ishikawa, the actor and freelance writer who first launched the #KuToo petition, told Bloomberg News that the trend of Japanese workplaces banning glasses is no different from the sexist rules about footwear.

“If wearing glasses is a real problem at work it should be banned for everyone—men and women,” she said. “This problem with glasses is the exact same as high heels—it’s only a rule for female workers.”

Alexandra Tirado Oropeza is a Venezuelan journalist covering politics, immigration, entertainment and social justice. She moved to the U.S. in 2014 to pursue a Writing degree at The University of Tampa, and after graduating, she moved to Los Angeles where she works in broadcast and as a freelance writer. She’s passionate about equality, freedom of speech, art and dogs.