Could this supposedly harmless schoolyard prank be the breeding ground for Japan’s continued sexual suppression and accepted oddities?
Kan-CHO!!! It’s the one word every teacher of young children in Japan hates, yet has come to accept. More often than not you hear it after it’s too late – and a young child has sharply poked his index fingers up your ass. In the same way that a ‘wedgie’ is the chosen form of prank across the UK and US, in Japan the kancho is commonplace. It’s often glamourised on TV by slapstick comedians and there are even websites dedicated to developing the right technique. As a result, when it happens to you as a teacher you can’t expect much sympathy from the other Japanese staff. They often laugh and smile, reinforcing the fact that it’s OK.
I’m not saying this is the worst thing in the world a kid can do. Far from it. But there are possible implications that this invasion of private space at such a young age could lead to other such less harmful acts in adulthood. Groping on trains is well documented in Japan, and there is even a word for it: chikan. Likewise, voyeurism has always been a big problem here. You do know why the camera on your keitai (mobile phone) makes such a loud noise when you take a picture, don’t you? It’s to deter men from pointing them up women’s skirts on the busy public transport system. It’s also why some railway companies designate women-only passenger cars during rush hours.
The Keio line I take everyday has a women-only car. Rarely enforced though.
Japanese kindergarten boys have no qualms about grabbing the breasts of my female coworkers and shouting oppai! oppai! (tits! tits!) while laughing. Again, this behaviour isn’t deterred. Is it any surprise then that women continue to be objectified to insane degrees in this country?
So is the kancho wrong? Well, it’s here that the lines are blurred. Some say without question that it’s a form of sexual assault, going as far as to use the term rape. Others scoff at the idea, saying it’s just a bit of harmless fun. Japan is a land of contrasts, and quite often one thing is deemed as acceptable while another is not. Take pornography, for example. Animated sexual perversions and violence, including the utter debasement of women is seemingly OK. But you can’t show pubic hair. What’s with that?
It has been said that “pornography historically has been an integral part of Japanese culture”. I’d say it’s more true to say that erotic and fertility themes have been a traditional part of Japanese culture. Religious shrines often incorporate sexual icons into their design without the shame and sin associated with sex in the West. (At the annual Kanamair Matsuri people parade the streets with a giant wooden penis.) But while it’s nice to think that Japan’s sexual culture is rooted in heritage, the truth is that erotic stories, even in comics, mainly serve as a means of relaxation for adults who feel suffocated in Japan’s ‘controlled society’.
Boong-Ga Boong-Ga prides itself on being the first arcade game to simulate a form of sexual assault where the victim is poked with two fingers in the anus whislst distracted.
What do I think about the kancho? Well, I’m a kindergarten teacher so the thought of one of my kids shoving his fingers up my ass isn’t exactly thrilling. But apart from the obvious physical nastiness I do think that despite the naivety at such a young age, it’s quite a sinister thing to do someone. I do realise that this post in itself is somewhat of an overgeneralisation: I’m not for one minute saying the kancho is to blame for all of Japan’s sexual problems. But I do feel that if the seeds are planted, they will continue to grow.