Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about emergency government payments to people in the so-called water trade for losing income due to the coronavirus pandemic. As mentioned in the column, sexual services are considered part of the water trade and comedians tend to use such services as fodder for jokes, thus indicating a certain familiarity, be it real or suggested. After we submitted the column Takashi Okamura of the manzai duo Ninety-nine made a remark about sex workers on his midnight radio show that got him into hot water. A listener had written in saying that the state of emergency had inconvenienced him a great deal because it had caused the shut-down of sex services he patronized. Okamura commented that the listener should just be patient because once things get back to normal there will be plenty of beautiful women in the sex trade because they’ll be desperate for employment.
The broadcaster, Nippon Broadcasting System, apologized for the remark first and then Okamura himself apologized. Of course, given the context of the remark—a midnight talk radio show hosted by a comedian who is already known for off-color humor—Okamura was just doing his job. Some producer obviously chose that listener’s message for Okamura to read on the air with the idea that he would say something humorously salacious. Over the years I’ve heard many comedians make similarly crass comments without getting criticized for it, so you could say that the backlash against Okamura, not to mention the pushback against Hitoshi Matsumoto, which we talked about in the column, are signs of progress, but the matter is very touchy for a number of reasons, not all of them having to do with sexism. Generally speaking, comedians in Japan play up their childishness, which means sexual issues are automatically addressed from an immature standpoint. Most of them can’t readily leave that mindset.