Why These Japanese Men Go Around Town Wearing Fake Bellies

They rode trains to work, went shopping and did household chores with some extra weight on their chest and stomach.
April 9, 2021, 11:33am
japan, women, pregnancy
Japanese officials wore bellies to understand pregnancy. Photo: Masanobu Ogura.

For two days, three male members of Japan’s ruling party put on a heavy jacket before going to work. The jacket, weighing 7.3 kilograms (16 pounds), had three lumps, imitating a pair of breasts and a baby bump, which they cradled tenderly in photos.

Wearing these jackets, the officials commuted to work, went shopping, and did household chores. The only time they were allowed to remove the coats was when they attended the government’s plenary sessions.

“Standing, sitting, looking back, and other everyday movements are painful,” said one of the men after wearing the jacket for a day. “Wow, it’s this heavy,” said another.

The experiment, organized by Takako Suzuki, a female lawmaker, aimed to help male government officials understand some of the struggles women face during pregnancy.

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Childrearing is hard anywhere, but in Japan, workplace harassment and discrimination against pregnant women is so prevalent that it has a nickname, matahara. 

Rie Nakamura, a mother to a 6-month-old boy who lives in Osaka, said that though she had severe morning sickness in the early months of her pregnancy and constantly worried about miscarriage, she found it difficult to tell her boss. 

“It was difficult to report it. Work was unstable. So I had to just put up with feeling bad,” she told VICE World News. She said she faced harassment for being pregnant, with male colleagues making fun of her belly, or deliberately bumping into her.

Some women have blamed Japan’s men-dominated government for failing to take into consideration women’s needs. 

Suzuki said she organized the experiment so that policymakers could experience “some of the difficulties pregnant women face” and “help create a safer society,” Kyodo News reported.

Masanobu Ogura, one of the officials who donned the jacket, said on Twitter that by “experiencing and imagining the various pains pregnant women go through, I can help relieve some of the difficulties of pregnancy.”

But Asako Niihara, a career consultant in her 30s, called the experiment nothing more than a “performance” if the politicians don’t take action to improve support for pregnant women.

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“In Japan, there are many pregnant women who can’t eat properly and need better support. These government officials shouldn’t just be participating in a ‘pregnancy experiment,’ they should also do what they can to help these women,” she told VICE World News. 

And Nakamura, the mother in Osaka, said the weighted jackets do not come even close to resembling pregnancy.

“Pregnancy symptoms not only include morning sickness and added weight to your abdomen, but also chronic illness, frequent urination that interrupts sleep, and pelvic pain. Also, I gave birth half a year ago, but my delivery was life-threatening, accompanied by hellish pain,” she told VICE World News. 

“I hope that after this experiment, male lawmakers enact policies that address issues around childbirth, postnatal care, childcare, women’s careers, gender disparities, and poverty amongst women. Government has never actively solved these issues, and we’re behind other countries,” she said.  

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