Friday, December 14, 2012

World of Beauty

In an undisclosed office, deep in the bowels of Japanese bureaucracy is a complimentary calendar from Japan Airlines featuring photos of a “World of Beauty.”

Scenic landscapes? World wonders? City skylines that inspire you to buy your next ticket to Beijing or Bangkok? Nope, nope, and nope. For more than 40years, the World of Beauty calendar series has featured twelve lovely women from around the world in relatively generic-looking locales that might be vaguely identified with the women’s home countries. In other words, fly with us and we’ll introduce you to pretty girls around the world.

One of my young colleagues provided the most entertaining moment of the week when he unveiled the calendar. Within moments, the almost entirely male staff had gathered around like 13-year old boys with a stolen copy of an older brother’s girly magazine - picking, comparing, and arguing over their favorites. This went on for the larger portion of the afternoon, as others came in to look at the calendar. My young colleague was a star that day and he is carefully considering where he will hang it for everyone’s continued enjoyment.

It’s not exactly news that men like young, pretty women. For the record, the pictures are not inappropriate other than the question of hanging it in a government office. The women are attractive, but completely clothed. They are the “girls next door,” assuming you live in Vietnam, Australia, or in one of 3 US cities (go team America!), etc.. It is also curious to me that it is an airline’s complimentary calendar. What do they send to their female customers? I assume they must have at least a few whose patronage would qualify them for a free calendar.

Miss December, from Massachusetts.
The World of Beauty calendar is also available for sale.
But the particularly amusing part of the story goes back to my interview for the fellowship. As a female candidate, I was asked about how I would feel about the gender disparity that persists in Japanese society, particularly in a male-dominated institution like the Ministry of Finance. Specifically, one of the male interviewers related a story about visiting my current office at MoF twenty-some years ago and being surprised at pornographic pictures hanging on the walls, which were explained as “inspiration” in their boring world of numbers. The idea of mid-level bureaucrats needing pornographic inspiration merely makes me go “eww” and want to avoid touching any of the documents they produce. But I did not question my ability to handle such situations, assuming an adequate supply of hand sanitizer. By the way, that was not my response to the question.

Ultimately, we all laughed at the seemingly outdated idea of the smoke filled office, bereft of professional women, but abundant in celluloid versions. And, of course, the smoking is now confined to smoking rooms and the pictures are no longer pornographic, but it is a reminder that change is slow in the Mad Men world of MoF.

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