Melania’s the real enemy in the battle over shoes

A group of frustrated women from Japan have won worldwide support for their campaign against the pressure to wear high heeled shoes to work.

They have submitted a petition to the Japanese government, asking for relief from the uncomfortable footwear.

The petition gained more than 26,000 signatures and the issue has struck a chord with women from many other countries, who claim they’re also under similar pressure at work.

Kicking off

For example, Summer Brennan wrote a piece in the Guardian titled: “Listen to Japan’s women: high heels need kicking out of the workplace.”

And Holly Thomas wrote an article for CNN entitled: “I don’t wear high heels for anyone but me. Got that, boss?”

The domestic Japanese media have given the campaign a name: KuToo.

That has a strong echo of the MeToo campaign which highlights harassment in the workplace. KuToo is a play on two Japanese words; kutsu, meaning shoes, and kutsuu, meaning pain.

The whole thing started with an idea from Yumi Ishikawa, who like me is a freelance writer. I admire her success in getting so much media attention.

Legal footing

But the story is not quite what it seems, especially in the way it’s been interpreted by the international press.

There is no law in Japan decreeing that women should wear high heels to work.

They do so because they are following a strong social convention. To break the habit might create disapproval but it won’t land you in prison. In most professional situations, dress customs are quite strong in Japan but they are never legally enforced.

The Japanese government does not decide what people wear, so petitioning the government over the issue of shoes is a gesture designed to grab attention, rather than a meaningful political campaign.

I therefore felt rather sorry for Japan’s Health and Labour Minister Takumi Nemoto when he was put on the spot on this topic during a parliamentary committee meeting.

According to Kyodo news, he said that: “It is socially accepted as something that falls within the realm of being occupationally necessary and appropriate.”

That seems to me to be a carefully worded response to a trap question.

However, the press decided to present poor Mr Nemoto the enemy to Ms Ishikawa. Many stories appeared with his picture, stating that the government was fighting back against the KuToo campaign. Blame was laid at the feet of male politicians such as Mr Nemoto.

First Lady

However, another more powerful enemy of the sensible shoe brigade has also been making headlines.

When America’s First Lady Melania Trump stepped off a helicopter in Tokyo during her recent trip to Japan she wore a pair of ostentatious and expensive high heels.

Her outfit was photographed and analysed.

I found a wonderful description of the shoes on Footwear News.

“For footwear, the first lady went with soaring navy Christian Louboutin’s Agneska pumps. The shoes boast an almond toe, low vamp and curvy counter that shows off the sides of the foot, with a mid-heel and a pointed silhouette. The brand describes the shoes as “sensual, steeped in 1970s allure.” Set on a 4-inch heels, they retail for $695 on”

If the First Lady uses high heels to emphasise her status and power, other women will be tempted to try them on for size, too – even if the kutsu feel a bit kutsuu.

And I doubt that Mrs Trump will worry about the KuToo petition next time she’s looking through her wardrobe, trying to decide what outfit to wear to impress the world.

Japan has flattered Trump but Xi gets the red carpet next

Donald Trump loves to be flattered, so he must have been delighted with the abject pandering he received on his recent visits to Japan and the United Kingdom.

The Japanese were the first to roll out the red carpet. President Trump enjoyed a round of golf with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a trip to see the Sumo wrestlers and a meeting with Emperor Naruhito.

Japan’s business elite gave him an especially warm welcome and he flattered them in return. According to the Nikkei, he called them “the greatest business leaders in the world.”

Mr Trump has a special place in his heart for Masayoshi Son – the boss of SoftBank – whom he received with a warm embrace.

Mr Trump urged Mr Son and the other business leaders to increase their investment in the United States.

Divided loyalties

However, Softbank and the other companies also have extensive business interests in China, so that leaves them mixed loyalties. Even if they are inclined to be pro-American, they don’t want to upset the Chinese and are therefore concerned about Mr Trump’s burgeoning trade war with China.

China’s President Xi Jinping will travel to Tokyo later this month and the Japanese will warmly welcome him, just as they have welcomed President Trump.

The Times newspaper noted in an editorial: “It would not be wise of Mr Abe to goad Mr Trump on further against China, even though the temptation is to try to use this as a way of glossing over Japan’s own difficulties with trade imbalances with the United States. A trade war on a global scale would be disastrous and Japan would not be immune.”

Royal welcome

In London, Mr Trump met business leaders at a breakfast hosted by Prime Minister Theresa May and the Queen’s son, the Duke of York.

Mr Trump offered a free trade deal between Britain and the US following the Brexit and claimed it would more than replace what Britain might lose from its loss of trade with Europe.

The Director of the British Chamber of Commerce Adam Marshall was not convinced.

He told the BBC: “Trade with the US trade accounts for about 15 percent of the UK’s total world trade and European trade is about three times that size. So British business are quite clear that they can already trade quite successfully with the US but they’re really worried about their trade with Europe.”

The US view

In America itself, Mr Trump seems to have maintained the support of many leading business figures, despite his disruptive approach.

James Lewis from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington told the BBC “people like the tax cuts and they like parts of the trade war, as well as the general direction of the economy. Most American companies think they are doing pretty well, despite all the irritations and the disturbances.”

A strong US economy – as well as a stable security alliance – are crucially important to both Japan and the United Kingdom.

For now, their leaders have decided that flattering Donald Trump furthers those goals, so they put on a big smile, sometimes through gritted teeth.

When he flies home though, there’s time to reflect that both countries’ relationships with the United States are significantly unbalanced politically and under Trump, somewhat precarious.