Monocolumn

A daily bulletin of news & opinion

8 December 2014

It’s a story made for the tabloids. Back in September 2013, Rina Sasazaki, a student at Tokyo’s Toyo Eiwa University was thrilled to discover she had been offered her dream job as a newsreader on the Japanese network channel Nippon TV. If everything went to plan, she would make her debut in April next year. But it didn’t work out that way.

In March of this year, she told NTV that she had done some part-time work as a hostess in a Ginza club run by an acquaintance of her mother’s. Shortly afterwards, NTV withdrew its job offer, accused her of lying in her original application and, worse, said her hostessing work was incompatible with the moral standing expected of an NTV newsreader.

Instead of accepting the rejection and disappearing quietly, Sasazaki has now filed a suit in the Tokyo District Court against NTV, demanding that the channel reinstate its original offer and allow her to start in April as planned. Sasazaki’s lawyer has been careful to say that this is not an adversarial lawsuit but that his client simply wants the channel to correct its “mistake” and allow her to become a newsreader.

Naturally, the tabloids are enthralled. The fact that Sasazaki does modelling work and is a former winner of the Ms Toyo Eiwa beauty pageant only adds to the soap opera. Female announcers on Japanese television also occupy a position that sits somewhere between news and celebrity. Reading the news is the least of their duties, initially at least, since they are also likely to appear on variety shows and cooking programmes.

The case also reveals something that Japanese students have to face. The curious limbo of the “informal job offer” ahead of graduation, known in Japanese as naitei. If that offer is then rescinded, it doesn’t legally count as a firing. It’s a grey area. In Sasazaki’s case, her start date was two years after the offer but her training had already begun.

Many employment cases, whether dealing with maternity rights or harassment, are fought anonymously, but Sasazaki has shown her name and face. Many people have come out in support, questioning whether working in a nightclub should disqualify her from becoming a newsreader. The mama-sans of Ginza are also reportedly up in arms on Rina’s behalf, with one asking why NTV executives frequent hostess bars if they think they’re places for people without morals.

First arguments were heard in court in November and the case picks up again in January. I think we can expect extensive coverage in the weekly tabloids.

Fiona Wilson is Monocle’s Asia bureau chief.

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