Pairing statement with a picture of a young girl didn’t help.

Since 1908, rail operator Nishi-Nippon Railroad (not to be confused with West Japan Railway/JR West) has been proudly serving Fukuoka Prefecture. A recent promotion by the company, however, has been criticized as sending a shamefully reprehensible message.

To celebrate the 110th anniversary of the company’s founding, Nishi-Nippon Railroad has been putting up commemorative posters inside some of its trains, one of which looked like this.

The prominent American flag on the girl’s T-shirt is a bit of a head-scratcher, since Nishi-Nippon Railroad is a regional Japanese company, but that’s more of an unusual element than an offensive one. What’s got critics upset, though, is the poster’s text, which reads:

“We think defenselessness is also a form of femininity.”

With femininity widely seen as an aspirational quality both for and by Japanese women, detractors argue that the poster is promoting defenselessness, and thus vulnerability, as a desirable, attractive quality in a woman. The associated image of a child, who would indeed be defenseless against adult antagonists, and the alluded connection to her femininity/attractiveness, was seen as over the line by many, who contacted Nishi-Nippon Railroad’s customer service line to voice their complaints.

Among those who takes issue with the poster is Momoe Waguri, an associate professor at Fukuoka Women’s University. “I take the poster’s message as being that being defenseless gives a woman worth,” she said. “In this era where there are crimes in which young girls are the victims, and woman are coming forward to speak about being sexually assaulted, I can’t believe the posters’ creators would choose such words.”

Nishi-Nippon Railroad has since issued an apology, while also trying to clarify its original intent. “We wanted to convey the idea that the natural innocence of children is a kind of femininity,” the company said in a statement. The Japanese term used in the poster, muboubi, does translate literally as “defenseless,” but it can also be used by doting parents affectionately talking about their children’s unguarded, childlike characteristics (such as a rambunctious kid finally settling down for an afternoon nap and dozing like a baby).

“However,” Nishi-Nippon Railroad’s statement continues, “the resulting message was inappropriate,” and as of June 14, the controversial posters, which had been on display since May 25, have been removed.

Source: Nishi Nippon Shimbun via Jin, Livedoor News/Asashi Shimbun Digital
Top image: Pakutaso