Japan travel firm cancels service offering in-flight lectures by brainy beauties after accusations of sexism

Screengrab of the campaign on the HIS travel firm's Japanese website before it was taken down.
Screengrab of the campaign on the HIS travel firm's Japanese website before it was taken down.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM HIS TRAVEL WEBSITE

TOKYO (AFP) - A Japanese travel agency has cancelled a service offering in-flight lectures from "beautiful" female university students after a barrage of online criticism accusing the firm of sexism.

HIS travel firm dropped the in-flight package on Wednesday (May 11), its intended launch day, with a message saying sorry after its website was overrun with a deluge of complaints from angry netizens.

"The company offers a sincere apology that the campaign caused unpleasant feelings to many people," said a statement titled "Apology" on its website.

Japan is no stranger to allegations of sexism in the workplace. Efforts to boost female workforce participation have floundered, with a lack of childcare facilities, poor career support and deeply entrenched sexism blamed for keeping women at home.

HIS' proposal to titillate - and educate - male clients is not the first time a Japanese company has offered up women for innocent company.

Men can pay to snuggle with a beautiful woman at "cuddle cafes", shell out for an innocent walk in the park or spend an evening at "snack bars" where female companions are hired to chat, sing or light her date's cigarette.

HIS' service offered travellers a chance to sit next to a "beautiful girl" from Tokyo University, Japan's equivalent of Harvard or Oxford, and receive a "fun lecture" about their area of study.

According to the HIS website no premium had to be paid for the chance to sit next to a companion, instead the campaign appeared to be aimed at driving reservation traffic to the agency.

The campaign's site posted photos of young women advertising what they could do for customers.

An ad for one of the women, apparently an urban engineering student, promised to entertain a traveller with a lecture on the development history of the flight's destination.

HIS' Twitter account was bombarded with complaints the campaign was "sexist", accusing the company of treating the women like "hostesses", a reference to females who work in bars.

"The campaign was not necessarily 'unpleasant' but simply sexist," read one tweet.

"The apology is nothing but unpleasant," it added.

The students who appeared in the ads belong to a university club intended to change the stereotypical image of its female scholars as "nerds always studying and not having fun", the group's website said.