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Woman's Journey Into Tunnel Big News in Superstitious Japan

March 20, 1992|SAM JAMESON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TOKYO — A woman entered a tunnel under construction Thursday. In Japan, a nation where modernity and economic development still haven't wiped out ancient myths, that's news.

Indeed, both the Construction Ministry and the Assn. of Women Construction Technicians claimed that, to the best of their knowledge, it was the first time that a woman had ever entered a tunnel under construction--at least a woman technician.

A Japanese superstition holds that the "goddess of mountains" will become angry if a woman enters an uncompleted tunnel.

Fears persist that defying the goddess will cause construction workers to suffer accidents.

In October, 1990, a female reporter was banned from covering a ribbon-cutting ceremony in a tunnel in Yamagata prefecture because of the superstition.

Japan's Labor Standards Law, which contains various provisions that provide special protection for women workers, bars women from working on tunnel-digging projects.

But Yasuko Tokoro, 37, a technical field officer of the Construction Ministry, was permitted to enter a tunnel construction site near Kasugai in Aichi prefecture because her purpose was only to make an inspection.

The newspaper Asahi quoted an official of the construction company that is building the tunnel as saying that most of the workers at the site were young, and "therefore, there was no resistance to her entering the tunnel."

A similar superstition grasps Japan's sumo wrestling world.

It bans women from entering the wrestling ring, which is "protected" by a Shinto shrine-like roof.

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