Sexual Harassment

Japan is often considered to be a safe country when compared with Western countries. There is much to be said for this; crime rates are low and few people possess guns. This does not mean, however, that there is NO crime in Japan. Foreigners are often lulled into a sense of security that while not entirely false can certainly be questioned. It is also true to note that many crimes against women are not reported. In this country where people leave the keys in their car outside the supermarket (or just leave it running!) or don’t lock their bicycles, it is easy to do things you would never do at home; walk home alone at night, carry tons of cash, forget to lock your house…but don’t. Crimes rates have been increasing in Japan with the economic recession. Stalking cases are unfortunately fairly frequent for foreign women. Be careful and take precautions!

General Safety Concerns:

  • Always lock your door and close the ground floor windows at night.
  • Be careful when walking alone late at night. Osaka Prefecture has the highest rate of purse-snatching/muggings in Japan.
  • Be aware of perverts at night when walking alone and make sure that you’re not being followed.
  • Close the bathroom window when taking a bath or shower (some perverts roam apartment buildings hoping to find an open window).
  • Walk in lighted streets at night.
  • When you go out, check how you will get home or plan to stay over.
  • Never get in strangers’ cars or let someone you just met drive you home.
  • Carry the number of a local taxi service.
  • Visit the local police and let them know who you are and where you live.
  • Carry the number of your supervisor and school.
  • Get to know your neighbors, as they can help you with problems and watch out for you.


  • Never print your home number on your name card and only give it out to people who you really like and want to have call you at home. Also, don’t give out your address to people who you would rather not have visiting your house. If you live in a small town, it will more likely be impossible for you to hide where you live, but you don’t have to let anyone who comes to visit you come inside.
  • Let people know if you prefer to have them call ahead before visiting.
  • If anyone whom you don’t want to see frequently visits your house and bothers you, tell your school, Board of Education, coworker, or PA about it. DON’T think it’s not a big deal and avoid asking for help! Stalking cases deserve serious attention. However, Japanese authorities have a tendency to dismiss the issue and say “there’s nothing we can do but ask them to stop.” It’s your safety. Be persistent.
  • The lines between your public and private life will become blurred, and people may ask you questions that you consider too personal. Don’t feel that you are required to answer if this happens. Laugh, change the subject, or make a joke, and if the person persists, tell them that you would rather talk about something else.

Japanese people in general do not hitchhike. However, they understand that foreigners do and are incredibly willing to pick up hitch hiking foreigners. Regardless of grand illusions of Japan being a utopia, you shouldn’t do anything here that you wouldn’t do in your home country. Thus, hitchhiking, or getting into a stranger’s car should be viewed as potentially dangerous, and NEVER done alone. In the past, female ALTs have been attacked in strangers’ cars. Hitchhiking is a cheap way to see the country; just exercise caution.

Laws related to Sexual Harassment:

Laws relating to the prohibition of sexual harassment, referred to as “sekuhara” in Japanese, were only introduced in April 2000. Before that, there were stipulations in the Equal Employment Opportunity Law advising employers that sexual harassment is wrong, yet nothing was enforceable. The term “sexual harassment” has become part of public knowledge, but few people are aware of what it actually constitutes.

The first court case, which brought sexual harassment into the public sphere, occurred in 1989. Since then, only 100 cases have gone to court—the highest profile one being the accusation brought by a university student against former governor, “Knock Yokoyama”, who was forced to resign and pay the woman 11 million yen in damages. Since this highly watched case, victims are becoming more empowered to speak up and confront their assailants; however, many remain silent, due to a fear of retaliation, especially by one’s superior.

For those coming into the Japanese workplace from other countries, the atmosphere may seem quite different from offices in their own country. There is a different set of rules to follow, and it is difficult at times to strike a balance between one’s way of doing things and the Japanese.

Parties and receptions, where drinking and gallivanting around in a drunken manner are commonplace, can be the trickiest places to navigate. Often, your colleagues may ask questions regarding your love life and other personal questions. Those situations, which make you uncomfortable, are defined as sexual harassment by Japanese law. In this case, the more you know and the more you are prepared, the easier it becomes to deal with sexual harassment and confront your assailant.

The following are laws that deal with sexual harassment:

  • A The Offending of another person

1)           An employee offending another employee
2)         An employee offending another employee, who is not directly related by the same office or line of work
3)           An employee offending someone other than an employee

  • B At the Office

1)          During normal working hours
2)          During business trips (including while traveling in a car)
3)          During instances when work takes place outside the office
4)         During non-working hours when business relations are occurring, including meetings and receptions (dinner parties and banquets)

  • C Sexual behavior and speech (1-5 refer to speech, 6-13 refer to behavior)

Note: Sexual harassment knows no gender, and therefore the following applies to both males and females, either victim or assailant.
1)          Discussing physical characteristics, including asking bust, waist or hip size
2)          Asking if a woman is feeling unwell due to her period or menopause
3)          Telling obscene jokes that are uncomfortable to listen to
4)          Asking about sexual experiences or preferences
5)          Making sexual jokes, or making someone into a sexual object
6)          Putting up nude (or lurid) posters in the workplace
7)         Reading or showing obscene articles or vulgar pictures from magazines or reading materials
8)          Staring in a sexual manner
9)          Inviting another out to dinner or on a date in a persistent manner
10)         Writing letters, e-mails, or making phone calls containing sexual content
11)         Touching unnecessarily
12)         Peeping into the washroom or changing room
13)         Forcing another to have a sexual relationship

  • D When sexual harassment damages the work environment

1)     When an employee is either directly or indirectly sexually harassed, the level of concentration diminishes, or the level of work is affected, which disrupts the office environment.

  • E When a person job status is damaged due to in response to dealing with or objecting to being sexual harassed

1)         Upon protesting, refusing, or complaining about the harassment, an employee is either transferred (demoted), or the employee’s job status is damaged

  • F Advice regarding grievances or complaints

Note: It is not always the case that the victim directly affected seeks advice regarding sexual harassment, the following applies as well.
1)         Witnesses to sexual harassment who experience negative effects may file a complaint.
2)          Those seeking advice regarding advice requested from colleagues
3)         Those seeking advice regarding their own behavior or speech, which they have been told is sexually harassment in nature. For example, an employee who has been told by another “That was sexual harassment.”

Dealing with Sexual Harassment (Scenarios): 

Scenario 1: At the office
You are asked personal questions by one of your superiors, including those that concern your boyfriend/girlfriend. Your superior believes that once you get married, you’ll settle down andbecome a Japanese housewife. Then you’ll have lots of babies and be happy.

How to cope: This is usually pretty straightforward and resolved by telling your superior that you don’t want to answer personal questions during working hours.

Scenario 2: At school
You teach at a school with unruly students who do not behave in class. After class one day, you are confronted by one or more students and verbally harassed. Then, in the days following, you are confronted again by the same students, who this time physically harass you (i.e. groping, grabbing, pushing). You feel threatened and do not want to teach at that school anymore.

How to cope: Japanese schools are not known for strict discipline, and therefore informing your teachers of the incident may produce results, may not. In some cases, having another teacher present at all times helps to avoid confrontation. Also, if you are not satisfied with the outcome after informing your teachers of the problem, you can also tell your vice-principal or principal after discussing the matter with your teachers. Finally, you can always call your PA, who can discuss the matter with the school, or your supervisor. In a previous case, the school disciplined the students involved, and the problem ended.

Scenario 3: Enkai
You are at an “enkai” with your colleagues, where one of them proceeds to sit byyou and become a little too friendly. This person starts asking you about your significant other, how long you have been dating, plans for the future, etc. Then, this person starts giving you some “friendly advice”, while putting their arm around you. Although you hardly speak to this person at the office, suddenly they have become your best friend, and you are feeling uncomfortable. So, you decide to switch seats and get away from this person, who proceeds to follow you around until the “enkai” is over.

How to cope: Since it is perfectly acceptable (as some people may think in Japan) for people to become inebriated, say or do things they would never attempt sober, and then forget all about it the next day, dealing with this type of sexual harassment is tricky, because most people will either deny it occurred, or dismiss it by using drunkenness as an excuse. To handle the problem temporarily, teamwork is required. Ask your friends and colleagues to make sure that the person in question does not get too close, and if they do, then to provide cover and whisk you away to another part of the room. Also, group trips to the restroom also help in avoiding an uncomfortable confrontation. Explaining to the person that you feel uncomfortable to stop asking questions and being “friendly” during the “enkai”, rather than the next day, might provide better results. If the problem becomes serious and continues to occur, there are options, such as saying in a very loud voice, “Do you realize your sexually harassing me and it’s making me uncomfortable?!” sometimes works (public humiliation while everyone is drinking is usually better). Also, asking someone in your office to talk to the person in question (usually outside of working hours) also may be beneficial.

If sexually harassed, you have a multitude of options regarding how to deal with the problem. You can confront the harasser yourself (sometimes outside of work hours may be more effective than at the office), have a friend talk to the harasser, ask your superior (or maybe even your director) to talk to the harasser if the problem escalates.

Lastly, if you decide to confront the person who is harassing you, be prepared, both mentally and physically. Know what you want to say in advice, and be ready for an unpleasant reaction or a flat-out denial. It is always a good idea to record everything—when, where, and what kind of harassment. The more concrete information that you can present to justify your case, the stronger footing you have. By not tolerating sexual harassment, you are paving the way for a more equal society. Don’t blame yourself for being sexually harassed!
If you feel that you need any advice, please contact your Prefectural Advisor (PA) at the International Affairs Division. If there is a serious incident, please inform or request your supervisor to inform the International Affairs Division, CLAIR, and the police. Both CLAIR, JET Program(me) Coordinators and your Prefectural Advisor have counseling training and can refer you to professional counselors if necessary. Please keep in mind that while in your home country, people who know about the incident often show sympathy to you the next time they meet. However, in Japan, it is sometimes considered more polite not to say anything.

Special Note about Sexual Discrimination Versus Sexual Harassment:
It is far more common to experience sexual discrimination in Japan. Sexual harassment usually occurs as a one-time incident, meaning it happens once and is over though the effects may remain for a long time. On the other hand, sexual discrimination is something that usually occurs more regularly. It is much more subtle and difficult to pin down, which makes it a little harder to deal with. Many Japanese have difficulty understanding the distinction between the two terms because in Japanese only the one, Sekuhara (sexual harassment) exists. They tend to view sexual harassment as the more serious issue and have difficulty understanding the validity of a complaint of sexual discrimination. The bottom line is that you will probably experience this form of discrimination at least once during your stay in Japan and that however earnestly you strive to change an uncomfortable or irritating situation, change will come slowly. This is something that needs to be approached with tact, patience, cultural sensitivity and above all, perseverance.

You shouldn’t have to put up with this, but if you want change for the better, here are a few tips to help you navigate this cultural minefield.

  1. Make sure that you start fostering relationships in the workplace with people you trust as soon as possible. They can be your ally and help you to understand more of a situation or they can act as a go between or mediator when you try to bring these issues up.
  2. Understand the importance of doing things the “Japanese way” as this behavior will paint you in a more positive light in the eyes of your co-workers or superiors. See JET Handbook for an explanation on this topic.
  3. Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of doing things your way (being more direct-western). Sometimes people forget that they are dealing with someone who comes from a country with different values and expectations. This serves to remind them of that fact and may help them to re-evaluate their treatment of you.
  4. The more information the better. Talk to both Japanese and non-Japanese people that you trust. Ask them for their opinions. Search out different view points besides the official line. Sometimes all they can do is listen to you, which can be a great help. But you’ll have a better chance at improving the situation the more information you dig up.
  5. Approach the resolution of the situation in stages. Small changes enforced steadily over time usually bring greater benefits and are easier for people to accept. Enforcing too much change too quickly will only serve to increase frustration and hostility.
  6. Don’t give up and try not to sink into feelings of despair or cynicism. It will only serve to make your daily life more and more unpleasant.
  7. It’s sad but true, but sometimes change is extremely slow and seems like it will never come. In the meantime to help you keep your sanity, stick to your guns, keep your cool by making sure that you blow off this excess low grade stress and make sure you don’t forget to keep this situation in perspective. Things could always be worse.

Talk to your PA, try the AJET Peer Counseling line (PSG), or even vent to a sempai if you’re having difficulties – all of these things can be very helpful.

[Taken from Shiga AJET and Osaka AJET]