A recent Nippon.com article by Muta Kazue was a thoughtful piece about the surprising recent beginnings of Japan's official litigation against (1989) and cultural awareness of workplace sexual harassment. Westerns already seem to be aware of Japan's image as a patriarchal society with a business world where an entrenched old-boys-club is reluctant to change with the times. Women are still expected to be deferential in their short careers until their expected graduation to domesticity.
In Japan office romances are generally not as frowned upon as they are in America. In America corporate human resources offices are much more wary of potential litigation as the west has much more liberated gender roles. The lack of romantic prohibitions seems to lead to uninvited and aggressive workplace harassment. In Japan, 37.4% of women feel that workplace sexual harassment is an important women's issue, second only to workplace discrimination (49%) in a UN Women's Watch report.
For foreigners there are different factors to consider. In Japan, western women are certainly perceived to be more strong willed and assertive (and that seems to be true in a comparative sense and in most individual cases). Western women often report that potential Japanese suitors are too shy to approach them even under circumstances where they are quite invited. However, this general attitude cannot be expected to deter all offenders.
The notorious chikan, gropers, on the crowded trains, have been known to harass women of all ages and ethnicities. The YouTuber, Kanadajin3, reporter one such experience and how she was surprised by the harassment,not only by the physical contact but by the situational inhibition that she felt which prevented her from calling for help or repudiating the offender. Her story illustrates how even the "strong confident western woman" is vulnerable.
Foreigners living in Japan are a vulnerable minority in many regards. The western people who come to Japan, often to work as English teachers and often straight out of university find themselves isolated and dependent. Of course the internet and global communications has helped counteract this isolation but financial, social, legal and immigration issues pose a problem. For example, the same YouTuber, kanadajin3, has reported being in situations, as an English tutor, in which she was vulnerable to sexual harassment by older clients.
English teachers working for various school boards in Japan instructions about sexual harassment policies when they sign their contracts and go through annual orientations. However, these instructions are often vague or refer to narrowly specific past incidents while never addressing the protocol for English teachers who are harassed; the majority of English teachers are men and all of the "appropriate behavior" guidelines are aimed at preventing harassment FROM the teachers.
Some examples of these guidelines include:
- Don't remark on students appearance.
- Don't remark on students menstrual issues.
- Don't exchange contact information with students.
- Avoid any physical contact such as touching students shoulders or hugging.
The real problem to be addressed here is the sexual harassment that female foreigners receive from their employers. Especially those working outside of the education industry.
A documentary by VICE exposed the unsettling working conditions of immigrant laborers brought into Japan under "training" programs to do menial labor. The documentary shows young Chinese women shucking clams and picking fruit where a combination of depopulation, rural migration and other issues have created a labor shortage. The workers who are recruited to these programs live under terrible conditions, for little pay after having their passports confiscated by employers who keep them detained and feel confident enough in their power to sexually harass the women as they please.
This information is disturbing enough as it is but the exploitation of the "others" from different groups (nation, race, religion, family...) is as old as human civilization. When people exploit their own group, that is isolating the victim and creating the darkest form of power exploitation. Another popular form of employment in the cities for foreigners is the food service industry. Osaka has plenty of foreign restaurants and bars that are owned and staffed by foreigners. The local community of expats living in Osaka have become aware of a restaurant owner whose past employees have spoken socially about the owner sexually harassing and sexually assaulting the young women working for his business. The women were too reluctant to talk to the Japanese police. Even for women living in their native countries, it can be difficult to prosecute such claims as they will immediately devolve into a he-says-she-says match in front of the police with any form of evidence being unlikely to surface.
Even sympathetic friends of the victims are naturally hesitant to speak out and risk libel against a predator who is apparently violent and possibly litigious. In this situation the owner still had to face the quiet criticism, ostracism and boycott of expats who become aware of the scandal leading the owner to threaten violence against a community organizer who spoke against him. That community organizer and women in the expat community groups encouraged the women to press charges but the low level policemen first contacted were reluctant to get involved in a battle of words between speakers of a foreign language. The women in the expat community did not mince words when the react to hearing the alleged offender's name calling him "the rapist."
For foreigners who are having problems with sexual harassment or other workplace problems, please remember that you are not alone. Japan has strong legal protection for employees although employers may want you to think otherwise. Your workplace superiors and legal authorities may think that it is troublesome to sort out your issues but there are other venues where sympathetic specialist can be reached.
Here are some resources that you can reach out to:
- TELL- Tokyo English LifeLine, is actually active in Osaka and Kyoto as well. They have staff and volunteers that will help you with mental health and emergency issues. http://telljp.com/
- The Osaka Labor Bureau- http://osaka-roudoukyoku.jsite.mhlw.go.jp/hourei_seido_tetsuzuki/advisor_foreign_workers/foreign.html
- Sex Crime Victims National Hotline: #8103
UPDATE. October 2017: The exposure of a major Hollywood movie producer for his career of secually harassing and assaulting employees (in additiom to similarl Trump and Cosby situations) has draw back attention to the “open secret” nature of power harassers which has ignited the “me too” movement on Facebook and social media; which concerns me as I have seen a number of Kansai women indicating that they have been the target of sexual harassment.