Foreign residents in Japan often feel that cultural differences excuse what would be considered unacceptable behavior at home. However it is important that you try to avoid this way of thinking. If it is unacceptable in your home country, it is unacceptable in Japan. You may be tempted to keep quiet to preserve good relationships with your coworkers, but ultimately your mental health and physical safety are more important.

What constitutes sexual harassment in Japan?Edit

In 1992, a landmark case established legal precedent for sexual harassment cases in Japan. The law established two forms of sexual harassment: daisho, in which rewards or penalties are explicitly linked to sexual acts, and kankyo, in which the environment is made unpleasant through sexual talk or jokes, touching, or hanging sexually explicit posters. This applies to everyone in an office, including customers.

As such, sexual harassment does include pressure to perform sexual acts. But it also applies to direct or indirect actions that make you feel humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise uncomfortable while at work or at work-related activities, such as enkais, work trips, or other social gatherings.

Responding to sexual harassmentEdit

First, do not hesitate to tell the harasser to stop. Ask for support from other coworkers in keeping the harasser in check. Remember, your mental and physical safety is ultimately more important than office politics.

If the harasser persists, consider taking the matter up with your supervisor, colleague, Prefectural Advisor, or Contracting Organization. Please be aware that while Japanese law suggests that these reports remain anonymous, it is not an assumed or legally protected right in Japan. You should be upfront and insistent about your desire to remain anonymous if it is important to you.

If you are being harassed by a fellow JET, consider talking to your Prefectural Advisor or the AJET helpline. If the JET is under the same Contracting Organization as you, you can contact them as well. If they are under a different CO, you may have the option to elevate the issue to CLAIR.

How is sexual harassment handled in Japan?Edit

In 1998, legal precedent for sexual harassment was bolstered by a new national law. The new law put the onus on management to prevent sexual harassment through three steps (Huen, 2007):

  • Firstly, employers must clarify and disseminate policies against sexual harassment and educate employees through measures such as handbooks and seminars.
  • Secondly, employers must set up an objective system to address complaints and grievances.
  • Thirdly, employers are obligated to be prompt in responding to sexual harassment claims, and they should investigate and implement disciplinary actions.

The guidelines also request employers to protect the privacy of employees who file sexual harassment complaints and to adopt anti-retaliation policies. Unfortunately, this is not a “hard law,” and therefore your anonymity may not be respected if you handle the matter through your Contracting Organization. If you prefer to discuss the problem anonymously, you should speak to your Prefectural Advisor or contact the AJET helpline.

What to expectEdit

There may be a variety of things different from what you may expect of a reporting process. Please know that this information is not meant to dissuade you from reporting. Rather we hope that by being aware of what you may encounter, your reporting process may be less emotionally taxing.

  • When reporting, do not be afraid to remain clear and insistent about your desires regarding anonymity, police involvement, record keeping, the presence/absence of translators, and other matters.
  • The system of reporting often seeks immense amounts of detail from you, your harasser, and any other potential witnesses. Be aware that you may be asked for such things as witness testimonies, corroborating reports of harassment from other people currently hired by the school/CO, and potentially even a direct confession from the perpetrator.
  • The person to whom you will report will likely not know anything in particular about the psychological ethics of dealing with trauma or sexual abuse. The way you're questioned will be based on the individual questioners' sympathies, expectations, biases and personalities, which can land anywhere on the spectrum. So having support prepared for just afterward can be helpful, whether it's having a friend waiting to talk or being ready to call the all-night peer support group or just having a nice dinner.
  • The language barrier will likely be an issue. Even if your interviewers have some grasp of English or you of Japanese, they/you may be unfamiliar with the verbiage related to sexual harassment. Be prepared for this, and know that if you ask to be transcribed that you may have to reconstruct the transcript yourself.
  • You may be asked to meet with whomever you are reporting to multiple times in the course of reporting.
  • Meetings for reporting will also likely be very long -- multiple hours.
  • The requests to meet with you will likely be phrased in such a way that suggests all due haste is necessary. This is likely to do with Japanese law requiring your employer to respond promptly and should not be a cause for alarm. You should not feel pressured.
  • It unfortunately may be considerably more difficult than you might expect for a perpetrator to be fired. It is likely that the people you are reporting to will not be willing/able to tell you criteria required for or the likelihood of the perpetrator being fired. However, your report may prove invaluable if the perpetrator is reported again in the future. Therefore, please first consider your mental and emotional health first, and if you are in a state in which you feel comfortable reporting, consider doing so even if the punishment seems lax.
  • Your CO will tell you that they have extra information for you regarding support services. However, it is very unlikely that your Contracting Organization will be able to give you any information beyond the AJET's Peer Support Group and how to apply for CLAIR's mental health subsidy. Please keep in mind that your primary reason for reporting should be to add your voice to the perpetrator's record and that you can access these services whether or not you decide to make a formal report.

Support resourcesEdit

Reporting sexual harassment/assault can be a stressful and exhausting experience, to say the very least. This is compounded by doing so with language and cultural barriers in the way. Again, it is important to remember that your mental and physical health are absolutely paramount. Please always confide in a trusted friend or family member if possible.

JET Mental Health SubsidyEdit

CLAIR provides a 200,000 yen per year subsidy for mental health services in Japan. Please find more information here.

AJET Peer Support GroupEdit

The AJET Peer Support Group, operates from 8:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., 365 days a year. Calls can be made anonymously, and are confidential: 050-5534-5566 or Skype name “AJETPSG.”

TELL - Tokyo English LifelineEdit

The Tokyo English Lifeline is a not-for-profit organization that provides support and counseling services to Japan’s international community as well as helping to address the country’s growing mental health care needs.

Please read their Sexual Abuse page.

TELL Lifeline – 03-5774-0992 – 9am – 11pm everyday

See AlsoEdit