Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment violates the dignity of individuals and is against Japanese law. You have every right to expect your workplace to be free from such harassment.

Sexual harassment in Japan can be defined as the explicit request for sexual activity to secure special favours in the workplace, AND any activity which creates an intimidating, hostile, humiliating, demeaning, or sexually offensive working, residential, or social environment.

There is a common misconception that Japanese culture is very different from JET origin countries when it comes to sexual harassment. Unfortunately, this stereotype among foreigners often leads to tolerating situations that would not be tolerable at home.

If you feel the threat of sexual harassment from anyone, do not worry about who that person is. Office relations are important, but so is your self-esteem and your control over your own body. Do not let anyone abuse either of them.

Japanese law requires all contracting organizations to be aware of what constitutes sexual harassment, to explain these rules to employees, and to ensure a comfortable working environment for all parties. The AJET encourages anyone to discuss the issue with a supervisor, trusted colleague, or Prefectural Assistant.

What is sexual harassment in Japan?

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.

What is unique about sexual harassment in Japan?

As a foreign employee in a Japanese office, you will soon notice that there is a significant amount of time spent preserving group harmony. You may feel the pressure to maintain this harmony through your speech and actions, and doing so is often part of the acculturation process that helps JETs form deeper connections to their co-workers and to understanding Japanese culture.

This drive toward group harmony, however, should not lead to tolerating situations that you wouldn’t tolerate at home. Unfortunately, you may observe behavior in an office that, by the standards of your home country, would seem sexist or offensive. You may wonder why nobody is speaking out. It is important to respect the decisions of those around you when they are affected by such behavior. However, if you are on the receiving end of harassing behavior from a co-worker or another JET, respect your own feelings. Resist the pressure to “maintain the harmony” instead of speaking out.

You have the power to make a decision about what you will tolerate and what you will not. Discussing the problem with trusted co-workers, JET Prefectural Assistants or AJET may be helpful in guiding your actions, but you should never feel pressured to tolerate a situation that you would not tolerate at home.

Do my co-workers understand sexual harassment?

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 Assistant or contact the AJET helpline.

What if I have been drinking?

Drinking can be a large part of the office culture in Japan. Likewise, you may find alcohol forms a large part of your social activities with other ALTs, CIRs, or even PAs.

Drinking does not imply permission for any co-worker to treat you in a hostile, coercive, or sexually demeaning manner. A co-workers drunkenness, regardless of their nationality, does not forgive unwanted sexual advances or other forms of sexual harassment.

What to do if you are being sexually harassed by a coworker

Do not hesitate to firmly tell the harasser to stop. You decide when you are uncomfortable, regardless of who the source is, where it occurs, or who else is present. Move away or, if necessary, enlist the aid of onlookers. Do not endure an uncomfortable situation for the sake of being polite.

If you decide to report the incident or a pattern of incidents, discuss it with a supervisor, colleague, or Prefectural Assistant. Note that while Japanese law suggests incidents be treated anonymously, this is not an assumed or legally protected right in Japan.

If you wish to speak to a colleague confidentially, make this clear from the beginning.If you wish to speak with your supervisor, suggest they read the relevant passage in the Contracting Organisation Manual (ninyo dantai-yo manyuaru).

What to do if you are being sexually harassed by a fellow JET

The JET Program prides itself in maintaining a safe community. Of course, sexual harassment can come from any source. If you feel threatened, harassed, or intimidated by any associates outside of your contracting organization, you should discuss the issue with your Prefectural Assistant.

If you are not comfortable speaking with your Prefectural Assistant, you may contact:

  • The AJET Peer Support Group, 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.”

Preventing Harassment

Never blame yourself for the actions of a co-worker. However, maintaining a professional demeanor and appearance at the outset is the best method for preventing misunderstandings that could create an uncomfortable atmosphere. Of course, not all harassment can be prevented.

National AJET