Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these freedoms. The independent press and a functioning democratic political system sustained freedom of expression in the reporting year.
Freedom of Expression: Despite a law addressing hate speech, the government neither penalizes nor prohibits it. While there was a decrease in hate speech at demonstrations, it increased in propaganda, election campaigning, and online. Hate crimes also increased.
In response some prefectures and municipalities have taken action. In April an ordinance went into effect in Tokyo restricting the use of parks and other public facilities for potential hate rallies or other hate speech events, requiring universities and other businesses in its jurisdiction to make efforts to eliminate unjust discrimination and requiring the municipality to take measures to prevent the spread of certain hate speech on the internet following a consultation with a review board to avoid restricting legitimate acts of expression. The ordinance was modeled after similar ones in Osaka and Kawasaki. Some legal, journalist, and political groups expressed concerns that the ordinance is too vague and could suppress freedom of speech. In December the City of Kawasaki enacted an ordinance that bans discriminatory language and actions against foreign persons in public places in the city, for which repeat offenders are subject to a fine of up to 500,000 yen ($4,600).
In July the Tokyo District Court provisionally decided to prohibit a figure, as yet unnamed, known for making anti-Korean hate speeches, from organizing an anti-Korea demonstration within a 550-yard radius of the North Korea-affiliated Tokyo Korean Junior and Senior High School, press reported.
According to legal experts and NGOs, hate speech and hate crimes against ethnic Koreans were particularly prominent and numerous, but also were directed at other racial and ethnic minorities. In August a Korean resident filed a human rights complaint against a professor at a Tokyo-based university based on the city’s newly enacted ordinance banning ethnic discrimination. The professor was accused of repeatedly using hate speech against Koreans in class and online.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.
While no such cases have ever been pursued, the law enables the government to prosecute those who publish or disclose government information that is a specially designated secret. Those convicted face up to five years’ imprisonment with work and a fine of not more than five million yen ($46,000).
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Domestic and international observers continued to express concerns that the system of kisha (reporter) clubs attached to government agencies may encourage censorship. These clubs are established in a variety of organizations, including ministries, and may block nonmembers, including freelance and foreign reporters, from covering the organization.
During the year the government barred two journalists from travelling abroad. In February Kosuke Tsuneoka was denied boarding on a flight to Yemen, via Oman, and told his passport had been revoked. In July the Foreign Ministry denied a passport to Jumpei Yasuda, who planned to travel to India and Europe. In both cases, officials cited legal provisions enabling the Foreign Ministry to deny passports if the holder is not permitted to enter a destination country. Tsuneoka was banned from entering Oman; Yasuda was barred from Turkey, although that country was not on his travel plans. The law also allows denial of a passport if the planned travel could harm the country’s national interest, but the government did not cite that provision in its statements. Numerous domestic and internal observers and groups criticized these actions.
Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a criminal as well as civil offense. The law does not accept the truthfulness of a statement in itself as a defense. There is no evidence the government abused these laws to restrict public discussion during the year.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were documented cases of corruption by officials.
Independent academic experts stated that ties among politicians, bureaucrats, and businesspersons were close, and corruption remained a concern. NGOs continued to criticize the practice of retired senior public servants taking high-paying jobs with private firms that relied on government contracts. There were investigations into financial and accounting irregularities involving government officials.
Corruption: Media reported on several convictions related to corruption. In September it was made public that the former deputy mayor of Fukui Prefecture’s Takahama, which hosts a Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) nuclear power plant, paid KEPCO’s president, chairman, and other executives 320 million yen ($2.95 million) in money and goods over a seven-year period beginning in 2011 in return for receiving at least 2.5 billion yen ($23 million) worth of nuclear plant-related work orders for a local construction company. In August a Diet member and parliamentary vice minister at the Ministry for Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW), resigned his ministry position following allegations he planned to accept bribes for pressuring the Ministry of Justice to expedite issuance of visas for foreign workers. The accused individual denied he had done anything illegal and kept his Diet seat.
Financial Disclosure: The law requires members of the Diet to disclose publicly their income and assets (except for ordinary savings), including ownership of real estate, securities, and transportation means. Local ordinances require governors of all 47 prefectures, prefectural assembly members, mayors, and assembly members of 20 major cities to disclose their incomes and assets; assembly members of the remaining approximately 1,720 municipalities are not required to do the same. There are no penalties for false disclosure. The law does not apply to unelected officials. Separately, a cabinet code provides that cabinet ministers, senior vice-ministers, and parliamentary vice-ministers publicly disclose their, their spouses’, and their dependent children’s assets.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were usually cooperative and responsive to their views.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The Justice Ministry’s Human Rights Counseling Office has more than 300 offices across the country. Approximately 14,000 volunteers fielded questions in person, by telephone, or on the internet, and provided confidential consultations. Counselling in any of six foreign languages was available in 50 offices. These consultative offices fielded queries, but they do not have authority to investigate human rights violations by individuals or public organizations, provide counsel, or mediate. Municipal governments have human rights offices that deal with a range of human rights problems.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Discrimination based on race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, or gender identity is not prohibited.
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes various forms of rape, regardless of the gender of a victim. The law also criminalizes custodial rape of a minor younger than age 18. The law does not deny the possibility of spousal rape, but no court has ever ruled on such a case, except in situations of marital breakdown (i.e., formal or informal separation, etc.). The law mandates a minimum sentence of five years in prison for rape convictions. Prosecutors must prove that violence or intimidation was involved or that the victim was incapable of resistance. Domestic violence is also a crime for which victims may seek restraining orders. Convicted assault perpetrators face up to two years’ imprisonment or a fine of up to 300,000 yen ($2,760). Convicted offenders who caused bodily injury faced up to 15 years’ imprisonment or a fine of up to 500,000 yen ($4,600). Protective order violators face up to one year’s imprisonment or a fine of up to one million yen ($9,200).
Several acquittals in rape cases called attention to the high legal standard and prosecutorial burden, which NGOs asserted imposed an unfairly high burden on victims and deterred them from coming forward. In March a Nagoya court acquitted a father accused of raping his 19-year-old daughter despite recognizing that the sex was nonconsensual and that force was involved, concluding that doubt remained whether she had no option other than to submit. In July the Nagoya Prosecutors’ Office decided not to indict a former Diet member for suspected sexual assault against his girlfriend while she was sleeping.
During the year the press also reported at least two arrests involving rapes and sexual assaults by male employees of large private firms against female college students during job-hunting meetings.
NGOs and legal experts pointed out a lack of training for judges, prosecutors, and lawyers about sexual crimes and victims.
Rape and domestic violence are significantly underreported crimes. According to a survey by the government’s Gender Equality Bureau, only 2.8 percent of sexual assault victims report the crime to police and nearly 60 percent of rape victims do not report the crime. Observers attributed women’s reluctance to report rape to a variety of factors, including fear of being blamed, fear of public shaming, a lack of victim support, potential secondary victimization through the police response, and court proceedings that lacked empathy for rape victims.
Victims of abuse by domestic partners, spouses, and former spouses could receive protection at shelters.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment in the workplace persisted. The law does not criminalize sexual harassment but includes measures to identify companies that fail to prevent it. Prefectural labor offices and the MHLW provided these companies with advice, guidance, and recommendations. Companies that fail to comply with government guidance may be publicly identified, although this has not happened in years.
The government has a set of measures to prevent sexual harassment, including requiring all senior national government officials to take mandatory training courses as well as setting up a consultation mechanism in each ministry and agency to which the general public can report sexual harassment. Nonetheless, harassment continued in government agencies.
In May the Diet passed a set of labor law revisions making it mandatory for companies to take preventive measures against power harassment in the workplace. The revisions, which go into effect in April 2020, also created additional requirements for companies to prevent sexual harassment.
Press reported that sexual harassment targeting students during job-hunting activities was widespread. The government requires companies to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, but the regulations do not apply to students looking for jobs. To address this, universities were issuing warnings to students, and some companies announced new conduct rules to their employees when meeting students searching for jobs (see section 7.d.).
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
In April the government passed a law to compensate individuals who were involuntarily sterilized from 1948 to 1996 under a policy that targeted persons with disabilities under the defunct Eugenic Protection Law. Affected persons received approximately 2.57 million yen ($28,000) each and a formal apology. The MHLW estimated 25,000 persons were subjected to forced sterilization surgery under that law.
Discrimination: The law prohibits gender discrimination and generally provides women the same rights as men. The Gender Equality Bureau in the Cabinet Office continued to examine policies and monitor developments.
Despite these policies, NGOs continued to allege that implementation of antidiscrimination measures was insufficient, pointing to discriminatory provisions in the law, unequal treatment of women in the labor market (see section 7.d.), and low representation of women in high-level elected bodies.
In June a group submitted a petition to the MHLW calling for a ban on workplace dress codes that require women to wear high heels, citing gender equality and gender-based workplace discrimination, as well as health concerns. The petition had approximately 30,000 signatures. Following the submission of the petition, the labor minister commented, “[wearing heels] is socially accepted as something that falls within the realm of being occupationally necessary and appropriate.” Later he added, “It depends on the specific situation. In light of social norms, it can’t be considered harassment unless it exceeds the scope of what’s appropriate and necessary for the job.” Approximately 60 percent of Japanese women have reportedly been asked to wear heels for work or a job interview.
NGOs continued to urge the government to allow married couples a choice of surnames.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Section 7. Worker Rights
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
Children ages 15 to 18 may perform any job not designated as dangerous or harmful, such as handling heavy objects or cleaning, inspecting, or repairing machinery while in operation. They are also prohibited from working late night shifts. Children ages 13 to 15 years may perform “light labor” only, and children younger than age 13 may work only in the entertainment industry.
The government effectively enforced these laws. Penalties for child labor violations included fines and imprisonment and were sufficient to deter violations.
Children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status, or language.
The law prohibits gender-based discrimination in certain circumstances, including recruitment, promotion, training, and renewal of contracts, but it does not address mandatory dress codes.
The law also mandates equal pay for men and women; however, the International Labor Organization noted the law’s protection against such wage discrimination is too limited because it does not capture the concept of “work of equal value.” Enforcement regulations of the equal employment opportunity law also include prohibitions against policies or practices that were adopted not with discriminatory intent but which have a discriminatory effect (called “indirect discrimination” in law) for all workers in recruitment, hiring, promotion, and changes of job type. Women, however, continued to express concern about unequal treatment in the workforce, including sexual and pregnancy harassment. Women’s average monthly wage was approximately 73 percent of that of men in 2018.
The law included provisions to obligate employers to treat regular and nonregular workers equally when 1) the job contents are the same and 2) the scope of expected changes to the job content and work location are the same. The labor law revisions related to equal pay for equal work go into effect in April 2020 for large companies and in 2021 for small and medium enterprises (SME).
The women’s empowerment law requires national and local governments, as well as private-sector companies that employ at least 301 persons, to analyze women’s employment in their organizations and release action plans to promote women’s participation and advancement. Revisions to this law passed in May, which expand the reporting requirements to SMEs that employ at least 101 persons and increase the number of disclosure items, go into effect in 2021.
In response to government agencies overstating the number of their employees with disabilities to meet statutory hiring requirements in 2018, the government revised the law in June. The revisions included new preventive provisions, including a requirement for verification of disability certificates to ensure the job candidate’s disability. In August the MHLW released its statistics showing nearly 40 percent of government institutions missed hiring targets for persons with disabilities. The law mandates that both government and private companies hire at or above a designated minimum proportion of persons with disabilities (including mental disabilities). The law requires a minimum hiring rate for the government to be 2.5 percent and for private companies to be 2.2 percent. By law companies with more than 100 employees that do not comply with requirements to hire minimum proportions of persons with disabilities must pay a fine per vacant position per month. There is no penalty for government entities failing to meet the legal minimum hiring ratio for persons with disabilities. Disability rights advocates claimed that some companies preferred to pay the mandated fine rather than hire persons with disabilities.
In cases of violation of law on equal employment opportunity, the MHLW may request the employer report the matter, and the ministry may issue advice, instructions, or corrective guidance. If the employer does not follow the ministry’s guidance, the employer’s name may be publicly disclosed. If the employer fails to report or files a false report, the employer may be subject to a fine. Government hotlines in prefectural labor bureau equal employment departments handled consultations concerning sexual harassment and mediated disputes when possible.