Japan has a parliamentary government with a constitutional monarchy. On September 16, Yoshihide Suga, the newly elected leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, became prime minister. Upper House elections in 2019, which the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, Komeito, won with a solid majority, were considered free and fair by international observers.
The National Public Safety Commission, a cabinet-level entity, oversees the National Police Agency, and prefectural public safety commissions have responsibility for local police forces. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were no reports of abuses committed by security forces.
There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.
The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses.
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’ imprisonment 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 modest fine. Convicted offenders who caused bodily injury faced up to 15 years’ imprisonment or a modest fine. Protective order violators faced up to one year’s imprisonment or a moderate fine.
Suicide rates among women rose in July and August by 40 percent as compared with the corresponding months of 2019, according to National Police Agency statistics. In October the Japan Suicide Countermeasures Promotion Center, which was commissioned by the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare to analyze trends in suicides since July, stated that more severe domestic violence, an increased struggle to raise children, and financial difficulty–all due to COVID-19–along with the impact of a series of celebrity suicides in recent months, were potential factors leading to the increase in suicides among women living with one or more persons, unemployed women, and teenage girls.
On October 1, the Cabinet Office upgraded the office for countering violence between men and women in the Ministry of Gender Equality to a division. Minister Seiko Hashimoto and Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato announced the change as an effort to strengthen government efforts to address sexual crimes and violence, including domestic violence. The division plans to enhance counseling services and collaboration with private supporting organizations.
In October the gender equality bureau director general in the Cabinet Office confirmed that government consultation bodies around the nation received 1.6 times more inquiries about domestic violence in May and June than during the same months in 2019. She expressed concern about the increase in the number and degree of severity of domestic violence cases, attributing the change to stress and anxiety about life in the future stemming from COVID-19. As preparedness measures, in April the Cabinet Office’s Gender Equality Bureau extended hotline services to 24 hours a day and in May launching additional consultation services via social network services in Japanese and 10 foreign languages. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications allowed victims fleeing domestic violence to receive an across-the-board one-time stipend of 100,000 yen ($920) per person as a COVID-19 financial relief measure. NGOs reported, however, that the stringent requirements for the stipend made it difficult for some victims to qualify.
Several acquittals in rape cases in 2019 drew the attention of legislators and the public to the high legal standard and prosecutorial burden in such cases. In March the Nagoya High Court overturned a lower court’s controversial 2019 acquittal of a father accused of raping his 19-year-old daughter. The High Court convicted the father after concluding that she had no option other than to submit and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. The father appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Ministry of Justice launched an expert panel in June to identify potential revisions to criminal legislation on all sexual crimes, as part of the government’s efforts to strengthen measures against sexual crimes and violence. The expert panel includes a survivor of sexual abuse, lawyers, academics, and government officials.
Rape and domestic violence are significantly underreported crimes. 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 run by either the government or NGOs.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was generally perceived as a workplace issue after a 2007 amendment to equal employment opportunity law required employers to establish preventive measures against sexual harassment in workplaces. Sexual harassment in the workplace persisted (see section 7.d.).
Sexual harassment also persisted in society. One of the most pervasive examples was men groping women on subway trains. Many major train lines have introduced women-only cars to combat chikan, or groping; however, it continued during the year.
In April, Liberal Democratic Party Lower House members toured a facility for teenage survivors of sexual abuse. During the visit, members of the group were accused of sexist behavior and harassment, including an allegation that the former minister of education, culture, sports, science, and technology placed his hands on an underage girl’s waist. He later apologized for “causing [her] discomfort” but added that he had no memory of putting his hands on her waist. Then prime minister Abe, in his capacity as head of the Liberal Democratic Party, also apologized on the former minister’s behalf.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Women had access to contraception and maternal health services, including skilled attendance during childbirth, prenatal care, and essential obstetric and postpartum care.
The government subsidizes sexual or reproductive health care services for survivors of sexual violence when the survivors seek help from the police or government-designated centers supporting sexual violence survivors located in each prefecture. Services subsidized by the government include medical examinations and emergency contraception.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex 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 the law and related 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.
NGOs continued to urge the government to allow married couples to choose their own surnames. The postwar constitution provides for equality between men and women, and relevant laws state that a husband and wife may choose either spouse’s surname as the legal surname for both of them. Separate surnames for a married couple, however, are not legal. According to the government, 96 percent of married couples adopt the husband’s family name. Experts cited workplace inconveniences and issues of personal identity that disproportionately affect women as a result of the law.
In what became known as the “potato salad controversy,” there was a widespread outcry over perceived pervasive misogyny when an individual posted on social media about overhearing an elderly man admonishing a woman with an infant who was buying prepared potato salad instead of making it from scratch. The man reportedly chided the woman, suggesting that she was not a good mother for choosing not to spend time and labor to make the potato salad herself. Media speculated that the comment prompted so many responses because many women have had similar experiences. One prominent newspaper posited that misogynistic attitudes among men underpin such comments, adding that the notion that women are inferior is a persistent undercurrent in society.
Birth Registration: The law grants citizenship at birth to: a child of a Japanese father who either is married to the child’s mother or recognizes his paternity; a child of a Japanese mother; or, a child born in the country to parents who are both unknown or are stateless. The law also grants citizenship to a person born in the country with no nationality at the time of birth but who has resided in the country for three consecutive years or more since his or her birth. The law requires registration within 14 days after in-country birth or within three months after birth abroad, and these deadlines were generally met. Individuals were allowed to register births after the deadline but were required to pay a nominal fine.
The law requires individuals to specify whether a child was born in or out of wedlock on the birth registration form. The law presumes that a child born within 300 days of a divorce is the divorced man’s child, resulting in the nonregistration of an unknown number of children.
Child Abuse: Reports of child abuse continued to increase, which NGOs attributed in part to stay-at-home COVID-19 policies. Legislators expressed concern about sexual crimes and violence against children. According to official data, police investigated 1,957 child abuse cases in 2019, a 42 percent increase from the previous year. Of the cases, 1,629 involved physical violence; 243 involved sexual abuse; 50, psychological abuse; and 35, neglect.
Reports of sexual abuse of children by teachers continued. Local education boards around the nation imposed disciplinary actions on 280 public school teachers, the highest number on record, for sexual misconduct with children from April 2018 through March 2019, an increase of 70 from the previous period, according to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology. The ministry dismissed 57 percent of the disciplined teachers from their teaching posts. By law their teaching licenses were invalidated, but they may obtain teaching licenses again after three years. In September a parental group submitted to the ministry approximately 54,000 signatures calling for legislative revisions to prohibit re-issuing teaching licenses to teachers dismissed for sexual misconduct with children.
Known as taibatsu, corporal punishment in sports has been a longstanding concern. In June a report detailed widespread, systemic corporal punishment of child athletes. A law enacted in April established a ban on corporal punishment, which extends to abuse in sports; however, NGOs pointed to broad ignorance of the law among the perpetrators and argued that it does not explicitly state its application to organized sports, undermining its effectiveness. Additionally, government and sports organizations have not taken steps to ensure compliance, and abuse reporting may be limited by requirements to submit claims by post or fax, which are not necessarily available to children.
Children were also subject to human rights violations via the internet. Violations included publishing photographs and videos of elementary school students in public places without their consent. The government requested site operators to remove such images, and many reportedly complied.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law stipulates that to marry, the male partner must be age 18 or older and the female partner 16 or older. A person younger than 20 may not marry without at least one parent’s approval. A law creating gender parity in the legal age to marry, 18 for both sexes, comes into force in 2022.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Child prostitution is illegal, with penalties including prison sentences or moderate fines. Statutory rape laws criminalize sexual intercourse with a girl younger than age 13, notwithstanding her consent. The penalty for statutory rape is a sentence of not less than three years’ imprisonment with mandatory labor. The law was enforced. Additionally, national law and local ordinances address sexual abuse of minors. Possession of child pornography continues to be a crime. The commercialization of child pornography remains illegal with the penalty of imprisonment with labor for not more than three years or a moderate fine. Police continued to crack down on this crime and noted that instances of sexual exploitation via social networking services continued to rise. NGOs continued to express concern that preventive efforts more frequently targeted victims rather than perpetrators.
The continued practice of enjo kosai (compensated dating) and the existence of websites for online dating, social networking, and “delivery health” (a euphemism for call-girl or escort services) facilitated the sex trafficking of children and other commercial sex industries. NGOs reported that unemployment and stay-at-home orders established because of the COVID-19 crisis fueled online sexual exploitation of children. The government’s interagency taskforce to combat child sex trafficking in joshi kosei (or “JK” businesses)–dating services connecting adult men with underage girls–and in forced pornography continued to strengthen its crackdown on such businesses. In 2019 authorities identified 162 of these operations nationwide, up by 18 percent from the previous year. Eight individuals alleged to have been engaged in unspecified criminal activities surrounding the JK business were arrested, down from 69 in 2018. Seven major prefectures have ordinances banning JK businesses, prohibiting girls younger than age 18 from working in “compensated dating services,” or requiring JK business owners to register their employee rosters with local public safety commissions. NGOs helping girls in the JK business reported a link between these activities and the commercial sexual exploitation of children in prostitution.
The country was a site for the production of child pornography and the exploitation of children by traffickers.
No law addresses the unfettered availability of sexually explicit cartoons, comics, and video games, some of which depicted scenes of violent sexual abuse and the rape of children.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
The total Jewish population is approximately 3,000 to 4,000. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
A law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, intellectual, mental, or other disabilities affecting body and mind and bars infringement of their rights and interests on the grounds of disability in the public and private sectors. The law requires the public sector to provide reasonable accommodations and the private sector to make best efforts in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other services. The laws do not stipulate remedies for persons with disabilities who experience discriminatory acts, nor do they establish penalties for noncompliance. Advocates reported the COVID-19 outbreak increased unemployment among persons with disabilities; the Ministry of Health reported that from February to June, more than 1,100 persons with disabilities were laid off, an increase of approximately 150 compared with the same period in the previous year (see section 7.d.).
Accessibility laws mandate that construction projects for public-use buildings must include provisions for persons with disabilities. The government may grant low interest loans and tax benefits to operators of hospitals, theaters, hotels, and other public facilities if they upgrade or install features to accommodate persons with disabilities. The government revised a law in May to require accessibility in public elementary and junior high school buildings. Nonetheless, persons with disabilities faced limited access to some public-sector services.
Abuse of persons with disabilities was a serious concern. Persons with disabilities around the country experienced abuse by family members, care-facility employees, and employers. Private surveys indicated discrimination against and sexual abuse of women with disabilities. Legislators expressed concern about sexual crimes and violence, especially against persons with disabilities by their relatives, schoolteachers, sports coaches, or care-facility staff.
NGOs continued to express concern that persons with disabilities tended to be stigmatized and segregated from the general population. Although some schools provided inclusive education, children with disabilities generally attended specialized schools.
Disability rights advocates reported that women with disabilities faced higher unemployment and more abuse and discrimination than men with disabilities, including insufficient access to support, and continued harassment at workplaces. Mental-health-care professionals asserted the government’s efforts to reduce the stigma of mental illness and inform the public that depression and other mental illnesses are treatable and biology based were insufficient.
Members of minority groups experienced varying degrees of societal discrimination.
The law specifically addresses discrimination against Buraku (the descendants of feudal-era outcasts). It obligates national and local governments to study discrimination against Buraku, implement awareness education, and enhance the counseling system.
Buraku advocacy groups continued to report that despite socioeconomic improvements achieved by many Buraku, widespread discrimination persisted in employment, marriage, housing, and property assessment. Although the Buraku label was no longer officially used to identify individuals, the family registry system could be used to identify them and facilitate discriminatory practices. Buraku advocates expressed concern that employers who required family registry information from job applicants for background checks, including many government agencies, might use this information to identify and discriminate against Buraku applicants.
Despite legal safeguards against discrimination, foreign permanent residents in the country and nonethnically Japanese citizens, including many who were born, raised, and educated in the country, were subjected to various forms of entrenched societal discrimination, including restricted access to housing, education, health-care, and employment opportunities. Foreign nationals and “foreign looking” citizens reported they were prohibited entry–sometimes by signs reading “Japanese Only”–to privately owned facilities serving the public, including hotels and restaurants. Legal experts noted that there is no legal prohibition on such restrictions.
There was no indication of increased societal acceptance of ethnic Koreans. Representatives of the ethnic Korean community said hate speech against Koreans in public and on social networking sites persisted. In August the Fukuoka Legal Affairs Bureau recognized a 2019 address by Makoto Sakurai, then chairman of the Association of Residents Who Reject Special Privileges of Zainichi Koreans (known as Zaitokkai), as hate speech. In the address he targeted students heading to a school in Kitakyushu run by the North Korean government’s General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, telling them to “get out of Japan.” Sakurai ran in the July Tokyo gubernatorial election, seeking to abolish welfare for foreigners and placing fifth with 178,784 votes. Experts expressed concern that his campaign speech potentially threatened the safety of minority group members and fueled discrimination against them. Ethnic Koreans who chose not to naturalize faced difficulties in terms of civil and political rights and regularly encountered discrimination at work and in access to housing, education, and other benefits.
In June public broadcaster NHK came under fire, and later apologized, for airing a segment about racism that lacked context and used offensive and insensitive caricatures. The voice used in the narrative was one typically used for ruffians in Japanese animation, and images portrayed black men and women as angry, aggressive, and unkempt, while showing white characters as innocent and well dressed. In addition to issuing an apology, NHK removed the video and aired subsequent programming that more appropriately and effectively addressed diversity issues.
Senior government officials publicly repudiated the harassment of ethnic groups as inciting discrimination and reaffirmed the protection of individual rights for everyone in the country.
The law recognizes Ainu as indigenous people, prohibits discrimination against them, prohibits the violation of Ainu rights, and protects and promotes their culture. The law requires the national and local governments to take measures to support communities and boost local economies and tourism. The law does not provide for self-determination or other tribal rights, nor does it stipulate rights to education for Ainu.
Ainu continued to face poverty and barriers to education. Seeking to restore traditional practices and rights abolished during the Meiji era, in August a group of Ainu filed a lawsuit seeking an exemption from a ban on commercial salmon fishing in rivers. It was the first such lawsuit by Ainu related to their indigenous rights. The state, however, asserted that because Ainu villages disappeared due to the Meiji-era assimilation policy, there are no tribes with land and salmon-fishing rights.
Although the government does not recognize the Ryukyu (a term that includes residents of Okinawa and portions of Kagoshima Prefecture) as indigenous people, it officially acknowledged their unique culture and history and made efforts to preserve and show respect for those traditions.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law requires transgender persons to be without reproductive capacity, effectively requiring surgical sterilization for most persons, in order to have their gender identity legally recognized. They also must meet additional conditions, including undergoing a psychiatric evaluation and receiving a diagnosis of “gender identity disorder,” a disorder not recognized in the International Classification of Diseases; being unmarried and older than age 20; and not having any children younger than age 20.
No law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and there are no penalties associated with such discrimination. LGBTI advocacy organizations reported instances of discrimination, outing, bullying, harassment, and violence. A letter signed by 96 human rights and LGBTI organizations and sent to the prime minister in April urged the Liberal Democratic Party to introduce legislation to protect against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The parents of a student who fell from a school building in 2015 after his classmates disclosed he was gay appealed the Tokyo District Court’s 2019 dismissal of their civil lawsuit seeking damages from Hitotsubashi University. As of November the case was pending at an appellate court.
In April, two all-women national universities in the country, Ochanomizu University in Tokyo and Nara Women’s University in Nara, started accepting transgender students.
According to a government survey, just more than 10 percent of companies have policies aimed at protecting the rights of sexual minorities. LGBTI rights advocates welcomed an increasing number of municipalities that introduced ordinances to ban discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation and recognized same-sex partnership. The Ministry of Justice received a few inquiries about potential human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity in 2019, providing the inquirers with legal advice.
Stigma surrounding LGBTI persons remained an impediment to self-reporting of discrimination or abuse.
There are two openly LGBTI national legislators, both of whom are members of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.
No law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS; nonbinding health ministry guidelines state that firms should not terminate or fail to hire individuals based on their HIV status. Courts have awarded damages to individuals fired from positions due to their HIV status.
Concerns about discrimination against individuals with HIV/AIDS and the stigma associated with the disease, and fear of dismissal, prevented many persons from disclosing their HIV/AIDS status.
Police arrested a series of individuals who abused senior citizens, and the Health Ministry reported rising rates of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse of senior citizens, as well as nursing-care negligence by families and nursing-care center employees.