Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes all forms of rape involving force against women. The law does not deny 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 defines rape as “forcible sexual intercourse through assault or intimidation with a female of not less than 13 years of age or sexual intercourse with a female under 13 years of age.” The law mandates a minimum of three years in prison with work for a defined term. Courts have interpreted “forcible” to mean that physical resistance by the victim is necessary to find that a sexual encounter was rape. Observers pointed out a lack of training for judges, prosecutors, and lawyers to understand sexual crimes and victims.
A 2015 Cabinet Office survey showed that only 4.3 percent of women who suffered forcible sexual intercourse reported the crime to police. Observers attributed women’s reluctance to report rape to a variety of factors, including a lack of victim support, potential secondary victimization through the police response, and court proceedings that lack understanding for rape victims.
Although prohibited by law, domestic violence against women remained a serious problem, according to multiple sources. Victims of abuse by domestic partners, spouses, and former spouses could receive protection at shelters and seek restraining orders from court.
NGOs reported a number of cases in which companies deceived women, and in some cases men, with “modeling” contracts that required performance in pornographic videos. The companies demanded breach of contract payments when the women and men refused to act in the videos. In two cases, police arrested representatives of major show business agencies for dispatching women to act in pornographic videos. In one case, a court fined an agency president and staffers in June. Police announced in October that they had sent the other case to prosecutors.
Japan began implementing the 2015 agreement with the Republic of Korea on World War II “comfort women” (women trafficked for sexual purposes). While the agreement remains controversial with some civil society groups, the government provided the agreed one billion yen ($9.7 million) contribution to a foundation established by the Republic of Korea to provide support for the former “comfort women.”
Sexual Harassment: The law does not criminalize sexual harassment but includes measures to identify companies that fail to prevent it, and prefectural labor offices and the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare provided these companies with advice, guidance, and recommendations. Companies that fail to comply with government guidance may be publicly identified, and although this is extremely rare, it has begun to happen. Sexual harassment in the workplace remained widespread (see section 7.d.).
A stalker control law prohibits e-mail harassment.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children; 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.
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. NGOs urged the government to abolish a six-month waiting period stipulated in the law for women, but not men, before remarriage; eliminate different age minimums for marriage depending on sex; and allow married couples a choice of surnames. In late 2015 the Supreme Court upheld the practice of one surname per household, but ruled that the six-month waiting period for women before remarriage was unconstitutional and recommended the ban be shortened to 100 days. On June 1, the Diet passed a Civil Code revision, which took effect on June 7, to shorten the ban on remarriage to 100 days and allow remarriage even earlier if a doctor’s examination showed the woman was not pregnant.
Birth Registration: The law grants citizenship at birth to a child of the following: a Japanese father who either is married to the child’s mother or recognizes his paternity, a Japanese mother, or a child born in the country to parents who are both unknown or are stateless. 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 fine.
The law requires birth entries in the family registry to specify whether a child was born in or out of wedlock, but the law no longer denies full inheritance rights to children born out of wedlock. 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 increased due to increased public awareness, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare. During the period from April 2015 through March 2016, local child guidance centers acted on a record-high 103,260 reports of child abuse by parents or guardians. According to the NPA, 822 child abuse cases from January to December 2015, including parent-child suicides, parental abandonment, and abuse by parents or guardians, led to 849 arrests and the death of 58 children. A law against bullying went into full effect during the year, but school bullying was on the rise, recording 224,540 cases at public elementary, junior high, and high schools from April 2015 through March 2016, as the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology reported. Sexual abuse of female and male children by teachers was reported.
The government revised the law on May 27 to simplify the process of inspecting homes where child abuse is suspected; require child welfare offices to have legal, psychological, and medical experts; allow more municipalities to have child welfare offices; and raise the age of eligibility for staying at public homes.
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 under 20 may not marry without at least one parent’s approval.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Child prostitution is illegal, with a penalty of imprisonment with labor for up to five years or a fine of up to three million yen ($27,600) for adult offenders and penalties of up to seven years’ imprisonment and fines of up to 10 million yen ($92,000) for traffickers. 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. A trend known as “JK business” continued to grow; these businesses include cafes that feature underage female servers and massage parlors staffed by high school-age girls. NGOs helping girls in “JK business” reported a link between these activities and the exploitation of children in prostitution.
Statutory rape laws criminalize sexual intercourse with a girl younger than 13, notwithstanding her consent. The penalty for statutory rape is not less than three years’ imprisonment with mandatory labor, and the law was enforced. Additionally, national law and local ordinances comprehensively address sexual abuse of minors, including boy victims.
The country was a site for the production of child pornography and the exploitation of children by traffickers. By law since 2014, the possession of child pornography is a crime; enforcement began in July 2015. The commercialization of child pornography is illegal; the penalty is imprisonment with labor for not more than three years or a fine not exceeding three million yen ($27,600), and police continued to crack down on this crime. Police reported a record-high 1,938 child pornography investigations involving 905 child victims in 2015.
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. Experts suggested a culture that appears to accept the depiction of child sexual abuse harmed children.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
The Jewish population was approximately 2,000. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts in 2016.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The Basic Act for Persons with Disabilities prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, intellectual, mental and other disabilities affecting body and mind and bars infringement of their rights and interests on the grounds of disability in public and private sector. The Act on the Elimination of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities effective in April 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 suffer discriminatory acts or penalties for noncompliance.
The law requires the public sector to provide reasonable accommodation and stipulates that the private sector shall “make efforts” to do so. Advocacy groups for individuals with disabilities were broadly supportive of the legislation. Nonetheless, persons with disabilities faced limited access to some public sector services.
The law mandates that the government and private companies hire minimum proportions (2 percent) of persons with disabilities (including mental disabilities) or be fined. Disability rights advocates claimed that some companies preferred to pay the fine rather than hire persons with disabilities (see section 7.d.).
Accessibility laws mandate that new construction projects for public use 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.
While some schools provided inclusive education, children with disabilities generally attended specialized schools.
Mental health professionals criticized as insufficient the government’s efforts to reduce the stigma of mental illness and inform the public that depression and other mental illnesses are treatable and biologically based. Abuse of persons with disabilities was a serious concern. Persons with disabilities around the country suffered abuse by family members, care facility employees, or employers. Private surveys indicated discrimination against, and sexual abuse of, women with disabilities.
A former employee of a center for persons with disabilities in the city of Sagamihara has been charged with the July stabbing to death of 19, and injury of 26, patients at the center, the largest number of people to die in a mass killing in the country in decades. Local police subsequently declined to release the identities of the victims, citing privacy concerns for their families. Some disabilities advocates criticized this nondisclosure of names as tacitly endorsing the views of those who say persons with disabilities should be kept separate from the rest of society. The suspect had previously posted threats on social media, including “It would be better for severely disabled to die” and his plan “to visit many facilities and kill 600 by October [starting] with the facility where I was.”
Minorities experienced varying degrees of societal discrimination.
The Diet passed in December the Act on the Elimination of Discrimination against Buraku (the descendants of feudal-era outcasts), the first law solely addressing discrimination against Buraku. According to the Act, effective as of December, the national and local governments will 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. While 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 require family registry information from job applicants for background checks, including many government agencies, may use this information to identify and discriminate against Buraku applicants.
Despite legal safeguards against discrimination, foreign nationals with permanent residency in the country, 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 as well as “foreign looking” Japanese citizens reported they were prohibited entry, sometimes by signs reading “Japanese Only,” to privately owned facilities serving the public, including hotels and restaurants. Although such discrimination was usually open and direct, NGOs complained of government failure to enforce laws prohibiting such restrictions.
Societal acceptance of ethnic Koreans who were permanent residents or citizens generally continued to improve. Although authorities approved most naturalization applications, advocacy groups continued to complain about excessive bureaucratic hurdles that complicated the naturalization process and a lack of transparent criteria for approval. Ethnic Koreans who chose not to naturalize faced difficulties in terms of civil and political rights and, according to the country’s periodic submissions to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, regularly encountered discrimination in access to housing, education, and other benefits.
Ultra-right-wing groups used racially pejorative terms and were accused of hate speech by press and politicians. 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.
Following passage of a law on hate speech in May, Osaka City passed the first local ordinance to counter hate speech in July. On September 27, the Osaka District Court found the former chairman of the extremist, ultra-nationalist political organization “Zaitokukai,” Makoto Sakurai, personally liable for emotional pain suffered by Lee Shin-Hye, a freelance journalist, due to hate speech, and ordered Zaitokukai to pay 770,000 yen ($7,084) in damages. According to the ruling, derogatory statements were delivered both online and through public loudspeaker messaging. Judge Tamami Masumori said that Sakurai and Zaitokukai maliciously insulted Lee beyond a socially tolerable level and slandered Lee’s journalistic work.
According to media and NGO reports, incidents of hate speech on the internet continued.
Although the Supreme Court has ruled that foreign permanent residents are not entitled to welfare because they are not Japanese citizens, municipalities customarily provided needy foreign permanent residents with stipends. Following the court decision, moreover, the minister of health, labor, and welfare reaffirmed that the government would continue to provide benefits to foreign residents for humanitarian reasons.
A Pension Agency enforcement directive allows employers to forgo pension and insurance contributions on behalf of their foreign employees who teach languages, as opposed to Japanese employees in similar positions. Employers may use different contracts for foreigners than for nationals, and courts generally upheld this distinction as nondiscriminatory.
Although the Ainu enjoy the same rights as all other citizens, when clearly identifiable as Ainu, they faced discrimination. The law emphasizes preservation of Ainu culture but lacks some provisions that Ainu groups have demanded, such as recognition for land claims, reserved seats in the Diet and local assemblies, and a government apology for previous policies. The government recognizes the Ainu as an indigenous people in parliamentary proceedings, although the recognition had no legal ramifications.
On March 25, Hokkaido University and the Ainu reached an out-of-court settlement in a long-running case about the return of Ainu remains. The university returned the bones of 11 persons to the town of Kineusu in July. The original plaintiffs and other Ainu people welcomed the remains back to the cemetery with a series of traditional Ainu funeral ceremonies. The lawsuit was the first in the country in which indigenous persons asserted indigenous group (rather than individual) rights.
In the 2015 election, a Sapporo City assemblyman, who had claimed that there were “no more Ainu people” and criticized government policies for privileging self-identified Ainu, lost his seat. The income of self-identified Ainu continued to be less than surrounding Japanese.
To address concerns about treatment of Ainu remains used in academic research, in 2015 the government announced it would build a memorial facility where the unidentifiable remains of Ainu would be interred. The Ainu Association welcomed the government plan, but continued to request assistance in identifying and returning remains to descendants or to hometowns.
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, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
No law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In general, societal acceptance of LGBTI persons continued to improve. There are no existing penalties associated with such discrimination, and no related statistics were available. Laws governing rape, sexual commerce, and other activity involving sexual intercourse do not apply to same-sex sexual activity, since the law defines sex as exclusively male-to-female vaginal intercourse. This definition leads to lower penalties for perpetrators of male rape and greater legal ambiguity surrounding same-sex prostitution.
NGOs that advocate on behalf of LGBTI persons reported no impediments to organization but some instances of bullying, harassment, and violence. Stigma surrounding LGBTI persons remained an impediment to self-reporting of discrimination or abuse, and studies on bullying and violence in schools generally did not take into account the sexual orientation or gender identity of the persons involved. Pervasive societal stigma surrounding LGBTI persons also prevented many from being open about their sexual orientation, and attorneys who frequently represent LGBTI persons related several cases during the year in which clients were threatened with disclosure of sexual orientation. Self-censorship in the press remained an impediment to bringing LGBTI issues into mainstream discourse.
The law allows transgender individuals to change their legal gender, but only after receiving a diagnosis of sexual identity disorder.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
No law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, although nonbinding Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare 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 that status.
Concern about discrimination against individuals with HIV/AIDS and the stigma associated with the disease prevented many persons from disclosing their HIV/AIDS status. According to NGOs, fear of dismissal caused many individuals to hide their HIV/AIDS status.