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 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. In the past, courts interpreted the law to mean that physical resistance by the victim is necessary to find that a sexual encounter was rape. 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 ($2,600), convicted offenders who caused bodily injury faced up to 15 years’ imprisonment or a fine up of up to 500,000 yen ($4,400), and protective orders violators faced up to one year’s imprisonment or a fine of up to one million yen ($8,800).
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 believed to be significantly underreported crimes, although no recent data are available. 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 lacked understanding for rape victims.
Victims of abuse by domestic partners, spouses, and former spouses could receive protection at shelters.
Sexual Harassment: The law does not criminalize sexual harassment but includes measures to identify companies that fail to prevent it. 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, but the government has not publicized any company for sexual harassment since 2015, when a private hospital was identified for dismissing a woman employee due to pregnancy. Sexual harassment in the workplace persisted. In the first survey of its kind, in 2016 the ministry reported that 30 percent of women in full- and part-time employment reported being sexually harassed at work. Among full-time workers, the figure was 35 percent. In April a senior career official at the Finance Ministry resigned after allegations that he sexually harassed a female journalist and following public criticism that the ministry initially mishandled the matter. The government has since released 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 where the general public can report sexual harassment (see section 7.d.).
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
From January to October, seven individuals, both female and male, who were involuntarily sterilized from 1948 to 1996 under a policy that targeted people with disabilities under the defunct Eugenic Protection Law, sought damages from the government. The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare estimated approximately 25,000 people underwent sterilization surgeries 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. Tokyo Medical University admitted in August that it had deliberately altered entrance exam scores for more than a decade to restrict the number of female students and ensure more men became doctors. In response, MEXT undertook a study of all medical universities in Japan, 81 in total, to examine if any others had altered entrance exam results to limit female students. MEXT concluded that 10 medical universities had altered entrance exam results to limit female students and instructed the universities to rectify the inappropriate practice.
NGOs continued to urge the government to allow married couples a choice of surnames.
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 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. Sexual abuse of children by teachers was reported. Child assistance experts advocated the need for MEXT to actively share information on teachers involved in child molestation with the police to prevent further victimization of children in schools. The law provides for a simplified process to inspect homes where child abuse is suspected; requires child welfare offices to have legal, psychological, and medical experts on staff; allows more municipalities to have child welfare offices; and raised 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 younger than age 20 may not marry without at least one parent’s approval. The Act to Partially Amend the Civil Code, which will create parity between men and women for the legal age to marry, setting it at 18 for both sexes, was promulgated in June 2018 and will come into force in 2022.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Child prostitution is illegal, with penalties including prison sentences or fines. Statutory rape laws criminalize sexual intercourse with a girl younger than age 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. Possession of child pornography is a crime. 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 ($26,400), and police continued to crack down on this crime.
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. 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. As part of the taskforce’s efforts, police arrested 42 managers or customers of “JK” businesses while rescuing 25 minor victims from April to December 2017.
NGOs helping girls in “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.
In January police arrested and charged the head of an entertainment industry job-placement agency and the operator of a pornographic video-production company for inducing women and girls to engage in sexual intercourse for the purpose of profit–the first application of this criminal statute in more than 80 years. Nevertheless, the Public Prosecutor’s Office did not prosecute the suspects. 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 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 https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
No official statistics of the Jewish population in the country were available. According to a Jewish community representative, approximately 100 households are active members of the community. The representative reported there were rare protests by a handful of individuals that involved anti-Semitic speech.
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, 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. Other 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.).
A government study released in August showed that 27 central government ministries and agencies had inflated their employment rates of persons with disabilities. Local municipalities also announced they had failed to meet hiring quotas of persons with disabilities. In response the government started accepting applications in December for the first national public-service examination specifically for persons with disabilities for hiring in April 2019.
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.
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, or employers. Private surveys indicated discrimination against and sexual abuse of, women with disabilities. Nagano District Court’s Matsumoto Branch ruled on May 23 in a civil suit that a former employee of a welfare facility for persons with disabilities, Ensemble Kai, had illegal indecent contact with a woman with intellectual disabilities at the facility, ordering the man and the facility to pay compensation of 3.3 million yen ($29,000).
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.
Minorities 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. 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 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 as well as “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. Although such discrimination was usually open and direct, NGOs complained of government failure to enforce laws prohibiting such restrictions.
Representatives of the ethnic Korean community said hate speech against them in public and on social networking sites continued. Additionally, there was no indication of increased societal acceptance of ethnic Koreans. 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 regularly encountered discrimination in job promotions as well as access to housing, education, and other benefits.
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.
Although the Ainu enjoy the same rights as all other citizens, Ainu persons reported cases of discrimination in the workplace, marriage, and schools, according to a 2017 Hokkaido Prefectural Government’s Ainu Association survey of Ainu persons. The law emphasizes preservation of Ainu culture but lacks some provisions that Ainu groups have demanded, including national-level social welfare policies and educational grants, special representation in local and national governments, and a formal government apology for historical injustices. The government recognizes the Ainu as an indigenous ethnic group per a unanimous Diet resolution, but the recognition has no legal ramifications.
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. There are no existing penalties associated with such discrimination, and no related statistics were available. The law allows transgender individuals to change their legal gender but only after receiving a diagnosis of sexual-identity disorder. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) advocacy organizations 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.
A ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Diet member, Mio Sugita, wrote in a July article that LGBTI persons are “unproductive” as they do not give birth to children. After the article’s release, the LDP issued a statement saying that the party aimed for a diverse society, including LGBTI persons, and admonishing Sugita. The magazine subsequently ceased publication after an extensive public backlash against Sugita and the magazine, including from the disability community and prominent writers.
In October the Tokyo Prefectural Government, as host city of the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, enacted a law that states, “the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, citizens, and enterprises may not unduly discriminate on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation,” in order to realize the antidiscrimination Olympic Charter. An NGO, Japan Alliance for LGBT Legislation, publicly lauded the ordinance as the first-ever prefectural ordinance to ban discrimination against LGBTI persons, but it also expressed concern about its effectiveness due to the lack of a remedies clause.
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, and fear of dismissal, prevented many persons from disclosing their HIV/AIDS status.