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.
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. 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. Police protected a larger number of victims while arresting a greater number of abusers (mainly fathers, mothers, stepfathers, or parents’ boyfriends) for physical, sexual, or psychological assaults, killing, or neglect. The MHLW received increased reports of psychological abuse as a result of witnessing domestic violence at home.
Legal experts called for MHLW’s child-care centers and police to share child abuse cases fully to identify and prevent further abuse. 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.
Reports of sexual abuse of children by teachers continued. Local education boards around the nation imposed disciplinary actions on 210 teachers of public schools for child obscenity from April 2017 through March 2018, according to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology. Child assistance experts urged the ministry to share information more actively on teachers involved in child molestation with police to reduce further victimization of children in schools.
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. 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 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. The law was enforced. Additionally, national law and local ordinances 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 ($27,600). 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. In 2018 authorities identified 137 of these operations nationwide. A total of 69 individuals alleged to have been engaged in unspecified criminal activities surrounding the JK business were arrested, and seven major prefectures passed ordinances banning JK businesses, prohibiting girls younger than 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.
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. Anti-Semitic speech continued in rare incidents in the public and cyber space. In early 2018 popular anime director Kazuyoshi Yaginuma sent tweets questioning the Holocaust and supporting other anti-Semitic tweets. There were no reports of anti-Semitic incidents during the year.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Persons with Disabilities
The 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. The law also mandates that the government and private companies hire minimum proportions (2.5 percent and 2.2 percent, respectively) of persons with disabilities (including mental disabilities) or be fined. Disability rights advocates claimed 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.
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.
In July the government agreed to implement a court ruling awarding damages to former leprosy patients’ relatives. The court ruled the state acted illegally when it failed to end the segregation of persons with leprosy by 1960 and retained a discriminatory law on leprosy until 1996.
NGOs continued to express concern that persons with disabilities tended to be stigmatized and segregated from the general population. While some schools provided inclusive education, children with disabilities generally attended specialized schools.
Mental health 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.
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.
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. Such discrimination usually was open and direct, and NGOs complained of government failure to enforce laws prohibiting 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. After a stabbing spree in May that left 20 persons dead or injured, false rumors were spread online claiming the perpetrator was Korean. In March the government’s Japan Pension Service fired a branch director after he tweeted offensive messages against 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.
In April a law was enacted to recognize officially Ainu as indigenous people, prohibit discrimination against them, prohibit the violation of Ainu rights, and protect and promote 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 stipulate rights to self-determination or education for the Ainu.
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
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,” which the World Health Organization formally removed from the mental disorders section of the International Classification of Diseases released in May; being unmarried and older than age 20; and not having any children younger than age 20. On January 23, the Supreme Court ruled on a suit filed in 2016 that the above requirements were constitutional.
No law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and there are no penalties associated with such discrimination. In February the Tokyo District Court dismissed a damage suit against Hitotsubashi University filed by parents of a student who fell from the school building in 2015 after his classmates without his consent disclosed he was gay; the court declared the university bore no responsibility for the death.
The Ministry of Justice received 33 inquiries about potential human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity in 2018, providing the inquirers with legal advice. LGBTI advocacy organizations reported instances of discrimination, outing, bullying, harassment, and violence.
Stigma surrounding LGBTI persons remained an impediment to self-reporting of discrimination or abuse.
A ruling Liberal Democratic Party Diet member, Katsuei Hirasawa, reportedly stated at a January 3 public event that a nation would collapse if everyone became like LGBTI persons. LGBTI rights advocates criticized his remark for denying sexual diversity and being discriminatory by exaggerating an unlikely reality.
In August for the first time, a transgender person received a long-term residency permit on the basis of her same-sex partnership.
A Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan Diet member, Taiga Ishikawa, became the second openly LGBTI national legislator at the July Upper House election. The Ibaraki Prefecture government enacted a prefectural ordinance banning discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation on March 25, becoming the second prefecture to do so, after Tokyo. A number of municipalities have also done so. LGBTI advocates welcomed these moves but also expressed concern about their effectiveness due to the general 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 their HIV 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.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Police arrested a series of individuals who abused senior citizens, and the MHLW reported rising rates of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse of senior citizens, as well as nursing care negligence by their families and nursery care center employees.