On Sexual Harassment in Japan (Part 3): A Modest Proposal



I have been overwhelmed by the support from readers of my posts, On Sexual Harassment in Japan (Part 1) and (Part 2). I’m also stunned at how many of you had stories of your own, shared here or in the many posts on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook I’ve seen or been copied on.

This post was not really part of the original plan, but I’ve been asked what, exactly, would an ideal sexual harassment policy look like, one that accepted both cultural nuance and misunderstandings and the unreserved right to expect a safe work environment. Well, here’s my attempt at it. By all means, suggest your own ideas.

The following is drawn up based on a very simple fusion of the sexual harassment sections of the Tufts University guidelines (selected at random), those which already existed in the JET General Information Handbook, and a simple explanation of Japanese law. In case word economy was a concern of the JET Program, the original clocks in at 412 words; this revised edition is 470, but moves support phone numbers out of a diagram of the JET bureaucracy buried in an appendix in the back of the handbook.

I’ve cut out the victim-blaming language and statements of the obvious, gone is the suggestion that the ALT makes a close friend at an office (which is not always possible); gone are the suggestions that drinking and dressing comfortably invite sexual harassment. I have done my best to establish that a victim will be supported and has many options within the system. Of course, now the system has to actually support those options. Start the clocks.


Section 5.4: Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment violates the dignity of individuals and is against Japanese law. You have every right to expect your workplace to be free from such harassment.

Sexual harassment in Japan can be defined as the explicit request for sexual activity to secure special favours in the workplace, AND any activity which creates an intimidating, hostile, humiliating, demeaning, or sexually offensive working, residential, or social environment.

If you feel the threat of sexual harassment from anyone, do not worry about who the person is. Office relations are important, but so is your self-esteem and your control over your own body. Do not let anyone abuse either of them.

Japanese law requires all contracting organizations to be aware of what constitutes sexual harassment, to explain these rules to employees, and to ensure a comfortable working environment for all parties. The JET Programme encourages anyone to discuss the issue with a supervisor, trusted colleague, or Prefectural Assistant.

What to do if you are being Sexually Harassed by a coworker:
Do not hesitate to firmly tell the harasser to stop. You decide when you are uncomfortable, regardless of who the source is, where it occurs, or who else is present. Move away or, if necessary, enlist the aid of onlookers. Do not endure an uncomfortable situation for the sake of being polite.

If you decide to report the incident or a pattern of incidents, discuss it with a supervisor, colleague, or Prefectural Assistant. Note that while Japanese law suggests incidents be treated anonymously, this is not an assumed or legally protected right in Japan. If you wish to speak to a colleague confidentially, make this clear from the beginning.

If you wish to speak with your supervisor, suggest they read the relevant passage in the Contracting Organisation Manual (ninyo dantai-yo manyuaru).

What to do if you are being Sexually Harassed by a fellow JET:
The JET Programme prides itself in maintaining a safe community. Of course, sexual harassment can come from any source. If you feel threatened, harassed, or intimidated by any associates outside of your contracting organization, you should discuss the issue with your Prefectural Assistant.

If you are not comfortable speaking with your Prefectural Assistant, you may contact:

  • The AJET Peer Support Group, from 8:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., 365 days a year. Calls can be made anonymously, and are confidential: 050-5534-5566 or Skype name “AJETPSG.”
  • Contact CLAIR directly via the JET Line (English): 03-5213-1729 or JET Mail: jet@clair.or.jp. CLAIR can also find professional counseling services for you.

Preventing Harassment
Never blame yourself for the actions of a co-worker. However, maintaining a professional demeanor and appearance at the outset is the best method for preventing misunderstandings that could create an uncomfortable atmosphere. Of course, not all harassment can be prevented.

I’m not an expert, and that’s definitely not a revolutionary document, but it’s merely aimed at framing sexual harassment as a serious concern rather than trying to conceal the options once it’s happened.

Discuss them, argue about them, make up your own, nail them to the tree outside your Kencho. I have no horse in this race. I hope that maybe my posts served as a catalyst for people to just talk about this stuff. So please, talk about it, it honestly does a lot to help keep shame and fear at bay when someone finally does have to confront it.

I’m not a JET anymore, but if you’re interested in seeing this change to the handbook, feel free to e-mail jet@clair.or.jp and send them this link and/or express your concerns and ideas. I’m sure they’d be shocked into action if they heard the stories I’ve heard.

By the way, Ayaka Shiomura finally got an apology.

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7 Responses to On Sexual Harassment in Japan (Part 3): A Modest Proposal

  1. TS says:

    try doing something contract violations, power abuse, assault, and other labor violations with those who are not citizens.

  2. Anon says:

    Combine this post with your well written and so relevant prior two posts, contextualise the whole thing with the extensive comments and experiences of other readers, add in the timely discussions of sex discrimination in Japanese politics and I would very much like to hope this could be a catalyst for change in how the JET programme handles sexual harassment.

    With memories of my own country pre orientation offering horrendous advice on how to deal with sexual harassment (see Alanna’s comments in entry number two), a derth of advice from prefectural PAs and the quite disgusting messages in the ‘read between the lines’ aspect of the handbook, I am forwarding your blog links to both my own country JET programme and the team at Tokyo orientation. This cannot go unread, nor unchanged.

    Issues with JET participants behaviours towards other JET participants is an unspoken yet quite clearly a prevalent problem. How we as ALTs deal with it ‘at the time’ is all linked back to our own cultures in dealing with aggressive men- how we have been socialised, how we feel able to speak out when that guy is cornering us in a club or asks to stay becauSe he ‘missed the last train’. How much we normalise behaviour, excuse behaviour, and how the social context of being in a new country trying to find a place complicates it more.

    Sadly, here you verge on territory that crosses two countries. Thus I would also add a need for PAs to have far more training, understanding, and ‘process’ in dealing with complaints made against other ALTs. How can a PA effectively deal with stories like that? How can the JET line deal with it? What could they do? It’s the conversation that clearly needs to be had.

    Astute writing as always Eryk.

  3. Pingback: On Sexual Harassment in Japan (Part 2): For ALTs | This Japanese Life. | 生命を外面九天です

  4. J. White says:

    I’m just really surprised that people aren’t okay with telling someone who is harassing them, sexually or not, to piss off. I’ve found that that’s the best way to deal with unwanted sexual advances, but again, I haven’t dealt with that in Japan. As I’ve read this I’ve just been surprised about a lot. When I was in Japan I was hit on a lot, but I never chalked it up to sexual harassment. I think that’s the biggest issue with sexual harassment. Some people are more sensitive to it than others. Making a policy about it – even in America – would be hard.

  5. madeinmatsue says:

    I really enjoyed this posts. Very informative, and useful because I will do a short talk about this subject to new JETs soon. Just to note, the JET line and mail have changed, and are no longer there for direct access from JET participants to CLAIR. Rather, JETs are encouraged to discuss matters directly with their contracting organisations and/or PAs. The reason being that getting CLAIR involved when speaking to the CO directly was a better option led to confusion and difficulties… or something like that ;-)

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