Global Issues: Japan/Human Rights/Human Rights Today

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If you are like many of us foreigners, you might have assumed that a homogenous country such as Japan, might not have to manage issues of race and discrimination. Indeed, Japan has a population of 127,288,416. That is, 99.4% of Japan’s population are Japanese. However, while Japan is predominantly comprised of ethnic Japanese citizens, Japan is a multi-ethnic nation comprised of various other ethnic minority groups such Koreans, Chinese, Taiwanese, Brazilians, Ainu etc. Historically, these ethnic minority groups have had a difficult time living and existing within Japanese society. Women and sexual minorities are the subject of discriminatory treatment in Japan as well.

Japan is known for being a closed society with tough immigration laws that discourage migration to the country. Racial discrimination and xenophobia do indeed exist in Japan. The law prohibits discrimination on basis of race, gender, disability, language, and social status. Although the government generally enforced these provisions, discrimination against women, ethnic minorities and foreigners remained (Bureau of Democracy, 2009). The effects of discrimination are felt be many racial and minority groups in Japan including the Buraku people, the Ainu, the people of Okinawa, people from former Japanese colonies such as the Koreans, Chinese, and their descendants, other foreigners, and migrant workers who have come from all over Asia (IMADR, 2009). While there are laws that prohibit racial discrimination, the country’s large populations of Korean, Chinese, and Filipino residents were subject to deeply entrenched societal discrimination (Bureau of Democracy, 2009).

This discrimination often takes the form of restricted access to housing, education, and employment opportunities. The Human Rights Watch Report also cited a widespread perception among citizens that these Japan born ethnic “foreigners” were responsible for most of the crimes committed in Japan. This mis-perception persists despite empirical data presented by the Ministry of Justice showing that crimes committed by “foreigners” was statistically lower than the crime rates of Japanese citizens. Indigenous peoples such as the Ainu and Okinawans faced the same patterns of discrimination as other ethnic minorities (McNeil, 2006).

Japan is also charged with protecting and preserving the human rights of Japanese women. With respect to the various issues surrounding women’s rights, Japan has generally provided women with the same rights as men. However, despite these efforts problems persist. The law criminalizes all forms of rape, including spousal rape. Although the number of reported rape cases were significantly less than those reported in 2007, there were still 747 reported rape cases during the first half or 2008 (Bureau of Democracy, 2009).

Domestic violence against women and sexual harassment in the workplace remained problems as well. In 2007, the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare received 15,799 reports of sexual harassment. Laws protecting women from sexual harassment include measures to identify companies that failed to prevent sexual harassment, but does not include tangible, punitive measures to enforce compliance other than publicizing the names of offending companies (MHLW, 2009). Additionally, women in Japan continue to encounter discrimination in employment with women earning less than two thirds of the monthly salary earned by men (MHLW, 2009).

The groping of women in public, particularly in subway cars, continues to be a problem as well. In Japan, more than 4,000 men are arrested each year for groping on public transport (Herbert, 2004). This prompted a number of government interventions such as police crackdowns, increased police presence in subway cars, and the introduction of “women only” carriages during peak hours.

Japan also has challenges regarding the treatment of sexual minorities. Compared to other countries, Japan is more accepting of its sexual minorities. Nevertheless, they face many issues of discrimination because of their chosen lifestyle. Many sexual minorities believe that Japanese society does not accept them as an equal members. According to one study conducted at the University of California San Francisco, sexual minorities experience ostracism as well as bullying via physical, verbal and psychological abuse. Additionally, they face discrimination at school, work, in their personal lives as well as in housing as many landlord refuse to rent to them.

Sexual minorities do not enjoy the same rights as heterosexuals as same-sex marriages are not allowed. Most sexual minorities choose to keep their sexual preference hidden at work and at school. They feel that to be "out" at school or at work exposes them openly to ridicule and decreased opportunities for employment. Much like Korean residents and other members of the Boraku community, sexual minorities in Japan find it easier to pass themselves off as "normal".

As we have studied and discussed as part of this class, Japan is positioned quite nicely to be the catalyst for great change and a model for other nations, particularly the Asian countries. It’s pacifist Constitution, Article 9, economic position in the World, status as a “World super-power” etc. potentially give Japan a moral foothold to advance ideas and concepts regarding world peace.

However, like so many other great nations, Japan must continue examining it's domestic human rights policies if they want to preserve their “honorable place in world”.


Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor 2009. 2008 Human Rights Report: Japan, viewed May 27, 2009,

DiStefano, Anthony. 'Stigma, Discrimination, and Mental Health of Sexual Minorities in Japan'. Center for AIDS Prevention Studies University of California San Francisco, viewed June 28, 2009

Herbert, Jack, 2004. ‘Chikan (Train Groping)’, Japan for the Uninvited, viewed June 28, 2009

International Movement Against All Forms of Discriminations and Racism (IMADR). ‘Combating racial discrimination in Japan’, viewed May 28, 2009

Kessel, David 2006. 'Racial Discrimination in Japan', American Chronicle.

McNeill, David 2006, ‘The Diene Report on Discrimination and Racism in Japan’, ZNet The Spirit of Resistance Lives,

Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare 2009. ‘Labour Statistics’, viewed June 28, 2009