Japan has a parliamentary government with a constitutional monarchy. On September 16, Yoshihide Suga, the newly elected leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, became prime minister. Upper House elections in 2019, which the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, Komeito, won with a solid majority, were considered free and fair by international observers.
The National Public Safety Commission, a cabinet-level entity, oversees the National Police Agency, and prefectural public safety commissions have responsibility for local police forces. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were no reports of abuses committed by security forces.
There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.
The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
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’ imprisonment 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 modest fine. Convicted offenders who caused bodily injury faced up to 15 years’ imprisonment or a modest fine. Protective order violators faced up to one year’s imprisonment or a moderate fine.
Suicide rates among women rose in July and August by 40 percent as compared with the corresponding months of 2019, according to National Police Agency statistics. In October the Japan Suicide Countermeasures Promotion Center, which was commissioned by the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare to analyze trends in suicides since July, stated that more severe domestic violence, an increased struggle to raise children, and financial difficulty–all due to COVID-19–along with the impact of a series of celebrity suicides in recent months, were potential factors leading to the increase in suicides among women living with one or more persons, unemployed women, and teenage girls.
On October 1, the Cabinet Office upgraded the office for countering violence between men and women in the Ministry of Gender Equality to a division. Minister Seiko Hashimoto and Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato announced the change as an effort to strengthen government efforts to address sexual crimes and violence, including domestic violence. The division plans to enhance counseling services and collaboration with private supporting organizations.
In October the gender equality bureau director general in the Cabinet Office confirmed that government consultation bodies around the nation received 1.6 times more inquiries about domestic violence in May and June than during the same months in 2019. She expressed concern about the increase in the number and degree of severity of domestic violence cases, attributing the change to stress and anxiety about life in the future stemming from COVID-19. As preparedness measures, in April the Cabinet Office’s Gender Equality Bureau extended hotline services to 24 hours a day and in May launching additional consultation services via social network services in Japanese and 10 foreign languages. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications allowed victims fleeing domestic violence to receive an across-the-board one-time stipend of 100,000 yen ($920) per person as a COVID-19 financial relief measure. NGOs reported, however, that the stringent requirements for the stipend made it difficult for some victims to qualify.
Several acquittals in rape cases in 2019 drew the attention of legislators and the public to the high legal standard and prosecutorial burden in such cases. In March the Nagoya High Court overturned a lower court’s controversial 2019 acquittal of a father accused of raping his 19-year-old daughter. The High Court convicted the father after concluding that she had no option other than to submit and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. The father appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Ministry of Justice launched an expert panel in June to identify potential revisions to criminal legislation on all sexual crimes, as part of the government’s efforts to strengthen measures against sexual crimes and violence. The expert panel includes a survivor of sexual abuse, lawyers, academics, and government officials.
Rape and domestic violence are significantly underreported crimes. 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 run by either the government or NGOs.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was generally perceived as a workplace issue after a 2007 amendment to equal employment opportunity law required employers to establish preventive measures against sexual harassment in workplaces. Sexual harassment in the workplace persisted (see section 7.d.).
Sexual harassment also persisted in society. One of the most pervasive examples was men groping women on subway trains. Many major train lines have introduced women-only cars to combat chikan, or groping; however, it continued during the year.
In April, Liberal Democratic Party Lower House members toured a facility for teenage survivors of sexual abuse. During the visit, members of the group were accused of sexist behavior and harassment, including an allegation that the former minister of education, culture, sports, science, and technology placed his hands on an underage girl’s waist. He later apologized for “causing [her] discomfort” but added that he had no memory of putting his hands on her waist. Then prime minister Abe, in his capacity as head of the Liberal Democratic Party, also apologized on the former minister’s behalf.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to 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.
The government subsidizes sexual or reproductive health care services for survivors of sexual violence when the survivors seek help from the police or government-designated centers supporting sexual violence survivors located in each prefecture. Services subsidized by the government include medical examinations and emergency contraception.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex 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 the law and related 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 continued to urge the government to allow married couples to choose their own surnames. The postwar constitution provides for equality between men and women, and relevant laws state that a husband and wife may choose either spouse’s surname as the legal surname for both of them. Separate surnames for a married couple, however, are not legal. According to the government, 96 percent of married couples adopt the husband’s family name. Experts cited workplace inconveniences and issues of personal identity that disproportionately affect women as a result of the law.
In what became known as the “potato salad controversy,” there was a widespread outcry over perceived pervasive misogyny when an individual posted on social media about overhearing an elderly man admonishing a woman with an infant who was buying prepared potato salad instead of making it from scratch. The man reportedly chided the woman, suggesting that she was not a good mother for choosing not to spend time and labor to make the potato salad herself. Media speculated that the comment prompted so many responses because many women have had similar experiences. One prominent newspaper posited that misogynistic attitudes among men underpin such comments, adding that the notion that women are inferior is a persistent undercurrent in society.