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Opposition lawmakers protest at Japan's Diet following allegation of sexual misconduct against Finance Ministry's top official.   © Kyodo
Datawatch

Japan's attitude to sexual harassment toughens

Data highlight country's intolerance of misconduct despite low traction of #MeToo

BEN HEUBL, Data Journalist | Japan

LONDON -- Despite Japan's reputation for lagging behind other advanced economies in its treatment of sexual harassment cases, its citizens appear less tolerant of such behavior than their peers in other Asian countries and they want tougher penalties for offenders, according to a recent survey run by market research company Kantar on behalf of Nikkei Asian Review.

The survey, carried out by Kantar's Lightspeed division, questioned 2,600 citizens across India, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore and Thailand. It found that "sekuhara" -- the Japanese term for sexual harassment -- was an issue that people felt needed to be addressed. Some 14.6% of Japanese respondents had personally experienced harassment in the workplace and 16% said close friends or relatives had.

Emma Dalton at the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, who recently published on the topic of sexual harassment of women politicians in Japan, says that women around the world are punished for speaking out against male-perpetrated harassment, and believes that Japan is no exception. "Not only are they punished, there is actually nowhere for them to go."

A recent scandal over the clumsy handling by the Japanese Ministry of Finance of allegations against Junichi Fukuda, its former top bureaucrat, who resigned last month showed the scope for improvement in the treatment of complaints. Finance Minister Taro Aso triggered further criticism when he announced that "there's nothing we can do to clear up the situation until the women come forward."

Fukuda threatened to sue a magazine that published a video purportedly featuring him making lewd comments to a female reporter, signaling how little experience there is in Japan of dealing adequately with harassment claims.

Despite a lower level of awareness of sexual harassment among Japanese citizens compared with their counterparts elsewhere in Asia, they were found to be the least tolerant of public figures that are the subject of sexual harassment allegations. Just over 80% of Japanese respondents said they would not vote for politician that had been accused of harassment, compared with the average of just over 60% in other Asian countries. 

The survey also found that across Asia, younger respondents appeared more aware of the problem of sexual harassment at work. On social media, despite the low initial traction in Japan of the international #MeToo movement, there are signs that it may now be gathering support on the back of the recent political scandal.

Elsewhere in Asia, in February, Korean President Moon Jae-in pledged his support for #MeToo and those suffering from sexual harassment at work, saying his government would use all available means to punish offenders.

Datawatch is a series jointly produced by the Nikkei Asian Review and FT Confidential Research.

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