On-the-job stress is what pushed an elementary school teacher here to commit suicide in 2004, the Shizuoka District Court ruled on Dec. 15.
Siding with plaintiff Kenji Kimura, 62 — father of teacher Yuriko Kimura, who was 24 at the time of her death — the court ruled against the Fund for Local Government Employees’ Accident Compensation, which had refused to recognize the suicide as a “job accident.”
According to the decision handed down by Presiding Judge Tsutomu Yamazaki, when Yuriko Kimura was hired in April 2004 and put in charge of an unruly class of fourth graders, she was “exposed to continued extreme stress and did not receive appropriate support,” causing her to develop symptoms of depression. Furthermore, “the students’ problematic behavior continued to occur frequently, and disrupted classes became the norm.” The court ruled that the severe depression caused by these circumstances led to her self-immolation later that year after receiving a written complaint from a parent.
The accident compensation fund argued that Kimura had abandoned class discipline and let the students run wild, and otherwise demonstrated a lack of social skills, claiming her subsequent depression was partly her own fault.
The court ruling also stated that the teachers and school administrators who criticized Kimura for poor teaching should have been more supportive, saying the lack of that support was “a very large problem.”
At a press conference after the trial, Kenji Kimura told reporters, “I want a thorough check on what’s going on at the school and measures to be put in place so this doesn’t happen again.”
Japan sees progress on sexual harassment, but stories suggest it still has a long way to go
While the Equal Employment Opportunity Law (EEOL) was passed in 1985, it was not until 1999 that revisions to the law included definitions of sexual harassment and legal penalties for employers. These penalties, however, only allow for making the names of the offending companies public. They do not allow for the government to assess fines, nor for plaintiffs to seek punitive damages against the employer — something the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) raised concerns about last year.
There has been, however, an increase in public awareness of sexual harassment in Japan. According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, 8,120 women filed sexual harassment complaints with equal employment opportunity offices in 2008, compared with 7,706 in 2004 and 2,534 in 1997.
“Elizabeth” came to Osaka from New Zealand in her early 30s to work for the Nova English-language teaching chain, before its much-publicized bankruptcy and relaunch under G.communication. She had heard the oft-repeated mantra that Japan was one of the safest places in the world. For Elizabeth, however, life in Japan was anything but safe.
The company had housed her in a men’s hostel in Osaka. On her first day in Japan, a man grabbed her arm and pulled her towards him. She spoke no Japanese at the time, and could only understand one word he said: “hotel.” She eventually managed to break his grip and escape.
The harassment and assaults came on an almost daily basis — in the elevator, on the street and on the train. Strange men would ask for her panties — or simply climb up to her second-floor balcony and remove them from her drying rack. Men constantly approached her and asked her to accompany them to hotels; with her long, blond hair, they would assume she was a Russian prostitute, even after she attempted to convince them otherwise. Being molested on the train was a common occurrence — as it is for many women in Japan — and on one evening a man masturbated on the seat in front of her.
Her work at Nova offered no respite. She was assigned to work an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift, providing lessons over the Internet. Men would engage in behavior ranging from taking her photograph to masturbating on live camera. Her complaints to her managers — both Western men — went unheeded. They were clients and they could do what they like, they would say.
On her way to work, a man on the train stuck his hand up her skirt and molested her. She had reached her breaking point. She arrived at her office in tears and told her managers of the assault.
“That’s going to happen a lot to you here,” one of them said, laughing. “You’d better get used to it.”
She had never in her life suffered the level of harassment and humiliation she experienced in those four weeks.
“I never felt so pimped out as I did at Nova,” she says. “The whole system was geared to put white women on show.”
The boss of a multi-national English language school in Auckland has been awarded $190,000 after an employment tribunal dismissed claims he was used to being treated “the Japanese way”.
David Page was stripped of his job as regional director of GEOS New Zealand at a conference in 2008 and demoted to head of the company’s Auckland language centre.
In April last year, he was fired by email after being given “one last chance” to make the school profitable.
Page launched an unfair dismissal claim against GEOS, which comes under the umbrella of the GEOS Corporation founded by Japanese businessman Tsuneo Kusunoki.
But the company responded by claiming that Page “accepted understanding of the ‘Japanese way’ of doing business”. They went on to say he was used to Kusunoki “ranting”, “berating” and “humiliating” people “so this was nothing new”.
But the Employment Relations Authority said the company’s failings were “fundamental and profound”.
Member Denis Asher said the final warning was “an unscrupulous exploitation of the earlier, unlawful demotion”. He said: “A conclusion that the ‘Japanese way’ already experienced by Mr Page was continuing to be applied is difficult to avoid.”
Page, an Australian, started with the company as general manager for GEOS Gold Coast, Australia, in July 1999.
He moved to Auckland in March 2006, to take on the role of regional director. He was informed of his demotion at a regional conference in Thailand in November 2008.
Four months later he received a final warning that if the Auckland language centre was not in profit by the end of May his employment would be terminated.
Asher also said “an entirely unfair, unilateral process was applied” by the company in the decision to dismiss Page.
Page was awarded $55,000 for loss of income, $21,000 for hurt and humiliation, and $31,849.99 for long service leave. The total amount, including superannuation, under-payment of salary, holiday pay and bonuses came to more than $190,000.
The parent company, GEOS Corporation, went bankrupt in April owing $121 million. The New Zealand branch has been taken over by New Zealand Language Centres Limited. They refused to comment last night.
Scores of foreigners in a Japanese immigration detention centre have been on hunger strike for more than a week, demanding to be released and protesting the mysterious death of an African deportee.
Some 70 detainees — many of them Sri Lankans and Pakistanis — have refused food since May 10, also seeking to highlight suicides there by a Brazilian and a South Korean inmate, say their outside supporters.
The protest comes after UN rights envoy Jorge Bustamante in March raised concerns about Japan’s often years-long detentions of illegal migrants, including parents with children as well as rejected asylum seekers.
“Those in the centre suffer such mental stress from being confined for so long,” said Kimiko Tanaka, a member of a local rights group, about the East Japan Immigration Centre in Ushiku, northeast of Tokyo.
Japan keeps tight control on immigration and last year, despite generous overseas aid for refugees, granted political asylum to just 30 people.
Human rights activists, lawyers and foreign communities have complained for years about conditions at Ushiku and Japan’s two other such facilities, in the western prefecture of Osaka and in southwestern Nagasaki prefecture.
At Ushiku, about 380 people are detained, with eight or nine inmates living in rooms that measure about 20 square metres (215 square feet), said Tanaka, a member of the Ushiku Detention Centre Problem Study Group.
“They are crammed into tiny segmented rooms that are not very clean, and many contract skin diseases,” she told AFP.
The hunger strike protesters said in a statement that “foreigners are the same human beings as Japanese” and claimed that conditions are severe and their freedom to practise their religions is being curtailed.
“The Immigration Bureau has forced asylum seekers to leave voluntarily by confining them for a long time, making them give up on their religion, weakening their will and torturing their body and soul,” they said.
“Japan, a democratic country, must not do such a thing, no matter what.”
The protest erupted weeks after a Ghanaian man, Abubakar Awudu Suraj, died in unexplained circumstances in March as Japanese immigration officials escorted the restrained man onto an aircraft bound for Cairo.
“Police conducted an autopsy but could not find out the cause of his death,” a Narita Airport police spokesman told AFP about the 45-year-old, whose Japanese widow has challenged authorities to explain.
Rights activists believe he was gagged with a towel, recalling a similar but non-fatal case in 2004 when a female Vietnamese deportee was handcuffed, had her mouth sealed with tape and was rolled up in blankets.
The protesters on hunger strike argue two recent suicides by hanging — a 25-year-old Brazilian, and a 47-year-old South Korean — also illustrate Japan’s harsh treatment of inmates.
“Those were very unfortunate incidents,” said an official at the Ushiku immigration centre who declined to be named.
“We recognise the largest problem is that an increasing number of foreigners here refuse to be deported, despite legal orders,” he said.
The official also said the number of asylum seekers had doubled since 2008 mostly because of turmoil in Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
Last year 1,388 people, including 568 Myanmar and 234 Sri Lankan nationals, sought refuge in Japan.
Japan’s immigration authorities have faced protests before. Two months ago, 73 foreigners at the Osaka centre staged a two-week hunger strike.
“We would have seen suicides like in Tokyo if they had waited longer,” said Toru Sekimoto, who leads the local support group TRY, which successfully won the temporary release of most of the protesters.
Hiroka Shoji of Amnesty International Japan said: “The immigration facilities are supposed to be places where authorities keep foreigners for a short period before deportation.
“But some people have been confined for over two years as a result. The government must introduce a limit to detentions.”
A Justice Ministry official who asked not to be named said: “The government will interview protesters at the centre and take appropriate measures.”
A former division manager at Prada Japan has filed a lawsuit against the company for firing her after she reported inappropriate remarks by a superior, it has been learned.
The 36-year-old former manager with the Italian fashion house’s Tokyo office filed a suit against Prada Japan with the Tokyo District Court, seeking the reversal of her dismissal and the payment of damages.
According to her lawyer, the woman reported to the company’s head office in Milan, Italy, that she was told by her superior to lose weight in September of last year. After she did this, the Tokyo office proceeded to notify the woman that she would be dismissed the next month, and she was ordered to stay at home and await instructions during the workday, rather than come to work.
“Get out of Japan!”
Those were just some of the insults hurled at a demonstration on Feb. 21 in Tokyo’s Minato Ward.
More than 100 protesters belonging to several groups describing themselves as “active conservatives” gathered in front of a building that houses both the consular affairs department of the South Korean Embassy and the offices of the Korean Residents Union in Japan (Mindan).
Other flags and signs carried angry messages, such as “Expel foreigners,” and slogans equating Korean nationals living in Japan to criminals. Some of the words used could not be printed in a newspaper.
The protesters’ anger seemed to be targeted at a wide range of institutions including the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, China and North Korea. Reporters covering the demonstration were also yelled at.
The group eventually moved on to the Australian Embassy, where they yelled, “We will start a war with white people who insult Japan (over the whaling issue).”
At the same time as the Minato Ward protest, demonstrations were held in Nagoya and Fukuoka protesting plans to give foreign permanent residents the right to vote in local elections.
The Kyoto bar association issued a statement criticizing the group’s actions as “going beyond criticism of the use of the park to being a hate campaign to encourage discrimination.” On March 24, the Kyoto District Court issued a temporary order banning further demonstrations.
A former temporary employee of Casio Computer Co. is set to file a lawsuit against the company over wrongful termination after she protested a series of harassment incidents by her superior, it has been learned.
The 33-year-old former temporary worker with the Tokyo-based electronic device manufacturer will file a case against the company and its group firm with the Tokyo District Court shortly, seeking the reversal of her dismissal and the payment of some 3.6 million yen in compensation.
The woman, a resident of Saitama Prefecture, was dispatched to Casio’s group company in December 2003, and worked for the firm for about six years until her contract was terminated with one month’s notice in September last year.
According to the woman, her superior questioned her loyalty when she declined his invitation to a music concert in April last year, and started forcing her to perform chores, such as washing his cup and throwing away garbage. After she reported the harassment to her staffing agency, she was fired due to a “reduction in her duties.”
The woman claims that she was not offered a direct contract with the company even after she completed the first three years of work, the maximum contract period for temporary employment stipulated by the Worker Dispatching Law, and says it was unlawful that the company forced her to continue to work as a dispatched worker.
“I worked like a regular employee, but my contract was terminated so easily because I was a temporary worker and was in a disadvantaged position,” she said.
A group of women working as bar hostesses have formed their own labor union, complaining about unpaid wages and sexual harassment.
Working at so-called “kyabakura” — a portmanteau of “kyabare” (cabaret) and “kurabu” (clubs) — bars as a hostess is becoming increasingly popular among young women in Japan. However, the group, which announced the formation of the “Kyabakura Union” at a press conference at the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare on Tuesday, warned hostess wannabes it’s no easy job.
After [Kyabakura Union representative Rin] Sakurai reduced the number of her workdays per week due to poor health, the bar reportedly stopped paying her. Sakurai, who had been sexually harassed by the bar manager, also found unjust payroll deductions for services she had never used, such as 3,000 yen per day for welfare expenses, and 1,500 yen for hair styling and makeup. [An] investigation revealed illegal wage deductions and falsely imposed penalties.
“Some think unpaid wages and sexual harassment are normal in the nightclub industry, but that’s not true,” says Sakurai.
Japan’s bar hostesses, often dubbed “modern geisha”, plan to form their first trade union next month to fight for better wages and conditions, a labour official said on Wednesday.
Many “kyabakura-jo”, or cabaret club sisters, complain of unpaid wages and sexual harassment by their customers and employers, said Takeshi Suzuki, a senior official of a Tokyo-based union for part-time workers.
“We are seeing an increasing number of complaints filed by hostesses as the economy gets worse,” said Suzuki, whose organisation plans to open a separate chapter for the bar hostesses in January.
“Some said they get paid nothing after their managers charge them for the expenses of flowers, hair-dos and make-up.”
Kyabakura, similarly to the geisha of old, provide company to male clients, serving and entertaining them. They are often portrayed in TV dramas as enjoying a glamorous and well-paid lifestyle.
Despite the image, their working conditions remain lawless, said Suzuki.
“We have received complaints over baseless fines, charges and excessive quotas to get drink orders (from male clients),” he said.
“Some of them said they have been told to provide an extra service called ‘accompanying’ male customers, such as going on a date or to a hotel.
“Many hostesses, in their teens and early 20s, have been forced to believe they can’t do anything about their atrocious working conditions and demands from employers. But they can fight against them.”
Power harassment, in which someone in a superior position takes advantage of their power to cause distress to others, is now rampant in the workplace in the form of bullying, pestering and persistent reprimands, amongst other behavior. It has even become a way for failing companies to drive employees to quit.
One out of every three people who consulted the Labor Standards Bureau in fiscal 2008 about being pressed to resign complained of emotional problems, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has found. Those citing harassment in the workplace as the cause of their emotional problems exceeded 30 percent, which was significantly higher than those who were affected emotionally by bankruptcy and other challenges. The statistics confirm that the large numbers of lay-offs that have resulted from the current economic slump have had major emotional impact on workers.
According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, of the consultations made by workers with prefectural labor bureaus in fiscal 2008, 22,433 cases were regarding “encouragement to resign,” while 32,242 cases were concerning “bullying and harassment.” Both figures were the highest they have ever been.