Japan’s courts don’t share Mio Sugita’s views on supporting LGBT people, precedents show

Lawmaker Mio Sugita of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party found herself embroiled in controversy when the August edition of Shincho 45 was released on July 18. “Support for LGBTs has gone too far” screamed the headline of her article in the magazine.

This hard-right politician is already infamous online for her claim that the wartime network of sexual slavery serving the Imperial Japanese Army, euphemistically known as the “comfort women” system, is a fabrication of the Japanese left, and for attacking Koreans with such gems as “They spread their lies throughout the world.”

To mothers who lament the dearth of preschools available in Japan and demand that the central government take quick action to rectify the situation, she says: “That is your problem. You do something about it.”

She recognizes herself as conservative, right-wing and a patriot, and expresses animosity — even hatred — for the left, even penning a book titled “Why I Fight the Left.” The book heaps abuse on labor unions and praises nuclear power, casinos and the high-level professional overtime pay exemptions that will go into effect next April. Yet she loves Japan’s “beautiful culture and history.”

In her recent essay, she wrote: “Will people agree to have their taxes used on LGBT couples? They cannot have children, so they are unproductive.”

Japan does not recognize same-sex marriage. Local governments, on the other hand, have spearheaded efforts to use local ordinances to recognize same-sex partnerships. These include Shibuya and Setagaya wards in Tokyo and the cities of Iga in Mie Prefecture and Takarazuka in Hyogo.

Tolerance within society for the LGBT community is growing rapidly. IBM Japan, Kirin, Rakuten, Japan Tobacco and other corporations are moving ahead in instituting policies to provide the same level of special paid leave for marriage, childbirth, home care and other life events to same-sex couples as to those between a woman and man.

Unwelcome on golf course

Let me introduce to you a recent verdict to give an idea of what Japan’s courts are saying about LGBT people.

A golf course in the Shizuoka city of Kosai (whose name has not been released by the courts) refused membership to a corporate executive who had changed her registered gender from male to female. In Japan, this requires you to assert that you suffer from gender dysphoria. She sued the golf course for damages due to wrongful conduct, a violation of Japan’s Civil Code.

Shizuoka District Court ruled on Sept. 8, 2014, and the Tokyo High Court handed down a verdict on July 1, 2015. Both agreed with a portion of the claims and ordered the defendant to pay the hefty sum (by Japanese jurisprudent standards) of ¥1 million.

In its verdict, the appellate court clearly condemns discrimination against LGBT, although in a way that is likely jarring (or even maddening) to some: “Society understands quite well that being LGBT is not a matter simply of a hobby or predilection, but rather an illness that they suffer regardless of their will. The intolerability of irrational treatment based on the reason of gender dysphoria or on its treatment is the same as the intolerability of irrational treatment for the reason of other illnesses.”

One thing to consider is that the golf course has a bathing area, changing rooms and other “sensitive” facilities. The high court noted that the plaintiff is physically and in terms of appearance a woman, and that when she visited three times and used the bathing area and the changing room, there were no problems. Whatever damage the golf course operator envisioned it might suffer, the court said, was “nothing more than abstract fear.”

The opinion of other members of the golf course had no effect on the verdicts. The operator surveyed its members about the issue, and some 60 percent agreed with refusing her membership. The courts investigated the survey, however, and noted that it was conducted after the suit had begun and that questioners pushed respondents to answer in a way that was advantageous to them. “The results of the survey should not be given much weight,” read the verdict.

Even if the survey had accurately reflected the opinion of the members, the courts ruled that customers’ opinions could not justify discrimination.

Transgender woman wins

OK, let’s turn now to a proper labor law verdict. But to do that, we’ll have to go back a way, to 2002.

The plaintiff, a transgender woman, was working at Company S. She had yet to undergo reassignment surgery, but she had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and had begun treatment. Although she hadn’t yet changed her registered gender, she had changed her name to a more stereotypically female one and wore women’s clothes to work.

Company S dismissed her for violating their dress code. She sued for reinstatement, back wages and bonus. Tokyo District Court ruled in her favor and overturned the dismissal.

The court ruled that the employer could not prohibit an employee from dressing as a woman at work, or transfer her for doing so, if she would suffer great emotional stress by not dressing as such due to gender dysphoria. The employer also could not do so just because clients and customers object or feel uncomfortable, provided those feelings do not rise to the level that threaten to seriously hinder the fulfillment of tasks at work.

Case law remains sparse, but it seems that if LGBT people really want to take their grievances to court, the courts believe that employers must take the proper treatment of the LGBT community seriously.

The Sagamihara parallel

LGBT people account for 7.6 percent of the Japanese population, according to a 2015 survey by Dentsu Diversity Lab. This estimate means that 1 in 13 Japanese are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. That means that any reasonably sized workplace is likely to have at least one LGBT member.

Sugita ‘s comment really irritates me. I cannot understand how a politician, or even a member of our society, can stand there and deny the existence of someone because they cannot procreate.

The defendant in the appalling massacre on July 26, 2016, of 19 severely disabled people in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, said: “Those who can do nothing for themselves are a bane to society. On behalf of society, I did only what everyone else is thinking anyway.” He was confident in his pure fight in the name of justice.

His rationalization has something in common with Sugita’s comment. She might plausibly object that she has not called for the murder of LGBT people, so she shouldn’t be lumped together with a self-confessed mass killer. But at root, Sugita, like the Sagamihara suspect, denigrates and negates the existence of the “useless” human beings of the world.

Sugita has a daughter. What if she someday comes out to her mother? “I didn’t raise my daughter to be unproductive,” we can imagine her huffing.

Must our society be so rigid and conformist? Sugita claims she loves Japan’s history and culture more than any other politician, so she should know and be proud of the fact that ancient Japan was a hotbed of all manner of hugger-mugger and promiscuity — much of which was not at all “productive” in Sugita’s bizarre sense of the word.

Hifumi Okunuki teaches at Sagami Women’s University and serves as executive president of Tozen Union. She can be reached at tozen.okunuki@gmail.com. Labor Pains appears in print on the last Monday of the month. Your comments and Community story ideas: community@japantimes.co.jp

Abe walks a tightrope on Japan’s foreign worker policy

The number of foreign nationals working in Japan reached its highest-ever level in October 2017 at 1,278,670, according to a study by the labor ministry (bit.ly/mhlwhoudou). The foreign proportion of the population remains tiny compared to that in European countries or North America, yet the impact of the growing ranks of foreign workers is considerable in Japan, where the myth of ethnic homogeneity stubbornly persists (despite the existence of minorities, such as the Ainu and Okinawan people). What is this impact?

Well, that depends on the type of citizen being impacted upon. Let’s divide the citizenry into three broad categories based on their basic attitude toward foreign residents in general.

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Court cases shine a light on Japan’s problem with paternity leave

BY 

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

The Japanese government wants to raise the number of fathers taking paternity leave from 2016’s 3 percent to 13 percent by 2020, but two recent court cases show how hard it can be for some fathers to take their legally mandated paternity leave — especially if difficult pregnancies complicate the situation before the child is born.

On paper, mothers and fathers are entitled to take child care leave (ikuji kyūka) at the same time for up to a year and receive two-thirds salary for the first six months and half salary for the second six months. However, eligibility depends on having worked for your current employer at least a year and expecting to be employed a year later.

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NS Solutions case is latest battle in long war against sexual harassment

The first time a court in Japan ruled on the issue of sexual harassment was on Aug. 5, 1989. On that day, in what has become known as the Fukuoka Sexual Harassment Case, the Fukuoka District Court found the individual harasser and the employer responsible for damages.

 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Act (EEOA) had been enacted three years earlier, but awareness of issues affecting women in the workplace was still low in Japan; they were considered “workplace flowers,” “seat warmers until marriage,” “male workers’ assistants” or even “unsold Christmas cakes.” The last epithet referred to those whose values as women were said to be plunging because they had not married by age 25 (with Christmas Day being Dec. 25 and all).

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Are university teachers in Japan covered by the ‘five-year rule’?

By Louis Carlet (Hifumi Okunuki is off this month):

My colleague Gaetan and I recently presented a seminar on the “five-year rule” to a group of Francophones at an event hosted by the Francais du Monde — Association Democratique des Francais a l’Etranger (French of the World — Democratic Association of French Abroad).

Gaetan had prepared an organized lecture, with charts and translations projected onto the wall behind him. We worked to convince the attendees that next year they could use the so-called five-year rule to become permanent employees if they had served more than five years in fixed-term contracts. Many of them were university teachers.

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Job-Juggling in Japan: A Risky Stunt with No Safety Net

Mid-April 2009. Tokyo.

Teaching English part-time at Berlitz Japan. Teaching English writing part-time at NHK Bilingual Center. Translating freelance for NHK. Translating part-time at the Agency for Cultural Affairs. Executive president of Berlitz General Union Tokyo (Begunto). Working part-time as a union organizer at the National Union of General Workers. Covering for a hospitalized full-time organizer at the same union. Working as an intern at Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan (Ijuren) in the hope of getting hired there.

The above is a list of jobs, both paid and unpaid, that my activist friend Catherine Campbell worked simultaneously back in mid-April 2009. How could she possibly have held down so many jobs without collapsing under the pressure?

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The cost of convenience in Japan: when foreign students work instead of study

It’s midnight at the convenience store I often patronize near my home in Tokyo’s central Shinjuku district. The store’s open all day and night, 365 days a year.

There is one man I’ve seen quite a bit of lately — behind the counter, stocking shelves, carrying heavy boxes, cleaning, cooking food, ringing up purchases, barristering, giving out raffle tickets, and always using polite, respectful Japanese, from irasshaimase (welcome) to arigato gozaimasu (thank you very much).

Once, he ran down the street after my husband, who had just left the store. It wasn’t because this customer had shoplifted. God forbid. No, his addled brain had simply forgotten to collect the change (about ¥40), and this superclerk thought it right to leave his post and bolt down the street to hand it to him.

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KYODO

Overtime deal marks total capitulation by labor

Full disclosure: I am the president of Tozen Union. Last October we joined the Japanese Trade Union Federation, known as Rengo.

It is therefore with a heavy heart that this month I lambaste Rengo’s recent decision to agree to a policy I believe will endanger the health and lives of workers in Japan. Criticizing our own tribe is never easy and leaves a sour taste, but if we cannot criticize ourselves, we have no right to criticize others.

Those who read my column know well that one of Japan’s most dire labor problems is the practice of working from early morning until late at night. Long hours can and do kill.

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KYODO

労働組合は「過労死」の増産に手を貸すのか? ~「残業上限月100時間」という狂気

レイバーペインズを読んでくださっている皆さんなら、日本の労働問題の最たるものが「長時間労働」、「過労死(自殺)」であることは重々承知だろう。にもかかわらず、ことあるごとに、労働法は時代遅れだとして、労働法の規制緩和をどんどん推し進めてきたのが他ならぬ現在の安倍政権なのだが、その安倍政権がなぜか去年から、残業時間の「上限」を法律で定めるべきだと主張し始めた。

このことは、政府がこれまでのバリバリの「規制緩和」から、「規制強化」路線へ180度方針転換したのか、とずいぶん騒がれたが、疑い深い私は、これには裏があるにちがいない、という気持ちが拭い去れなかった(このことは、2016年12月25日のLabor Painsでも述べている)。安倍首相は現在の財界トップである榊原定征(さかきばら さだゆき)経団連会長と親密な関係であり、自らの外遊にも連れていき、世界各国で日本企業を首相みずからが“トップセールス”するのだと自慢げに言っている。安倍首相が、自分の大切な「お友達」が多い経済界の締め付けを強めるようなことを本気でやるとはとても思えなかったのだ。

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Japanese need to take more leave, starting with when beloved pets pass

Expedia Japan recently released the results of an annual survey that corroborates the stereotype many folks have of the Japanese worker: In short, their work is endless and breaks are few and far between.

The travel company site surveyed 9,424 adults from 28 countries about paid holidays. You can see the full results here: bit.ly/yasumiheta.

But let’s back up a bit first. The Abe government has tried desperately to drive home policies to reform how we work, with the aim of offering an escape from the “worker bee” mode of labor. However, in the survey, Japan ranks dead last when it comes to the percentage of paid leave taken, at just 50 percent. So on average, Japanese workers take only half their allotted paid holidays.

Japan clinched the worst record on paid holidays by undercutting South Korea, which held the dubious title in 2014 and 2015, by just three points. In five countries or territories, workers took an average of all their paid holidays: Australia, Brazil, France (of course), Spain and Hong Kong, although the latter guarantees only 15 days by law, so it’s not as shining an example as the others.

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