Why Does Sexual Harassment On Public Transportation Occur So Frequently In Japan And What In Japanese Culture Perpetuates This? - Essay Prowess

Why Does Sexual Harassment On Public Transportation Occur So Frequently In Japan And What In Japanese Culture Perpetuates This?


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Why Does Sexual Harassment On Public Transportation Occur So Frequently In Japan And What In Japanese Culture Perpetuates This?


Women in Japan are increasingly subjected to sexual harassment in the country, especially in public places. The Japanese culture facilitates the violation of women’s rights, particularly through sexual harassment in public transportation. Traditional gender role in Japan is rigid, hence many people in Japan do not acknowledge that sexual harassment really exists[1].  The nation passed sexually harassment act in 1990, but the problem of sexually harassment persists in public places. The culture of Japanese focuses on group harmony, submissive women and male leadership. The campaign against sexual harassment was not encouraged because it was a threat to workplace harmony. The focus was shifted for Japanese women not to complain instead of men not to harass them. The chikan culture allows fondling or touching another individual in a sexual manner using hands. In overcrowded trains in Japan men usually stand close to women with short skirt and rift their clothes. In other incidences, sexual harassers press their bodies against the other person’s body in a sexual way[2]. However, these incidences are termed as sexual assaults, but men go unpunished. The most common place for such cases occur in crowded trains, but they do happen in bicycle parking places. Both men and women are victims of the acts, but the majority of women are affected.

Sexually harassment of women in public places remains an enormous problem in Japan, especially in transport systems and streets. These are commonly known as street harassments or eve-teasing or public harassment[3]. Violence against women, especially in the transportation sector, is unreported because of cultural concerns and social concerns. Most women fear shaming their families or destroying the reputation of their spouses. In 2003, there was more than 2 400 rape cases occurred. The majority of these cases happened in transportation systems in Japan. Some of the cases involved high-profile gang rapes in 2003.

The Japanese constitution guarantees equal opportunities for all people at workplaces.

Equal employment Opportunity (EEO) outlaws sexual discrimination. However, sexual harassment against women in transportation systems remains widespread. The legislation was revised in 1999 in order to include measures that show the companies that violates the right of women in transportation systems[4]. However, these laws do not have strict measures to execute adherence other than permitting names of upsetting transportation firms to be published.  Several government agencies have developed hotlines and official ombudsmen to tackle sexual harassment and discrimination cases. Japan has not ratified the convention by the International Labor Organization known as Discrimination Occupation and Employment Convention. Women make up the largest percentage in transportation systems.

Approximately 50 percent of Japanese women report at least one instance of sexual harassment on public transportation. These problems are rampant in Tokyo, where trains are overcrowded. The common types of sexual harassment include a wide range of annoying behaviors such as sexual gestures, winking and leering looks[5]. In addition, it included unpleasant behaviors such as suddenly touching the breast, pinching of the hips, pinching of the bottoms, brushing of bottoms and thighs and unnecessary leaning.

Reports indicate that approximately 69 percent of females have been sexually abused by males in public transportation at some point in their lives[6]. Moreover, nearly one in two women encounter attempted rape or rape cases in Japan in their lifetime. These acts violate the provisions of the Elimination of Violence Against women (DEVAW) under the United Nations. Under the provisions of this law, violence against women is any behavior against a particular gender that leads to suffering of women, psychological, sexual, and physical harm.

It also includes threats such as indiscriminate denial of liberty or coercion in public places. These are normally referred to as micro inequalities. In addition, women are more likely to suffer from undesirable experiences both psychologically and socially when they become spatially mobile[7].  Research conducted by Kingston (2011) indicates that women encounter enormous cases of sexual harassment in public transport. A study by university students recorded that approximately 98 percent of women utilizing public transportation in Japan encountered the same types of sexual harassment. A young Japanese woman was sexually abused for more than 30 times in a single year[8]. Besides, more than 50 percent of the study participants indicated that sexual harassment occurs every time.

Most notably, approximately 64 percent of the young women showed that sexual harassment caused fear and sadness. Besides, it affected their moods for a long period and influenced their relationship with other people. Sexual harasser normally aims at specific places of women’s body such as the breast which constitute legal terms of sexual assault. These incidents are very long lasting in the lives of these women[9]. There are instances wherein crowded buses harasser hold the breast of women tightly and try to squeeze them.  In other cases, some bus conductors stare at the breast of young women in a strange manner. These make the women feel embarrassed.

In spite of these sexually harassment happening in public transportation systems, the victims rarely report to the police. Furthermore, most of the victims do not share the incidences with others except their close friends[10]. Unfortunately, they assume that revealing such acts to the public or police generates stigma for them and their families. There is an attitude of blaming women who are sexually assaulted in Japan.

The government of Japan introduced women only cars during rush hours in order to curb the chikan culture. In addition, it introduced undercover police patrols of subways tailored to creating awareness to encourage reporting. Initial attempts, such as introducing huge fines and seven-year sentence, did not produce any effect[11]. The introduction of women-only cars help to reduce opportunities of rapes in the public transportation. The reliance of Japanese on group-designed harmony usually caused compulsory social outings where women and men consume excessive amounts of alcohol. At transportation places, women are compelled to sing romantic song “karaoke duet” to a domineering male co-workers. The song establishes a circumstance where the woman is socially compelled to act as a romantic partner for a man. The male collaborates then more or less touches her in front of other people[12]. Social control established a situation where sexual harassment against women was tolerated and the victim forced to hide her discomfort to preserve the harmonious atmosphere.

The Japanese culture treats women differently depending on their normal gender responsibilities in the society. The effect has been the inability of the nation to foster equality across gender. Gender mainstreaming efforts promote the priorities, needs and interests of both men and women despite their differences. In addition, it considers the diversity of various groups of men and women [13]. However, a move toward gender equality has faced several hindrances. For instance, a group of conservative has misled the nation into thinking that gender-free efforts will lead to family break up or encourage promiscuity.

These conservative groups in Japan oppose the term gender or sexual education depending on such biased assertion. These have successfully influenced the community into believing that sexual education is a taboo and should not be conducted in school. For instance, in some places such as the Matsuyama city of Ehime Prefecture, women are not encouraged to pursue gender and studies about women. In addition, the Kumamoto administration outlawed the regulation that encouraged gender equality[14]. Unfortunately, it inserted the law that compelled people to respect the culture and traditions of the Japanese.

The early Japanese history shows that women in the 12th century could hold senior positions in the country. However, in the 19th century during the time of the Meiji reign (1868 -1912) the role of women changed. During the time of urbanization and industrialization the authority of husbands and fathers were increased over their wives and daughters. The Meiji Civil code limited legal rights of Japanese women and forced them to household roles. Nonetheless, the Meiji Civil Code was changed during the Second World War by the ratification of the Japanese constitution. Unfortunately, the rights of the Japanese women were not guaranteed as the provisions of the constitution were not executed adequately. The majority of men have not withdrawn from the Chikan culture. According to the United Nations report in 2006, Japan lags behind all the industrialized nations with regard to women empowerment.

Much of the sexual harassment in Japan is based on the conservative idea that natural differences between women and men that justify differential treatment. Some of the Japanese traditions are linked to the fact that the society is homosocial, hence, men interact with other men after working hours and due to their professional duties[15]. In considerations of hiring or assigning jobs, they consider other men they know, interact with or heard instead of other women. Co-equals men are more likely to think of other men relative to women. In the larger part of their daily activity men interact more with women within their ippanshoku category instead of sogoshoku groups.

Sexual Harassment Law in Japan

The sexual harassment law in Japan establishes to create two types of sexual harassment. The kankyo law outlaws environment with undesirable factors such as sexual jokes or talks, hanging sexually categorical posters or touching women. Moreover, the daisho law crates penalties or rewards that are clearly related to sexual behaviors[16]. The kankyo and daisho laws apply to all people in an office or public transportation systems. The management of the transportation vehicle is responsible for preventing sexual harassment in those places. First, the management needs to state clearly and disseminate policies against sexual harassment and create awareness via appropriate measures. Besides, the transportation management should develop an objective system to offer guidance to sexual grievences and complaints. Furthermore, they are responsible of responding to any case of sexual harassment claims and they need to conduct adequate investigations and execute appropriate disciplinary actions[17]. The new law in Japan also advocates for provision of privacy of all passengers who press charges against sexual harassers.

However, the law is weak to fight against chikan culture in public transportation. For instance, it does not provide a clear penalty in case of violation, and in case it existed, it was very lenient. The authorities could publicly name the firm that failed to comply with the provisions of these laws[18]. The conservative idea is that social pressure could bar men from behaving against the interest of  the public image of their companies. The tradition in Japanese law is to tackle social issues via social pressure instead of making good laws.

In addition, the law and the culture in Japan do not  always conform to each other.  Japanese women who are sexually abused in public office would be embarrassed to cause bad reputation to her family. The Japanese law creates the contradictory of its intended outcomes.

By introducing the risk that a sexually harassed individual produces a public shaming of her family and supervisor at workplaces as well as the firm she works for. Therefore, many women who undergo sexual harassment in public transportation are compelled to remain silent. However, the law has produced some positive effects against sexual harassment among women[19]. For instance, it has helped to raise awareness and it has increased the number of report sexual harassment complaints  in 2013 more than 11 000 women reported sexual abuse cases through the companies they work for or by themselves.

The new cases show that  a new generation  of women understand their rights and are comfortable to respond to sexual harassment. Moreover, it shows that most public transport companies are developing environments where sexual harassment can be solved and reported. However, chikan culture promotes male domination over women still exist in Japan. Sexual harassment happens so frequently because of cultural misunderstanding. Most victims of sexual harassment in public transport in Japan have been foreigners because they lack awareness of what they are likely to experience[20]. The government has also implemented women-only passenger cars to reduce high cases of women sexual harassment. Moreover, the government need to be more innovative in curbing cases of chikan culture in public transportation.


Allison, Anne. Permitted And Prohibited Desires. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2000.

Brumann, Christoph, and Evelyn Schulz. Urban Spaces In Japan. London: Routledge, 2012.

Buckley, Sandra. Encyclopedia Of Contemporary Japanese Culture. London: Routledge, 2009.

Ember, Carol R, and Melvin Ember. Encyclopedia Of Sex And Gender. New York: Springer, 2004.

Kearl, Holly. Stop Street Harassment. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Praeger, 2010.

Kingston, Jeff. Japan In Transformation, 1945-2010. Harlow, England: Longman, 2011.



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