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US State Department Highlights Japan Human Rights Problems

SNA (Tokyo) — The following stories were reported recently by the Shingetsu News Agency.

Rolling Coverage: Human Rights

—US State Department releases its “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2018.” Some excerpts about the case of Japan to follow.

—“Japan Federation of Bar Associations continued to allege that suspects confessed under duress, mainly during unrecorded interrogations… recording was not mandatory, and there was no independent oversight of this practice.”

—“extended pretrial detention of foreign detainees was a problem; examples included one person held more than 27 months (as of September) and several held for more than a year without trial.”

—“Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, but NGOs and lawyers continued to question whether they were in fact presumed innocent during the legal process.”

—“incidents of hate speech against minorities and their defenders, in particular, on the internet, grew. The national law on hate speech… does not carry penalties.”

—“the law enables the government to prosecute those who publish or disclose government information that is a specially designated secret. Those convicted face up to five years’ imprisonment with work and a fine of not more than five million yen ($44,000).”

—“nationalist groups used social media to harass journalists deemed antigovernment or unpatriotic. In June 2017 the UN special rapporteur reported ‘significant worrying signals’ that government pressure on media outlets caused journalists to self-censor their reporting.”

—“the system of kisha clubs may encourage self-censorship. These clubs are established in a variety of organizations, including ministries, and may block nonmembers, including freelance and foreign reporters, from covering the organization.”

—“The Ministry of Education’s approval process for history textbooks, particularly its treatment of the country’s 20th century colonial and military history, was a subject of controversy.”

—“Rape and domestic violence are believed to be significantly underreported crimes, although no recent data are available. Observers attributed women’s reluctance to report rape to a variety of factors, including a lack of victim support”

—“The law does not criminalize sexual harassment but includes measures to identify companies that fail to prevent it… the government has not publicized any company for sexual harassment since 2015.”

—“NGOs continued to allege that implementation of anti-discrimination measures was insufficient, pointing to discriminatory provisions in the law, unequal treatment of women in the labor market, and low representation of women in high-level elected bodies.”

—“The country was a site for the production of child pornography and the exploitation of children by traffickers… No law addresses the unfettered availability of sexually explicit cartoons, comics, and video games.”

—“Representatives of the ethnic Korean community said hate speech against them in public and on social networking sites continued. Additionally, there was no indication of increased societal acceptance of ethnic Koreans.”

—“Ainu persons reported cases of discrimination in the workplace, marriage, and schools… The government recognizes the Ainu as an indigenous ethnic group per a unanimous Diet resolution, but the recognition has no legal ramifications.”

—“No law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There are no existing penalties associated with such discrimination, and no related statistics were available.”

—“Stigma surrounding LGBTI persons remained an impediment to self-reporting of discrimination or abuse, and studies on bullying and violence in schools generally did not take into account the sexual orientation or gender identity of the persons involved.”

—“Reports of forced labor continued in the manufacturing, construction, and shipbuilding sectors, largely in small- and medium-size enterprises employing foreign nationals through the Technical Intern Training Program.”

—“Workers in the [intern program] experienced restrictions on freedom of movement and communication with persons outside the program, nonpayment of wages, excessive working hours, high debts to brokers in countries of origin, and retention of identity documents.”

—“Despite the prevalence of forced labor within the Technical Intern Training Program, no case has ever led to a labor trafficking prosecution.”

—“Reports of abuses in the [intern program] were common, including injuries due to unsafe equipment and insufficient training, nonpayment of wages and overtime compensation, excessive and often spurious salary deductions, forced repatriation…”

—“observers alleged that a conflict of interest existed, since the inspectors who oversee the [intern program] working conditions were employed by two ministries that are members of the interagency group administering the [intern program].”

—“Women continued to express concern about unequal treatment in the workforce. Women’s average monthly wage was approximately 73% of that of men in 2017. Reports of employers forcing pregnant women to leave their jobs continued, although there are no recent data.”

—“In November 2017 the Japanese Trade Union Confederation released a survey on harassment and violence, which said more than 50% of respondents reported they had personally experienced or observed workplace harassment.”

—Human Rights Watch: “Japan’s government should stop forcing transgender people to be surgically sterilized if they want legal recognition of their gender identity.”


—Osaka Cross Election will pit Tadakazu Konishi vs. Hirofumi Yoshimura for Governor and Akira Yanagimoto vs. Ichiro Matsui for Mayor. Progressive voters in Osaka will get their picks among four conservatives, as no one left-of-center is expected to run in these races.

—The official campaign period begins for eleven gubernatorial races across the nation for the April 7 elections: Hokkaido, Kanagawa, Fukui, Mie, Nara, Osaka, Tottori, Shimane, Tokushima, Oita, and Fukuoka.

—Hokkaido Shinbun poll puts ruling party-backed Naomichi Suzuki ahead of progressive Tomohiro Ishikawa in the Hokkaido gubernatorial race.

—It’s official: The Japan Communist Party will support the Liberal Democratic Party candidates for Osaka governor and mayor in the April 7 Osaka Cross Election.

—Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, ostensibly the top opposition party, is running its own candidate in only one (Hokkaido) of the eleven April 7 gubernatorial races. Even in the four prefectures in which the Liberal Democratic Party has divided against itself, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan isn’t running candidates.

—Former Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba setting up parliamentary group which he hopes will lead to the reformation of the Democratic Party. He seems to think that the way to combat the Abe government is through tired centrism and a divided, umbrella opposition party.

—Reportedly on Shinzo Abe’s advice, rightwing Tomomi Inada established a group of female lawmakers within the Liberal Democratic Party, hoping to use the women’s equality issue to rebuild her political credibility. Seiko Noda, who has actually led on this issue, doesn’t join.

—The issue of letting female branches of the imperial family retain their imperial status likely to be revisited, not because the Liberal Democratic Party is any less chauvinist than before, but because of fears that there simply aren’t enough members of the imperial family.

—Shinzo Abe repeats his insistence that he will not stay as prime minister beyond his third term as ruling party president because “it is the rule.” Of course, the “rule” had been that two terms was the limit, but his minions changed the “rule” to let him continue on.


—Abe militarization of southwest islands continues apace, with new Ground Self-Defense Forces bases scheduled to open on Amami-Oshima island (Kagoshima) and Miyakojima (Okinawa) on March 26. Other new island bases are in the works.

—Prime Minister Shinzo Abe now says that long-range cruise missiles are also something permitted by pacifist Article 9 of the Constitution (why not ICBM nukes too?), so his government will begin to develop them. According to Abe, it seems that nothing is banned. Meanwhile, Abe also continues to treat appearances before the Self-Defense Forces as pro-Constitution revision political rallies: “I am determined to put my all into developing conditions in which Self-Defense Force personnel can carry out their duties with strong pride.”

—Two Self-Defense Force members to join a multinational peacekeeping force in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt, in mid-April. The main objective is to utilize the new powers of the 2015 Abe War Law for the first time in as uncontroversial a manner as possible. Salami tactics.

—In Naha, about 10,000 people gathered to demand that Washington and Tokyo stop the construction of the new US Marine airbase at Henoko, the position that a large majority of Okinawans endorsed in a referendum, but which conservatives continue to dismiss.

—Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki meets with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Kantei, requesting a ceasefire, including a suspension of Henoko base building: “I want to create an environment for dialogue, rather than continuing legal battles,” Tamaki says. Abe doesn’t respond.

—An endangered dugong found floating dead off the coast of Okinawa. It is believed to be one of only three in the region. Dugong feeding grounds in Henoko are now being destroyed against the will of the local people by the Abe government to build a US Marine airbase.

—Naha District Court rules that the April 2016 arrest of prize-winning author Shun Medoruma for canoeing into a restricted US area at Henoko was illegal, and orders the government to pay Medoruma a small amount of damages.

—Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano to finally step down as chief of the Self-Defense Forces’ Joint Staff, a position he has held since 2014. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly intervened to keep Kawano in office beyond the usual term in a show of favoritism.

—The Auschwitz Memorial responds, in Japanese, to one of the most despicable rightwing “talents” on Japanese television, Katsuya Takasu, who, among other things, is a Holocaust denier.

—Tsunekazu Takeda confirms that he is stepping down as head of the Japanese Olympic Committee, but insists he will serve until the end of his current term in June, just to drag out the agony. No one seems willing to sack him outright. He maintains his innocence.

—Mainichi Shinbun reports Tsunekazu Takeda’s resignation was forced by the International Olympic Committee: “It is the IOC that pushed the button for his resignation, though it never came to the surface. There is no doubt about it.” The Japan side would have let him linger.

—Local government officials in part of South Korea are proposing to label some Japanese firms as a “War Crime Company” so long as they fail to apologize and offer compensation to former forced laborers.


—Former Keidanren chief and Abe crony Sadayuki Sakakibara may become the de facto chairman of Nissan Motors. This is another hint of top level political involvement in the Carlos Ghosn case, where the evidence of a coup endorsed by Shinzo Abe becoming more solid.

—Central Labor Relations Commission rejects collective bargaining rights for convenience store franchisees in negotiating with major chain head offices. This is a setback for the franchisees, who previously had favorable rulings at other levels. A court battle is imminent.

—The February figures on inbound tourism are somewhat disappointing. There was growth, as usual, but at a much lower rate than previously. It’s not clear yet if this is just a one-off blip or if the tourism boom is losing some steam after years of phenomenal growth.

—Economic Report of the [US] President: “Japan imposes… tariffs on pork imports with rates as high as $2.18 per pound; for beef, Japanese tariffs range from 38.5 to 50%… a free trade agreement with Japan could level the playing field.”

—Land Ministry reports that residential land across Japanese rural areas posted a slight increase in value over the course of 2018, after 27 continuous years of declining land value in the countryside; stabilization almost three decades after the Bubble Economy burst.

—Japan and the Philippines sign an agreement that seeks to promote the protection of “Speci­fied Skilled Workers” coming to Japan, including the elimination of illegal recruiting agencies. Manila hopes that many of its workers will be accepted into the Japanese labor market.


—Japan’s post-Fukushima feed-in tariffs raised the nation’s proportion of renewable energy from about 10% to 16%, almost entirely based on the expansion of solar energy. The Abe government has set the relatively modest goal of reaching 22%-24% renewables by FY2030.

—Japanese firms are reportedly looking for US and European partners to develop and install offshore wind power facilities along the coast. The spread of this form of renewable energy has been notably slower in Japan than in some other advanced nations.


—Tokyo District Court finds Mt. Gox founder Mark Karpeles “not guilty” of embezzlement, but still gives him a suspended sentence for “data manipulation.” It sounds like the facts were on Karpeles’ side, but the prosecutors still needed their face-saving after such a big case.

—About one hundred young people joined the Climate March in Tokyo yesterday. As usual, protest movements in Japan only a tame, pale reflection of protests in democratic nations overseas, but the ripple of change has arrived.

—Ministry of Education poised to begin its first-ever survey of foreign students in Japanese elementary and junior high schools. No such census has ever been taken before, and many foreign children are apparently not enrolled in school at all.

—Skylark Holdings, operator the Jonathan’s and Gusto chains, has agreed to go 100% non-smoking at all of its 3,200 family restaurant outlets. This positive outcome due to the action of anti-smoking campaigners.

—Japan Meteorological Agency confirms that cherry blossom tree season has begun with the first blossoms appearing in Nagasaki. It will take several weeks to work across the country and then reach full bloom. The bloom is four days earlier than average.

Note: There were no separate “Today in Japan” reports issued between March 16 and March 20.

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