Although Japan is a liberal democracy and hosts one of the largest economies in the world, many human rights challenges still need to be resolved. Here are ten of the biggest human rights challenges in Japan that should urgently be addressed.
#1. LGBTQ Rights
Although the Tokyo Metropolitan Government adopted a major ordinance that protects sexual minorities from discrimination, the national Japanese government has yet to implement an anti-discrimination bill that protects LGBTQ communities and people. While several prefectural governments have passed laws recognizing same-sex relationships with certificates, these documents are unofficial and not legally binding, highlighting the structural barriers LGBTQ individuals face in Japanese society.
#2. Discrimination against Zainichi Koreans
Zainichi Koreans are ethnic Koreans who permanently live in Japan without holding Japanese citizenship and hold roots from the Japanese occupation of Korea in World War Two. This marginalized group in Japanese society are often heavily discriminated in local communities, schools and the workplace and are often urged to hide their Korean identity to avoid such discrimination. In fact, Japanese firms continue to utilize discriminatory hiring practices against Zainichi Koreans, evident by the ethnic minitoriy’s unemployment levels more than double of the average Japanese national, underscoring the systemic racism that plagues Japanese society.
#3. North Korean abduction of Japanese Citizens
Between the 1970s and 1980s, several Japanese citizens were abducted by the North Korean government, and although only 17 Japanese citizens have been officially recognized as have been abducted, there are continuing speculations that there are hundreds of more Japanese citizens who were abducted by the regime. While Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga claimed he wanted to discuss the issue with the North Korean government further, he resigned in 2021 before he could partake in discussions with Kim Jong-Un. Current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has yet commented on the abduction controversy.
#4. Buraku Discrimination/Dowa Issue
Buraku discrimination is a unique human rights issue to Japan that stems from discrimination against the descendants of Japanese social outcasts in the feudal era. As social status was a hereditary trait in the Tokugawa era, these social outcasts were heavily discriminated against and subjected to severe restrictions in all aspects of their lives, including where they lived, their jobs and marriages. These social outcasts were forced to live in “Dowa Districts” and discrimination against them and their descendants are known as Buraku Discrimination.
Although the feudal caste system was abolished in 1871, this has not stopped social discrimination against Burakimin (people with Buraku ancestral roots) – Burakumin in more rural areas of Japan continue to live in sub-par living conditions, lower economic status and educational standing. Furthermore, Buraku discrimination often manifests itself in marriage discrimination and employment practices and many older generation Japanese citizens associate Burakumin with criminality and low social standing.
#5. Death Penalty
Concerns about the death penalty in Japan has long been raised as prison inmates have attested as to having insufficient access to legal resources and given no warning at all before their death sentences. Families of death row inmates are only notified about the execution only after it has taken place and the entire process is shrouded in secrecy.
#6. Migrant Worker Rights
The Japanese government’s infamous “Foreign Technical Intern Training Program” has drawn great criticism for its human rights violations, as foreign workers, typically from Southeast Asia, are bound to their sponsoring employers with no option of changing jobs. These trainees have faced illegal overtime, sub-minimum wages and worked in dangerous working conditions and over 170 technical interns have died between 2012 and 2017.
#7. Children’s Education Rights
Approximately 16% of foreign children living in Japan are not attending school and the prevalence of children out of school contravenes Article 26 of the Japanese constitution which states that “all people shall be obligated to have all children receive ordinary education”. This also violates Japan’s commitment under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and underscores the structural issues that prevent foreign children from obtaining an education.
#8. Criminal Justice
Japan’s criminal justice system has long been criticized for violating the human rights of criminal suspects. Criminal suspects in Japan are held in captivity for long periods of time to coerce a confession under sub-par conditions and Japanese criminal procedure laws prohibit lawyers from being present during criminal interrogations.
#9. Recognition of Indigenous Ainu Peoples
The Ainu people are the traditional custodians of the Hokkaido region in Japan and were forced to assimilate into Japanese culture throughout the 20th century. Descendants of the Ainu people are disproportionately more likely to live in poverty compared to their Japanese counterparts and continue to face social discrimination in Japanese society due to their misperceptions and hindrance on the welfare systems of the country.
#10. Women’s Rights
Women in Japan face structural barriers that prevent them from taking an active role in society. Women are often subjugated in the workplace through sexual harassment and many employers automatically assume that female workers will take time off from the workforce after giving birth, making it harder for women to get career promotions. Furthermore, women also face domestic violence from their spouses and are victims of stalking incidents, which have sometimes led to assault and murder.