Harassment in Japan

Japan loves to play with language, and it also enjoys categorizing different things. Harassment seems to be an unhappy merging of the two, combining two words (one of which being harassment) to create a portmanteau to describe the bad behavior of those around us. Let’s take a peek at this world of harassment in Japan.

Pawa Hara (Power Harassment)

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This is when a senior in a company or life in general harasses someone who is lower rank. It has been described, quite aptly, as workplace bullying. It’s almost an expected part of Japanese work culture, but attitudes towards the bosses pushing you around has been changing over the years. There was an episode of Netflix’s Aggretsuko that addressed this, where the titular Aggretsuko’s boss gets called out for his terrible behavior and we learn that he was a product of an unfortunate cycle of bullying and harassment himself.

It can be used to exercise power, cause troublesome employees to quite versus the company having to fire them (and thus, provide them with certain benefits), or just to continue the status quo of deference to power. It’s very rare to see employees speak up directly to their supervisors, making this type of harassment often go unchecked. I, thankfully, have never experienced this while working in Japan, but in many ways, where I work is not a traditional Japanese company in the slightest.

Seku Hara (Sexual Harassment)

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Oh boy… Authors, scholars, and activists have written tomes about this one. It manifests in so many forms, has so many complex social and cultural underpinnings, and wreaks so much unpleasantness and chaos into people’s lives that I don’t think I can give it the proper seriousness and weight it deserves. I’ll just give a few examples that have been popping up in Japanese media recently.

First, there are obligation chocolates, or Giri Choco. It’s basically giving chocolates (as a woman) to men (usually male coworkers) as a sort of “consolation prize” in case they’re not getting real chocolates from someone they love. At some workplaces, it’s mandatory, but more and more companies are shutting this practice down, so there’s progress there.

Outreach and education on this matter has been a bit of a mixed bag: On the one hand, there was a misguided poster campaign that tried to highlight Verbal Sexual harassment that didn’t quite land the mark, but on the other hand, there was a campus-wide distribution of pamphlets at Kyoto University explaining how to not sexually harass and be a good person. The reactions to the pamphlets have been generally positive, so if you’re in Japan, there may be an informative brochure in your mailbox or workplace in the future!

Mata Hara (Maternity Harassment)

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This is something that plagues women in Japan: Being harassed for becoming pregnant while employed. For full-time employees, it is bad, but for temp workers, it’s worse: they could have their contracts terminated as a result of their pregnancy. Snide comments like “you’re getting in the way” or “when are you quitting?” are common at some workplaces, which isn’t what you want to hear, especially if you’re a single mother.

This also extends into education: Just the shadow of fertility in young women can put their futures in jeopardy, as one of the top medical schools in Japan was actively suppressing female enrollment in its programs on the grounds that these women will eventually get pregnant and leave the workforce. Thus, why should we bother investing so much in them if they’re not going to practice medicine? So many terrible assumptions in that process and even more disheartening is that it happened so recently.

Regi Hara (Register Harassment) & Kasu Hara (Customer Harassment)

This is when an entitled customer becomes unreasonable and harasses a cashier (more commonly in Japan, the position is know as the register, hence the portmanteau) or, more broadly in the context of Kasu Hara, any staff in the shop or restaurant. Regi Hara recently bubbled to the surface of Japanese Twitter thanks to Covid, which has people stressed and unsure of their future. Japan is known for its insanely good customer service at most places, with kind and attentive staff there to help you in any way they can. It’s one of the highlights of living here, but that doesn’t mean that the customer is always right, nor that they can get away with treating staff like this. At the very least, Regi Hara is met with widespread condemnation whenever a story surfaces on the internet.

Pochi Hara/Suki Hara (Nipple Harassment)

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Now one that’s a bit… lighter? I hope? If you’re a man with nipples that poke through his shirt and have experienced disgusted looks and rude comments, then you know what Pochi Hara is. From what I’ve been able to find, it’s unclear if this includes women’s nipples poking through their shirts. The words come from pochi (button), which is what your frisky nipple looks like, and sukeru (see through or transparent) for being able to see the offending nipple. This is easily avoided, as Japan has you covered (literally!) with special nipple-hiding shirts. Truly, a marvelous time to be alive!

To be sure, there are still plenty more harassment types out there with special terms in Japanese that I have not explained here (such as online harassment, for one). This list is not exhaustive, but it is exhausting. I do find the way Japanese people use language and coin new terms like these fascinating but I do also hope that these issues get addressed on a societal level so that everyone can, you know, live without harassment.


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