To those who don’t live in Japan, Japan might look to be a technologically advanced developed country, but in reality there are still unbelievably outdated customs there. As the US Government reported in 2020, human trafficking is still widespread in Japan, and mental patients are restrained. Refugees are maltreated to death, and some universities don’t allow female students in.
I’m not going to say Japan is all that bad, but like every other country, Japan has its dark sides too. Here are 10 examples.
Police interrogations were not recorded until very recently
Until 2019, police interrogations were not recorded. This allowed the police to make up whatever stories they wanted to make the accused real criminals – they could force the accused to confess what they hadn’t done, or even falsify the written records taken during the interrogations. The accused are usually interrogated for hours day after day and most of them lose their minds after a few weeks. The police then force the accused to confess that the story the police made up is true. There are so many cases where innocent people were accused and sentenced due to wrongful convictions, and the Japanese police concealed the fact. In addition, as no lawyers were allowed to witness interrogations, many activists criticized the Japanese criminal justice system for being medieval and outdated. Read this article for more details about wrongful convictions.
Fortunately, this practice changed in 2019 when the law was finally revised, and the police and prosecutors are now required to record video and/or audio during interrogations. As a result, it is said that the visibility of the interrogation process was improved to 94%, but there have been a lot of mistakes and some interrogations are not recorded even now. It seems it will take some more time until the Japanese police will fully catch up with the age.
Mental patients are restrained
In most developed countries, mental patients are treated as human beings and they are never tied to bed no matter how they get into a temper and behave violently. In Japan however, some mental hospitals restrain violent patients.
Nurses hate to do it because they know it’s not the right thing to do, but leaving violent patients without restraining will reduce the work efficiency and nurses have to restrain them when necessary. But nurses are not to blame here. It’s the hospital administrators and the country that neglect the issue and leave everything to understaffed on-site nurses. They could ramp up nursing teams and bring in experts from more advanced countries to let them teach how to treat patients, but the hospitals don’t ever seem to do so and the government doesn’t support them either. I heard that France introduces a treatment method called “humanitude” where nurses look at the eyes of the patients, hold their hands and talk to them to show them that the nurses care for them. This dramatically improved the states of the patients and most of them stopped behaving violently.
Unfortunately, this will not happen in Japan any time soon, and on the contrary, many patients like this New Zealander die as a result of restraining.
Women are not treated equally
In terms of economy, I think Japan is the 3rd best after the US and China, but when it comes to gender equity, it’s placed 121st out of 153 countries as of 2020 (Global Gender Gap Report 2020).
The primary factor for this is female participation in politics. In 2019, women only made 10.1% of the Diet’s Lower House while the global ratio was 25%. This is one of the lowest in the entire world and Japan was ranked as 144th in 2020 in terms of political environments for women (see this article for more details).
However, many Japanese men don’t agree with this data. They think that women are more advantaged because women can take maternity leaves, many stores offer exclusive discounts for women, and sex crimes are judged in favor of women.
Human trafficking is widespread
Believe it or not, human trafficking is widespread in Japan in the 21st century. It takes the form of “technical intern training program,” where agencies of Southeast Asia and other countries send technical interns to Japan and receive money in return. Many Japanese employers that accept foreign interns don’t treat them well, but they regard the interns only as cheap labor forces and abuse them by forcing overwork or not paying salaries. Some interns even died due to overwork.
In 2020, the US Government downgraded Japan for human trafficking. Read this article for more details about the reality of foreign technical intern program in Japan.
Students must wear white underwear
As I wrote in this article about bizarre Japanese school rules, many (not all) junior high and high schools in Japan force students to wear white underwear and male teachers actually check the colors.
The reason behind this rule is this: Some people believe that non-white underwear can be seen through shirts and students might get in trouble because their underwear might get others aroused. In order to make students’ underwear less visible and prevent them from getting in troubles, teachers make their students wear white underwear.
You can read more details about this absurd school rule in the article about Japanese school rules. In case you think it’s a story from the last century, I added tweets and news articles posted fairly recently (2020-2021).
70％ of Japanese companies exploit workers
As you might already know, Japan is infamous for labor exploitation. So many Japanese companies force their employees to work for more than 300 hours a month, and many even die because of hard labors. According to this article in Japanese (google translated), the Japanese government recognized 147 “overwork deaths” (karoshi) in 2019 alone. But it’s only the number of recognized cases by the government, so potentially there should be a lot more cases.
I don’t want to provide my personal opinion here, but the biggest reason why such an outrage is still widespread could be because of the cozy relationships between the Japanese government and Japan Federation of Economic Organizations (Keidanren). Keidanren has such a significant say in political affairs, and some people even say that the Japanese income tax was raised because of them. With the help of the Japanese laborers many of whom don’t speak up, Keidanren keep exploiting them.
According to this article in Japanese (Google translated), 70% of Japanese companies are so called “black companies” (companies that breach labor laws and exploit employees).
You want to work in Japan some day because you like Japan? I know many foreigners who came to Japan for the exact same reason and got sick of labor environment after three months.
Parental child abduction is not illegal
In Japan, there is a cliche “実家に帰らせていただきます” (jikka ni kaerasete itadakimasu – meaning “I’ll go back to my parents’ place”) said by wives when they had a disagreement with their husbands. And if the wife and the husband have a kid(s), the wife usually takes her children with her. Once the wife is back in her parents’ place, her husband will not get to see his children unless his wife comes back.
This is considered parental child abduction in most developed countries, but in Japan it’s not illegal and most Japanese don’t even know that it’s a crime in other countries. For the Japanese people, wives taking away their kids is a part of their culture and nothing serious. Many of them even use the cliche as a joke when they had a slight disagreement with their husbands. I’m embarrassed to say this, but having spent my entire life in Japan, I too didn’t know that it was a crime in other countries until a few years ago.
The reason why child abduction by mothers is not a crime in Japan is because the Japanese think that children belong to their mothers and not necessarily to their fathers. As Japanese fathers don’t play significant roles in child raising anyway, it wouldn’t be a problem even if mothers took away their children from their husbands – this is their theory.
But this issue can be very serious if it happens between a Japanese wife and a non-Japanese husband living in the husband’s country. One day the wife suddenly says “I’ll go back to my parents’ place in Japan,” takes away her children and vanishes. Her husband without a Japanese visa can’t even stay in Japan for long, so the disappearance of his kids and wife means that he won’t be able to live with them forever unless they come back to his country.
Husbands are “masters” of their wives
As of 2021, the proper way of referring to a husband in Japanese is “shujin” (主人) which means “master.” It’s not only wives who call their own husbands “my master,” but when people around them talk about their husbands, they refer to them as “your master” as if the wives are subservient to their husbands.
This is only a way of calling and hardly anybody cares about the meaning, but for some wives who proudly work and earn more than men, it’s such an agony that people call their husbands “your master.” I’m married to a full Japanese man, and every single Japanese around me refers to him as “your master.” I love my husband and respect him, but he is not my master and I’m sick of people call him that way.
The Japanese use the word “master” because women weren’t treated equally (or aren’t still) with men in the pre-modern ages and they were literally subservient to their husbands. But now that Japan is (supposed to be) a developed country, I hope they will revisit the way of calling husbands and start referring to them as something else soon.
Read this article about how the Japanese wives and husbands call each other for more details.
Universities reject female candidates even if they score better than men
Some Japanese people still think that women should stay at home and take care of their husbands and children without going to work. Even if they received advanced education and found a job, they would get pregnant and quit in a few years anyway. Of course not all Japanese think this way, but I can say that quite a few Japanese still do (even if they don’t explicitly say so).
There is a hard evidence for this. Tokyo Medical University had been altering entrance exam scores of female applicants for the past 10 years to make the percentage of admitted female students less than 30% (read this article for more details). The university administration later apologized saying that they thought female students wouldn’t contribute as much as male students would when they became doctors because women would take maternity leaves and men had to cover all their work during their absence.
It’s surprising that none of the administration members pointed out the inappropriateness for 10 years. Another shocking factor is that more than 65% doctors say that it was a necessary evil (read this article for more details). So far this is the only reported case of a university altering exam scores, but I suspect that there are more cases that haven’t been revealed.
Japanese immigration facilities maltreat refugees to death, literally
Many refugees come to Japan seeking asylum, but it takes long until the Japanese government can accept them (and their acceptance rate is only 0.4%). The refugees are put in immigration facilities along with overstaying foreigners while the government is (or isn’t) working on the applications, but the way they treat refugees and overstaying foreigners is hardly humane. They don’t provide proper medical treatments when necessary, but what is even worse is that they exercise brute force for non-resistant refugees. A Kurdish man says in this article in Japanese (Google translation didn’t work) that one of the facility workers stack his finger to his mouth and he got almost choked. They also bore down on him and screwed his arm even though he wasn’t acting violently at all.
A Sri Lankan woman even died during detention (see this article in English) because the immigrant facility didn’t provide proper health services when she was suffering from a serious stomachache. I’m sure these cases are just the tip of iceberg, but unfortunately everything is done behind closed doors and hardly any cases go public. The Japanese government recently even worsened their immigration control law and doesn’t seem to improve the situation any time soon.