Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
February 25, 2004

Japan is a parliamentary democracy based on its 1947 Constitution. Sovereignty is vested in the citizenry, and the Emperor is defined as the symbol of state. Executive power is exercised by a cabinet, composed of a prime minister and ministers of state, which is responsible to the Diet, a two-house parliament. The Diet, elected by universal suffrage and secret ballot, designates the Prime Minister, who must be a member of that body. The most recent national elections were in November. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the New Conservative Party, and the Komeito Party make up the current coalition Government headed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. The judiciary is generally independent.

The Self-Defense Forces are responsible for external security and have limited domestic security responsibilities. The well-organized and disciplined police force is effectively under the control of the civilian authorities. However, there continued to be credible reports that police committed some human rights abuses.

In spite of a lengthy economic downturn, the industrialized, free market economy continued to provide the approximately 127 million residents with a high standard of living and high levels of employment.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in some areas. There continued to be credible reports that police and prison officials physically and psychologically abused prisoners and detainees. Violence against women and children, child prostitution, and trafficking in women were problems. Women, the Ainu (the country's indigenous people), the Burakumin (a group whose members historically were treated as outcasts), and alien residents experienced varying degrees of societal discrimination, some of it severe and longstanding. According to Ministry of Justice figures, Legal Affairs Bureau offices and civil liberties volunteers dealt with 382,952 human rights-related complaints during 2002. Also during 2002, the Regional Legal Affairs Bureaus and the District Legal Affairs Bureaus received reports of 18,517 suspected human rights violations. However, staffing constraints and limited legal powers kept the administrative system for combating human rights violations weak, and many of these cases were ultimately resolved in the courts.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were no reports of the arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life committed by the Government or its agents during the year.

In 2002, a 49-year-old male inmate at Nagoya Prison died after guards, as a disciplinary measure, severely tightened around his abdomen a restraining device used to secure leather handcuffs in which his arms were locked, and then placed him in solitary confinement (see Section 1.c.). In 2001, two Nagoya Prison guards reportedly sprayed a high-power water hose at an "unruly" inmate, severely lacerating his rectum and colon. Despite surgery to repair the damage, the inmate died of an infection the following day. Prosecutors demanded a 2-year sentence for the Deputy Chief Prison Guard, who was involved in both cases. At year's end, seven other prison guards indicted on charges of inmate abuse awaited sentencing. In November, family members of a deceased prisoner and three former inmates sued the Government for abuses suffered in Nagoya Prison between 2001 and 2002. At year's end, the trial was still underway.


There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits such practices, and the Penal Code prohibits violence and cruelty toward suspects under criminal investigation; however, reports by several bar associations, human rights groups, and some prisoners indicated that police and prison officials sometimes used physical violence, including kicking and beating, as well as psychological intimidation, to obtain confessions from suspects in custody or to enforce discipline. The National Police Law permits persons to lodge complaints against the police with national and local public safety commissions. These commissions may direct the police to conduct investigations. However, public confidence in the system remained low, and allegations persisted that the police and the public safety commissions remained lax in investigating charges of police misconduct.

The Constitution and the Criminal Code include safeguards to ensure that no criminal suspect can be compelled to make a self-incriminating confession or be convicted or punished in cases where the only evidence against the accused is his own confession. The appellate courts overturned some convictions in recent years on the grounds that they were obtained as a result of coerced confessions. In addition, civil and criminal suits alleging abuse during interrogation and detention have been brought against some police and prosecution officials.

Approximeately 90 percent of all criminal cases going to trial included confessions, reflecting the priority the judicial system placed on admission of guilt. Confession was regarded as the first step in the rehabilitative process. The Government maintained that the high percentage of confessions, like the high conviction rate, was reflective of a higher standard of evidence needed to bring about indictment in the judicial system. However, Amnesty International pointed out that the confession-based system allows for incommunicado detention for up to 23 days, prolonged interrogations, and harsh psychological conditions.

A 2001 case of a prison death (see Section 1.a.) made public early in 2003 sparked a broad investigation into the prison system. Two other cases of abuse involving Nagoya Prison guards were reported in 2002. Eight guards were indicted for causing serious internal injuries to one prisoner and fatally injuring another using a restraining device consisting of a leather belt with attached leather manacles.

The Justice Ministry formed a special team to investigate 1,566 prisoner deaths from 1993 to 2002. A preliminary report suggested that nearly one—third of the cases involved suspicious circumstances. However, in June, the Ministry announced that there was evidence of abuse only in the two Nagoya fatalities. Regarding the other suspicious deaths, the Ministry said that approximately 10 deaths could be attributed to poor medical care. The authorities reported they had lost the documentation on nine deaths in Tokyo's Fuchu Prison. The remaining deaths were determined to be "not suspicious."

During the year, the Minister of Justice formed a Prison Reform Committee, which banned the use of the leather restraining device for a 6-month period until an appropriate substitute could be identified. During the 6 months, correctional facilities were obligated to inform the Ministry when they intended to use the device and to videotape the prisoners during its use. The committee also required prison officials to keep records of death for 10 years, instead of 3, and worked to develop a system that would allow prisoners to complain of mistreatment without fear of retribution. In May, the Minister formed a subcommittee to improve prison medical facilities.

Prison conditions met international standards. However, prisons in most areas of the country were not heated, and prisoners were given only minimal additional clothing to protect themselves against cold weather. There have been cases of frostbite among the prison population in recent years. In 2001, the Ministry of Justice requested funding for a 3-year plan to install heaters in prison buildings nationwide. Individual cells remained unheated. Prisoners were not allowed to purchase or receive supplementary food. The authorities read letters to and from prisoners, and some letters were censored, or, with a court order, confiscated. All visits with convicted prisoners were monitored; however, those prisoners whose cases were pending were allowed private access to their legal representatives. The Justice Ministry is not required to inform a condemned inmate's family prior to the person's execution. Human rights organizations reported that lawyers also were not told of an execution until after the fact, and that death row prisoners were held for years in solitary confinement with little contact with anyone but prison guards. Parole may not be granted for any reason, including medical and humanitarian reasons, until an inmate has served two-thirds of his or her sentence.

The Japanese Federation of Bar Associations and human rights groups have criticized the prison system, with its emphasis on strict discipline and obedience to numerous rules. Prison rules remained confidential. Wardens continued to have broad leeway in enforcing punishments selectively, including "minor solitary confinement," which may be imposed for a minimum of 1 and not more than 60 days during which the prisoner is made to sit (for foreigners) or kneel (for citizens) motionless in the middle of an empty cell.

In December, an advisory panel to the Justice Minister submitted a proposal to revise the 95-year-old Prison Law. The proposal calls for the establishment of a nongovernmental "watchdog" group to protect prisoners' rights and consider petitions about possible mistreatment; greater flexibility and transparency in prison operations; increased visitation and communications with families and acquaintances; improved medical facilities; regulations on punitive confinement; and increased prison staff. The Ministry of Justice is expected to submit new legislation, or an amendment to the current Prison Law, to the Diet by 2005.

Women and juveniles were housed in separate facilities from men; at times during the year, some women's detention facilities were operating over stated capacity. Pretrial detainees were held separately from convicted prisoners (see Section 1.d.).

Conditions in Immigration detention facilities met international standards.

The Government restricted access to prisons by human rights groups.

Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Constitutional provisions for freedom from arbitrary arrest or imprisonment generally were respected in practice. The law provides for judicial determination of the legality of detention. Persons may not be detained without charge, and prosecuting authorities must be prepared to demonstrate before trial that probable cause exists to detain the accused. Under the law, a suspect may be held in detention at either a regular detention facility or "substitute" (police) detention facility for up to 72 hours. A judge must interview suspects prior to detention. A judge may extend preindictment custody by up to 2 consecutive 10-day periods based on a prosecutor's application. These extensions were sought and granted routinely. Under extraordinary circumstances, prosecutors may seek an additional 5-day extension, bringing the maximum period of preindictment custody to 28 days.

The National Police Safety Commission oversees the National Police Agency (NPA), which has six internal bureaus: the Secretariat, the Administration Bureau, the Criminal Investigation Bureau, the Traffic Bureau, the Security Bureau, and the Communications Bureau; and regional bureaus in Shikoku, Kyushu, Tohoku, Kanto, Chubu, Kinki, and Chugoku. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Communications Division and the Hokkaido Prefecture Police Communications Division function as local units with more autonomy than the units under regional jurisdictions. In addition, each prefecture has a prefectural police safety commission as well as a prefectural police agency, which is primarily funded by the prefecture's budget. There were approximately 15,000 koban (police boxes) located throughout the country. Corruption and impunity were not problems within either the national or the prefectural police forces.

Under the Criminal Procedure Code, police and prosecutors have the power to control or limit access by legal counsel when deemed necessary for the sake of an investigation. Counsel may not be present during interrogations at any time before or after indictment. As a court-appointed attorney is not approved until after indictment, suspects must rely on their own resources to hire an attorney before indictment, although local bar associations provided detainees with limited free counseling. Critics charged that access to counsel was limited both in duration and frequency; however, the Government denied that this was the case.

Critics charged that allowing suspects to be detained by the same authorities who interrogated them heightened the potential for abuse and coercion. The Government countered that cases sent to police detention facilities tended to be those in which the facts were not in dispute. A Justice Ministry regulation permits detention house officials to limit the amount of documentation related to ongoing court cases retained by prisoners.

The length of time before a suspect was brought to trial depended on the nature of the crime but rarely exceeded 3 months from the date of arrest; the average was 1 to 2 months.

The law does not permit forced exile, and it was not used.

Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government generally respected this provision in practice. The Cabinet appoints judges for 10-year terms, which can be renewed until judges reach the age of 65. Justices of the Supreme Court can serve until the age of 70 but face periodic review through popular referendums.

There are several levels of courts, including high courts, district courts, family courts, and summary courts, with the Supreme Court serving as the final court of appeal. Normally a trial begins at the district court level, and a verdict may be appealed to a higher court, and ultimately, to the Supreme Court.

The Government generally respected in practice the constitutional provisions for the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial tribunal in all criminal cases. Although most criminal trials were completed within a reasonable length of time, cases may take several years to work their way through the trial and appeals process. In July, the Diet passed legislation aimed at reducing the average time required to complete criminal trials and civil trials that include witness examination. Its provisions include hiring substantial numbers of additional court and Justice Ministry personnel, revising bar examinations, establishing new graduate law schools to increase the overall number of legal professionals three-fold by 2010, and requiring that courts and opposing litigants jointly work to improve trial planning by allowing for earlier evidence collection and disclosure. The advisory panel on judicial reform released the official standards for setting up graduate law schools, and, in November, an education ministry panel approved 66 schools' programs to establish the country's first law schools in the spring of 2004. The first common admission exam was administered on August 31. In 2002, the Ministry of Justice, the Supreme Court, and the Japan Bar Association agreed to set up a new bar examination system by 2010. On July 16, a law took effect, which makes the Supreme Court responsible for accelerating proceedings in lower courts, imposes a 2-year time limit for courts to bring criminal and civil trials to conclusion, and requires the Government to take the legal and financial measures necessary to accomplish these goals.

In the extraordinary case of the Aum Shinrikyo 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, the leader of the cult, Chizuo Matsumoto, and his follower, Masami Tsuchiya, who is charged with making the sarin, await a ruling on sentencing, which is scheduled for February 2004 (see Section 2.c.). The other accused persons have been tried, and those convicted have been sentenced.

There is no trial by jury. The defendant is informed of the charges upon arrest and is assured a public trial by an independent civilian court with defense counsel and the right of cross-examination. However, in 2001 the Government's Judicial Reform Council recommended that randomly chosen members of the public be allowed to participate in determining rulings and penalties in criminal trials by deliberating the cases alongside professional judges. The Diet enacted implementing legislation in 2001, with the aim of adopting all of the advisory panel's reform proposals by 2004.

The defendant is presumed innocent. The Constitution provides defendants with the right not to be compelled to testify against themselves as well as to free and private access to counsel; however, the Government contended that the right to consult with attorneys is not absolute and can be restricted if such restriction is compatible with the spirit of the Constitution. Access sometimes was abridged in practice; for example, the law allows prosecutors to control access to counsel before indictment, and there were allegations of coerced confessions (see Sections 1.c. and 1.d.). Defendants are protected from the retroactive application of laws and have the right of access to incriminating evidence after a formal indictment has been made. However, the law does not require full disclosure by prosecutors, and material that the prosecution does not use in court may be suppressed. Critics claimed that legal representatives of defendants did not always have access to all needed relevant material in the police record to prepare their defense. A defendant who is dissatisfied with the decision of a trial court of first instance may appeal to a higher court.

No guidelines mandate the acceptable quality of communications between judges, lawyers, and non-Japanese speaking defendants, and no standard licensing or qualification system for certifying court interpreters exists. In 2000, the Supreme Court introduced a training system to help court interpreters understand complicated trial procedures. A trial may proceed even if the accused does not understand what is happening or being said. Foreign detainees frequently claimed that police urged them to sign statements in Japanese that they could not read and that were not translated adequately.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution protects the right to privacy of family, home, and correspondence, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice. Under the Constitution, each search or seizure must be based on a separate warrant issued by a judge. Standards for issuing such warrants exist to guard against arbitrary searches. The law allows law enforcement authorities, after obtaining a court warrant, to use wiretaps in certain criminal investigations, including suspected drug offenses, murder, and trafficking in persons if law enforcement officials can demonstrate that all other investigative techniques have been ineffective. The law also stiffened penalties for unauthorized use of wiretaps by police authorities.

In 2002, the Defense Agency confirmed reports that it had violated a law protecting personal information when it compiled lists of citizens seeking official documents. This inspired public debate on a privacy bill, which passed the Diet on May 23.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to ensure freedom of speech and of the press.

In July, the Diet passed legislation prohibiting the solicitation of sex from minors through the Internet (see Section 5). The Japan Internet Providers Association and the Telcom Services Association expressed concerns about the definitions of child-prohibited sites and about the actions providers are required to take to prevent illegal use of Internet sites.

Academic freedom was not restricted. The Science, Technology and Education Ministry's authority to order revisions to elementary, middle, and high school textbooks based on national curriculum guidelines remained a source of domestic and international controversy.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice.

The Government does not require that religious groups be licensed. However, to receive official recognition as a religious organization, which brings tax benefits and other advantages, a group must register with local or national authorities as a "religious corporation." In practice, almost all religious groups were registered.

Aum Shinrikyo, the religious group responsible for the 1994 sarin gas attack in Matsumoto and the 1995 sarin attacks in the Tokyo subway, lost its status as a religious organization in 1996. In 2000, the group, which is considered a terrorist organization, changed its name to Aleph. In April, prosecutors demanded the death penalty for its leader, Chizuo Matsumoto, for his involvement in the gas attacks, as well as several previous counts of abduction and murder. The ruling is scheduled for February 2004. Matsumoto and Tsuchiya will be the last of 192 Aum members tried and sentenced in connection with crimes committed by the group. Because the group is still considered dangerous, in April the Public Security Investigation Agency extended surveillance of the group for an additional 3 years.

Members of the Unification Church and Jehovah's Witnesses alleged that police did not act in response to allegations of forced deprogramming of church members. They also claimed that police did not enforce the laws against kidnapping when the victim was held by family members, asserting that Unification Church members were subjected to prolonged arbitrary detention by individuals, who were not charged by police.

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2003 International Religious Freedom Report.

Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government generally respected them in practice.

Citizens have the right to travel freely both within the country and abroad, to change their place of residence, to emigrate, and to repatriate voluntarily. Citizenship may be forfeited by naturalization in a foreign country or by failure of persons born with dual nationality to elect citizenship at the required age.

The law provides for the granting of refugee status or asylum to persons who meet the definition in the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol. In practice, the Government provided protection against refoulement, but did not routinely grant refugee or asylum status. The Government cooperated with the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. The Government requires applicants to appear at an Immigration office within 60 days of arrival or within 60 days of learning that they are likely to be persecuted in their home country. Individuals who do not present their applications within the 60-day time frame due to extenuating circumstances may apply for an exception. However, the UNHCR estimated that approximately 50 percent of applicants were rejected for failing to meet the 60-day application deadline. An alien recognized as a refugee has access to educational facilities, public relief and aid, and social welfare benefits.

In 2002, North Korean nationals attempting to claim political asylum were stopped and arrested by Chinese security officials inside the Japanese Consulate General in Shenyang, China. The public scrutiny and criticism resulting from the incident led the Government to reexamine its refugee policy. In November 2002, a Ministry of Justice advisory group proposed that the 60-day application deadline be extended to either 6 months or a full year; however, by year's end, no extension had been put into effect. In an effort to make procedures clearer to applicants, the Government distributed a pamphlet in English, Chinese, and eight other languages to those interested in the asylum process.

In recent years, the Government has granted refugee and asylum status to those claiming fear of persecution in only a small number of cases. A nongovernmental organization (NGO), in a statement to the U.N. Subcommission on Protection and Promotion of Human Rights, noted that from 1982 to December 2002, 301 persons were accepted as refugees. The Government considered that most persons seeking asylum in the country did so for economic reasons. In 2002, 250 persons sought asylum and the Government recognized 14 refugee cases. According to UNHCR, most new applicants were from Burma, China, Pakistan, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Iran.

In March, the Cabinet approved a bill allowing the Justice Minister to issue temporary-stay permits to asylum seekers who meet designated criteria. The Minister may also grant special permits on a case-by-case basis for those who do not meet the qualifications. Once refugee applications are approved, the Minister may also grant resident status. At year's end, the bill was awaiting Diet approval.

Beginning in January, the Immigration Bureau began to give detailed, written explanations of decisions not to grant refugee status to asylum-seekers and, on a trial basis, opened an information office at Narita Airport for potential asylum seekers.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage.

The country is a parliamentary democracy governed by the political party or parties able to form a majority in the lower house of its bicameral Diet. The Liberal Democratic Party and the Komeito Party formed the existing coalition government. Except for a brief hiatus in the 1990s, the LDP has been the dominant party in every government since the mid-1950s.

In recent years, the numbers of women holding public office has slowly increased. At year's end, women held 34 seats in the 480-member lower house of the Diet, and 38 of the 247 seats in the upper house. There were 3 women in the 18-member Cabinet. Four of the country's 47 governors were women; the female Governors of Osaka and Kumamoto were elected in 2000, a third was elected in Chiba in 2001, and a fourth in Hokkaido in April. Women accounted for 5.8, 10.8 and 4.9 percent of the elected members of prefectural, municipal, city and town assemblies respectively.

No figures were available at the national level regarding minority political participation.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A number of local and international human rights organizations functioned freely, without governmental restrictions, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views, although the Government restricted access by human rights groups to prisons and Immigration detention facilities (see Section 1.c.).

The Justice Ministry's Council for Human Rights Promotion, an advisory panel, continued to work on a 5-year mandate to develop measures to educate citizens about the importance of respecting human rights. In 2001, the Council submitted a final set of recommendations that included the establishment of a human rights commission to provide relief through arbitration and administrative guidance to victims of social and racial discrimination, domestic violence, and human rights violations committed by public authorities and members of the media (the recommendations cited breaches of privacy, defamation, and "obstruction of a peaceful private life" as potential human rights violations by the mass media and Internet users). The report recommended that the proposed body be granted investigative powers, but it also recommended that its secretariat be established through a reorganization of the Justice Ministry's existing Civil Liberties Bureau. At year's end, this legislation was still under consideration in the Diet.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, creed, gender, social status, or family origin, and the Government generally respected these provisions.


Violence against women, particularly domestic violence, often went unreported due to social and cultural concerns about shaming one's family or endangering the reputation of one's spouse or children. Consequently, National Police Agency statistics on violence against women probably understated the magnitude of the problem. The law allows district courts to impose 6-month restraining orders on perpetrators and to sentence violators to up to 1 year in prison or fines of up to $7,910 (1 million yen). In addition, the law covers common-law marriages and divorced individuals; it also encourages prefectures to expand shelter facilities for domestic abuse victims and stipulates that local governments offer financial assistance to 40 private institutions already operating such shelters. NPA statistics reported 2,357 rapes and 9,476 indecent assaults in 2002. Husbands have been prosecuted for spousal rape; usually these cases involved a third party who assisted in the rape.

Many local governments responded to the need for confidential assistance for abused women by establishing special women's consultation departments in police and prefectural offices. In 2002, police received 21,696 stalking complaints, arrested 178 persons, and issued 965 warnings.

Local governments and private rail operators continued to implement measures designed to address the widespread problem of groping and molestation of female commuters. Several railway companies have introduced women-only rail cars on various trains, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly revised its anti-groping ordinance to make first-time offenders subject to imprisonment.

Trafficking in women was a problem (see Section 6.f.). Prostitution is illegal, but it occurs.

The Constitution and the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Law prohibit sexual discrimination; however, sexual harassment in the workplace remained widespread. The National Personnel Authority established workplace rules in an effort to stop harassment in public servants' workplaces. A 1999 revision to the EEO Law includes measures to identify companies that fail to prevent sexual harassment, but it does not include punitive measures to enforce compliance, other than allowing names of offending companies to be publicized. A number of government entities have established hot lines and designated ombudsmen to handle complaints of discrimination and sexual harassment. The Labor Standards Law forbids wage discrimination against women.

Women make up 40.5 percent of the labor force, and women between the ages of 15 and 64 have a labor force participation rate of 48.5 percent. Although the Labor Standards and the EEO laws prohibit wage discrimination against women, in 2002, female workers on average earned only 66.5 percent of average male earnings. Much of this disparity resulted from the "two-track" personnel administration system found in most larger companies under which new hires were put into one of two categories: Managerial track, in which those engaged in planning and decision making jobs had the potential to become top executives, and general track, in which employees engaged in general office work. In 2002, the Supreme Court mediated a settlement to a 1987 lawsuit in which 13 female employees had sued the Shiba Shinkin Bank over discriminatory salary and promotion policies. As a result of the mediation, six retired plaintiffs were retroactively promoted to section chief and paid lost wages worth $1.86 million. Of the seven employed plaintiffs, six received immediate promotions to become section chiefs and one was guaranteed a chance to take the promotion exam.

Advocacy groups for women and persons with disabilities continued to press for a government investigation, a formal government apology, and compensation for sterilizations that were carried out between 1949-92.

The Asian Women's Fund (AWF) is a private, government-sponsored fund established to "extend atonement and support" to former "comfort women" (as many as 200,000 women, including Koreans, Filipinos, Chinese, Indonesians, Dutch, and Japanese, forced to provide sex to soldiers between 1932-45). The AWF supported three types of projects: Payments to individual victims; medical and welfare assistance to individual comfort women; and funding projects to improve the general status of women and girls. At the close of 2002, the AWF had collected donations totaling approximately $4.91 million (590 million yen) and given lump sum payments of almost $4.75 million (570 million yen) as well as letters of apology signed by the Prime Minister to more than 285 women from the Philippines, Korea, and Taiwan. These women also received medical and welfare assistance from the AWF. The Government's refusal to pay direct compensation continued to draw international criticism.


The Government is committed to children's rights and welfare, and in general the rights of children were protected adequately. Boys and girls have equal access to health care and other public services. Education is free and compulsory through the lower secondary level (age 14, or ninth grade). Education was available widely to students who met minimum academic standards at the upper secondary level through the age of 18. Society places an extremely high value on education, and enrollment levels for both boys and girls through the free upper secondary level (to age 18) exceeded 96 percent.

Public attention was focused increasingly on reports of frequent child abuse in the home. The law grants child welfare officials the authority to prohibit abusive parents from meeting or communicating with their children. The law also bans abuse under the guise of discipline and obliges teachers, doctors, and welfare officials to report any suspicious circumstances to 1 of the 182 nationwide local child counseling centers or to municipal welfare centers. In May, the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare reported that 108 children have died of abuse since the November 2000 enactment of the Child Abuse Prevention Law. From April 2002 to March, there were 23,738 cases of child abuse, 8,940 of which were considered neglect.

Incidents of violence in schools and severe bullying ("ijime") also continued to be a societal and government concern. An Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology Ministry survey released in 2002 reported 33,765 cases of violence by students in public schools during the 2001-02 academic year, an 11.7 percent decrease from the previous year. The Ministry attributed the decrease to its policy of suspending children with behavioral problems and increasing coordination with the police. Student-on-student violence accounted for 50 percent of the violence by students in public schools. As for bullying, the number of cases in 2002-03 decreased 11.3 percent from the previous year to 22,207 cases. The Ministry of Justice's Office of the Ombudsman for Children's Rights provided counseling services for children 18 years of age and younger who have been victims of bullying.

In previous years, both the Government and society in general appeared to take a lenient attitude toward teenage prostitution and dating for money (which sometimes but not always involved sexual activity). However, in July, the Diet passed a law criminalizing the use of the Internet for child pornography and prostitution (see Section 2.a.). According to the NPA, the police arrested 1,366 persons in 2002 for crimes involving teenage prostitution and child pornography, a 340-person increase over 2001. However, teenage prostitution, dating for money, and child pornography continued to be problems.

Children can be held criminally responsible for their actions at age 14. Under juvenile law, juvenile suspects are tried in family court and have the right of appeal to an appellate court. Family court proceedings are not open to the public, a policy that has been criticized by family members of juvenile crime victims. During the year, the number of juveniles who committed penal code offenses was up 2.3 percent according to the NPA. For the last several years, juvenile crime has shown a trend toward more serious offenses such as murder, robbery, arson, and rape.

The Tokyo prefectural government continued programs to protect the welfare of stateless children, whose births their illegal immigrant mothers had refused to register for fear of forcible repatriation. According to Justice Ministry statistics, 720 stateless minors under the age of 5 were in the country in 2000.

Persons with Disabilities

There were an estimated 3.2 million persons over the age of 18 with physical disabilities and roughly 2 million persons with mental disabilities. Although not generally subject to overt discrimination in employment, education, or in the provision of other state services, persons with disabilities faced limited access to public transportation, "mainstream" public education, and other facilities. The Deliberation Panel on the Employment of the Handicapped, which operates within the Ministry of Labor, has mandated that private companies with 300 or more employees hire a fixed minimum proportion of persons with disabilities. The penalty for noncompliance is a fine. In 2001, the Diet amended 27 laws that had banned the blind, deaf, and those with mental disabilities from working as doctors, dentists, nurses, and pharmacists, and the Health, Labor, and Welfare Ministry started awarding licenses for these professions on a case-by-case basis.

The law does not mandate accessibility to buildings for persons with disabilities; however, the law on construction standards for public facilities allows operators of hospitals, theaters, hotels, and similar enterprises to receive low-interest loans and tax benefits if they build wider entrances and elevators to accommodate persons with disabilities. In 2000, the barrier-free transportation law took effect, requiring public transport systems to take measures to make their facilities more accessible to persons with disabilities as well as to the elderly. In November 2002, the Tokyo District Court declared unconstitutional the Public Offices Election Law, which did not exempt persons with severe physical disabilities from the requirement to handwrite the name of the candidate on the ballot when voting by mail. Three Tokyo residents who suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease, a condition that left them unable to write, had brought the case.

The Law to Promote the Employment of the Handicapped includes those with mental disabilities. The law also loosened the licensing requirements for community support centers that promote employment for persons with disabilities, and it introduced government subsidies for the employment of persons with mental disabilities in part-time jobs. Despite the enactment of this law, Health, Labor, and Welfare Ministry data showed that during fiscal year 2001, the number of persons with disabilities fired from their jobs reach a record high of 4,017, a 1.6-fold increase from the previous year, significantly higher than the 1.2-fold increase recorded for the general population. The Headquarters for Promoting the Welfare of Disabled Persons, set up by the Prime Minister's Office, in previous years recommended that municipalities draw up formal plans for the care of citizens with disabilities. The Ministry of Health and Welfare has instructed local governments to set numerical targets for the number of home help providers and care facilities allocated to persons with disabilities. In 2000, 74.9 percent of municipalities had formal care plans for citizens with disabilities. In 2001, the Government abolished Medical Service Law provisions that had exempted mental hospitals from minimum staffing guidelines; however, reports of understaffing persisted.

Indigenous People

The Ainu are a people descended from the first inhabitants of the country. Under an 1899 law, the Government pursued a policy of forced assimilation, imposing mandatory Japanese-language education and denying the Ainu their right to continue traditional practices. The law also left the Ainu with control of approximately 0.15 percent of their original land holdings and empowered the Government to manage communal assets.

After a 1997 court ruling, the Diet passed a law that recognized the Ainu as an ethnic minority, required all prefectural governments to develop basic programs for promoting Ainu culture and traditions, canceled previous laws that discriminated against the Ainu, and required the Government of Hokkaido to return Ainu communal assets. However, the law stopped short of recognizing the Ainu as the indigenous people of Hokkaido, failed to address whether they deserved special rights as a distinct ethnic group, and did not mandate civil rights protection for the Ainu. A nonbinding accompanying resolution referred to the Ainu as a legal minority. The U.N. Special Rapporteur to the U.N. Working Group on Indigenous Populations stated that the Ainu never had entered into a consensual juridical relationship with any state and stated that the lack of such an agreement deprived them of their rights. Many Ainu criticized the Law to Promote Ainu Culture for not advancing Ainu political rights and criticized the Government for not providing funds for noncultural activities that would improve Ainu living conditions or financial status. The Japan Ainu Association, a nationwide organization of Ainu, lobbied the Government for economic assistance and greater social welfare benefits. According to a 1999 survey, 37.2 percent of Ainu received welfare benefits, roughly double the regional average of 18.4 percent.

Although Ainu-language newspapers, radio programs, and academic programs studying Ainu culture have increased, the Ainu continued to face societal discrimination. In 2001, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) noted that the country "has not taken sufficient steps to address the issue of discriminatory treatment of Koreans and Ainu living in" the country. Also in 2001, several nongovernmental groups protested the Government's failure to note continuing social and economic discrimination faced by the Ainu in its 2000 report to the CERD.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Burakumin, Koreans, and alien workers experienced varying degrees of societal discrimination, some of it severe and longstanding.

The approximately 3 million Burakumin (descendants of feudal era "outcasts" who practiced "unclean" professions such as butchering and undertaking), although not subject to governmental discrimination, frequently were victims of entrenched societal discrimination, including restricted access to housing and employment opportunities. In 2002, as a result of the expiration of the Special Measures Law for Community Investment, Burakumin relief funds were cut to $408.3 million (49 billion yen) from the previous level of $875 million (105 billion yen), and the number of Burakumin-related projects was cut from 1,700 to 1,000. A 2001 working paper commissioned by the U.N. Human Rights Commission's Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights acknowledged that the living standards of the Buraku had improved but noted that discrimination in marriage and employment continued.

According to the Ministry of Justice, there were nearly 1.85 million legal foreign residents as of 2002. The largest group, at approximately 625,422, was ethnic Koreans, followed by Chinese, Brazilians, and Filipinos. The number of Korean residents has been decreasing steadily since 1991 as Korean nationals have naturalized or married Japanese, which allows their children to gain citizenship automatically. Despite improvements in legal safeguards against discrimination, Korean permanent residents (most of whom were born, raised, and educated in Japan) were subject to various forms of deeply entrenched societal discrimination. In 2001, two associations representing Korean residents in the country lodged protests against the Public Security Investigative Agency (PSIA) and the Kyoto municipal government when media reports revealed that the PSIA had investigated over 200 persons of Korean ancestry under the Subversive Activities Prevention Law. Harassment and threats against pro-North Korean organizations and persons reportedly have increased since the 2002 admission by North Korea that it had kidnapped more than a dozen Japanese citizens.

Other foreigners also were subject to discrimination. There was a widespread perception among Japanese nationals that foreigners commit many crimes. In 2001, non-Japanese residents of Nagano Prefecture petitioned the governor to remove posters issued by the Nagano Prefectural Police and the Japan Crime and Fire Prevention Communication Association that depicted foreigners committing crimes. Also in 2001, as a result of widespread media attention, appeals by the Justice Ministry, and an anti-discrimination campaign waged by NGOs, several businesses in Hokkaido lifted their bans against foreigners. In 2001, Hokkaido police investigated death threats made against a foreign-born naturalized citizen who had sued a bathhouse for refusing him entrance on the basis of race and the Otaru Municipal Government for failing to take measures to stop discriminatory entrance policies. In November 2002, the Sapporo District Court ordered the bathhouse to pay the plaintiff $25,000 (3 million yen) for subjecting the plaintiff to racial discrimination. The court rejected the claim against the Otaru Municipal Government, saying that the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination does not require local governments to institute ordinances to stamp out discrimination.

By law, aliens with 5 years of continuous residence are eligible for naturalization and the simultaneous acquisition of citizenship rights, including the right to vote; however, in practice most eligible aliens choose not to apply for citizenship, in part due to fears that their cultural identity would be lost. Obstacles to naturalization included broad discretion available to adjudicating officers and great emphasis on Japanese-language ability. Naturalization procedures also required an extensive background check, including inquiries into the applicant's economic status and assimilation into society. Koreans were given the option of adopting a Japanese surname. The Government defended its naturalization procedures as necessary to ensure the smooth assimilation of foreigners into society. Alien permanent residents may live abroad for up to 4 or 5 years without losing their right to permanent residence in the country.

In 2000, the Supreme Court upheld Nagoya and Osaka High Court decisions rejecting appeals by Korean permanent residents demanding the right to vote in local elections. The courts have consistently ruled that limiting the vote to citizens is constitutional, but that the Diet could legislate suffrage for foreign residents. Such legislation was submitted to the Diet and remains under deliberation.

Under the School Education Law, all students attending Chinese, Korean, or other non-Japanese-language schools were not automatically eligible to take national university examinations. They were required to pass a state-run high school equivalency test to qualify for the examinations. However, in September, the School Education Law was amended to allow graduates of 21 non-Japanese language schools to become automatically eligible to take university entrance examinations. The amended law also enabled universities to set their admissions criteria at their own discretion. During the year, many national universities also admitted graduates of non-Japanese language schools other than the 21 schools included in the School Education Law amendment.

In 2000, a revised law to end the practice of fingerprinting permanent foreign residents went into effect. The Government established a family registry system similar to that used for citizens. Foreign residents still are required to carry alien registration certificates at all times, but the revised law reduces the penalties imposed on those found without documentation.

In 1996, the Home Affairs Ministry reversed the national policy of opposition to lifting the citizenship requirement for public servants. However, the Ministry instructed local governments to restrict noncitizens' access to jobs that involved the exercise of public authority and influencing of public opinion, and required local governments to state clearly which jobs were closed to noncitizens. Jobs considered off limits included tax collection, construction permit issuance, sanitation inspection, and firefighting.

According to a 1997 joint survey conducted by the All Japan Prefectural and Municipal Workers Union and the Korean Residents Association in Japan, 19.8 percent of local governments forbade hiring noncitizens.

Section 6 Worker Rights

The Right of Association

The Constitution provides for the right of workers to associate freely in unions. In 2002, approximately 10.8 million workers, 20.2 percent of all employees, belonged to labor unions. Unions were free of government control and influence. The Japanese Trade Union Confederation, which represented 6.8 million workers and was formed in 1989 through the merger of several confederations, was the largest labor organization.

Some public employees, including members of the Self-Defense Forces, police, and firefighters are not permitted to form unions or to strike. These restrictions have led to a long-running dispute with the International Labor Organization's (ILO) Committee on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations over the observance of ILO Convention 98 concerning the right to organize and bargain collectively. The Committee has observed that these public employees have a limited capacity to participate in the process of determining their wages and has asked the Government to consider measures it could take to encourage negotiations with public employees. The Government determines the pay of government employees based on a recommendation by the independent National Personnel Authority.

The law prohibits anti-union discrimination, and adequate mechanisms existed for resolving cases that occurred, including the reinstatement with back wages of any workers fired for union activities.

Unions were free to affiliate internationally and were active in international bodies, most notably the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.

The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Constitution provides unions with the right to organize, bargain, and act collectively. These rights were exercised freely, and collective bargaining was practiced widely. The annual "Spring Wage Offensive," in which individual unions in each industry conduct negotiations simultaneously with their firms, involved nationwide participation. Management usually consulted closely with its enterprise union. However, trade unions were independent of management and aggressively pursued the interests of their workers. The right to strike, implicit in the Constitution, was exercised. During 2001, 29,101 workdays involving 223,144 employees were lost to strikes. The law prohibits retribution against strikers and is enforced effectively.

There are no export processing zones.

Prohibition of Forced or Bonded Labor

The Constitution provides that no person shall be held in bondage of any kind. Involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime, is prohibited. Although children were not specified in the provision, this legal prohibition against forced or compulsory labor applies equally to adults and to children.

Former Allied prisoners of war and Chinese and Korean workers continued to press claims for damages and compensation for forced labor during World War II in Japanese civil courts, U.S. courts, and in complaints to the ILO. In January, a U.S. federal appeals court dismissed a number of lawsuits by former prisoners of war and civilians who alleged they had been forced to labor for private Japanese firms during World War II. In 2002, 15 Chinese men who were forced to work in coalmines during World War II appealed a decision handed down by the Fukuoka High Court that ordered Mitsui Mining Co., but not the Government, to pay them compensation. In late 2001, 18 Chinese men filed a law suit for damages against the Government and 2 major construction firms to seek compensation for their forced labor during World War II, seeking $3.87 million (464.4 million yen) in damages and a public apology. In 2001, in two separate cases, the Tokyo and Kyoto District Courts ordered the Government to pay damages. In the first, compensation was ordered to the family of a Chinese man who died in hiding after escaping from a coalmine where he had been forced to work during World War II. In the second case, compensation was ordered to be paid to 15 survivors of a 1945 explosion that had killed 524 Koreans brought to the country as forced laborers. Both courts ruled that the Government had failed to ensure a safe return home for the laborers but rejected further compensation for their forced labor. In 2002, the Government appealed both rulings. An ILO committee has called on the Government to take additional measures to satisfy individual Chinese and Korean victims of forced labor during the war. In 2000, the Diet passed a law offering "condolence money" for foreign nationals killed or injured while serving with the Imperial forces in response to a 1998 Tokyo High Court recommendation. The Public Management Ministry began accepting applications for condolence money in 2001; the legislation provides for payments of $33,333 (4 million yen) to seriously injured foreign national soldiers and $21,667 (2.6 million yen) to the survivors of those foreign nationals killed in service. However, seriously injured Japanese veterans are eligible for $632,761 (80 million yen) and a lifetime pension.

The AWF continued to support former comfort women, who were forced to provide sexual services to Japanese troops during World War II (see Section 5).

Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

The Constitution bans the exploitation of children. Both societal values and the rigorous enforcement of the Labor Standards Law protect children from exploitation in the workplace. By law, children under the age of 15 may not be employed, and those under age 18 may not be employed in dangerous or harmful jobs. In 2001, the Labor Inspection Division of the Ministry of Labor, which vigorously enforces the Labor Standards Law, reported 18 instances of children under the age of 15 being employed and 25 instances of children under the age of 18 being employed in dangerous or harmful jobs.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Minimum wages are set on a regional (prefectural) and industry basis, with the input of tripartite (workers, employers, public interest) advisory councils. Employers covered by a minimum wage must post the concerned minimum wages, and compliance with minimum wages was considered widespread. Minimum wage rates including benefits, effective during 2002, ranged from $18 (2,231 yen) per hour in Tokyo to $11 (1,358 yen) in Aomori Prefecture and were considered sufficient to provide a worker and family with a decent standard of living. The Labor Standards Law provides for a 40-hour workweek for most industries and mandates premium pay for hours worked over 40 in a week, or 8 in a day. However, labor unions frequently criticized the Government for failing to enforce maximum working hour regulations in smaller firms.

The Ministry of Labor effectively administered various laws and regulations governing occupational health and safety, principal among which is the Industrial Safety and Health Law. Standards were set by the Ministry of Labor and issued after consultation with the Standing Committee on Safety and Health of the Central Labor Standards Council. Labor inspectors have the authority to suspend unsafe operations immediately, and the law provides that workers may voice concerns over occupational safety and remove themselves from unsafe working conditions without jeopardizing their continued employment.

Activist groups claimed that employers exploited or discriminated against foreign workers, who often had little or no knowledge of the Japanese language or their legal rights. The Immigration Bureau of the Justice Ministry estimated that as of January, there were approximately 220,000 foreign nationals, primarily from South Korea, the Philippines, China, Thailand, and Malaysia, residing illegally in the country, a reduction of 3,500 persons from the previous year.

The Government tried to reduce the inflow of illegal foreign workers by prosecuting employers of such workers. Revisions of the Immigration Law provide for penalties against employers of undocumented foreign workers. Suspected foreign workers also may be denied entry for passport, visa, and entry application irregularities. The Government continued to study the foreign worker issue, and several citizens' groups were working with illegal foreign workers to improve their access to information on worker rights.

f. Trafficking in Persons

The Constitution prohibits holding persons in bondage, and the Penal Code contains several provisions that could be used to combat trafficking in persons; however, there are no specific laws that prohibit trafficking in persons, and trafficking of women and girls into the country was a problem. Women and girls, primarily from Thailand, the Philippines, and Eastern Europe, were trafficked into the country for sexual exploitation and forced labor. Women and girls from Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, South Korea, Malaysia, Burma, and Indonesia also were trafficked into the country in smaller numbers. The country was a destination for illegal immigrants from China who were trafficked by organized crime groups who often held such persons in debt bondage for sexual exploitation and indentured servitude in sweatshops and restaurants. The Government reported that some smugglers used killings and abduction to ensure payment.

There was evidence that trafficking took place within the country to the extent that some recruited women subsequently were forced, through the sale of their "contracts," to work for other employers. Child prostitution was a problem (see Section 5).

Reliable statistics on the number of women trafficked to the country were unavailable. During 2002, the NPA identified 55 women as potential trafficking victims during criminal investigations involving entertainment businesses. In the course of those investigations, 28 individuals were prosecuted as trafficking brokers under various immigration and entertainment facility laws. However, the Government does not consider an individual who has willingly entered into an agreement to work illegally in the country to be a trafficking victim, regardless of that person's working conditions once in the country. Thus, government figures may understate the problem as persons who agreed to one kind of work found themselves doing another, or were subject to force, fraud, or coercion. Traffickers were prosecuted for crimes ranging from violations of employment law to Penal Code offenses such as abduction, and the Government did not compile statistics on the number of trafficking victims associated with these cases. Because trafficked women generally were deported under immigration law as prostitutes, immigration statistics may provide only a rough picture of the scale of the problem. A government-funded study released in 2000 found that nearly two-thirds of foreign women surveyed following arrests for immigration offenses stated that they were working in the sex industry under duress.

Many women who were trafficked into the country, particularly from the Philippines, entered legally on entertainment visas. In 2002, approximately 69,986 women from the Philippines entered the country on such visas. "Entertainers" are not covered by the Labor Standards Law, and have no minimum wage protections; however, there were indications that they may be somewhat less vulnerable to abuse by employers than female migrant workers entering illegally or on other types of visas. To tighten scrutiny on the entertainer visa system, the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law was revised to give regional immigration bureaus the authority to verify that foreigners entering the country on such visas are abiding by all relevant regulations. Early results of the checks showed that a significant number of entertainer visa holders acquired their visas using fraudulent information, often listing defunct shops or fictitious establishments as employers on immigration documents. Regional immigration bureaus planned to file criminal complaints against promoters of entertainer visas who submitted fraudulent information.

Brokers in the countries of origin recruited women and "sold" them to Japanese intermediaries, who in turn subjected them to debt bondage and coercion. Agents, brokers, and employers involved in trafficking for sexual exploitation often had ties to organized crime.

Women trafficked to the country generally were employed as prostitutes under coercive conditions in businesses licensed to provide commercial sex services. Sex entertainment businesses are classified as "store form" businesses such as strip clubs, sex shops, hostess bars, and private video rooms, and as "nonstore form" businesses such as escort services and mail order video services, which arrange for sexual services to be conducted elsewhere. According to NGOs and other credible sources, most women who were trafficked to the country for the purpose of sexual exploitation were employed as hostesses in "snack" bars, where they were required to provide sexual services off premises.

Many Thai women were enticed to come to the country with offers of lucrative legitimate employment, only to be sexually exploited; many others reportedly knew that they would work as prostitutes. However, whether or not they understood the nature of the work they would be doing, trafficked women generally did not understand the debts they would be forced to repay, the amount of time it would take them to repay the debts, or the conditions of employment they would be subjected to upon arrival. According to Human Rights Watch, the passports of women trafficked to work in "dating" bars usually were confiscated by their employers, who also demanded repayment for the cost of their "purchase." Typically, the women were charged $25,000 to $40,000 (3 million to 5 million yen); their living expenses and expenses for medical care (when provided by the employer) and other necessities, as well as "fines" for misbehavior, were added to the original "debt" over time. How the debt was calculated was left to the employers; the process was not transparent, and the employers reportedly often used the debt to coerce additional unpaid labor from the trafficked women. Employers also sometimes "resold" or threatened to resell troublesome women or women found to be HIV positive, thereby increasing the debt they must repay and possibly worsening their working conditions. Many women trafficked into the sex trade had their movements strictly controlled by their employers while working off their debt, and were threatened with reprisals, perhaps through members of organized crime groups, to themselves or their families if they tried to escape. Employers often isolated the women, subjected them to constant surveillance, and used violence to punish them for disobedience. Many trafficked women also knew that they were subject to arrest if found without their passports or other identification documents. Few spoke Japanese well, making escape even more difficult.

Domestic NGOs and lawyers compiled credible anecdotal evidence suggesting that some individual police officials returned trafficking victims to their employers when these individuals sought police protection. NGOs also reported that police sometimes declined to investigate suspected brokers when presented with information obtained from trafficking victims.

Except for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which funded a Tokyo-based NGO assisting victims of trafficking, the Government did not assist victims of trafficking for sexual purposes other than to house them temporarily in facilities established under the Anti-prostitution Law, in detention centers for illegal immigrants, or through referrals to shelters run by NGOs; generally they were deported as illegal aliens. Victims without documentation or sufficient funds to return to their country of origin were sometimes detained for long periods. Several NGOs throughout the country provided shelter, medical aid, and legal assistance to trafficking victims. A 2002 domestic violence law channeled funding to two NGOs that worked to provide protection to trafficking victims as well as victims of domestic violence. The Government funded trafficking prevention efforts in Asian source countries, sponsored public information campaigns targeted at potential victims, and provided equipment and training to police and customs officials in those countries.