All the Different Hara’s in Japan
Thursday, December 1, 2022
Japan has all the terminologies for harassment, but not the policies.
The concept of harassment only entered the Japanese vernacular in the 1980s, and it took 9 years before the first court case was heard for sexual harassment「セクシャル・ハラスメント」（セクハラ/ seku-hara） in the workplace and because of the media coverage at the time, it became the buzzword of the year. In theory, the concept that sexual harassment was wrong started to become common knowledge in the 1990s and when the Equal Employment Opportunity Law was amended in 1997 a provision obligating employers to take measures against sexual harassment was introduced.
Unfortunately, what was indicated on paper didn’t exactly make it to practice but the vernacular around harassment continued to evolve. The term power harassment started being used around 2001 and now,「〇〇ハラスメント」or 「〇〇ハラ」is used in all kinds of situations.
In 2011, the government held the "Roundtable Working Group on Bullying and Harassment Issues in the Workplace." Since then, the group has been surveying the actual situation of power harassment in the workplace and providing information for prevention. Official policies in larger corporations seem to be changing but practices and mindsets are slow to adapt.
For now, the is a plethora of vernacular describing all sorts of untoward behavior in the workplace. Here is a list of all the kinds of ~hara in Japan.
Sexual Harassment (セクシャルハラスメント)
When unwanted or inappropriate sexual comments or physical contact is made in the workplace.
Second Harassment (セカンドハラスメント)
When a victim of sexual harassment reports the abuse to their company or superior and is secondarily harassed to stay silent or otherwise ignored or threatened.
Power Harassment (パワーハラスメント）
When someone in a position of power in the workplace uses that power to harass or bully a person in a lower-ranked position.
Moral Harassment (モラルハラスメント)
When a person is mentally harassed through words and attitudes, in the workplace this often manifests as not receiving recognition for work, this kind of harassment is often concealed and happens in private.
Alcohol Harassment (アルコールハラスメント）
Any kind of forced alcohol consumption can be considered alcohol harassment. Hazing, bullying, using hierarchy to force someone to drink, or not arranging for non-alcoholic drinks all falls under the umbrella of alcohol harassment.
Gender Harassment (ジェンダーハラスメント)
When traditional gender roles are imposed upon people in the workplace. E.g. forcing only women to serve tea, expecting men to be dominant or leaders in a project or a team, or being responsible for physical labor. Gender harassment also includes discrimination or harassment of LGBTQ individuals.
Academic Harassment (アカデミックハラスメント)
Situations where professors or superiors in an academic setting take advantage of their position to harass or prevent the academic development of a student. This includes preventing them from using equipment without just cause, or not giving students credit for their work.
リストラハラスメント (Restructuring Harassment)
A form of power harassment that forces employees into departments, positions, or locations they are not necessarily suited for. When decisions regarding one’s working conditions are deliberately made to make the employee experience discomfort or hardship.
Sexual harassment in the form of writing. Assuming or denying one’s writing ability and/or style depending on gender
Any kind of harassment that occurs on a university campus falls under the umbrella of campus harassment, including but not limited to: sexual harassment, academic harassment, and power harassment. The difference between campus harassment and academic harassment is that the former can occur between peers and colleagues and is not limited to teacher-student interactions.
School Sexual Harassment（スクールセクシャルハラスメント）
Sexual harassment of students by teachers at school. This includes such things as asking a student if he/she is dating, using one's position to prohibit dating or inappropriate physical contact with a student that can be considered asexual abuse. Often times school administration may not be equipped or receptive to such claims made by students, therefore it is advised to contact a third-party organization for victim support.
Discomfort or mental stress caused to a patient by the words, actions, attitude, or atmosphere of a doctor treating a patient. This can include anything from dismissive comments like "If you don't trust me, go somewhere else," or forced treatment or examination despite hesitation by the patient.
Karaoke Harassment (カラオケハラスメント)
When someone uses their position of authority at work to force people to sing at karaoke when they don’t want to. While karaoke is considered a social activity and for some, it is a way to relieve stress, there are many who do not enjoy karaoke and find it embarrassing to sing in front of others.
Smoke Harassment (スモークハラスメント)
Harassment of nonsmokers by smokers. When a smoker forces a nonsmoker to smoke or be exposed to second-hand smoke. In addition, some have extended smoke harassment to include the undue burden placed on non-smokers in the workplace because smokers take significantly more breaks implying that non-smokers work longer or end up doing more work than smokers.
Blood Type Harassment (ブラッドタイプハラスメント)
In Japan, many believe that one’s blood type has an influence on a person’s personality, also known as blood type horoscopes. Blood type harassment refers to words, actions, or judgments of a person’s personality or capability based on their blood type. For example, Type O is careless, Type A is meticulous, etc. Not only is there no evidence for the validity of blood type horoscopes but deciding people’s work responsibilities and tasks based on blood type is harassment.
Technology Harassment (テクノロジーハラスメント)
Technology harassment is the harassment of people who are not tech-savvy. Especially older members of the workforce may not be as well versed in using technology. While the job might require a certain amount of competency in technology, not allowing people the time to learn or belittling them for their lack of skills is considered technology harassment.
Age Harassment (エイジハラスメント)
Age harassment has many forms. Originally it was used for the harassment of middle-aged or older members of the workforce specifically directed at the age, however, it has been expanded to include, age-discrimination in job requirements (e.g. restricting the age of applicants for no just cause) and the harassment, harm or neglect of elders in the home or in nursing homes.
Silver Harassment (シルバーハラスメント)
Silver harassment is similar to age harassment but more specifically refers to harassment of those receiving elder care. The “Silver Generation” refers to those who are above the age of 60, and harassment of this population tends to happen in the form of bullying, neglect, or outright abuse by those taking care of them (e.g. family or nursing home staff). This is a growing problem in Japan due to the aging population.
Marriage Harassment (マリッジハラスメント)
Marriage harassment refers to the constant pestering of unmarried to get married, by colleagues, superiors, work, relatives, and peers.
Pet Harassment (ペットハラスメント)
Pet harassment has two variations.
- Abuse or neglect of one’s pet
- Improper maintenance of one’s pet in public can cause fear or discomfort to people who are afraid of animals.
Smell Harassment (スメルハラスメント)
Smell Harassment is the act of making others uncomfortable with smells. Body odor or bad breath may be common but also the overuse of perfume or fabric softener can be considered smell harassment.
Air Harassment (エアーハラスメント)
Otherwise known as air-conditioning harassment. Companies prohibiting the use of air conditioning on hot days to save on energy costs or setting the temperature too low that employees feel uncomfortable because it's too cold.
Social Harassment (ソーシャルハラスメント)
Any kind of discomfort or pressure caused by colleagues or superiors with regard to social media. Insisting on follows or engaging on social media or using people’s social media posts against them in the workplace.
Stop Job (One’s) Search Harassment ((就)終われハラスメント)
Taking advantage of the insecurity of job seekers by verbally promising them a job under the condition that they stop seeking other opportunities.
Housework Harassment (家事ハラスメント)
Unbalance, disrespect, or excessive badgering with respect to the division of household chores and other domestic duties in the home.
Zexual Harassment (ゼクシャルハラスメント)
Passive aggressive or direct pressure from a woman to a man to get married. The term zexual comes from the bridal magazine Zexy. Social pressure on women to get married is consequently transferred to their current partners and is known as ゼクハラ/Zeku-Hara.
Personal Harassment (パーソナルハラスメント)
Any kind of bullying or attacks that are personal in nature. E.g. in reference to personal taste, appearance, habits, personality, etc.
Maternity Harassment (マタニティハラスメント)
Harassment of a woman who is pregnant or has given birth, either mentally or physically, on the grounds that her pregnancy, childbirth, or parental leave is interfering with her work duties.
Love Harassment ラブハラスメント
Emotional distress or discomfort caused to a person in relation to the topic of love or relationships. Asking about one’s dating situation or unsolicited advice about dating, relationships, or marriage.
Racial Harassment (レイシャルハラスメント)
In other words, racism.
Religious Harassment (レリジャスハラスメント)
Harassment by religious officials involving emotional, physical, or financial distress. It may include pressure to join a religious group, threats of severe consequences if one tries to leave a religious group, or sexual or child abuse that occurs within a religious group.
Interestingly, this term is not used for people who get discriminated against because of their religion.
Noodle Harassment (ヌードルハラスメント)
It is common to audibly slurp one’s noodles while eating in Japan. Some find the sound unsettling and given the context can be considered noodle harassment.
Photo Harassment (フォトハラスメント)
Taking photos without a person's permission, uploading the photo to social media without permission, or any other use of photographs to intentionally cause discomfort, harm, humiliation, distress, or danger.
Customer Harassment (カスタマーハラスメント)
Inappropriate or disrespectful behavior by customers towards service staff. For example, making unreasonable requests, refusing to pay for services or any other kind of verbal or physical abuse.
Harassment in the workplace towards those who take leave or work fewer hours in order to care for family members.
リモハラ・テレハラ/Remo-Hara or Tele-Hara
Remote Harassment (リモートハラスメント)
A new type of harassment has emerged with the spread of remote work during the pandemic. As many people’s personal spaces became visible to colleagues and superiors, it resulted in an undue invasion of personal privacy. In addition, people were forced to join online drinking sessions or were excluded from necessary meetings. All of the above fall under the umbrella of remote harassment
Inheritance (of a family business) Harassment (継ぐんでしょうハラスメント)
Pressure from parents or relatives to take over a family business despite the preferences of the individual.
As comprehensive as this list may seem (and there are more harassment terms that have been coined but not listed here), not all the categories carry the same weight. Putting noodle harassment next to sexual or power harassment trivializes the entire concept, which is why terminology doesn’t translate to reality.
Though there is an impression that human relations in Japan tend to be formal and or distant, it is also coupled with an intense hierarchy that assumes the authority to impose into a person’s personal space. Especially in the workplace but even in families, within couples, or amongst peers. In addition, the Japanese concept of “gaman” (to endure) makes it difficult for people to speak out or seek support when facing any kind of harassment. Maintaining a facade of peace at all costs tends to be the norm.
Shiori Ito, the face of Japan’s #MeToo movement, despite having security camera footage of Ito being dragged by her assailant, Noriyuki Yamaguchi, into his hotel room, no one came to her aid at the time, and she has been consistently publically ridiculed by the general population and public figures like manga artist Toshiko Hasumi and lawmaker Mio Sugita (both women).
The phraseology and concept of harassment is, for all intents and purposes, a foreign import, thus there will always be resistance against those who want to create waves in Japan. Even though words exist, the concepts have still not permeated into behavior. It will take warriors like Shiori Ito who are willing to withstand the public floggings to affect real change.
Younger Japanese people have started being more vocal about not wanting to go drinking after work, and the growing presence of multinational companies bringing in international working standards is shifting norms, albeit at a glacial pace.
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About the Author
I've been in Japan so long that I say my heart is Japanese. And still this country impresses me from time to time. In those moments I think, "That's why I love living in Japan."