The Human Truth Foundation

Human Rights and Freedom in Japan

By Vexen Crabtree 2018

#buddhism #gender_equality #japan #japan_women #prejudice #religion_in_japan #shinto #women

[Country Profile Page]
StatusIndependent State
Social and Moral Index16th best
Life Expectancy84.78yrs (2017)2

Japan performs very well in ensuring human rights and freedom compared to most other countries. Japan comes in the best 20 in the rate of gender bias (from 7 indicators)3 (the lowest in Asia). It does better than average in opposing gender inequality4, commentary in Human Rights Watch reports5 (one of the best in Asia), supporting personal, civil & economic freedoms6 (amongst the lowest in Asia), its success in fighting anti-semitic prejudice7, freethought8, LGBT equality9 (amongst the best in Asia), supporting press freedom10 and in speed of uptake of HR treaties11. Japan allows extensive religious freedom and has one of the lowest rates of religious persecution worldwide12. In 2017, it strengthened laws against sexual violence, further increasing protections for women's rights13. But, things still need to improve in Japan. Japan does worse than average in terms of its nominal commitment to Human Rights14. Japan is famed for being insular, and likewise its attitude towards asylum seekers is needlessly uncooperative - granting just 28 out of 10,901 applicants in 201613 and allowing substandard and abusive behaviour towards imported workers13.

1. Japan's Human Rights, Equality & Tolerance

#equality #gender_equality #human_rights #morals #politics #prejudice #tolerance

Compared to Asia (2020)15
Pos.Lower is better
Avg Rank15
1Hong Kong24.3
4S. Korea45.5
Asia Avg99.9
Human Rights, Equality & Tolerance (2020)15
Pos.Lower is better
Avg Rank15
World Avg87.9

The best countries in the world at ensuring human rights, fostering equality and promoting tolerance, are Sweden, Norway and Denmark16. These countries are displaying the best traits that humanity has to offer. The worst countries are The Solomon Islands, Somalia and Tuvalu16.

The data sets used to calculate points for each country are statistics on commentary in Human Rights Watch reports, its nominal commitment to Human Rights, speed of uptake of HR treaties, supporting personal, civil & economic freedoms, supporting press freedom, eliminating modern slavery, opposing gender inequality, the rate of gender bias (from 7 indicators), the year from which women could participate in democracy, its success in fighting anti-semitic prejudice, LGBT equality and freethought. The regions with the best average results per country are Scandinavia, Baltic States and Europe16, whereas the worst are Melanesia, Micronesia and Australasia16.

For more, see:

Amnesty International's 2023-23 report on the state of the world's human rights, had little to say about Japan: "Long-standing discrimination against women, migrants, asylum seekers, ethnic Korean people and LGBTI people remained ongoing. Prolonged detention and inhumane treatment of foreign nationals in immigration detention facilities continued to be reported"17.

Japan has an "active civil society"13, with citizens and lobby groups able to access and influence government without undue political restrictions.

Japan provides only weak legal protections for the approximately 230,000 foreigners– most of them from Vietnam and China–working in the country as part of the Technical Intern Training Program. Created in response to labor shortages for low-level jobs, the program is a main framework through which foreign migrant workers are permitted to work in Japan.

Abuses that program participants faced include payment of sub-minimum wages, illegal overtime, dangerous or unhygienic working conditions, restrictions on changing employers, forced return to their home countries, as well as requirements to pay unreasonably high fees to labor-sending agencies, andpenalty fees if the trainee does not successfully complete the training. Sexual abuses and rules that violate privacy (for example, prohibitions on owning a cell phone, or having romantic relationships) are also significant problems.

In November 2016, the Diet responded by passing the so-called Technical Training Act [which] introduced more criminal penalties against rights violations. However, key issues the reforms failed to address included restrictions related to changing employers and reliance on often exploitative labor-sending agencies.

"World Report 2018" by Human Rights Watch (2018)13

2. Human Rights & Tolerance

2.1. Human Rights Watch Comments


Human Rights Watch Comments
Higher is better5
Asia Avg-5.0
World Avg-1.9
(amongst the best in Asia)Japan ranks 30th in the world when it comes to commentary in Human Rights Watch reports.

Human Rights Watch comments concentrate mostly on negative issues, however, they also make positive comments for those countries that engage in human rights defence around the world, or who make improvements at home. By adding up positive and negative comments (including double-points for negatives that involve large scales and crimes against humanity), the Social and Moral Index turns HRW commentary into quantified values. Some countries may be unfairly penalized because HRW have not examined them, and, some countries "get away" with abuses if they manage to hide it, or if it goes unnoticed - a negative point has been given for those countries in which HRW specifically state that access to investigators has been barred. The points were limited to a minimum of -10 because there are some points at which things are so bad, with abuses affecting so many, it is difficult to be more specific about the depths of the issues.

2.2. Nominal Commitment to HR


Nominal Commitment to HR
Higher is better14
2=Costa Rica23
112Dominican Rep.14
Asia Avg12.7
World Avg15.1
Japan ranks 112nd in the world in terms of its nominal commitment to Human Rights.

There are many international agreements on human rights, and, many mechanisms by which countries can be brought to account for their actions. Together, these have been the biggest historical movement in the fight against oppression and inhumanity. Or, putting it another way: these are rejected mostly by those who wish to oppress inhumanely. None of them are perfect and many people object to various components and wordings, but, no-one has come up with, and enforced, better methods of controlling the occasional desires that states and peoples have of causing angst for other states and peoples in a violent, unjust or inhumane way. Points are awarded for the number of human rights agreements ratified by the country, plus the acceptance of the petition mechanisms for disputes. The maximum possible score in 2009 was 24.

2.3. HR Treaties Lag

#human_rights #international_law #micronesia #politics #small_islands

HR Treaties Lag
Lower is better11
Avg Yrs/Treaty11
73=Burkina Faso8.78
77Bosnia & Herzegovina9.17
80Sierra Leone9.33
Asia Avg10.97
World Avg10.02
Regarding speed of uptake of HR treaties, Japan is 76th in the world.

Human Rights (HR) Treaties Lag is a count of how long it took each country to sign each of 11 key HR treaties. From the date of the first signatory of each treaty, all other countries have one point added to their score for each day they delayed in signing. Results are presented as average time in years to sign each one. The lower a country's score, the more enthusiastically it has taken on international Human Rights Treaties - which are, of course, minimal standards of good governance. The slowest are the countries of Micronesia, Melanesia, Australasia and Polynesia all lagged by over 12 years per treaty. The best regions are The Americas, Scandinavia and the Mediterranean.

For more, see:

2.4. Personal, Civil & Economic Freedom

#freedom #politics

Personal, Civil & Economic Freedom
Lower is better6
1Hong Kong1
3New Zealand3
35S. Korea35
Asia Avg94.6
World Avg79.7
(one of the best in Asia)Japan ranks 32nd in the world regarding supporting personal, civil & economic freedoms.

The Human Freedom Index published by the Fraser Institute is...

... a broad measure of human freedom, understood as the absence of coercive constraint. It uses 79 distinct indicators of personal and economic freedom in the following areas: Rule of Law, Security and Safety, Movement, Religion, Association, Assembly, and Civil Society, Expression, Relationships, Size of Government, Legal System and Property Rights, Access to Sound Money, Freedom to Trade Internationally, Regulation of Credit, Labor, and Business. [...]

The highest levels of freedom are in Western Europe, Northern Europe, and North America (Canada and the United States. The lowest levels are in the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. [...]

Countries in the top quartile of freedom enjoy a significant higher per capita income ($37,147) [compared with] the least-free quartile [at] $8,700). The HFI finds a strong correlation between human freedom and democracy.

"The Human Freedom Index" by The Fraser Institute (2016)18

2.5. Press Freedom

#democracy #freedom #Freedom_of_Speech #Good_Governance #mass_media #politics #UK

Press Freedom
Lower is better10
49S. Korea2448
51S. Africa2456
Asia Avg4378
World Avg3249
Japan ranks 52nd in the world in terms of supporting press freedom.

The freedom to investigate, publish information, and have access to others' opinion is a fundamental part of today's information-driven world, and is linked with Freedom of Speech and Good Governance. Scores on the Press Freedom Index are calculated according to indicators including pluralism - the degree to which opinions are represented in the media, media independence of authorities, self-censorship, legislation, transparency and the infrastructure that supports news and information, and, the level of violence against journalists which includes lengths of imprisonments. The index "does not take direct account of the kind of political system but it is clear that democracies provide better protection for the freedom to produce and circulate accurate news and information than countries where human rights are flouted". The rankings are used as one of the datasets of the Social and Moral Development Index19

It must be noted that press freedom is not an indicator of press quality and the press itself can be abusive; the UK suffers in particular from a popular brand of nasty reporting that infuses several of its newspapers who are particularly prone to running destructive and often untrue campaigns against victims. The Press Freedom Index notes that "the index should in no way be taken as an indicator of the quality of the media in the countries concerned".

2.6. Slavery

#burundi #eritrea #france #human_rights #indonesia #slavery

Lower is better
% Victims20
5=New Zealand0.06
9Costa Rica0.13
12Hong Kong0.14
Asia Avg0.79
World Avg0.65
Japan comes best in the world with regard to eliminating modern slavery.

The taking of slaves has been an unwholesome feature of Human cultures since prehistory21. Private households and national endeavours have frequently been augmented with the use of slaves. The Egyptian and Roman empires both thrived on them for both purposes. Aside from labourers they are often abused sexually by their owners and their owners' friends22. The era of colonialism and the beginnings of globalisation changed nothing: the imprisonment and forced movements of labour continued to destroy many lives except that new justifications were invented based on Christian doctrine and the effort to convert non-Christians. By 1786 over 12 million slaves had been extracted from Africa and sent to colonial labour camps, with a truly atrocious condition of life23. But they were not the only ones to blame; in Africa internal nations such as the Asantes sold and bought tens of thousands of slaves24.

The abolition of the slave trade was a long and slow process. Until a relatively modern time, even philosophers, religious leaders and those concerned with ethics justified, or ignored, the problem of slavery25. The first abolitionists were always the slaves themselves. Their protests and rebellions caused the industry to become too expensive to continue. After that, it was the economic costs of maintain slave colonies that led the British to reject and then oppose the slave trade globally. Finally, the enlightenment-era thinkers of France encouraged moral and ethical thinking including the declaration of the inherent value of human life and human dignity26. A long-overdue wave of compassionate and conscientious movements swept across the West, eliminating public support for slavery, until the industries and churches that supported it had no choice but to back down.

'Modern slavery' includes forced labour (often of the under-age), debt bondage (especially generational), sexual slavery, chattel slavery and other forms of abuse, some of which can be surprisingly difficult to detect, but often target those fleeing from warzones and the vulnerable.27. Some industries (diamond, clothing, coal) from some countries (Burundi28, Eritrea28, Indonesia29) are a particular concern. The Walk Free Foundation, say that in 2016, 40.3 million people were living in modern slavery30.

For more, see:

3. Gender Equality

Japan is on the way towards ending gender inequality.

In 2017, Japan strengthened laws against sexual violence, further increasing protections for women's rights13. Historically, Japan had a strongly patriarchal society, and this still shows through. Although Japan's average ranking across data sets is good, they were 120th out of 156 countries on the Global Gender Gap Report of 2021, and "in practice, women are still subject to a highly patriarchal society"31.


3.1. Gender Inequality

#gender #gender_equality #human_rights #misogyny #women

Gender Inequality
Lower is better
Asia Avg0.36
World Avg0.36
With regard to opposing gender inequality, Japan comes 21st in the world.

The UN Human Development Reports include statistics on gender equality which take into account things like maternal mortality, access to political power (seats in parliament) and differences between male and female education rates. Gender inequality is not a necessary part of early human development. Although a separation of roles is almost universal due to different strengths between the genders, this does not have to mean that women are subdued, and, such patriarchalism is not universal in ancient history. Those cultures and peoples who shed, or never developed, the idea that mankind ought to dominate womankind, are better cultures and peoples than those who, even today, cling violently to those mores.

For more, see:

Gay marriage is not legalized on a national level in Japan. Around 60 municipalities... have started accepting a form of civil partnerships for same-sex couples, which is not legally binding. In a landmark ruling in 2021, the Sapporo High Court declared the ban on same-sex marriage "unconstitutional", although the ruling was considered mostly a symbolic victory. In practice, gay and lesbian people still struggle to come out in Japan in daily life, with society still being relatively conservative on the topic, although younger people appear to support same-sex marriage.

There is no legislation that protects LGBTI+ individuals in Japan. A proposed bill calls to `promote understanding´ of LGBTI+ people, but has thus far fallen short of support in the government.

Transgender people are routinely subject to discrimination, and often struggle to fit into a society where gender norms are closely prescribed.

"The Freedom of Thought Report" by Humanists International (2021)31

3.2. Gender Biases

#gender #gender_equality #prejudice #women

Gender Biases
Lower is better
2New Zealand34.433
Asia Avg94.24
World Avg83.93
(the lowest in Asia)In terms of the rate of gender bias (from 7 indicators), Japan comes 16th-best in the world.

The Gender Social Norms Index (GSNI) looks at gender biases across seven criteria; the % given here is for the total people who are biased across any of those criteria. By subtracting the value from 100%, you can see that those who do well on this index, you are seeing a count of those who do not appear to be biased against women in any of the criteria, and so, doing well on this index is a very positive sign for any country.

The data was included in UN (2022) with full results in Annex table AS6.7.1; their data stems for ranges between 2005 and 2022, depending on the country in question.

3.3. Year Women Can Vote

#christianity #gender_equality #human_rights #politics #women

Year Women Can Vote
Lower is better
1New Zealand1893
58N. Korea1946
Asia Avg1907
World Avg1930
Japan is positioned 51st in the world in terms of the year from which women could participate in democracy.

Women now have equal rights in the vast majority of countries across the world. Although academic literature oftens talks of when a country "grants women the right to vote", this enforces a backwards way of thinking. Women always had the right to vote, however, they were frequently denied that right. The opposition to women's ability to vote in equality with man was most consistently and powerfully opposed by the Catholic Church, other Christian organisations, Islamic authorities and some other religious and secular traditionalists.

For more, see:

4. Prejudice

4.1. Anti-Semite Opinions

#antisemitism #christianity #germany #indonesia #israel #jordan #judaism #laos #morocco #netherlands #pakistan #philippines #religion #religious_violence #saudi_arabia #spain #sweden #turkey #UK #vietnam

Anti-Semite Opinions
Lower is better
29=Ivory Coast22
32=Trinidad & Tobago24
Asia Avg48.2
World Avg36.8
Regarding its success in fighting anti-semitic prejudice, Japan comes 32nd in the world.

Anti-Semitism is the world given to irrational racism against Jews. It is not the same as anti-Judaism (involving arguments against the religion) nor the same as anti-Zionism (arguments against Israel). In history, influential Christian theologians concocted the arguments against Jews that led, very early on, to widespread Christian action against Jews35,36,37,38. As Christianity rose to power in the West and presided over the Dark Ages, there were widespread violent outbursts against Jews of the most persistent and horrible kind. The Crusades were frequently aimed at them and the feared Spanish Inquisition paid Jews particular attention. The horror of the holocaust instigated by German Nazis in the 1940s was followed (finally) by the era of European human rights and a movement against racism in general.

The places that are the least anti-Semitical are a few countries of south-east Asia (Laos, the Philippines and Vietnam) and some of the secular liberal democracies of Europe (Sweden, the Netherlands and the UK). The worst countries for antisemitism are Islamic states of the Middle East39, which are undergoing their own Dark Age. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey see the most oppressive and violent actions towards Jews40,41. Jews in Muslim countries face a host of restrictions and "ceaseless humiliation and regular pogroms"42. In 2004 the European Union Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia reported on violent anti-Jew crimes in the EU and found that that largest group of perpetrators were young Muslim males43.

For more, see:

4.2. LGBT Equality

#equality #homosexuality #human_rights #ICCPR #intolerance #sexuality #tolerance

LGBT Equality
Higher is better
48=San Marino35
48=Bosnia & Herzegovina35
48=El Salvador35
Asia Avg-02.1
World Avg12.6
(amongst the best in Asia)Regarding LGBT equality, Japan ranks 48th in the world.

Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) folk is rife across the world. Legal restrictions co-exist alongside social stigmatisation and physical violence44. LGBT tolerance and equal rights have been fought for country-by-country across the world, often against tightly entrenched cultural and religious opposition. Adult consensual sexual activity is a Human Right, protected by privacy laws45. Despite this, homosexual activity is outlawed in around 80 countries44. The Social & Moral LGBT Equality Index was created to compare countries and regions, granting points to each country for a variety of factors including how long gay sex has been criminalized and the extent of LGBT legal rights. Graded negative points are given for criminality of homosexuality, unequal ages of consent, legal punishments and for not signing international accords on LGBT tolerance. The signs in many developed countries are positive, and things are gradually improving. Europe is by far the least prejudiced region (Scandinavia in particular being exemplary). The Middle East and then Africa are the least morally developed, where cultural bias goes hand-in-hand with state intolerance, all too often including physical violence.

For more, see:

4.3. Freedom of Thought

#europe #freedom_of_belief #freethought #human_rights #netherlands #religion #religious_tolerance #secularism #the_enlightenment

Freedom of Thought
Lower is better
34=Antigua & Barbuda2.3
34=St Vincent & Grenadines2.3
34=Cape Verde2.3
Asia Avg3.7
World Avg3.0
With regard to freethought, Japan is 33rd in the world.

Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Belief are upheld in Article 18 the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights46. It affirms that it is a basic human right that all people are free to change their beliefs and religion as they wish47. No countries voted against this (although eight abstained). This right was first recognized clearly in the policies of religious toleration of the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe in the post-enlightenment era48 of the 19th century. In democratic countries, freedom of belief and religion is now taken for granted49. In 2016 a study found that over 180 countries in the world had come to guarantee freedom of religion and belief50. The best countries at doing so are Taiwan, Belgium and The Netherlands8,51 and the worst: Afghanistan, N. Korea, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia8,52.

Long-term studies have shown that religious violence and persecution both decrease in cultures where religious freedom is guaranteed53. Despite this, there still are many who are strongly against freedom of belief47, including entire cultures and many individual communities of religious believers. Their alternative is that you are not free to believe what you want and they often state that you cannot change religion without being punished (often including the death penalty): this is bemoaned as one of the most dangerous elements of religion54 and "the denial of religious freedoms is inevitably intertwined with the denial of other freedoms"55 and the solution is, everywhere, to allow religious freedom and the freedom of belief.

For more, see:

From the 1950s Japan reformed itself, granting extensive religious freedom to its citizens and attaining one of the lowest rates of violent religious persecution worldwide12. Its Constitution grants "strong protections of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, as well as a clear separation of religion and state"31. See Articles 19, 20 and 89.

Before WW2, Japanese folk had almost no religious freedom; only three main classes of religious groups were accepted - 28 Buddhist groups, 13 Shinto ones and just 2 Christian communities were officially recognized56. But since WW2, Japan reformed itself, and its rate of violence religious persecution dropped to one of the lowest rates in the world57