Member Login

Member Login

Password *

Number 1 Shimbun

No Turning Back







Last April a reporter filed a lawsuit against Nagasaki city, claiming she was raped by a senior city official. The official, who worked for the city department that handles claims of radiation exposure from the 1945 atomic bomb, took his own life in November after reports emerged linking him to the rape. It had taken 13 years before the woman recovered and plucked up the courage to fight – but what made her do so now?

One reason is changing attitudes toward harassment and sexual violence inside Japan’s media industry. A sign of this shift was the decision in 2018 by a female reporter with TV Asahi to publicize harassment claims against then Vice Finance Minister Junichi Fukuda, the nation’s most senior finance bureaucrat. The broadcaster initially threatening to reprimand the reporter for going public without consent from her source before apologizing. Fukuda subsequently resigned.


Last December, journalist Shiori Ito won a landmark civil suit against Noriyuki Yamaguchi, a former Washington bureau chief for TBS who she says raped her in a Tokyo hotel in 2015. Tokyo district court ordered him to pay ¥3.3 million in damages. That stunning denouement once looked very unlikely. Ito says she was crushed by the reaction to her first press conference in June 2017 when she aired her story to reporters. The response was media indifference and a flood of hate mail.

Those cases have prompted others to come forward with tales of sexual harassment. Yuki Katayama, a veteran journalist and reporter for the regional Hokkaido Shimbun newspaper, recalls being propositioned for sex in the back of a car by a senior police officer. She was visibly pregnant at the time. Kaori Hayashi, a journalist-turned-academic who now teaches at the University of Tokyo, says she left the industry in the 1990s partly because such experiences made it toxic. “I was groped, touched, or else discounted because I was a young woman,” she says.

Standard issue

The encounters are so routine, says Katayama, that female reporters must learn to either laugh them off or quit. “If we raise a fuss about sexual harassment our sources will dry up,” she wrote in the Hokkaido Shimbun. After the Fukuda scandal broke, however, she began to rethink a professional lifetime of silence: “I was mentoring a junior reporter who confided in me. She said she felt ill because every time she goes for drinks with an important source, he touches her and uses obscenities. She said, her voice shaking, ‘I can’t work as a reporter any more.’ I thought: ‘I have a responsibility to her.’”

Workforce numbers

Japan’s workforce is unusually lopsided: Women make up more than half of all employees but they have barely dented senior management. In journalism, the percentage of women reporters has doubled to 21.5% since 2001 when the Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association began counting. But women occupy just 8.5% of managerial posts in newspapers and wire services. (They fare better in broadcasting: 15%.)

Among the handful of powerful women in the industry are Keiko Chino, an editorial board member of The Sankei news- paper, and Kazue Yonamine, chief editor of The Okinawa Times (by contrast, the top editors of The Economist, The Guardian, both major UK publications, are women). It’s hardly all good news outside Japan: while the latest diversity survey by the 

American Society of News Editors finds women comprise over 40% of newsroom workforces, “men still dominate in every part of news, entertainment and digital media.”

Harassment is common: 30% of Japanese women report unwanted sexual attention at work, according to Japan’s labor ministry. A 2018 survey of 428 men and women by a group of media unions found an alarming 74% had been sexually harassed – everything from unwanted touching to stalking and being forced to have sex.

Women in media

Women in the media are particularly at risk. Reporting in Japan involves long hours spent socializing with mostly male sources. Junior reporters are typically dispatched to regional bureaus where they are assigned to press clubs attached to government offices and police stations. Beating rivals to the punch in a system built on access involves cultivating sources, who may not be above using information as bait for sexual favors. A 2018 survey found that a third of the perpetrators of sexual harassment against female reporters are police officers, politicians, or government officials.

Many women find themselves isolated. In June this year, a former Asahi Shimbun journalist blogged about her experience reporting one of Japan's most popular summertime events, the 

All Japan High School Baseball Tournament. She said a high-school athlete had come to her hotel room and masturbated in front of her. She says she was also assaulted by a police officer (who later resigned). She left the Asahi last year, complaining that the firm failed to take her claims seriously.

Omerta and its accomplices

The code of silence starts even before women land a position: New recruits are asked during interviews whether they can handle sexual harassment because it is considered part of the job, says Kumiko Nakatsuka, former president of the Asahi Shimbun Workers’ Union Osaka branch. Women build the all-important quality of gaman (endurance) into their mental job spec. “This is how they are made to believe they are wrong and to think of harassment as acceptable,” says Nakatsuka.

Victims who speak out may get little sympathy. Though she won, Ito had to endure a flood of hate mail branded her a “prostitute” who had brought the assault on herself. With the exception of the tabloid weeklies, the domestic media initially made little of her story. She has since filed deformation lawsuits against several individuals, including right-wing LDP politician Mio Sugita, who suggested Ito had brought the rape on herself by dining alone with an older man.

Fukuda’s boss, Finance Minister Taro Aso, dismissed the bureaucrat’s misdeeds, saying the two had “talked” and he saw no need to take the matter further. He later hinted that Fukuda had been victim of a honey trap and said that sexual harassment was not, in any case, illegal in Japan. The way to stop harassment of women reporters, he said, was to replace them with men.

Instead of launching a third-party investigation into the claims, Finance Ministry bureaucrats posted Fukuda’s denials on its website and called for his victims to come forward for interview—with its own team of hired lawyers. Japan’s newspaper unions reacted furiously, calling the tactic “intimidation” of women and the media.

“This involved a corporate journalist,” Nakatsuka says, a reference to the bifurcated world of full-time media workers and the vast pool of part-timers and contract workers that prop up the industry. Many full-time female employees began to worry whether their employers would protect them if they faced the same problem, she says. “It felt too close to home.”



May 2018: Chie Matsumoto (left) at the Women in Media Network Japan (WiMN) launch

Women in Media Network Japan

In 2019, a group of 86 journalists formed the Women in Media Network Japan (WiMN), partly to generate solidarity for victims like Ito and to “expose harassment and abuse,” said one of its members, Yoshiko Hayashi.

(full disclosure: Chie Matsumoto is part of the campaign). While the #MeToo moment flared briefly in Japan, the Japanese hashtag quickly morphed into #WithYou — an acknowledgment that victims in Japan might not want to admit it has happened to them, even now. #WithYou expresses solidarity with women like Ito while demanding an end to harassment. Women reporters were taken aback by the way TV Asahi handled the case, says Nakatsuka. (The reporter remains anonymous.)

A dossier of stories compiled by WiMN in May revealed two decades of harassment. All were anonymous, suggesting they feared that breaking the code of silence would harm their careers. In some cases their harassers have risen to positions of considerable authority. The stories formed the basis of The State of Sexual Harassment in the Media, (マスコミ・ セクハラ白書), published earlier this year.

Cases closed

This is not an easy read. For example, Junko Hirano (not her real name), writes that a male colleague invited her for a drink with a police officer because he thought she would have a better chance of getting a critical lead to an important story. She ended up being treated like a “party companion”. The cop insisted in taking her to the front door of her apartment where he threw his arms around her. “I was so afraid,” she recalled. “Even if I reported it, who would have believed me?”

Ao Ideta, then a rookie Tokyo Shimbun newspaper reporter, recalls a police chief jumping her and forcibly kissing her after an interview. Another print reporter in her forties said a police chief had threatened to bar her from press conferences after she refused his advances. Another described an attempted rape by a senior colleague, who later pushed to transfer her. Many recalled uncomfortable, sometimes frightening encounters with bureaucrats, cops, and lawmakers. “In 20 years as a reporter I encountered countless cases of harassment and have never spoken to anyone,” said one.

Room for improvement

Media companies have since introduced anti-harassment training. Many have passed resolutions promising to monitor whether reporters face intimidation during interviews. Bureaucrats from the Finance Ministry were ordered to take a training course on sexual harassment. A priceless picture was later released, showing a room full of stone-faced, mostly male bureaucrats being lectured on inappropriate conduct toward women by a woman lawyer. Aso did not attend.

There is a long way to go. Depriving female reporters of equal access to information and failing to protect them as whistleblowers is a threat to press freedom, says Mami Nakano, a Tokyo lawyer. “Rather than trying to protect herself, the TV Asahi reporter was serving the public’s right to know.” The importance of the WiMN movement is that it expresses rare cross-industry support for fellow journalists, and for women.

The Nagasaki reporter came forward because she knew her colleagues and the industry had her back. Among her supporters was the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, which recommended that the city apologize and install measures to prevent more assaults. Nagasaki has declined because the accused is deceased. “I became a victim of sexual assault in my twenties and thought I'd die a victim,” says the woman. “I never thought I'd live to see the day I became middle-aged. Now I am 41. I can finally think about how I should live my life the way I want."

This is an updated version of an article that ran in the Columbia Journalism Review on August 7th, 2018.

● Chie Matsumoto is a journalist, interpreter and translator. She reports for magazines and online sites both in Japanese and English, and lectures at Hosei University in Tokyo. She also acts as a research assistant in information studies at the University of Tokyo.

● David McNeill is co-chair of the FCCJ’s Professional Activities Committee and a professor at the Department of English Language, Communication and Cultures at Sacred Heart University in Tokyo. He was previously a correspondent for The Independent and The Economist newspapers and for The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Published in: September 2020

Leave a comment



Go to top