The #metoo movement has been slow to gain traction in Japan. There have been few reported cases about sexual harassment involving public figures...until recently.

Recent focus on #metoo

Earlier this month, an audio clip was released which purportedly captured the Administrative Vice Finance Minister, Junichi Fukuda, sexually harassing a journalist. After a media storm, Fukuda reluctantly resigned. On the same day as his resignation, the Governor or Niigata, Ryuichi Yoneyama, also resigned as a result of a separate allegation of sexual impropriety.

A sea change

The importance of the #metoo movement is globally recognised and understood by many organisations. However, there is still a lot to be done to create environments in which employees genuinely feel comfortable speaking up and confident that action will be taken. This may be more challenging in Japan because, culturally, outspokenness is not the norm.

The two cases mentioned above could have easily gone unnoticed. When the journalist initially reported the incident involving Fukuda to her boss, she was warned of the ‘reputational damage’ not just for her employer but also to her career. The initial reaction of the Finance Ministry was to state that Fukuda felt “sufficiently remorseful” and allowed him to continue in his role.

However, it seems the power of the #metoo movement in Japan is driving change. When the journalist finally told a colleague what happened, they leaked the audio clip in anger. There was public uproar when the government kept Fukuda in office and 25,000 people signed a petition to criticising the government’s handling of the situation - the Finance Ministry quickly backtracked.