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FOCUS December 2012 Volume Vol. 70

Domestic Violence in Japan - Support Services and Psychosocial Impact on Survivors

Miriam Tabin

Domestic violence is an issue worthy of concern worldwide, it affects women and men across countries and cultures and occurs at all ages. Its dimensions make it a severe social and health concern both on individual and national levels. Over the past ten to fifteen years the awareness of domestic violence as a serious issue in Japan is slowly but steadily on the rise, as can be seen in the rising number of cases reported to the police1 and the higher willingness to seek help from counselors.2 The 2001 Act on the Prevention of Spousal Violence and the Protection of Victims (Act No. 31 of 2001) set an essential first step in addressing the issue.
It is striking, that although Japan has one of the highest Human Development Indices in the world, gender equality and empowerment of women are far behind.3 Surely, suppression and violence aimed at women is prolonging gender inequality in a cultural context that teaches a certain value system such as the Japanese traditionally patriarchic society.
The Gender Equality Bureau, under the Cabinet Office, published a summary of various surveys concerning domestic violence in 2006. According to the summary, 17.4 percent of men and 33.2 percent of women who participated in the survey experienced either physical assault, threats or have been coerced into sexual acts, more than 10 percent of women repeatedly.4 In the majority of these cases, violence first occurred after marriage. Dating violence has also been reported by 13.5 percent of women and 5.2 percent of men, with the majority of victims being women in their 20s and 30s.5 Also, it is not uncommon for unmarried men or women, and same sex couples to be involved in violence and abuse.6
Taking a closer look at the Violence Prevention Law, Act No. 31 targets married as well as divorced couples and aims to protect spouses from a violent partner. Also, it regulates the Counseling and Support Centers within the prefectures that are supposed to provide information and offer counseling and protection in case of emergency. Moreover, the law has provision on protection orders, such as those that prohibit the abusers from approaching their victims for a period of six months or vacate their house for two months. The law was amended for the second time in 2007, where a few critical regulations were added. The justification for protection order was widened to include, in addition to life- threatening violence and bodily harm, cases of serious stalking, threatening phone calls and violence towards the victim’s child or relatives. Additionally important are the definition of domestic violence and the inclusion of psychological and economic violence, raising awareness and provision of information and improving the self-reliance of survivors.
After the case of two killings in Nagasaki prefecture by the end of 2011, the number of survivors in the shelters grew as awareness rose through media coverage.7 The case, which had a background of domestic violence, became popular in the mass media as a case of murder in which the police failed to start a criminal investigation early enough. The husband of a woman, who stalked and attacked her violently over a period of time, killed the woman’s mother and grandmother. She and her father repeatedly reported the injuries she sustained from her husband to the police, who, although having questioned him, did not take him into custody. Until the police stations of the prefectures of Chiba and Nagasaki decided who should have to deal with the case, he already killed the two women.8 This prominent case in Japan is an example for how insufficiently the law has been brought into practice until today.

Mental Health and Psychosocial Impact on Survivors

Most persons concerned are in a devastating psychological state as well as a bad economic situation when they first present themselves to counseling. The situation for abuse victims and survivors is dramatic and in many cases the most vulnerable in society are hit the hardest; such as women, people with low income, foreign immigrants, or victims of trafficking. In addition, they are more vulnerable to mental disorders that result from a variety of reasons, such as the prolonged history of violence, the stress of immigration, and a bad economic and financial situation.9
Making matters worse, often children are involved in about one third of cases and women are struggling with parenting or pass on the violent behavior to their children by either being violent themselves or the children copy the behavior they grew up in and adopt it in their own future relationships. In addition, many women have difficulties ending abusive relationships. For the sake of their future and financial situation, going back often seems the easiest way. A high 80 percent of women victims return to their partners or not leave in the first place and the situation often gets worse after returning.10
Every kind of abuse, but especially emotional abuse, has a significant impact on mental health and symptoms of trauma, such as helplessness, intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and sleeping problems, diminished interest in others, increased arousal and avoidance of certain situations such as trains or crowded places, are of high occurrence.11 In addition to trauma, depression is a common symptom and in more severe cases personality disorders. In many cases also drugs are involved and the violent husbands have mental or financial problems themselves, such as being members of gangs. Often social factors constitute some of the underlying causes for domestic violence. Low social status of women, a patriarchal society structure and acceptance of violence and harassment devalue women.12 Gender inequality and economic dependency thus often are both a cause for domestic violence and a result of prolonged violence and suppression.
For counselors, the most important issue and in many cases the most difficult one, is to educate women about their rights and build the awareness that they are not in the wrong and do not have to blame themselves. It is common for women to be ashamed of not being a good wife or mother and blaming themselves for the horrible situation they are in, which creates shame and prevents women from turning to others to seek help.13
Actual incident rates of domestic violence might even be much higher as violence against women is still regarded a matter of the family rather than a human rights violation. This is also a reason for not ending the abusive relationship, as living with children without a husband is a shameful situation.14 Thus, it is essential to provide information and assistance in case women want to separate but feel they cannot do it by themselves and empower women through education and legal aid.

Support Services in the Kansai Region of Japan

The use of counseling services and shelters provided by the government due to domestic violence and partner abuse has been rising since the enactment of the law from 35,000 in 2002 up to more than 60,000 cases in 2007, about 99 percent of these being women.15 Japan has listed one hundred eighty Spousal Violence and Support Centers nationwide. The Kansai region which, among others includes the prefectures of Kyoto, Osaka and Hyogo, has various support centers both publicly funded as well as non-governmental institutions.
In Osaka, the prefectural Center for Youth and Gender Equality, popularly known as Dawn Center, was established in 1994 by the Osaka prefectural government as a result of a women’s movement back in the 1980s and managed by the Osaka Prefectural Gender Equality Foundation. The Dawn Center is one of the biggest women’s centers nationwide and offers a variety services that include an information library specialized on literature related to gender issues, family, education, economic issues and various other kinds of women’s literature. Moreover, it offers consultation and counseling services in Japanese and other languages (via telephone as well as in person), venues for activities (seminar rooms and a hall), as well as a child care room for children to play in while their parents use the center.
Ikuno Gakuen is an example for a non-governmental shelter for women that offers various services for victims of domestic violence or other forms of abuse. It was established as a government facility in the late 1940s and now operates as a non-profit organization. It provides a shelter for emergencies and is a stephouse for longer-term care. In addition, it provides telephone and personal counseling on domestic violence, parenting, support for foreign residents and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community; legal assistance; and workshops and education on domestic violence. For domestic violence cases, it provides two-week free stay in a secure and secret shelter facility under the support
of the prefectural government, otherwise a stay would cost 1,500 Yen (16 US dollars) per night. Many people use its services regularly over an extended period of time, around 88 percent of which are or were victims of violence from a partner or a parent. Ikuno Gakuen has a long history deeply rooted in the local community and thus has experienced and practiced mutual community support.
Kyoto Asian People Together (APT) is a support service network for foreign residents in Japan. It offers multilingual telephone consultation service that started in 1991 and also provides support for children and families, including language and educational programs and interpretation services. APT belongs to the Kyoto YWCA, a Christian non-profit organization founded in 1923. The main service consists of a telephone consultation hotline on Mondays and Thursdays. APT has expanded rapidly as a support network in Kyoto, and now has many former clients volunteering for translation services, for instance. In addition, it offers one-on-one counseling, house visits, interpreters, and people who can accompany foreigners in meetings with government officials. Language support, especially for people from China, Korea and the Philippines, and help with legal services are also among commonly used services, as well as support for foreign students, problems with visa and nationality, and daily life problems such as inadequate money and the upbringing of children.
The Hyogo Prefectural Women & Family Consulting Center is a shelter for women and their children in Kobe. The shelter itself has nine nicely furnished rooms for domestic violence survivors or homeless women. A stay for up to two months is supported by the prefectural government, including meals and counseling services. In addition to a secure environment and counseling, the center provides occupational therapy, support for children, and a 24-hour emergency hotline. Also, it is closely connected with other facilities in Hyogo Prefecture, such as legal and interpretation services.
Women’s and family centers provide valuable and essential services for battered women and persons with a history of trauma or experience of violence. However, there is a great need in Japan for support centers to expand their services and provide legal and financial support to persons that are most in need and vulnerable groups in society such as involuntary immigrants, homosexual or transsexual people and those with mental health or financial problems.

Final Note

It essential not only to treat violence after it happened but to raise awareness and take steps in order to help prevent domestic violence. This could be achieved by amending the law, ensuring punishment in case of non- compliance with legal orders such as restraining order, awareness-raising campaigns in schools and other institutions in order to slowly raise gender- equality and to set a clear sign that domestic violence is a concern of everyone and will not be tolerated.
It is still a long way to go until gender equality can be ensured in Japan, old patriarchal structures are changed, the population becomes aware of extent of domestic violence and abuse, and the Act on the Prevention of Spousal Violence of 2001 is successfully and completely implemented. Nevertheless, the first few of many hard steps on the way to the realization of gender equality and Japan as a place where the human rights of both men and women are respected have been taken in the past twelve years.

Miriam Tabin, B.Sc. Psychology, is currently a master’s student in Heinrich-Heine-University in Duesseldorf, Germany, and was an intern of HURIGHTS OSAKA during the summer of 2012.

For further information, please contact HURIGHTS OSAKA.


1. Adam Westlake, "Domestic violence cases reported in Japan increase by 46% in 2012," The Japan Daily Press, 13 July 2012, available at:
2. Gender Equality Bureau, Cabinet Office, Stop the Violence – For individuals tormented by spousal violence, information pamphlet (Tokyo: Gender Equality Bureau, 2008 revised edition) page 11.
3. Osaka Gender Equality Foundation, Women in Osaka (Osaka: Dawn, 2010), page 2.
4. Gender Equality Bureau, Cabinet Office, Survey on Domestic Violence (Tokyo: Gender Equality Bureau, 2006) page 3. (Published in Japanese only, English information available at: stoptheviolence.pdf or at:
5. Ibid, page 9.
6. Interview with Stephan Aaron from Ikuno Gakuen Shelter for Women, NPO (5 October 2012 interview)
7. Interview with a representative from The Hyogo Prefectural Women & Family Consulting Center (Hyogo Spousal Violence Counseling and Support Center) (12 October 2012 interview), who requested not to be named for this article.
8. "Better stalking measures needed," editorial, The Japan Times, 2 March 2012, available at:
9. Yoshihama, M., Horrocks, J. & Kamano, S., “Experiences of intimate partner violence and related injuries among women in Yokohama, Japan.” American Journal of Public Health, 97 (2), 2007, pages 232-234.
10. Interview with Stephan Aaron, ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. Fujiwara, T., Okuyama, M., Izumi, M. & Osada, Y., “The impact of childhood abuse history and domestic violence on the mental health of women in Japan.” Child Abuse & Neglect, 34, 2010, pages 267-274.
13. Interview with Yuriko Oka from Asian People Together (APT) at Kyoto YWCA, NPO (4 October 2012 interview)
14. Interview with Ritsuyo Fujitani and Etsuko Nishiyama, representatives of the Gender Equal- ity and Civic Cooperation Section of the Osaka Prefectural Government (12 October 2012 interview).
15. Gender Equality Bureau, op. cit.