Power harassment and implications (not only) from and for the Japanese “corporate warriors”


This article discusses the definition of harassment as a form of bullying, then goes into further detail regarding power harassment, and adds specific experiences from Japan before the article concludes with possible interventions to be taken by organizational leadership. Workplace harassment seems to be especially important also in Japan as most extremely put, the Japanese “corporate warriors […] have considered their corporate affiliation as their real family” (Adams, 2012).

(Workplace) harassment as a form of bullying

According to international organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO), harassment can be regarded as a sub-category of bullying (also so called mobbing), which is by itself a form of relational aggression (Raskauskas & Stoltz, 2004). Harassment involves personal identity information such as, e.g., sexual orientation, race, nationality, political convictions, social status, and religion to strike at the dignity of an individual (Toshiyo, Jiro, Kumi, Yasuhito, & Kaori, 2016). Harassment doesn’t need to be repetitive, or base on a power difference between offender and victim as Cascardi, Brown, Iannarone, and Cardona (2014) are a suggestion for the definition of bullying. However, (workplace) harassment may involve perceived intention of the harasser as the strongest defining characteristic, and occurrence of the harassment as a further defining element, which with increasing frequency can clarify unclear intentions (Claybourn, Spinner, & Malcom, 2014).

Power harassment

Turte, Correa, da Luz, and Fischer (2012) found that younger employees seemed to possess little know-how regarding how to deal with harassment as related to morality attacks. This is worrying as these workers may represent a particularly vulnerable risk group. In a study of what intensified the victimization impact on children most, “power inequality” was found to be a key factor (Turner, Finkelhor, Shattuck, Hamby, & Mitchell, 2015). According to Koeszegi, Zedlacher, and Hudribusch (2014), work environments with a culture of high power importance are prone to become aggressively misused.

Experiences from Japan

Harassment in Japan seems to be defined and perceived as a problematic of harmful act consistent with other cultures (Takaki et al., 2010). Harassment and discrimination often have to do with the motive to use power and control over others (Hammond & Kleiner, 2013). For example, Japanese indicated a higher propensity for sexual harassment, explained by the comparatively more patriarch system in Japan than in the U.S. (Stillman, Yamawaki, Ridge, White, & Copley, 2009). Furthermore, a society shaped by collectivist Confucianism promoting loyalty (Stillman et al., 2009) may not have largely replaced the predominant Japanese corporate seniority system by a more performance oriented employee payment system (Efron, 1999).  In 2007 the first company in Japan was sued for an employee’s suicide due to power harassment (Tada, 2010) and the most lamented workplace behavior in 2012 was power harassment, which equals to about twenty-five percent of the Japanese workforce having had contact with power harassment since then (Hasiao, 2015).  Bullying and harassment are among the most negative mental health influences for the Japanese male labor force (Koji, Hisashi, Daisuke, & Smith, 2015). Strikingly, Stone (2013) argues that harassment in the form of “abusive workplace speech” (p. 229) is contributing even more to the gender inequality than the lack of women-with-family support measures.

Intervention possibilities

Reduction of harassment needs to go beyond the kind of interventions taken to fight aggression more generally to address the vulnerability of victims and the aspect of passive and witnessing observers of bullying (Cascardi et al., 2014). Intriguingly, organizations cultivating transformational leadership can reap the benefits from empowered and more autonomous employees regarding reduced harassment thanks to a more equal and less vulnerable workforce (Astrauskaite, Notelaers, Medisauskaite, and Kern, 2015).


Adams, K. A. (2012). Japan: The sacrificial society. The Journal Of Psychohistory, 40(2), 89-100.

Astrauskaite, M., Notelaers, G., Medisauskaite, A., & Kern, R. (2015). Workplace harassment: Deterring role of transformational leadership and core job characteristics. Scandinavian Journal Of Management, 31(1), 121-135.

Cascardi, M., Brown, C., Iannarone, M., & Cardona, N. (2014). The Problem with Overly Broad Definitions of Bullying: Implications for the Schoolhouse, the Statehouse, and the Ivory Tower. Journal Of School Violence, 13(3), 253-276.

Claybourn, M., Spinner, B., & Malcom, K. (2014). Workplace harassment: A test of definitional criteria derived from an analysis of research definitions and Canadian social definitions. International Journal Of Law And Psychiatry, 37(6), 589-600.

Efron, J. M. (1999). Transnational Application of Sexual Harassment Laws: A Cultural Barrier in Japan [comments]. University Of Pennsylvania Journal Of International Economic Law, (1), 133.

Hammond, G., & Kleiner, K. (2013). Understanding And Preventing Harassment And Discrimination At Work. Feature Edition, 2013(3), 41-49.

Hsiao, P. (2015). POWER HARASSMENT: The Tort of Workplace Bullying in Japan. UCLA Pacific Basin Law Journal, 32(2), 181-201.

Koeszegi, S., Zedlacher, E., & Hudribusch, R. (2014). The War against the Female Soldier? The Effects of Masculine Culture on Workplace Aggression. Armed Forces & Society, 40(2), 226-251.

Koji, W., Hisashi, E., Daisuke, Y., Jun, O., & Smith, D. R. (2015). Associations between psychological distress and the most concerning present personal problems among working-age men in Japan. BMC Public Health, 15(1), 1-7. doi:10.1186/s12889-015-1676-7

Raskauskas, J., & Stoltz, A. D. (2004). Identifying and Intervening in Relational Aggression. Journal Of School Nursing (Allen Press Publishing Services Inc.), 20(4), 209.

Stillman, T., Yamawaki, N., Ridge, R., White, P., & Copley, K. (2009). Comparing Predictors of Sexual Harassment Proclivity Between Japanese and US Men. Psychology Of Men & Masculinity, 10(1), 30-43.

Stone, K. L. (2013). Decoding Civility. Berkeley Journal Of Gender, Law & Justice, 28185.Turner, H. A., Finkelhor, D., Shattuck, A., Hamby, S., & Mitchell, K. (2015). Beyond bullying: Aggravating elements of peer victimization episodes. School Psychology Quarterly: The Official Journal Of The Division Of School Psychology, American Psychological Association, 30(3), 366-384. doi:10.1037/spq0000058

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Takaki, J., Tsutsumi, A., Fujii, Y., Taniguchi, T., Hirokawa, K., Hibino, Y., & … Ogino, K. (2010). Assessment of workplace bullying and harassment: reliability and validity of a Japanese version of the negative acts questionnaire. Journal Of Occupational Health, 52(1), 74-81.

Toshiyo, T., Jiro, T., Kumi, H., Yasuhito, F., & Kaori, H. (2016). Associations of workplace bullying and harassment with stress reactions: a two-year follow-up study. Industrial Health, 54(2), 131-138.

Turte, S. L., Correa, M. C., da Luz, A. A., & Fischer, F. M. (2012). Harassment at work? Empowerment and autonomy as coping strategies of young workers. Work (Reading, Mass.), 41 Suppl 15674-5676. doi:10.3233/WOR-2012-0916-5674

  • I would bet bullying and harassment are found in every country. Some provinces in Canada have finally become open and active on the subject(s). In Alberta there was a long debate within the Catholic school board about allowing GSA groups to form. Long name is Gay Straight Alliance, student formed groups, from grades 8-12.

    The Premiere stopped the debate by giving the Catholic School board a choice 1. go with the program or 2. lose your funding. She did it with her special smile. Giving students a means to speak openly is a good way to change the pattern.

    The Police Association formed groups with business, government, aboriginal and other community leaders to discuss bullying and workplace harassment openly. These groups can be formed in local communities anywhere starting with 2 or 3 people. Local communities within a town or city are about the people wanting to have a safe life for everyone. Powerful topic Mathias.

    • Hi, Dennis. Thank you for your great illustrations and your appreciated support! Absolutely; it is a widespread phenomenon. However, society, communities, and organizations (and individuals) can influence the severity and frequency of the adverse bullying/harassing behavior. Your examples showed how people in general and possible victims, in particular, are made aware and strengthened to become less likely tempted or vulnerable to harassment. I see the local community potential you demonstrate! A bit more difficult for me here in Japan to lead, but it is my goal to make a direct real-life impact for the well-being of all! It’s always the right time for life improving campaigns! In my view, it is worth to approach it top-down and bottom-up, i.g., influencing the policy/societal/organizational level and growing citizen/employee groups at the same time. For Japan especially, education and collaboration style should foster more possibilities for autonomy (while keeping a social/cultural sensitivity), so that people are less stuck in real and perceived weak dependency positions that are making them often so easy targets for power harassment. I’m working on it; currently, by writing about it (better than nothing;-)) Thank you!

      • 🙂 That’s true. The Internet is an important tool for democracy and global citizenship. I’m afraid that under the pretext of cyber security some forces could like to limit the freedom of the Internet. But for now let’s enjoy it:-) All the best!

    • Hi! Thank you very much for your nice comment. I think you’re right, but the topic may still be a bit a taboo. Yes, I’m living in Japan, different world (from a Westerner perspective). Where has your journey led you?