An investigation into the suicide of a police officer in a Tokyo police station has found that harassment from a superior contributed to his death. While the chief is now facing disciplinary action, it has again highlighted the problem of abuses of authority in Japanese workplaces, also known as ‘power harassment’, or pawahara in Japanese.
In February earlier this year a 44-year-old head patrol officer was found dead from a bullet wound to the head in the restroom of Kamata Police Station in Ōta Ward, Tokyo. His death was ruled a suicide.
The result of the police investigation into his death has found that since the previous spring, the 52-year-old chief had been continuously abusive towards many of the people working under him, including the patrol officer. The harassment included department personnel being severely rebuked for a lack of arrests from police questioning, and just the day before the officer took his own life his chief told him ‘You’re useless’ and pushed him for his resignation.
The police department has labeled this behaviour power harassment and found it to be a cause in the man’s suicide. The chief has faced disciplinary measures and a pay cut, and has now apologized to the family of the decreased. He has issued a statement saying ‘I was not aware that it was power harassment, but I am painfully aware of my responsibility in the matter.’ A statement from the police headquarters states, ‘We have dealt with this behaviour, which is inappropriate coming from a core member of the station’s staff, seriously. We will endeavour to create an environment where staff can perform their professional duties to the best of their abilities.’
This issue has brought yet more attention to a topic that has been in the spotlight in recent years in Japan. The word used in Japanese is ‘powahara’, a portmanteau of ‘power’ and ‘harassment’ in the same way that ‘sekuhara’ is used to express ‘sexual harassment’. In English we may be more used to the phrase ‘abuse of authority’, which refers to the same situation of when someone uses their position in an organization or workplace to bully and abuse those beneath them.
Power harassment may not necessarily occur more often in Japan than elsewhere, but the term was coined in Japan, and it has been highlighted as an endemic problem in many of the nations’ workplaces. However, many of the things which we might be quick to call an ‘abuse of authority’ are accepted practice in Japan, such as being made to perform tasks outside of job description, working overtime, and being berated for not measuring up to the boss’s seemingly impossible standards (usually in front of the whole office). Working in a Japanese office, I was often surprised at the way staff members would be rebuked publicly in front the rest of the workers, rather than in a private meeting with their boss. Yet as a foreigner, it’s difficult to condemn something which can be looked at as simply a different way of doing things. There are even plenty of workers who admire a powerful and authoritarian boss, despite the pressure it may put on them on a day-to-day basis.
Hopefully at least some good can come of this tragic case if it causes the police force and other prominent organizations to work harder towards stamping out this kind of damaging behaviour from their offices.