おわハラ and other Japanese harassment

2015 June 22
by Stacy Smith

WIT Life is a periodic series written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03). She starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some of the interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

I had the chance to go back to Japan on business this month and will be going again next month to interpret for the same project, so I’m excited to be able to visit on such a regular basis.  Being back in a Japanese workplace reminds me of the different styles our two cultures have when it comes to this environment, whether it is the uniforms worn by OLs or the wide open floor plan consisting of endless islands where people sit.  Another striking aspect is the specific categorization of various types of potential harassment in the workplace.  I’m sure most people have heard of セクハラ (sekuhara which is short for “sexual harassment”) and maybe パワハラ (pawahara which is short for “power harassment,” when a superior uses his/her power to influence a subordinate), but lately there are some new versions of harassment in Japan to take note of.

For example, マタハラ (matahara or “maternity harassment”) describes when a pregnant woman is bullied because of her physical state, and usually the perpetrator’s motivation is trying to get her to quit.  A newer term which was just coined this past March is おわハラ (owahara, coming from 就活終われハラスメント or “job search termination harassment”).  It refers to when potential employers pressure their university student recruits to stop considering offers from other companies by offering them a guaranteed position in their own.

This article, though a bit dated, offers a humorous take on the “hara” phenomenon.  I like his suggestion of adding “hara hara” at the end!

One other Japanese suffix that might rival “hara” in usage is “活”, or “katsu” which is used to refer to some sort of activity.  In the example for owahara above, 就活 or shuukatsu is short for 就職活動 (shuushoku katsudou or “job searching”).  One of my previous posts actually covered the range of 活, but a new one I heard recently is being advocated by the PM’s office.  It is ゆう活 or yuukatsu, which refers to evening activities outside of work.  It takes the ゆう from 夕方 (yuugata or evening), but also plays on the “yuu” of 友人 (friend), 優しい (kind) and 遊び (enjoy oneself).  In order to be able to spend this quality time with one’s family (or I guess for singles to go out and have fun?), the government is encouraging employees to come in an hour or two early so that they can leave at a decent time.

This neimg_554708dd6f9c8w evolution of katsu is promoting work life balance and likely comes at least partially in response to Japan’s unfortunate phenomenon of 過労死 or karoushi (“to work oneself to death”).  For those of you who read Japanese, check out this missive from the Cabinet office which urges employees to enjoy the “sparkling evening” awaiting them.  There is even an official logo mark and yuukatsu fans, stickers and posters that you can download as guides for how to spend your time off or just remind you to take it.  I particularly like this image of a smiling woman in a suit with the tagline, “Sorry overtime, it’s yuukatsu.”  Only in Japan…

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