Is It Legal To Hire Someone Based On Appearance In Japan?

American clothing brand Abercrombie & Fitch has raised eyebrows around the world in recent weeks as their questionable hiring policies have been exposed. Claiming that store sales staff are actually “models,” Abercrombie has recruited employees solely based on attractiveness for years, and often has male greeters work shirtless in front of the stores. Many in the international human rights community are outraged about these seemingly discriminatory policies.

Similarly dubious hiring standards exist in Japan, as well, and not just in American chains like Abercrombie – this topic will probably ring a bell for anyone who’s been to a Japanese hostess club. In the following article, a prominent lawyer examines the validity of these practices from the perspective of Japanese law. While virtually everyone seem to agree that hiring discrimination based on appearance is widespread in Japan, netizen opinions on the topic vary widely.

From Yahoo! Japan:

”Staff Recruiting Limited to Hot Guys”: Is It Illegal to Hire Based on Appearance?

Abercrombie & Fitch is an American clothing brand currently popular among young people. The brand is expanding into many countries including England, France, and Japan, and it seems that some shops have attractive male staff serving customers while shirtless. In Japan, the brand is known by the abbreviation “Abercro.”

However, there’s a question mark looming over Abercrombie’s hiring standards. According to reporting by the American Free Press and others, a French human rights organization has pointed out problems with Abercrombie’s hiring policies, saying, “We thing they are following discriminatory standards that give excessive importance to appearance.” After discovering that the stores recruit sales staff under the title of “model,” the human rights organization has embarked on an investigation of the company, pointing out that “if they’re recruiting models, they can justify considering physical appearance as a condition of employment, but when it comes to sales staff the conversation is different.”

In Japan there are also companies that are rumored to hire employees based on appearance. If there truly is “appearance hiring” happening based on attractiveness, will this be considered hiring discrimination under Japanese law? WE asked Furugane Chiaki, a lawyer well-versed in labor problems.

”For example, employment through sexual discrimination is a problem. Recruiting only men or only women is prohibited under the Equal Employment Opportunity Law. Also, cases of sexual discrimination in hiring are regulated by guidelines (2006 Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare bulletin No. 614) and administration directives (Labor and Child Development No. 1011002) established along with revisions to the Equal Employment Opportunity Law in 2006.”

In that case, what about recruiting “limited to hot guys”?

”That would be in violation of the guidelines and administration directives mentioned above. First of all, hiring only men violates the Equal Employment Opportunity Law, and saying ‘We only hire good-looking men (women have no restrictions)’ also violates those guidelines and administrative directives. Moreover, situations where employment conditions include an ‘attractive face and figure’ for women or a ‘muscular build’ for men are also thought to be in violation. If a company is hiring and recruiting in a way that violates the Equal Employment Opportunity Law and the above-mentioned guidelines and directives, it’s possible that the company will come under the administrative guidance of the employment opportunity division of the prefectural department of labor. “

–What about models and entertainers?

“There are fields recognized as exceptions. For fields in the arts and public entertainment, such as acting, singing, and modelling, under fixed conditions, they can hire only men (or only women), and employment conditions based on gender are allowed. However, this exception does not generally apply to a store’s service industry, so I don’t think that employment conditions ‘limited to hot guys’ is allowed.”

–Well then, what about a case where so-called “appearance hiring” happens equally to men and women in an ordinary job?

”Sexism and age discrimination are prohibited, but there is no law forbidding companies from hiring based on standards of physical appearance without regard to gender. “

–If that’s the case, then it’s okay for companies to hire only handsome men and beautiful women?

”Legally, it can’t be called unlawful, but whether it can be socially acceptable is a separate issue. If a company recruits in a way that invites social opposition, its reputation will suffer. In a situation where a company’s reputation has been injured, it may become difficult for the company to attract superior, talented employees. In short, whether a company participates in ‘appearance hiring’ is up to the administrative judgment of the company. On the other hand, whether you apply for ‘appearance hiring’ job offers is also dependent on your personal judgement.”

Well, Japan has the saying that “God does not give two gifts.” Cases of “appearance hiring” aren’t limited to ones where everything goes smoothly. What, you don’t agree? But, see, they’re saying “there’s no regulation saying we AREN’T an exception”…

[About the lawyer interviewed]:
Furugane Chiaki, Lawyer
Tensui Comprehensive Law Office, Representative Lawyer.
Furugane offers legal services for individuals opposing corporations (venture companies aiming for IPOs, small to medium businesses, and listed companies). He works in the fields of corporate law, labor issues, M&A, bankruptcy and repossession, and general civil affairs (including divorce and gender relations).

Comments from Yahoo! Japan:


Even in Japan, if you’re beautiful, your work situation is completely different.


Aren’t businesses with physical appearance preferences normal?


Japan is the same, with hiring based on your face. It must be particularly difficult for women.


If fatties and uglies are wearing the merchandise, do you think you’ll want to buy it? I don’t think it’s because of discrimination…


Everyone has their own sense when it comes to judging whether someone’s hot. There are a fair number of performers that are called “hot guys” where I’m like, “Huh? That guy?”


In the department store service industry, appearance is also emphasized. Really, even stuff like being overweight is not allowed… (Because it’s bad for the image of the brand) it probably can’t be helped that it exists in some businesses, right?


No matter what type of occupation, appearance is important. Because it changes the customer’s impression.


Tattooed people can’t use public baths and beaches. Is this also discrimination based on appearance? I don’t think so.


Companies don’t come out and say it, but I think it’s ordinary for them to decide based on appearance. You know, I always wonder about the looks of the bastards who are judging whether people are ugly or not, but…


In society you need both private intentions and a public face.


I think it’s not all that different from choosing people based on their academic background.


There are a lot of companies that choose to hire or not hire based on face and first impression.


In customer service situations, it’s not unreasonable for your physical appearance to influence things. Picking a slightly more superior person, or picking someone with a good personality, it’s not discrimination but perfectly normal. Without glossing over it, we’re always sifting through people. It’s the same as choosing a lover.


Writing it down is out of the question, but I think in reality they take people based on faces. Especially girls.


This is in a Puffy song, isn’t it? If the abilities are the same, the one with the better appearance gets chosen. And it’s not just limited to women. I think that’s the same across all times and places. Incidentally, no matter how superior their abilities, there’s an unwritten rule that “shorties,” “baldies,” and “fatties” can’t become a candidate for the American presidency.


Sales and business results change based on visual quality, so it’s inevitable. To begin with, people who are aware that they’re ugly or plain probably choose jobs for themselves that aren’t influenced by visuals anyways.


It’s all about the right person in the right place… If a model’s physical appearance is good, they’ll be fine even if they’re stupid. Regardless of whether a bureaucrat’s ugly, if he’s not smart he won’t function well.


The world is nowhere near being fair. You should think about how you’ll survive in a world like that.


”Appearance is a part of ability. It’s strange that wisdom and strength are recognized, but only the talent of physical appearance isn’t acknowledged.” Kobayashi Yoshinori or someone said that. Well, I agree.
In the end, more than picking out value from a rotting flower (talent), valuing the rotting flower itself is a merchant’s cleverness, and in reality, that’s why “valuing appearance” doesn’t really happen outside of the service industry.


Japan has also had this for a long time for things like business reception desks. But it should stop.

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