Monastery no hiding place for sex pest

NO ONE was surprised when Toru Yano went to hide in a Zen monastery after he was accused of sexually harassing female colleagues. In a tradition that stretches across the Buddhist countries of Asia from Thailand and Burma up to Korea and Japan, people who have been publicly shamed have for centuries taken refuge and 'purified' themselves by shaving their heads and meditating with the monks.

What did surprise people was that Mr Yano's accusers tracked him down to the ancient Tofukuji temple on the fringes of Kyoto, denounced him to the temple's head priest, and had him 'expelled' last month.

Somehow the ground rules had changed. The old conceits of a hierarchical, male-dominated culture, where saving face often outweighed getting at the truth, no longer held much value for a group of angry women from Kyoto University who claimed Professor Yano had been sexually harassing them and others for the past 20 years.

His hiding in the monastery, they claimed, was symbolic of the country-wide conspiracy of silence over habitual molestation and harassment of women in the workplace. In a government survey in 1992, one-quarter of women asked said they had had 'an unpleasant sexual experience' at their workplace.

However, some changes are occurring, and in the last two years several women have taken legal action against male co-workers for sexual interference. The courts have begun generally to look more favourably on women's complaints. And last year the Ministry of Labour issued official 'guidelines' of what constitutes sexual harassment, or seku-hara as it is abbreviated in Japanese.

Professor Yano was at the top of his profession. Aged 57, he was director of Kyoto University's renowned Centre for South-east Asian Studies. He had received many academic honours, culminating in becoming the first Japanese member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences, which is responsible for choosing the Nobel prize winners. One of his most famous former students is Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner who is now under house arrest in Rangoon.

But things started to go wrong for him last spring, when eight of his female personal assistants resigned one after another, and one complained to the university that she had been sexually harassed. The university began an investigation, and in August Professor Yano stepped down as director.

But it was not until December, when one of the women went to a lawyer, Hiroshi Iguchi, and threatened legal action, that Professor Yano resigned from the university altogether. The 20-year-old woman told her lawyer that she had been forced into having sex with the professor.

Mr Iguchi says he is preparing to press charges against Professor Yano. His whereabouts are currently unknown: some speculate that he has found another Zen temple to take him in. But Mr Iguchi says at least four women are determined not to give up their fight to have Professor Yano face his accusers.