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Stalking and harassment by customers push pharmacies in Japan to change nametags

Pharmacists wearing nametags with their full names are seen at a pharmacy in the city of Osaka's Chuo Ward on Sept. 6, 2022. They say they sense people's gazes shifting to their nametags when they begin explaining their medication. (Mainichi/Ryohei Masukawa)

OSAKA -- If you go into a pharmacy in Japan today, you may find the pharmacist filling your prescription or giving you advice on medication doesn't have their full name printed on their nametag. This is just one measure implemented by the national government to deal with a grim reality: pharmacists are being victimized by stalkers and customer harassment as it becomes easier to identify people online.

    "Someone tracked down a young female employee on social media from the full name printed on her nametag, and they began stalking her," a manager at a major pharmacy chain told the Mainichi Shimbun. "A customer also threatened to expose an employee's name on the internet," he added.

    Up until recently, the health ministry's Pharmaceutical Safety and Environmental Health Bureau had requested pharmacy and store managers to ask pharmacists and staff to wear nametags printed with their first and last names. The drugstore chain whose manager spoke to the Mainichi Shimbun also followed that guidance. However, cases of customers harassing or stalking pharmacists rose dramatically from around 2020, leading employees to request transfers or take leave due to physical and mental health issues.

    According to the drugstore chain manager in his 50s, around the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Japan, many stressed customers dissatisfied with mask shortages and confusion around PCR tests took out their frustrations on employees. There are apparently still customers who barge into stores and ask questions about PCR tests that staff cannot answer.

    The health ministry changed its guidance in late June this year to allow nametags showing "only the surname" or "an alias." Since August, the manager's chain has had staff use name tags showing only their last names.

    A 26-year-old pharmacist working for another chain in Aichi Prefecture said her shop, too, is considering dropping full names from its nametags, and that she thinks it "won't interfere with work."

    On the other hand, Masayo Domyo, a 67-year-old pharmacist who runs a pharmacy in the Osaka Prefecture city of Izumisano, questioned the recent move, saying, "As a general rule, we have employees wear nametags with their full names. Can pharmacists build trusting relationships and work responsibly (without them)?"

    Concerns have also been raised over anonymization in society. Professor Kenji Omata at Surugadai University in Saitama Prefecture pointed out, "There are people who don't know how to relieve stress and frustration, and we are in an age where we do not know who will attack us, or from where. However, as there is the problem of disrupted communication (with customers), decisions regarding nametags will likely differ among stores. We need to properly think about the state of society after anonymization."

    (Japanese original by Ryohei Masukawa, Osaka Regional News Department)

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