Bōnenkai season is upon us. For many workers, the end-of-year party season is a welcome chance to let their hair down and celebrate or commiserate over the highs and lows of the past 12 months. But for some women, it can be a troubling time, as the risk of sexual harassment increases, fueled by alcohol, the loosening of inhibitions and the presence of large numbers of inebriated men.

At last year's bōnenkai for the General Affairs Department of the Hokkaido Shimbun's Hakodate branch on Dec. 8, a 40-year-old nurse who worked part-time at the paper was reportedly sexually harassed by a vice-chief of the department and his subordinate. Two months later, in the early morning of Feb. 21, the woman died of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a fire at her home. A day before her death, she sent documents criticizing the paper's insensitive and unsympathetic handling of the case to 13 organizations, including eight newspapers and TV stations in Hokkaido.

A handwritten memo that said simply "Please do not hold a funeral for me" was found in the barn next to her house. Her family are convinced that their daughter committed suicide as a result of the sexual harassment and the company's inadequate countermeasures.