Love Hotels Are Not Meeting Rooms. #MeToo doesn’t take off in Japan’s Hollywood

I’m a female actor in Tokyo. I thought I was safe from the filth of Hollywood, safe here in “innocent” Japan. But the truth is that Japan’s entertainment business is full of Harvey Weinstein-like individuals. Here is my first-hand experience.

In December 2016 I responded to a casting via a Foreign Actors facebook page. After some discussions with the director, Mr. X,  online and on the phone, we had a meeting in Ikebukero. The meeting was casual, but professional, discussing only matters pertaining to acting and film. After the meeting he requested I send him some photos of my body which were necessary for him to overlay a fake tattoo for the character. I sent only semi-nudes, and I didnt think this was particularly unusual (as a former photographer, I made these sort of requests of my models on occasion).

“Let’s meet at a love hotel. Everybody does it.”

A few days later he wrote, “I want to date with you. If you agree, 70% final you are in my project.” I was very shocked by this! But being polite and professional I explained that I do not mix business with pleasure, and “for now I prefer to keep a professional relationship.” He responded that it, “is necessary”. Necessary? He explained that Japanese actresses never question it, they want to have “good communication” with their director. At that point the conversation ended, and over the next year he would send me an occasional “hello, how are you” messages. I obliged, but the conversations never went anywhere. I ignored his messages for a few months, even the message in July 2017 asking to meet me. Last December, I decided to reply to his “good morning” message. His reply was, “I actually wanna meet…I like u”. I responded politely, “I would like to work with you professionally, but I have a boyfriend.”

Like this was going to stop him? No.

He replied, “its ok, but we can make relations.” “Relations”? I asked. Who says that? He replied, “relations. Of course we will work together”. 

The conversation ended there, until two weeks ago, when he wrote that he was starting work on a new project, and if I wanted to meet him. I thought about it, and felt that after all this time he still wants to work with me, then okay I’ll meet him to discuss the project. We discussed dates/times to meet over a few days, and he then wrote that he has a location for us to meet. He then sends me the address and photo of a love hotel. I couldn’t believe it! When I asked him, just to clarify,  “Is this a love hotel?”

His only response was, “Problem?”

I laughed with disgust and told him there was no way I was going to any love hotel. He said, “Everybody is doing that, I thought you understood me.”

“Hey can you send me some naked pictures…for the tattoo overlay shots?”

The gall of the director is incredible.  But all I could think about was that he said in defence of himself, “Everybody is doing that”. Really? Are there really actresses doing this regularly? This disgusted me even more. After sharing this conversation with the community of foreign actors, I was enlightened about the darker side of the Japanese film industry. I am both saddened and appalled. Many have reached out to me, sharing their sick, sad stories. This needs to be shared, awareness is needed here, too.  The #Metoo movement started in Hollywood in the US. I wish it would strike a spark in Japan’s entertainment industry as well. 

–Ilana

Editor’s note: There may be readers of this blog who will snigger that Ilana hadn’t caught on to the seedier side of Japan’s entertainment industry (芸能界) much earlier but she’s not alone. Many newcomers to Japan only see the country as a safe, polite, and pleasant little island nation until they start working. 

6 murderers are paroled in a small Japanese town. Will they bring the place back to life or bring more death? See “The Scythian Lamb”

Rural depopulation is a serious problem in Japan, so much that for the past decade, media fiction has devoted an entire genre into telling its stories. Bankrupt shops with their shutters permanently closed, desolate mountain and sea landscapes, no one out on the streets but a handful of old people. These are both metaphors for, and the hard facts of, most Japanese rural areas. Regional governments have been desperate to bring in new residents and to this end, they’re offering stipends, free housing, even matchmaking parties – on the governments’ dime. Rumor has it that since the early nineties, rural towns have been recruiting parolees to become part of the local populace. This information cannot be verified. The people involved will never admit to such a program even existing. But it’s there, and “The Scythian Lamb” is a brilliant fable about what happens when this program kicks in (pun fully intended) on a sleepy little coastal town. A town where, “the people are kind and the seafood is delicious.”

© 2018『羊の木』製作委員会 ©山上たつひこ、いがらしみきお/講談社

With its slow burning violence and small town melodrama, “The Scythian Lamb” is mindful in many ways of “Fargo” (the TV series) but without the broad streak of snarkiness and splashy bloodletting. Most of all, the dystopian despair that make up much of “Fargo” (and like-minded others) is missing from “Scythian…”

This isn’t a spoiler but the ending is hopeful, even happy. The final scenes close on a rural town whose residents are marginally more joyous than they were last year and there is absolutely no mention of the violence that erupted briefly like fireworks, then disappeared into the night sky. However, the journey to the peaceful end is not easy.

Six ex-cons, all who had served time for murder and now on parole, are selected to live in a fictional seaside town called Uobuka (which means ‘fish deep’). One by one, they arrive – four men and two women between the ages of early 30s to mid-60s – and are given a welcome by the city hall worker Tsukisue (played with breezy finesse by Ryo Nishikido). They are allowed to live in the town, on the condition that they take jobs provided them by city hall, and that they stay for 10 years. In other words, they’ve exchanged a shorter prison sentence for another kind of penance. Already, one of them (Kazuki Kitamura), who represents Japan’s new breed of criminal, has started to complain that he will be “bored to death” here.

Tsukisue is still young, lithe and naive though his high school pal Sudo (Satoru Matsui) assures him that living out in the boonies ages everyone twice as fast. “In your case, it’s four times as fast,”  Tsukisue jokes to the noticeably overweight Sudo. But Tsukisue may be envious of the fact that fat or not, at least his friend has a wife and daughter to go home to. Tsukisue on the other hand, looks like a guy who has been celibate for a long time, which is fast becoming the norm for many single Japanese men. But (and this is the thing about Tsukisue) the guy is NOT bitter. He’s gentle, kind and above all, conscientious. He does his job, and then goes home to take care of his dad who is recovering from a stroke. Not much of a life for a good-looking dude. But when he discovers that the newcomers he had chaperoned were each convicted for murder or manslaughter, Tsukisue’s equilibrium is shattered. Will they, you know, like, do it again? His supervisor intones to Tsukisue not to dwell on the past. “And don’t go telling people they’ve just gotten out of prison,” adds the supervisor, because this project could well have a bearing on “Japan’s future.”

Based on the award-winning manga by Tatsuhiko Yamagami and Mikio Igarashi, “The Scythian Lamb” is directed by Daihachi Yoshida. As one of Japan’s last old-school filmmakers, Yoshida has a solid reputation for churning out crime/suspense blockbusters like “Pale Moon” in 2014. “Scythian…” shows Yoshida in an unusually political mode, exploring the many woes of Japan’s rapidly shrinking, super aged population and the general feeling that ours is a no-hope, claustrophobic society. Which is probably true, but in “Scythian…,” the suggested silver bullet is violence. No one is excited about Uobuka being, in the words of Tsukisue, “a nice place with kind people and great seafood.” But when a dead body turns up on the pier, everyone seems to get a glint in their eye. A cloudy sky turns blue. An old man even gets laid.

All this is cause for celebration, considering that most of the Uobuka populace acts half-dead most of the time. Even Tsukisue’s high school crush Aya (Fumino Kimura), the supposed heroine of the story, hardly speaks and never smiles. Aya, Tsukisue and Sudo had once played in the same rock band and Tsukisue tries to rekindle their friendship by inviting them to practice again. Aya reluctantly agrees. Big surprise for Tsukisue when he learns that she has started dating one of the ex-cons: Miyakoshi (Ryuhei Matsuda) who comes off like a bullied victim but actually hoards menace like a grandmother with yarn. You know those skinny, quiet guys who may or may not be a serial killer in a Netflix series? That’s Miyakoshi, right down to his discount sneakers. (Editor’s note:And if you’re a student of true crime in Japan, he channels all the skinny sociopaths who have been responsible for some of Japan’s more horrendous mass murders in recent years–but of course, he’s not one. Not quite) 

 

A troubled young man who is quick to appreciate that the town has “nice people and good seafood.” He has one small issue.
© 2018『羊の木』製作委員会 ©山上たつひこ、いがらしみきお/講談社

The others are as compelling if not as troublesome. Still, whenever one or the other is in the frame you sense a storm brewing: Min Tanaka as the ex-yakuza who did eighteen years for killing another boss and feels that it may be too late to start afresh. There is Kazuki Kitamura’s Sugiyama who really enjoys stirring things up, and seems like a refugee from the dismantled gang, Kanto Rengo, which won fame for beating their enemies to death with baseball bats. His confrontation with the ex-yakuza rings surprisingly true. And there’s Shingo Mizusawa as Fukumoto, an ex-barber who slashed his boss’s throat with a razor. The women are given less to do but Mikako Ichikawa and Yuka try to make the most of their roles. Yuka is in her usual hot-chick mode, but Ichikawa manages to steal some scenes as a woman who had routinely been beaten by her boyfriend until one night she cracked his skull as he slept, with a large bottle of sake. “I’m a scary woman,” she tells Tsukisue and it’s moments like these that Uobuka morphs from a nice place with great seafood, to somewhere real.

Opens February 3rd.

Editor’s note: In my opinion, one of the best Japanese films in recent years. The story is subtle, the acting restrained, the quiet violence is convincing.  The movie also has a hypnotic, ethereal  soundtrack that matches well with the buried mystical theme that pulls the film together. (Jake) 

Another tragic case of death from overwork (過労死) highlights a culture of labor abuse. Reform is needed.

As the Abe administration tries to accelerate “work style reform” to address the issue of chronically long working hours, probably in an ultimately negative way, another case of karoshi (過労死) also known as death by overwork, was made public by family members of a victim last month. A 51-year-old sales manager working for Sansei, a mold manufacturing company in the city of Oshu in Iwate Prefecture, passed away after an intracerebral hemorrhage in 2011. The family waited many years before finally deciding to take the case to court. The man had been working up to 111 hours of overtime in a month. Family members of the victim insist that the company should have taken necessary measures to lessen his workload. They held a press conference this month.

The business friendly Japanese government fails to prevent death by overwork.  In January, the Labor Ministry did put up signs saying” Stop Karoshi”,  urging an end to death by overwork, “for a society where people can continue to labor”. In essence, “work overtime but don’t die on the job”.

 

The father of two children, the karoshi victim, was hired as an engineer working at the company’s plant in his hometown of Oshu in 1989. After being assigned to sales manager’s position, his daily tasks included sending out invoices and promoting the company’s supplies to potential customers, making several business trips a month. In addition to those tasks, he had to assess the work of his team members to determine their bonuses. He was also asked to organize company sponsored softball games and annual end-of-the-year parties. His workload began to gradually increase and the records his family members were able to collect show he continuously worked 60 to 80 hours of overtime a month since 2002. His son recalls that since he always left home at 7:00am and came home very late at night, sometimes later than 11:00pm. They were able to dine with him just once a week, on Sunday nights.

Even the worker himself became aware of being dangerously overworked. He once told his wife, “I’m working way too much so that if something happens to me, don’t hesitate to sue the company.”

Several months after he collapsed in his home on a Saturday afternoon in front of his family, his wife, certain that it was the work condition that pushed him to die, applied for worker’s compensation which was later accepted by the labor standards inspection office in Hanamaki, Iwate. However, the company insisted it was actually his preexisting health conditions that was the main cause and refused to apologize or compensate for his death. His wife and the two children decided to take the case to civil court. “The government concluded after investigation that this is karoshi but the company decided not to admit. Now, it needs to be held responsible for what it has done to my father,” the son stated. The first hearing is to scheduled to be held in January 2018.

Cases like this are not at all uncommon in Japan. It was 1978 when a doctor specialized in occupational diseases first introduced the term karoshi, literally translated as “death from overwork” in Japanese[i]. According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, one in eight (12.6%) full time workers work more than 60 hours per week; the government considers death from overwork becomes a serious possibility if working more than 60 hours a week[ii]. The government finally passed legislation, the act on promotion of karoshi prevention countermeasures, in 2014, amid increasing pressures mainly from a group of karoshi victim family members[iii]. However, the number of karoshi incidents has been held steady. In 2016, 198 cases of suicide karoshi (or karojisatsu) were filed to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in addition to 261 cases of karoshi from brain and heart related disorders[iv]. Experts say this is an extremely conservative figure because many workers and their families simply do not know what to do when their loved ones suddenly pass away. Even if they come to conclude work is the cause, they must find ways to prove victims actually worked excessive overtime. Many companies forge timesheets, ordering to clock in and out on a fixed time everyday, and the rest do not keep track of work hours at all.

“It is extremely difficult for family members to find evidence of overwork. They are not experts of labor law and often those companies hide the evidence or even try to persuade family members not to speak out by offering a small compensation,” Haruki Konno of POSSE, a labor rights organization that has been supporting the family in this case. “There must be so many cases that fly under the radar. We need to support karoshi victim family members or those faced with bad working conditions so that they can to take actions against management.”

 

[i] http://www.ilo.org/safework/info/publications/WCMS_211571/lang–en/index.htm

[ii] http://www.jil.go.jp/kokunai/blt/backnumber/2017/01/064-072.pdf

[iii]https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2014/11/15/editorials/getting-a-grip-on-karoshi/#.Wi4TzUtpHOQ

[iv] http://www.mhlw.go.jp/stf/houdou/0000168672.html

Write Hard To Live Free: Happy Year Of The (Watch)Dog! 番犬報道の年ですよ!謹賀新年

 Today marks the start of The Year Of The Dog. I like dogs and I like them because I think journalists should be the guard dogs of a free society. We bark, we bite, we protect democracy and the public right to know. That’s our duty. ワンワン.

If you’re a lapdog for the powers that be, like executives at Fox News or News Corporation, journalism may be a rewarding and easy job.

Being a free-lance foreign correspondent and investigative reporter in Japan these days is a lot like being the private detective in the Dashiell Hammett novel, Red Harvest. You’re working for a newspaper editor who’s dead before you ever get to meet him (sounds like the newspaper business in general) and you have to struggle to get paid the money owed to you. You deal with gangs and thugs and crooked politicians, pitting them against each other, appearing to take work from anyone and at the end of the day, if you’ve brought someone to justice and you’re the last man standing: you’ve won. Collect your cash and go home.

Actually, it’s not really like much like that at all, but I wanted to start this article with a hard-boiled simile.

Jokes aside, making a living as freelance reporter in Japan these days is rewarding, but risky and unstable, and there are fewer and fewer of us doing it full time.

 

There are a lot of reasons for that. The number of working journalists is decreasing every year, while the number of people working in public relations keeps going up. Newspapers and magazines that have bureaus in Japan or that will pay for stories from Japan keep declining in number. Time’s Tokyo Bureau closed years ago. Newsweek folded. Dow Jones culled a large number of senior reporters this year. Reuters hires and fires at a schizophrenic pace. Bloomberg downsized. CNN and CNBC are barely here. The Los Angeles Times bureau once existed but I can only barely remember it. It used to have an office in the Yomiuri Building,

To my delight from spring of 2015 until the fall of 2016, I was a special correspondent for the L.A. Times. Then the newspaper ran out of money. No more budget for Japan.

Well, if you read the expose from the L.A. Times Guild (the labor union formed this year) it may not even be that they ran out of money – but rather that TRONC, Inc., the corporation running the newspaper into the ground, just sucks up all the profits and awards them to its executives, not the reporters. It certainly doesn’t spend more than it has to on paying for actual reporting. The problems at the Los Angeles Times are a microcosm of what’s happening all over the media – fewer and fewer people are asked to do more work with fewer resources. That’s the case for regular employees.

I applaud the union for actually standing up for members’ rights as workers and against mismanagement.

Maybe they’ll accomplish something.

Maybe some rich philanthropist will buy the newspaper as Jeff Bezos of Amazon did with the Washington Post, and restore it to glory.

And maybe I’ll do that job again if that happens. It was a great gig.

 

Mark that word, gig. Martin Fackler, who tried freelancing for a while but has now returned to the New York Times, says the experience taught him that “Freelancers are the Uber drivers of the new journalism gig economy. Everything is on a transactional basis, with no benefits or guarantees. You get more freedom, but pay for it with lower living standards and no job stability – like the rest of the gig economy.”

I’ve been a journalist since 1993–in Japan. Next year, I’ll have been doing it 25 years, a quarter of a century, more than half my life. At 48, I have now been a journalist half my life.

Half of those years (12.5, to be exact) were spent working as a regular employee at the world’s largest newspaper. I was a reporter and a regular employee for life aka (seishain/正社員), with the promise of a pension, all my insurance covered, paid vacation with use of the company’s corporate vacation facilities, an actual expense account, a bonus twice a year and a stable income. Sure, I worked 80-hour weeks but I didn’t have time to think about the work-life balance because there was none. Life was work and since I liked the work – investigating, interviewing, writing – it worked for me.

I’ve been working freelance since 2006. I’d like to say that it has gotten easier but in fact, even as you become well known, or relatively well known, life doesn’t get any easier. The joy of freelance work is that you can to some extent pick and choose the stories you want to write and who you write them for. The sadness of freelance work is that income is so unpredictable that you can’t really walk away from a gig and you have to pay constant attention to the news for a story that someone might want because it’s timely.

I currently write regularly for the Japan Times, ZAITEN, the Daily Beast and Forbes. I write for other publications as well but those are my main gigs. And I’m happy to have them.

However, to make my rent, I have to write a lot and I do part-time jobs. I do consulting work. I appear on Japanese television shows. I write short books and I write long books. I run a blog.  I am constantly hustling.

Every day, I spend an hour or more reading newspapers and magazines in Japanese, looking for what may be a good story. I scan the articles and put them in a file. I make appointments and send out letters requesting interviews for the stories that I think are interesting. I answer email. I meet people in the afternoon, or attend press conferences. In the evening, I try to meet up with sources and maintain those relationships. I don’t have an expense account, so cheap bars and izakaya I like. If it’s an expensive place, I eat cheap somewhere first and then just have drinks.

You don’t have job security as freelancer and sometimes you don’t even get respect.

At least in Japan, you can get public health insurance, at an affordable rate. It’s one reason I can’t afford to leave Japan. That is a great perk of being a freelancer here.

By the way, the term for non-regular correspondents in the industry is “stringer.” It makes you sound sort of like a barnacle.

Below the stringer is “the fixer.” Fixers set up the meetings for the reporters coming to Tokyo, often doing the interpreting and translation of the materials. They are often not even credited for their work.

I rarely do fixing for anyone but I will for one public radio station because their correspondent is great; she credits me for the work I do on a story. That’s nice.

I’m not alone in struggling with the freelance life. Willie Pesek, author of Japanization: What the World Can Learn from Japan’s Lost Decades and recipient of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers prize for commentary also joined the freelance ranks this year. What he has to say is worth hearing:

Six months into my freelance existence, the very first of my career, I’m struck by George Orwell’s observation: “The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better.” Having a full-time journalism gig strikes me as a similar tradeoff. The certainty of a reliable paycheck, medical benefits and access to an HR department has its merits. But the liberty freelancing affords – who you write for, which topics, which arguments -– is its own joy after two decades with major news companies.

But the biggest pros of this existence -– like working when I want to -– can also be key drawbacks. The main challenge, I’m finding, is maintaining a reasonable life/work balance. At times, while juggling various writing assignments, my inclination is to work around the clock. Creating boundaries -– like closing the laptop and having a life –- is a work in progress for me. So is knowing when to say “when.” Quality and actually has never been more important in this Orwellian fake-new world, but the quantity imperative gets in the way. Part of the tension, of course, relates to making a living –- one’s natural reluctance to turn down writing assignments. Finding a balance is something all freelancers will struggle with more and more in the years ahead. It’s a fact of this trade that quality comes first.

Then there’s the Tokyo problem. In my 15 years in Asia, I’ve always been a regional writer, which is proving to be an asset as a freelance. Lots of demand for columns for China, India, North Korea, the Philippines. Japan, not so much. Sadly, many overseas editors favor “weird Japan” items over, say, reality checks on Abenomics. But, hey, Tokyo is still a great, great city in which to live. The domestic story here, though, can be a hard sell. The Abe government using this latest electoral mandate to make big things happen would be the gift that keeps on giving for freelancers.

Willie, has a good point. Japan isn’t as important as it used to be.

I kind of wish sometimes that I hadn’t focused so much on Japan. But I’m okay with that. In the end, I may be working more hours now than I did as a regular employee. And as any freelancer will tell you, you also have to spend a lot of time on social media, getting people to read your articles, responding to those who have read them. Now and then you have to munch on the trolls who plague anyone who writes about Japan in a critical way.

Sometimes, people close to me ask me why I don’t change jobs. Here’s the best answer I can give.

Japan is my home. I love Japan. My children are Japanese. Most of my friends live here. Many Japanese people here are hard-working, honest and polite.

That doesn’t mean the society doesn’t have problems, such as child poverty, gender inequality and discrimination against: the handicapped, women, foreigners, especially Korean Japanese. Japan has a pestilent well-entrenched mob. There are nuclear dangers, staggering injustice in the legal system, repression of the free press, sexual assault on women with impunity for many assailants, rampant labor exploitation, death by overwork, and political corruption. Ignoring the problems doesn’t make them better. If you are offended by that, rethink your love of Japan.

I believe that journalism, especially investigative journalism, is a force for good and for maintaining a healthy society. It’s a vocation, not just a job. Sure some of the work is crappy, including writing about a series of crap-themed kanji instructional books for children—but you also get to do some enormous good.

Weird as it sounds, this year I took the vows to become a Zen Buddhist priest and I am one now. Not full-time.

It’s not easy being an investigative journalist and keeping the Ten Grave Precepts of a Soto Buddhist priest but there is a point where the two professions match up.

To paraphrase the Hokukyo, this is what we do.

Conquer anger with compassion.

Conquer evil with goodness.

Conquer trolls with humor and sarcasm.

Conquer ignorance with knowledge.

Conquer stinginess with generosity.

Conquer lies with truth.

The monetary rewards are not so great. Sometimes, the spiritual rewards make it seem like the best job in the world.

 

 

 

 

This was originally published in The Number One Shimbun, the periodical of The Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Japan.  It has been slightly modified for New Years. 

 

Have you been a victim of sexual assault in Japan? How did police respond?

Born With It (生まれつき): Short film captures the angst of being a black child in Japan

While race relations in the United States seem to be tenser than ever, Japan is coming to a crossroads with accepting mixed race Japanese and immigrants into their mostly homogenous society. Japan is a welcoming country to foreigners, especially if you are a temporary visitor. The subtle prejudices only become visible to a foreigner once you have lived here for a while and experienced the day to day difficulties you face as an outsider when you actually try to become part of the society. Any foreigner in Japan who has been turned away from renting an apartment simply because they’re not Japanese, knows that experience.

An American filmmaker, Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour, from Texas, depicts this struggle to be accepted as a dark skinned black man in Japan in his award winning short film Born With It(生まれつき). Osei-Kuffour lived in Japan for six years, encountering numerous instances of prejudice and discrimination. The film follows a black elementary school child in Japan experiencing the cruelty of racism and harsh words spoken unfiltered in the world of children, who have not learned the impact of what they are doing or saying, or how to accept difference.

Osei-Kuffour notes “I wanted to tell the story from a kid’s point-of-view because I think its powerful to see someone’s innocence broken for the first time.  This is ultimately a story about prejudice and it’s also disarming to see a child unaware of the scars of the adult world. Like most forms of discrimination, the most difficult moments I had in Japan are hard to convey convincingly.  Most of the issues I encountered seemed to revolve around me, as a foreigner, not being perceived as an equal, normal human being.  There always seemed to be the sense that since I was not Japanese, I would be unable to comprehend Japanese ideas or values, represent my given company in a meeting or share a space with other Japanese people.

Those moments seem small on paper but they begin to get under your skin when you’re trying to assimilate to the culture.  I had — and still have — a strong desire to have a film career in Japan.  So I’ve always wanted to live and work and get the same chances as my Japanese friends that were same age.  But despite a strong command of the language, it became very clear to me that no matter how fluent I became, I had to either be famous outside of Japan or Japanese to really get the chances that I sought out in all Japanese environments.  This is not the case for everyone but it is for most. ”

The seventeen minute film has resonated with many people in and outside of Japan, and garnered praise including The Best Film & Social Impact Award at the NBC-Universal Short Film Festival and Honorable Mention for Best Short Film at Toronto International Film Festival (Kids Section)  and many more festivals.

“Born With It” will be airing on PBS KQED as part of the show “FILM SCHOOL SHORTS” in San Francisco 10/13 11pm.

Watch the trailer here.

NEWSFLASH: Hiroyuki Tanaka Wins World Top Fork competition in all categories

Tokyo, Japan

June 25th

Hiroyuki Tanaka stunned Japan and the world when he took 1st place in all major categories in the 73rd World Fork and Spoon World Championship  (Fork Division), and distinguished himself so greatly in forksmanship that he was awarded  the rarely given title of World Top Fork.  Ever since the end of World War II, the WFSWC (WTF) has been a celebrated event in this island country. The contestants attempt to eat Western and traditional Japanese food, with Western utensils–the fork and spoon– gracefully, speedily and with panache while never once using or relying upon, O-hashi (chopsticks), the traditional eating utensils of Japan. O-hashi consist of two sticks, often made of wood, with usually tapered ends, and no clearly designated grip. Other nations have chopsticks but only Japan has O-hashi also known as お箸。

The use of knives was abandoned this year as part of Japan’s crackdown on terrorism. Prior to the event, two Okinawan teenagers were arrested for conspiracy to violate Japan’s firearm and sword control laws by bringing a butter knife to the event. The teenagers insist they were merely bringing silverware to an anti-US base protest picnic scheduled in Yoyogi Park. The failed terrorist attempt did not greatly disrupt the event, although security was heightened.

Today’s host, LDP Upper House Member, Taro Ahso, a former champion himself, started off the event with the standard greetings. “Welcome everyone to this most wonderful of event. Ever since the US imposed democracy, human rights and popular sovereignty on this nation after crushing us in our brave attempts to liberate Asia from the White Peril, we have struggled with Western tradition—but as the years go by, we have adapted and we have flourished. I would argue the boys and girls you see here today eat with fork and knife as better or much better than natives from Gaikoku or other foreign lands like the United States. So enjoy the show and may the most dexterous man, or possibly even a woman, win.”

Hiroyuki Tanaka, a sixteen year old boy from Kawaguchi City Japan, stunned the judges in the fork and spoon division by winning not only 1) Eating Japanese Traditional Food 2) Eating Traditional Japanese Sweets 3) Eating Traditional Western Food 4) Eating Traditional Italian Food but even 5) Eating Traditional Japanese Sushi in the four prong and three prong fork categories. But he stunned Japan and the world when he ate a bowl of spaghetti—with only a fork; he had no spoon. 

Judge Akireru Sugu explains, “When he came on the stage and pulled out his Kyocera porcelain fork and nothing else and brandished it in the air, then plowed in and began twirling–we were stunned. Had there been an equipment failure? What was going on? But then, effortlessly, he twirled the strands around the fork, evenly across all prongs, speared the meatball and gulped it down. He didn’t even get tomato paste on his bib. It was masterful. It was magic. And we knew this was something we might never see again. ”

Hiroyuki Tanaka, after receiving his golden fork, was asked what he would like to be when he grew up. He responded gleefully, “Well, now that I have mastered Western ways–I think maybe I would like become a spy–like Zero Zero Seven! I will fit right in–much like Sean Connery as Japanese fisherman in You Only Live Twice.” 

Elizabeth Rockerbrand, a former English teacher of Hiroyuki, at Kawaguchi East, was thrilled to see her prodigy take first place. “When he cornered me in the hall and asked me to teach him Tupac lyrics and the meaning of Anaconda, I knew this child was special. We are all so proud of him. I believe his mastery of English also helped him master our complicated tableware. He can use a three-pronged fork, a five pronged-fork, and even a spork, just as well as any American. He’s an inspiration to us all.”

The event ended with a surprise announcement as well. Host Ahso notified the audience, “Well, I hope you’ll join us next year—when we have a new event, with Japanese and foreign competitors–World Top Chopsticks World Competition. We will see who can best use notoriously difficult Japanese o-hashi! It will be amazing!”

The mostly Japanese crowd was so shocked that for a moment that a hushed silence filled the arena until Ahso chuckled, “Just kidding! Such a competition would be too cruel! No foreigner could ever win.”

With great relief, the crowd burst into laughter. And another exciting and entertaining World Top Fork competition came to an end.

(The above article was satire, just in case, in the unlikely event you haven’t figured it out. And by the way, you’re really good with those chopsticks. お箸は本当に上手ですね)

 

 

The Amazing Japanese Wife: Part II “Fucked Up in Six Trees”

This is part two of series of short-stories by culture commentator, movie reviewer, and fiction writer–Kaori Shoji–on international love gone wrong in and out of Japan. 

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By my personal estimate, the lives of most white foreigners in Tokyo start and end within the confines of a town called Roppongi, which means ‘six trees.’ Apparently, before the arrival of Commodore Perry and his Black Ships, this area was blah and nondescript save for the presence of its namesake. There were the trees and there was very little else.

A hundred and fifty years later, the trees are gone but Roppongi is prominently featured in every Japan guide book and online travel site. It heads off most tourists’ agenda in terms of must-go, must-see, must-experience. They think this is Tokyo, and a good chunk of its best offering. That’s not a lie but everyone who’s been here longer than 6 months will tell you Six Trees isn’t really Tokyo and certainly has nothing to do with Japan.

Roppongi is the white male’s extra-territorial sanctuary as well as metaphorical catacomb, where pleasure draws a last gasp before crumpling into a heap of old bones. The white man’s loop of entitlement extends from the famed Roppongi intersection to the concrete mausoleum known as Roppongi Hills, then down to a quaint little neighborhood called Azabu Juban and back again. Once you get on the loop, it’s damn hard to get off so you keep repeating the run until you’ve lost track of what life was like before you thought of moving to Japan and immersing yourself in Roppongi’s cesspool of slimey privilege.

Because hey, the deal is this: if you can’t get laid in Roppongi, you may as well move to Mars. There’s no other place on Earth that promises and delivers sex with the same reliable standard. I’d give it 90%, 100% of the time you’re there. Never mind sushi – they’re overpriced and the tuna is imported from Indonesia. Forget Toyotas, they take too long to assemble and what’s all the fuss about anyway? Sex in Six Trees – now that’s Japanese quality control honed to an art form.

Jesus, I’m getting literary which means it’s past 6 AM on a Saturday morning and I’ve drunk the night away. This is not good, no fucking’ good, I chant to myself as I lurch my way past other drunks (but very few disorderlies, because this is Tokyo), on the side street that leads to the Roppongi intersection. I was at Tim’s house with a few other guys, then we hit that bar and then went over to the Cedar’s Chop House in the newly opened Remm Hotel which is supposedly a big deal but really just turned out to be a raucous gaijin hangout with Jack Johnson on the sound track – really, who are they kidding? Still, the place was kind of cozy which is a rarity in Six Trees. Not that this nice vibe is going to last. Soon, Remm Hotel will be overrun by what I call the International Working Girl Association (IWGA) and their foreign clientele, just like every other hotel in Roppongi. With the Russian Embassy on one end of the loop, the Chinese Embassy on the other and the American Embassy on the far left of the intersection, what the hell else can you expect?

Aaaaanyway. We ended up at god knows which drinking hole though I remember the toilet was filthy and Tim bleating on and on about getting pancakes for breakfast and where should we go for pancakes? What a tiresome bastard.

This time of morning the sunlight’s still feeble and I could bear to bask in its gentle rays. I hear snatches of loud conversation and automatically straighten my back, turning my feet towards the direction of voices. A pimp with broad shoulders and a bull neck in a dress shirt, is clutching the shoulder of a thin girl with bobbed hair – maybe 23 years old, it’s hard to tell at this hour. He’s trying to sell her to a potential customer, a youngish salariman in a dark suit. “I guarantee she’s nice, sir” he says in sing-song Japanese which annoys me no end. “If you won’t take her, then she wouldn’t have had a customer all night and that’s bad for her reputation, all the other girls are going to look down their noses at her. You wouldn’t want that to happen now, would you?” The salariman mumbles a few words, casting furtive glances at the girl who’s wearing nothing but a slip dress and sandals under the pimp’s oversized jacket. She looks cold and depressed and purses her lips, not about to pull out any encouraging sales talk. “I don’t have much time…” the salariman says. Inwardly, I snort with laughter. You mean, you’re not ready to shell out 20,000 yen for a throw, that’s what.

Maybe the pimp could hear inside my brain because he notices me observing with what I hope is a casual, bemused detachment. “And you sir, what about you? Japanese girl, velly velly nice!” The last bit was spoken in English and the pimp’s accent wasn’t bad. He’s been doing this long enough to know the value of a white male in Hugo Boss jeans and I’ve been stomping these streets long enough to know I’ll be treated better if I pretended zero Japanese language skills. I amble over and the salariman makes himself scarce. I get a better look at the girl, whose glassy stare gives nothing away. Her hands are pretty and lily white though, clasping the lapels of the jacket around her body like Jody Foster in that movie. I like a woman with petite, well-cared for hands and Japanese women have the loveliest pairs in the world. We exchange a look and I feel her stiffen under her sheer, thin slip.

It’s all the same to her. BUT she does need to chalk up a number on the board in the girls’ locker room, at the sex shop where she works maybe, 4 nights a week. Who else is going to do it, if not for a benevolent white guy like yours truly?

“Okay, okay.” I say this a little too loudly, with an exaggerated shrug. The pimp is wreathed in smiles. “Okaaaaay!,’ he mimics and makes a polite little gesture toward the doorway. The establishment is downstairs in a narrow, dirty, three story building tenanted by a mahjong parlor, a reflexology salon and a pizza restaurant according to the signs out front. “You will be happy, happy!” he says and leads the way into a tiny elevator stinking of roach repellent, and pushes the B1 button. I look at the girl and smile. She smiles back, grateful for even this useless token of friendship. We both know that if the salariman had taken her he wouldn’t have cracked a smile. He wouldn’t have said two words to make her feel better about her life, just stood there and waited for her to unbuckle his pants, and then would have taken pleasure as his due. White males may be self-entitled jerks but Japanese guys are the worst. No wonder the women in this country hate the lot of them.

When I emerge back out, it’s past 8 and Roppongi is teeming with tourists. The bill was 22,000 yen and I reflect that in the past two years I’ve always had to pay for sex in Six Trees. A tad humiliating, I know. I’m not young anymore – 34, and even white male entitlement has to end sometime. But I reason that the girl had been extra willing and “velly, velly nice,” which takes the twinge off the hurt. I yawn, put on my shades and consider walking to Starbucks in the Ark Hills building down the hill from the intersection. What I needed now was an espresso kick in the nerves and a blueberry muffin.

The local volunteer group is out and about in their logo-inscribed vinyl jackets (“Green Roppongi!”). These are mostly men in their 60s or older, picking up overnight litter from last night’s debaucheries, scattered in the spaces between gutter and curb. What most foreigners don’t realize is that there’s a sizable number of ordinary Japanese folk living here and they care enough about their community to do this. I stop for a moment and watch as they shuffle methodically, wielding steel tongs in one hand and clutching garbage bags with the other. Their faces are obscured by white surgical masks (one way to tell a Japanese from an Asian tourist is to see whether or not they’re wearing masks), making it impossible to read their expressions.

When I first came to Japan as an exchange student at the age of 17, my host father also volunteered at the local trash pick-up, clearing the beach of debris every Saturday morning. He worked for the municipal office, so participation was more or less mandatory. He seemed to enjoy it and I would pitch in because no one else in the family did and I felt sorry for him. When we were done, he always treated me to matcha icecream or iced coffee and said over and over how much he appreciated my help. “Brian, you are wonderful,” he said. “No, YOU are,” I would reply like a dutiful son, and we would look at each other and laugh politely.

I was home-staying in Chiba prefecture, near the Boso coastline and I was having the time of my life. Never had I felt so welcomed, valued and protected. I was loved in a way that seemed impossible back home in Illinois – not that I was abused by my biological parents or anything. But I was nothing special, just a scrawny kid with acne and too-thick eyebrows. I couldn’t make varsity on the track team, had no girlfriend and definitely was not one of the cool crowd. At school, I dreaded prom and was deeply grateful that my year in Japan would absolve me of that particular American teen torture.

In Chiba, I was a prince. On my third day in school, a girl in my class presented me with a hand-made bento and another very nicely gave me a blow job in a public restroom down by the beach. Later I learned the two girls were best friends, and they had played ‘janken (paper, rock scissors)’ over which of them would have the bento duty and which would be in charge of rolling out the sexual red carpet. I was flattered, but also baffled. What had I done to deserve such treatment? Others offered similar gifts and liaisons – in little secluded areas around the beach, in their parents’ car at night, in their rooms when they invited me over to teach them English. They baked cookies for me, presented me with handmade chocolates on Valentine’s Day, held my hand under the desk and guided it to their thighs. One or two told me that they loved me, to please marry them so I could take them to America.

By my last month in Chiba, I had the Japan experience all figured out. It was so ridiculously easy here. My acne was gone, thanks to the sea air and the string of casual girlfriends who took real good care of my teenage hormonal needs. I had learned a lot of the language, enough to ingratiate myself to my host family, school teachers and guy friends. Having run on the track team back in Illinois helped a lot, because most Japanese are ardent runners and fiercely dedicated to school sports. “You’re great, don’t worry,” said my friend Haruhiko as he inducted me into the school’s short-distance track team. Haru trained like a fiend and could whip my ass on the track any day of the week but he was also big enough to make a foreigner feel good about himself. I was a lazy bum who skipped practice to hang out with one girl or another but Haru looked the other way and pretended not to notice.

Naturally, I was far from stoked about the idea of having to leave Chiba and Japan. In the plane to O’Hare, I said to myself over and over that I would come back no matter what it took.

What it took was an MA in theater from the University of Chicago and then a 3-year stint working as a Congressman’s assistant on Capitol Hill. I fulfilled my teenage resolution on the day before my 26th birthday, March 2010. I arrived, back in the Promised Land where I planned to get laid by the prettiest girls with the smoothest pale skin and go drinking with the Japanese buddies I would surely acquire as soon as I exited the airport. In a year or two, I would find the most amazing woman and get married. She would make incredibly elaborate meals, just like my host mom made every night – potato croquettes, Japanese fried chicken and rice encased in a fluffy omelet. We would have beautiful bilingual children who would grow up to attend Ivy League colleges on full scholarships. (Haruhiko, my old friend from Chiba, had gone to Yale and was now working on Wall Street.)

That was Plan A. I didn’t think to work out Plan B. And my line of defence is: Roppongi interfered.

As I walk down the long hill from the Six Trees intersection to the office complex called Ark Hills, I notice my eyes are suddenly itchy and moist. What the fuck, dude, a pathetic self pity party? I tell myself it’s just some unseasonal pollen allergy but I can’t shake off the sense of what, sadness? Regret? For a long time, no one has told me that I was great or wonderful. No Japanese woman has said she loved me, and to please take her to the United States. Now I had to pay for love, and friendships consisted of alcohol-infused rant fests with like-minded assholes. What the hell went wrong with the scenario? I had somehow played a colossal and perverted joke on myself, and could barely muster the courage to laugh. “Fuck this,” I mumble and thrust my hand into my front jeans pocket. My fingers touch a crumpled pink ‘meishi’ – the Japanese business card. It’s from that girl I just had intercourse with, and she had given it to me just before I left. “Come back soon!” she called out, but I was already closing the door behind my back. Now I smooth out the meishi to read her (professional) name: Amika. Uh-huh. Sorry, Amika but I couldn’t care less at this point. With a sigh, I toss it to the pavement and start to walk off. On second thought, I circle back and pick it up again.

You can say what you like, but I don’t throw garbage on the street. It’s the thought of making extra work for those volunteers in their little vinyl jackets. It’s also to honor the memory of my host-dad. Six Trees has at least, taught me that much.

Who Matters? Sexual Assault and Inadequate Police Response in Japan

Recently Japan Subculture Research Center’s acting editor-in-chief, Jake Adelstein,  and managing editor, Mari Yamamoto, published an article, “Do Men In Japan Ever Get Convicted For Rape?” in the Daily Beast on the need for change in the sexual assault laws and the handling of the cases in Japan.

An excerpt of the actual attempted assault of a visiting scholar was a large part of the article and since it has triggered a tremendous response,  below is the full account. The overall response to the article has been immense and there will be a follow up but it is worth reiterating, the official numbers of sexual assault cases are most likely grossly underestimated. Sexual assault in Japan is seldom discussed even in the confidence of friends.

Long time prosecutor Kazuko Tanaka depicts the bleak landscape of sexual assault investigation in her book “Sexual Crimes and Child Abuse Investigation Handbook” published in 2014.

“While 100% of those who are victims of theft would (be assumed to) file a police report, according to a 2008 Ministry of Justice’s research of the estimated actual numbers of crimes, the rates of reports made were 13.3%. However, in the 2011 Cabinet Gender Equality Bureau’s “Research on Violence Between the Sexes” (男女間における暴力に関する調査) they found that only 3.7% of people who confided in others went to the police and 67.9% of the victims did not tell anybody at all. Therefore it can be estimated that only 4% of the cases are being reported and if the report rate was 100%, the case numbers (of sexual assault in Japan) would increase by 25 times.”

For those who can read Japanese, the book documents in great detail, many of the problems with sexual assault in Japan, both the low rate of reporting and the poor handling by law enforcement.  We have received many personal letters and emails from other victims. A harrowing account of a foreign woman who was raped in Japan in 2014, was also published in the Japan Times. The majority of victims in Japan, are of course, Japanese women. And sometimes men.

Here is the account of one woman in Japan, who barely escaped sexual assault, and who experienced the police at their laziest.

“I lived in a sleepy neighborhood close to a prestigious University, a place where most residents were over sixty and my biggest fear was how I could ever make enough cakes to repay them for the treats they regularly brought me. I often told friends and colleagues how relieved I was to be spending my two years of dissertation research in an area free of the hustle and bustle of Shibuya or Shinjuku’s youth and seedy corners. Like many people, I considered Japan the safest country I had ever visited. Here, I rarely feared walking alone after dark or glanced around with the same caution I would even in the safest towns in the U.S.

But last year, as I returned home late from a weeknight birthday celebration, a man quietly followed me down a side street two blocks from my apartment. Past the cozy stoop where I normally pause to pet the neighborhood Labrador and snap photos of the local store cat, to the residential interior not visible from the main road. Unknown to me, he trailed only a few feet behind. As I passed in front of the local childcare center, I glimpsed him over my shoulder just as he rushed to quickly seize me from behind and force me to the ground. Though he groped at me from above as I thrashed in resistance and screamed a litany of English profanities at him, my attacker soon gave up and just as quickly fled the way we had come. Sprawled in the street under the lighted windows of dozens of nearby apartments and bleeding from the elbow I’d hit the concrete on, I stared at the scattered contents of my purse and the lost shoe that lay a few feet away. No one looked outside. No one opened their doors. I was alone.

As I gathered my things and walked the block to my apartment, all I could think about was what I had heard from others—that Japanese police don’t take assaults on or the molestation of women seriously. The article I had read two years ago in the Japan Times on the shamefully poor handling of one woman’s rape case was running through my mind. Shaken and trying not to touch my bloody arm, I called my best friend in America, agonizing over the thought of waking my elderly neighbors up, or having to go back to the police station alone (in the direction my attacker had run), only to face the coming ordeal in Japanese, when it was hard enough to endure in English.

I finally settled on walking back to the police box several blocks away, and there, my every expectation of being taken lightly and having the truth of my experience denied was met with an insidious subtly that was not subtle at all.

Don’t get me wrong, people cared that I was hurt. The elderly officer at the police box was immediately alert and upset. He sat me down and called someone with more haste than anyone else I saw that night. This kind of crime, I was told, had never occurred in my area. He was alarmed. Even more alarmed, or perhaps especially so, after I mentioned I was a researcher at said renowned University. Suddenly, I really mattered.

After an awkward call to a policewoman that I struggled through, not knowing the vocabulary for my attack (when had I ever had the need to learn the word for ‘physical assault’ or ‘rape’?), the tiny police box was soon filled over capacity with other officers. Only the elderly gentleman had the presence of mind to tell them to move me to the back, away from the door and windows, to question me.

I was interrogated about the attack over and over again by multiple officers, asked where, when, what he looked like, to mimic the motions of the way the man grabbed me, again, again. They snapped photos of my bloody elbows, trying to find a good way to do so crammed in the tiny back room. I wondered if this was how questioning normally occurred, stuffed into this claustrophobic space, loomed over by five officers in a room, only two of whom really fit in the room with me. But more than the inappropriateness of the space, I began to notice the tenor of the questions.

“What did he look like? He was a foreigner, wasn’t he? Was he white? An American?”

No, I said, he was Japanese.

“A Korean? Probably a Korean or a Chinese person?”

No, I said, he was Japanese.

“She said he looked like a regular salaryman [white collar worker],” the one female officer in the room interjected, “She said he was Japanese.”

“Are you sure he was wearing a white dress shirt? Wasn’t it more like a t-shirt?”

No, I said, repeating myself for the third time. It was a short-sleeved collared shirt.

“And pants like these?” A male officer suggested, tugging on his black cargoes.

No, I said, repeating myself again. They were slacks.

“Like a salaryman,” the female officer echoed. “That’s what she said.”

Interspersed with the suggestions that my attacker could not have possibly looked like a Japanese business man, the officers inserted every few minutes, “You don’t want to submit a police report, right?”

The first few times I hadn’t caught onto the word, and from context I couldn’t tell if I should say yes or no. I heard the word “higai,” damage or injury, in there, but didn’t realize “higaitodoke” was a police report, and stumbled through the questions adrenaline-addled; avoiding giving an answer to something I didn’t understand.

Not twenty minutes after this inquisition, they drove me back to the scene of the crime and for half an hour had me show them the exact spot where it happened. The how, the when, the where. This time, they wanted me to re-enact the situation with a female officer, so they could take photos of what the event must have looked like. What if I had been raped? I wondered. Or of a more delicate state of mind after this attack, like others might be? How traumatizing could it have been for four officers to take me back to the scene not half an hour later and make me walk them through it while a stranger put their hands on me in the exact same way I had been assaulted? It made me sick to my stomach to later learn this is standard procedure, and even women who have been raped are made to reenact or watch reenactments of their attack for the sake of police records.

I was asked several more times about submitting a police report, in the same manner as before. “You could submit a police report, but…”, “Are you sure you want to?”, “You know you don’t have to…”, “It’s already so late at night, aren’t you too tired?” The female office was the only one who stepped in, saying “But what if it happens again to another girl?”

I understood the meaning fully this time.

The realization that the way every male officer had been asking me about the police report, as if to file a formal complaint about my assault was a giant inconvenience, a futile and wholly unnecessary effort, made me livid. I thought about how many other women in Japan must have been encouraged not to submit police reports. To bury their stories and their (perceived) shame for the sake of convenience. It was 2 AM. I assured them a police report was exactly what I wanted.

I was driven to the police station, where two male officers took me into a small room and set up a laptop and portable printer. All of the previous information was gone through several more times, with mind-numbing repetition, and equally mind-numbing insensitivity. The same series of questions about whether I was sure he was Japanese.

“How do you know?” One officer asked.

“I’ve been studying Japanese for ten years, and I’ve lived in Japan for four years, I know what a Japanese person looks like.” I had made the mistake of mentioning a Korean restaurant nearby as a landmark in describing the small street I went down. They jumped on it.

“So it was surely a Korean man,” the officer said with confidence.

The restaurant is, in fact, owned by a very kind Japanese lady.

“He was Japanese,” I protested.

You can tell the difference between Japanese, Korean, and Chinese people?” the officer scoffed.

“I can usually tell the difference.”

“What? Can you really? Even I can’t do that,” he countered.

Of course, I thought to myself. My truth did not fit the standard, discriminatory narrative in Japan: That Japanese people don’t frequently commit crimes, foreigners do. Sure, there is room for doubt—it was dark, I was struggling, he was a stranger. The reaction of pure disbelief at my story, several times over, layered with a healthy dose of anti-foreign sentiment was startling but not shocking. As a victim, I was unsettled; as someone familiar with the deeply ingrained racism prevalent in many areas of Japanese society at large, I recognized with disappointment what I heard.

But worse yet was the more common disbelief that is shared widely around the world: that assault on women is not a real crime, especially not if it doesn’t go too far, and that men must have their reasons. In the middle of the report, I was asked to do another reenactment, this time in a tiny tatami room on another floor of the police station. The female officer joined us again, and once more I had to relive my attack under the watchful eyes of two more male officers, one with a camera, one an observer, while the woman apologetically asked where she should put her arms on me and we repeatedly paused in awkward mid-motion so they could take photos of our positions.

Amidst the perverse recreation, the older male officer paused us, and added, “But grabbing you like that, he didn’t actually grab your boobs, did he? Or did he try to? Did he actually put his hands on them or not? He only grabbed your arms?” I gawked at the questions. Not only because I had never heard a professional use the casual term for breasts, oppai, and never expected to in such a serious situation, but because the officer seemed to want to downplay the seriousness of the attack.

“He didn’t have the chance,” I fumbled to explain. While it could have been an innocent line of inquiry, it didn’t feel that way at all from the way he asked—it was very clear that there was a line to be drawn here between assault and sexual assault. A gravity no one wanted to lay claim to in this situation. “Did you think he wanted to rape you? No, right?” Someone had asked at some point. Why else, I wondered to myself, would they think a man stalked a woman several minutes down a dark empty street in the middle of the night and attack her? Sure, it was an assault, but maybe it wasn’t sexual, they implied.

Then there was the question of alcohol. Several times over it came up. Was he drunk? Did he smell like alcohol? Did he walk funny? Maybe he was just drunk, and it was a mistake. I doubt a drunk man would have the presence of mind to stalk after me so quietly, for so long, to rush at me just as I took notice of him. To run that fast once I had fought him off too vigorously and too loudly to be worth the trouble any more. But if a man is drunk, sexual assault is perfectly normal, isn’t it? Their brief actions have little impact? Isn’t that what society tells us? Clearly Americans are not the only ones.

Even as the officers were finishing up my police report, one of them looked to me and said, “You know, you’re going back home at the end of August. If you file this report and it goes to trial, will you really come back here?” I answered sharply, “If necessary,” so fast that he looked taken aback. How many women, I wondered, did police regularly convince to deny the truth of their attack? To drop making a report, because it was unlikely to lead to conviction? Because it might hurt their crime statistics? Because assault on women didn’t actually matter?

I do not write this with the intention setting flame to the reputation of my local police or to vilify these officers that rallied quickly when I told them I was hurt. I write this because it is apparent to me— now through vivid personal experience— that in Japan, just as in many nations, sexual assault on women (to speak nothing of others who suffer as well) is taken lightly in a manner that points to a disturbing lack of proper training, sensitivity, and respect for women and victims.

Inherent cultural biases against the belief that Japanese can commit crimes, that crimes against women are important enough to report, that such crimes have to be grave to matter—all of these issues meant that my story was questioned at every step, and that subtle or not, I was constantly dissuaded from “enduring” proper procedure for reporting a serious crime.

The Japanese National Policy Agency’s informational materials on police support for sex crime victims state that “It is also unavoidable that officers, in their contacts with victims, often cause them to suffer secondary victimization,” and then lists the measures and policies the police take to support victims who suffer this type of assault, such as counseling, special investigators, or appointing female officers to offer assistance. But the fact of the matter is that secondary victimization is largely avoidable, if officers are trained to handle responding to victims appropriately.

Throughout my experience there was no awareness that taking a victim back to the scene of the crime only minutes after it occurred, making them re-enact the event several times, and using insensitive language or lines of questioning could be at all traumatizing. Every person involved was absolutely oblivious, and I was not asked once if anything made me uncomfortable. I was never formally told what the police procedures were at any point of the process (other than the option to not submit a report at all). With the exception of the contact information memo I received at the very end of my four hours at the station, only one person– the elderly man with whom I first spoke at the police box— ever showed me a badge or gave me their names. The extent to which officers failed to fundamentally understand what it meant to properly handle this type of assault with consideration of and respect for the victim was appalling.

Throughout the entire ordeal I wondered to myself, how much worse or more unprofessionally would I have been treated if I had not been a researcher at a prestigious university? If I didn’t know Japanese? Would I have been afforded any more respect if I had been seriously injured? Raped? Would they have considered me important at all if I had just been some twenty-something young tourist? If I had been a Japanese woman, even? That I even had to ask myself such questions about who matters points to the gross negligence in training Japanese police officers to handle these sensitive subjects. To see beyond their personal biases and the deeply embedded flaws in the legal system to do good police work and bring justice to those who sorely need it.

With the Olympics around the corner and a huge influx of foreigners expected to populate the greater Tokyo area in the next four years, perpetrators will find ample opportunity to harass, assault, or sexually prey upon foreign victims, especially. And without a doubt, they will be more likely to do so because they know the system all but guarantees that the chance they will be caught or punished is abysmally small.

I returned to the U.S. shortly thereafter, and the police, refusing to accept any form of contact information from me except a Japanese phone number, defunct after my departure, will never be able to contact me again.

They will never catch the man. But that police report mattered. Women matter. Their safety matters. Procedure matters. Their stories matter. Their dignity matters. Though you would not have known it to be sitting in that police station.”

We make it our mission to keep writing about sexual violence in Japan. If you have a story you would like to share, please email us at japansubcultureresearchcenter@gmail.com

 

 

Ladies of Japan: Last chance to be “The New Spice girl!” or World Idol! Apply By February 23rd!

Remember the Spice Girls? (Like a AKB48 but with human rights and a decent salary)—Well, the man who launched them and produced the show American Idol, is creating a new global group, Now United, and he’s looking for a Japanese woman to join the team.
If you're a young Japanese woman who's got talent, try your hand at joining this super global pop group. Apply by February 23rd.
If you’re a young Japanese woman who’s got talent, try your hand at joining this super global pop group. Apply by February 23rd.
The  initiative is led by LA-based British entrepreneur and producer Simon Fuller.  Simon is well known for having launched the Spice Girls, having produced the TV show American Idol, and also worked with many other famous global artists like Annie Lennox (Eurythmics), David and Victoria Beckham, etc.
Simon Fuller is in the midst of putting together a global pop group, the first of its kind in the world, and he is looking for talented members to join from 11 countries around the world.  He has prioritized Japan as a top priority, recognizing it as a market of exceptional talent and importance, and would like to conduct casting in Japan to find a member to join this group.  Applicants should be 16-19 years of age (we have a little bit of flexibility to go 14-21), with dancing and singing skills, and not already signed to a management company/agency.
We will have an audition event in Tokyo on February 26th.  We are currently accepting applications in advance for this, and applicants can submit either online through the Now United website, or to this team directly: nowunited@mitsui-ag.com
Follow the links below for everything you need to know.
If you're a young Japanese woman who's got talent, try your hand at joining this super global pop group. Apply by February 23rd.
If you’re a young Japanese woman who’s got talent, try your hand at joining this super global pop group. Apply by February 23rd.
The final members selected for the group will receive professional vocal and dance training in LA (all expenses paid of course), and then later this year the group will launch globally with a major record label and then begin touring internationally.