In 2017, Shiori Ito went public with the accusation that Noriyuki Yamaguchi, a prominent Japanese TV journalist, had raped her two years previously. Upon publication in October 2017, Ito’s account became integral to the #MeToo movement taking hold in Japan and became a necessary catalyst for cultural and legal change. At the end of 2019, Ito won a civil case against Yamaguchi.
Two months after the press conference, in the summer of 2017, my parents insisted upon taking me to see a psychiatrist.
I had seen a counselor during the investigation who had diagnosed me with PTSD. But I saw therapy as nothing more than the painful task of revisiting memories I’d rather forget in order to get a prescription for medication. I hated the idea of having to recount my suffering all over again.
What’s more, I had just been invited to London by an English human rights group and was already preparing to leave Japan.
From my parents’ perspective, I was in a dangerous condition, stricken with symptoms of depression and sudden suicidal thoughts ever since the press conference. It goes without saying that they were opposed to me going to England ‘in such a mental state.’
But I had been dealing with these symptoms for two years; they hadn’t just suddenly appeared. After the press conference, it had been particularly difficult for me to lead a normal life. During that acutely painful period, when I was unable to leave the house freely, I needed support and all I wanted was a place where I could go to take my mind off things.
But no matter how many times I explained this to them, my parents remained convinced that the only thing that would save me was seeing a psychiatrist. Or rather, that was the only solution they could come up with.
With no other way to appease them, I met with a doctor a few days before my departure.
This time, I decided I would be clear about what exactly it was that I needed. Specifically, what I should do when I experienced a panic attack brought on by PTSD.
The doctor acknowledged the effects I had seen from exercise, pointing out the benefits of elevating my heart rate by running. But, he said, although PTSD was not something that could be cured by taking medicine, there were effective treatments. He told me about a method called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).
A form of therapy in which treatment is administered in the form of rapid eye movement, EMDR has similarities with hypnosis using a pendant on a string. It was originally developed to treat soldiers who were suffering PTSD after returning from war.
Because I was about to go abroad, the doctor simply told me that this treatment existed – and left it at that.
Since I haven’t personally tried EMDR, I can’t attest to its effectiveness, but there is an episode of the Netflix show Black Mirror that made me think about it.
Black Mirror is a science fiction anthology series in which technology is slightly more advanced than present day, or has gone too far, and each episode examines the effects it can have on people’s daily lives.
In this particular episode, a troop of soldiers have been sent to kill humanoid mutants called ‘roaches’ who are carrying a terrible infectious disease. Only later does one of the soldiers realize that the army has programmed them to view these ordinary human beings as roaches to make them easier to kill.
The soldier who learns that he has murdered people who have real names and faces is disturbed by what he has done. He visits an army psychologist who says that he can erase his memories that the roaches are actually humans, but to do so, the soldier must give his consent. What should he do? he wonders.
When I saw this, I couldn’t help but be reminded of EMDR.
It goes without saying that reducing my PTSD attacks was exactly what I wanted, but how could it be that eye movements could lessen my suffering? When I inquired with a psychiatrist in England about it, he confirmed that the treatment allowed you to control your emotions. But by using this particular method to reduce suffering, doesn’t it also diminish the sense of danger that one feels toward this problem they’ve been struggling with all this time?
I didn’t know what to think anymore.
It then occurred to me that, without even realizing it, ever since being violently sexually assaulted against my will, I had been ruled by fear. The memory loss deeply frightened me. I thought I had control over my own body, but someone else had been able to take over.
That explained why, just after the attack, I had felt like an empty shell, like I’d been destroyed.
‘Before, you seemed like a strong, capable woman, but now you’re like a troubled child. It’s adorable.’
That was what Mr Yamaguchi had said to me when I had told him to give back my underwear that he had asked to keep ‘as a souvenir’. My knees had given out under me, and I had collapsed in a heap.
The essence of what he said would seem to reveal his desire to dominate, to subjugate. Several months before the press conference, what I had learned in my reporting on chikan (public groping) was that it went beyond a sexual predilection, this desire for domination and subjugation.
For the perpetrator, it takes no more than a moment to satisfy his desire. But for the person on the other end of the experience, it will mark them for life.
When I was young, I had numerous experiences of chikan.
The first time was at the library. I must have been in second grade or so. My father had brought my younger brother and me to the library, and I was sitting on a bench, reading a book, when a middle-aged man looked up my skirt.
There was something very unnatural about what he had done, and scary, but because it confused me, I didn’t tell anyone about it.
The next time I remember it happening was two years later, when I was riding the train by myself. The car wasn’t very crowded, and a man came up behind me. At first I didn’t understand the need for him to stand so close to me, but in an instant, as I was gripping the hand strap, my entire body went rigid. The man pressed against me, touching my body over my clothes. It must have been ten or fifteen minutes until we reached the station where I got off the train. I was paralyzed with fear, but I remember sprinting out of the train car and toward the ticket gate, hoping he wasn’t following me.
It was perfectly clear to me that there was something strange about this, that there was something wrong with that man, but at the time I still had no idea what it was that had been done to me.
‘There was a strange man on the train today’ was the extent of what I could say to my mother about it. To this day, I can still recall facing the train window with the afternoon sun shining through it, and as I held on to the strap, the sight of the flickering reflection of my rigid body against the landscape as it went by. I remember the pale blue and orange jacket I was wearing, but I couldn’t see the man’s face. I never turned around.
The third time, I was in my last year of elementary school – I must have been eleven years old. My family went to a water park called Tokyo Summerland with my friend and her family. We had been planning for and looking forward to this trip for a long time, and the day finally arrived. I had just started reading magazines for kids, and had pestered my mother to buy me my first bikini, one I had seen in those pages.
I had always loved swimming, and up until the moment when this happened, I had hoped the day would never end.
What spoiled everything was a man’s selfish act. It was a weekend, or maybe summer vacation, and the wave pool was filled with people, jostling up against each other. I was in a large float ring, and my friend and I swam out toward the waves. At one point, my feet no longer could touch the bottom. But it didn’t matter how deep it was – I wasn’t scared of the water at all. I just kept heading for the waves.
My friend had slipped her way in between the other swimmers and was now far out in front of me. There were so many people and, trying not to lose sight of her, I called out, ‘Wait for me!’
Just at that moment, a hand suddenly grabbed me from behind in the water. Touching my body, specifically the part of me covered by my bikini. Since my feet didn’t reach the bottom, I had to hold on to my float ring with both arms, my legs dangling beneath. The rest of me was hidden by the float ring, so the people around me probably couldn’t see.
I don’t know how long it went on for – I was again paralyzed with fear. My eyes searched desperately for my friend, I called out her name, I tried to scream ‘Help!’ but almost no sound came out. There were so many people around me, but even if I had been able to call out, would anyone have rescued me?
And yet, no matter how I tried to scream, it was like my voice had been wrung out – I barely made any sound in that noisy pool filled with shrieking children.
It may have only lasted a minute, but it felt like forever. Finally, my friend noticed that I wasn’t anywhere near her and she turned to look in my direction. She headed back toward me, a huge smile on her face, and all the while, the hands that reached out from behind me never stopped moving.
When she was about ten feet away from me, I was released from the torture at last. I must have looked totally scared and confused. My friend immediately asked, ‘What’s wrong?’
All I said was ‘Somebody touched me,’ and I turned around to look behind me.
I saw a slender man moving away from us.
‘Did you see that guy behind me just now?’ I asked. ‘Yeah, a young guy,’ my friend replied.
I couldn’t keep swimming and having fun. I was too scared. Even at the age of eleven, I still didn’t understand the situation – all I felt was confusion. And I can still vividly recall the tremendous fear and sense of revulsion that came over me.
We hurried back to where our families were waiting, spread out on a blue vinyl sheet. ‘A man touched me.’
I didn’t know how to talk about it, so that was all I said. My mother put a towel around me and told me to rest.
Feeling safe at last, tears came to my eyes. But I didn’t want the other family or my friend, who were still enjoying themselves, to notice, so I just sat there quietly, wrapped in my towel.
‘It’s because you’re wearing such a cute bikini.’
My friend’s mother may have been trying to make me feel better, but her words shattered me. She implied that it had been my fault. Did I really need to worry about what I wore? I was the one being blamed just for wearing the bathing suit that I had wanted so badly, and this made me very sad.
I never wore that bathing suit again.
I bring up these experiences because I want to show how there’s no connection between what a person is wearing and the likelihood of being assaulted. For the press conference, when the journalist Kiyoshi Shimizu, in whom I have the utmost trust, told me to wear a dark ‘recruitment’ suit, like for a corporate interview, I categorically refused on the spot.
As I previously mentioned, knowing that jeans and a T-shirt simply wouldn’t do, I decided to wear a linen shirt. Of course, Mr Shimizu knows the Japanese media very well, and I’m very grateful for the support he gave me. It’s just that I wanted to do away with the preconceived image of a victim wearing a white shirt, buttoned all the way up, looking sad. No one should be blamed for what they choose to wear or not to wear, and it should never be used as an excuse for why an assault occurred.
I refuse to be confined to the stereotype of a victim, which I believe is flawed to begin with.
Groping is a criminal act that occurs even on the train to or from school. The last time I was the victim of chikan, I was wearing my school uniform. I did everything I could to avoid the middle-aged man on the train, moving around and changing places, but he kept following me. Seeing the pleased look on his face as he observed my discomfort filled me with rage.
I had learned from past experiences and decided that, the next time it happened, I would confront the man. Before I had been too young and, paired with the shock from an inability to understand what I was being put through, no one had ever taught me that this was a ‘bad thing.’
Yet, when it happened again, I tried to raise my voice but nothing came out. And I was afraid that, if I grabbed his hand, he would hit me. We were on an express train, and although my stop was next, it seemed to take forever to get there. The man paid no attention, he kept touching me.
When we finally reached the station, the moment the doors opened I leaped onto the platform and turned back toward the train.
‘This man’s a pervert! You’re a dirty old man, asshole!’ I screamed, and then I ran like hell for home, in tears. I must have been fourteen or fifteen years old. This was the first time in my life that I cursed at a total stranger. I had channeled all those terrifying experiences, all of my pent-up frustration and powerlessness, into calling that dirty old man an asshole.
I vowed that the next time someone touched me, I would grab him and turn him over to the police. That vigilance must have shown on my face, because after that, I never had any more experiences with chikan.
We ought to live in a society where we can go about our daily lives without these concerns or the need to make such resolutions. But from my friends’ experiences alone, I know that chikan still takes place every day.
A hand slipped into your underwear, your skirt cut open, semen ejaculated on you, being pushed down on the way home from school and your underwear removed, a high school girl surrounded by five or six middle school boys on the train and groped.
All of these attacks happened to friends of mine. And the list could go on and on.
I have a childhood friend who has been the target of chikan quite often, and together we tried to come up with strategies for decreasing these attacks. One that seemed to work was changing her walking style. My friend had a habit of strolling, with a pigeon-toe gait. She trained herself to take long strides and to walk more quickly.
From what I know, perpetrators of chikan often seek out ‘nice’ girls who seem unlikely to challenge the groping, quiet girls, or girls who still don’t understand what is being done to them.
I saw these survey results on Asa-ichi, a morning show on NHK (the Japan Broadcasting Corporation):
‘Things That Lead You to Think That the Other Person Consents to Sex’:
– Eating together, just the two of you 11 percent
– Drinking together, just the two of you 27 percent
– Getting in a car, just the two of you 25 percent
– Revealing clothes 23 percent
– Being drunk 35 percent
There’s not a single item in this list that indicates sexual consent.
Seeing this survey reminded me of a quote from Itaru Nakamura in the article that appeared in Shukan Shincho’s May 25, 2017, issue: ‘She wanted him to help her find a job, and this expectation is why she went out drinking with him, so it’s a male-female dispute, after all. And she did go along with him to a second restaurant.’
I couldn’t believe the former chief of Criminal Investigation at MPD said these words.
If the items from the NHK survey could all be construed as indicating sexual consent, it would mean that women could no longer have a meal with a man, just the two of them. At Japanese corporations, in particular, going out to eat with business acquaintances is very common. Sometimes it’s even compul- sory.
In my situation, I hadn’t planned on having dinner with Mr Yamaguchi, just the two of us, but that’s how things ended up, and we needed to talk about business and hiring prospects.
That day, why didn’t I go straight to the police from the ho- tel?
I’ve blamed myself so many times for that. A part of me thought that I would be able to work it out on my own, for myself. Or that it had all been a bad dream.
Still, it’s even more painful to hear people who know noth- ing about the circumstances ask me why I didn’t go straight to the police – it feels as though I’m being strangled.
First and foremost, all I could think about was getting to a safe place. Then I wanted to figure out what condition I was in, what the situation was. Why did I have no memory of go- ing to the hotel? And what had happened was extremely hu- miliating. The word ‘embarrassing’ does not even begin to describe the experience.
But above all, I had trusted Mr Yamaguchi. I had thought he was going to be my boss. I had a sense of respect for him, as the Washington bureau chief of TBS. How could I suddenly see him as a predator?
And yet, I knew in my heart that what had happened was a criminal act. That it had been terribly violent, and that this act had inflicted grave injury to my spirit.
These two conflicting sentiments confounded me for quite some time.
Cover image © Karen Bhamra
This is an excerpt from Black Box by Shiori Ito, published by Tilted Axis Press.