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Japan: no safe country for foreign women

A Tokyoite reassesses her view of Japan after another violent encounter is ignored by passers-by, police

by Holly Lanasolyluna

I’ve lived in Japan on and off for several years, and I’ve always felt safe on my bicycle here, particularly as I often see young and old women alike biking at all hours of the night. But after an event a few weeks ago, I feel as if this false sense of security has been stripped away.

Cycling home at 8:30 p.m. on a well-lit street in Tokyo, I sensed another biker by my side, so I slowed down to let him pass. At that point he suddenly cut over, trapped me against a parked car and grabbed my tire.

He began yelling at me in Japanese, but the only thing I could clearly understand was “You stole this bicycle!” I insisted that I had not and tried to pull away, but the man was strong and continued yanking on my bike. I bought it from a shop brand-new, so I knew it wasn’t stolen. I also didn’t believe that it was my bicycle he wanted.

I yelled, both in English and Japanese, “Help! Call the police!” Many people observed the fracas but did nothing to help. He pulled me across a street full of traffic, briefly blocking cars, but almost everyone just seemed to ignore it.

It felt like hours of struggling, but then a young woman on a bicycle appeared. By now I must have had tears streaming down my face and my voice was almost gone. She said to me calmly: “I know this man. You stole this bicycle. I’m calling the police.”

Were this man and this girl working together? Or was it just so believable that a foreigner could have stolen the bike that she instinctively believed him? And if they were a team, what did they want? A mama chari worth $100? I didn’t think she was actually calling the police, but I had no idea how to describe my exact location to call them myself, and I didn’t want to wait to see what would happen next. My instinct told me to get out of there as quickly as possible.

Noticing the man had loosened his grip on my bicycle, I pulled it out of his hands and took off, with the sound of the pair yelling fading behind me. I biked away so quickly that they couldn’t catch up, to a convenience store about 10 minutes away. My arms and head were throbbing.

Seeing a police car pull up at a red light, I waved and yelled at them. Somehow the officers didn’t see me and drove away, so I met up with my boyfriend, who happened to be nearby, and we went to a kōban (police box) together.

At the kōban, the police officer’s response went as follows: “Wow, that’s strange. Were they Japanese? Well, I can’t really do anything because I’m here by myself and they’re probably not there anymore. You’re a young girl, and maybe you shouldn’t be out by yourself alone at night.”

No details about the incident were recorded. Not only had every bystander ignored my pleas for help, but the police had also given me a terribly disappointing response — basically, “Shō ga nai, ne?” (“What can you do, eh?”).

This was not the first time that something like this had happened to me in Japan. The last time was in Osaka one morning, around 10 a.m., when a stranger picked me up and tried to carry me into a love hotel. Then, I kept kicking and punching until he dropped me. I tried to run away, but he was much taller than me and kept catching up.

Our struggle went on for at least 10 minutes, and none of the many onlookers helped or even appeared concerned. Finally, I saw a police officer down the street and screamed at my attacker, “Look! Look! It’s the police!” That seemed to frighten him, and at that point he walked over to a nearby vending machine, bought me a water, said “gomen nasai” (sorry) and walked away.

At that time I had few friends in Japan, and everyone I told said first, “Was he Japanese?” and second, “Things like that never happen in Japan.” (I hadn’t even thought about his ethnicity; he was Asian and had spoken to me in Japanese.)

Everyone made it seem like it was such a random experience that I almost, in fact, felt ashamed, thinking I must have done something to provoke this bizarre behavior. When this second incident occurred, I started to suspect that these events weren’t unusual. I posted a description of what had happened on Facebook and asked if people had had similar experiences.

The response was overwhelming: stories of being attacked while jogging, being stalked by male and female students, being groped on the street in broad daylight, men masturbating on trains, attempted kidnappings. All of these stories came from strong women who put up a vicious fight but still walked away with psychological (and sometimes physical) injuries. In all of these stories, the victims had been in a “safe” public place but no one tried to help them or call the police. If this is so common, why does Japan maintain a reputation for being so safe? And is this image of safety actually facilitating these incidents?

Many say Tokyo is the best place to host the Olympics because it is safe. And in many ways it is: Foreigners are astounded to walk into Starbucks and see iPhones left unattended on a table to reserve a seat, for example. When I lived in Barcelona, my phone wasn’t safe even in my pocket. Still, the two most aggressive attacks in my life happened in Japan, not in “unsafe” countries I backpacked through alone and at a younger age. Thus I don’t think Japan is as safe as the image propagated about the country suggests. It seems that just about every foreign woman I know has a terrible story to tell. I have no way of knowing if this number is as high for Japanese women, because only foreign women shared their stories with me.

Some of us do wonder: Are these types of attacks more prevalent among foreign women? It is hard to tell, but perhaps for the attacker such a target could be less risky. Many foreign women would not know where and how to report such an incident. Even in my case, having a Japanese boyfriend to go with me and translate, the police still didn’t record any information or search for the people involved. Moreover, since foreigners are often associated with crime, bystanders might be less likely to intervene or call the police.

After all these years, I clearly remember anti-groping cartoon posters in the Fukuoka subway depicting a man with dark skin touching a white woman. Even at the time, I thought it reflected a still-prevalent view in Japan: Crime and criminals are non-Japanese. When a crime happens, people almost always ask, “Was (s)he Japanese?” Of course, Japanese people too commit crimes, and “othering” the victims and perpetrators only makes it easier for crimes to go unaddressed, thus making society less safe for both foreigners and Japanese.

As I’ve mentioned, for all I know these types of attacks are just as common among Japanese women. Rather than jumping to conclusions, I’m simply hoping to start a dialogue that might help bring about solutions. I have always known that Japan had perverts — like anywhere — but until recently they had seemed fairly benign.

As a minority in Japan, foreign women do receive a lot of male attention and are often offered work as hostesses. They also complain to me about how they feel objectified in Japan. White models and mannequins are seen everywhere, even though white women represent a tiny percentage of the population.

In a way, white women become plastic here: imports without feelings — strange, exotic dolls. And if we are dolls, perhaps the groping, leering, stalking and attacking is somehow justified in the perpetrator’s mind as a game rather than a crime.

When I first moved to Japan, I tolerated the staring, following and persistent nampa (pickup artists), but after being assaulted twice in public, they have taken on darker undertones. I now know I can’t rely on the goodwill of strangers, as I have in the past when I was verbally harassed in countries such as Mexico. Interest from strangers that I could have dismissed as innocent curiosity a few years ago now gives me the chills.

Despite its many stereotypes and inconveniences, I love Japan. So do a lot of the women who shared their stories with me. I am attracted to Japan because it’s so different from my culture. I want to keep living here and unlocking the mysteries I encounter every day, but I have ideas about how it could be made a safer place. Just because I love this country, it does not mean I have to love it unconditionally and ignore those things I might disagree with.

Experiencing these incidents and hearing other women’s stories has altered my daily behavior. I have vowed to be more careful as I calculate risks in my daily life. I carry Mace. At night, I take roads that have lots of kōbans on them, and I know how to explain my route should I have to talk to a police officer.

I’m not paranoid, but I also won’t let surprise be a weapon.

Holly Lanasolyluna is a professor, photojournalist and toy songwriter from California. Foreign Agenda offers a forum for opinion on fourth (and fifth) Thursdays. Send comments and story ideas to community@japantimes.co.jp.


Do you feel safe while out and about in Japan?

View Results


  • KaiHarate

    i’ve been telling japanese and foreigners for years that japan isn’t safer than most developed nations. it’s mostly a nation where “don’t make trouble” results in “amazingly safe statistics”. yeah…if thousands of females get vagina grabbed like it’s a 6pack and decide not to tell anyone about it i suppose that statistically that makes it safe. that’s just one example of hundreds of how japan maintains “world’s safest country”. manhattan is easily just as safe for tourists but if you say that to a japanese person, or their hysterical gaijin clown posse, they almost have a nervous breakdown that anyone would think that.

    if i had a daughter, i’d rather her be raised in the bronx than tokyo. she’d have a better chance avoiding the amount of molestation, groping, sexually debasing/humiliating, grabbing, general abuse that is routine and common in japan.

    and she’s right to point out how japanese assume it must be koreans/chinese doing this. they immediately assume “korean” or “chinese” because they have such a delusional view of japan they actually start to believe crime doesn’t exist in japan as it does in other places.

    • Franz Pichler

      Manhattan is surely as safe as “Japan” but “Japan” is a country and you’re not suggesting that the odds you gonna get shot are higher in a country with a person to firearm ratio of 95:100 than in Japan with a ration of 0.6:100…… and for you “preferring to raise your future child in the Bronx over a city like Tokyo” on the grounds of “possible criminal realities” she’ll surely thank you for that…. I would suggest even Brooklyn, that’s surely the best place in the world to raise a child….

      • Christopher-trier

        Why not Detroit? I’ve heard property is very affordable there. Surely it is nicer than Japan.

      • Franz Pichler

        yes, I agree, much safer than Japan……just 386 homicides and 55 murders per 100,000 inhabitants but what’s that to crime ridden Tokyo…

      • JS

        Japanese media has reported that 81,111 people vanished in Japan in 2012 alone. Unfortunately, some of these involve foul play and may never be found. I wonder how many of these are counted in the official crime statistics.

      • Expat77

        And let’s not even get started in the daily news reports of children being murdered by their parents either through abuse or neglect…

      • Franz Pichler

        The point I’m trying to make is that statistically japan is a rather safe country. We’re not leaving in Utopia, so of course hideous and terrible things happen but show me a place without crime. Come on, give us a break and see the big picture instead of hammering on with irrelevant information. It’s not safe, but safer than other countries, that’s what it is. I’ve lived and worked on 3 continents and all countries I lived in seemed pretty safe, but, japan is a bit safer. That’s my experience and I certainly am happy to raise my daughter here instead of many other places…

      • Franz Pichler

        No place on earth is “safe” that’s life but to say New York is safer than an equivalent city in Japan is really nonsense. Especially when looking at rape, we can only use official statistics because we have to stick to fact and by that measure the US has approx 27 forcible rapes recorded per 100,000 inhabitants and Japan has 1! Don’t get me wrong, let’s say it’s under reported by a factor of 10 in Japan (and that’s an assumption and by no means a fact!) and let’s say American women and man (they get raped as well…) are keener to file a report so putting a factor of 5 to the US we still see clearly and obviously that, tes, Japan is a safer place. Again, this doesn’t mean there’s danger in Japan, hell, of course there’s crime but it’s a) on a different statistical scale and b) it looks especially rosy when you look at rape/assault and firearm and homicide statistics. Now some will say yes Japanese tend not to report and blabla so, ok, I’m not as intelligent as those people but I stick to facts and the facts talk clearly, no, NY is not a safer place!

      • Christopher-trier

        Many crime victims in the USA also do not report crimes committed against them, especially those in the country illegally. In many areas the police are under pressure not to record crimes or to investigate them as it might lower property values.

    • http://www.facebook.com/cees.timmerman Cees Timmerman

      The Bronx? Is she bulletproof?

      • Elton Prela

        The bronx is safe, been living here for 17 years now.

    • http://www.facebook.com/cees.timmerman Cees Timmerman
  • kyushuphil

    The women’s-only trains, and the end of mixed bathing, have a reason.

    It’s not whiteness that’s being stalked here. The “feeling objectified” that Holly has heard from other foreign women doesn’t apply only or mainly to foreign women. Any book by any good Japanese writer — especially Japanese women writers, from Hayashi Fumiko to Kakuta Mitsuyo, tells us much, too, of how local women feel taken for granted by men, how the men themselves too often end up “floating” in a culture made childishly easy for them.

    • Expat77

      “how the men themselves too often end up “floating” in a culture made childishly easy for them.”

      My own stepson is the spoiled son of a spoiled son – his real father has no job.

      We need to start coining the phrase, and talking extensively about “J-privilege.”

      On online fora like this one, a lot of “white knights” pop up to say, basically, “You can’t be so negative about Japan! That’s racist!” Well, no, actually – in Japan, the Japanese have power and privilege. By this definition of racism (power + privilege = racism), no, we aren’t being racist towards the Japanese.

      They have all the privilege – they hold all the cards. We really, truly are a minority here, and matter how many idiots come in to say, “Yeah, but being white in Japan is NOTHING like being black in America!” (a complete non sequitur that derails and destroys any possibility of intelligent conversation) – no matter how often that happens, we need to make clear: we are the minority, and that puts us – especially the women among us – in danger.

      J-privilege is an absolutely real thing, mostly wielded by the spoiled men and boys of this country, and someone, somewhere has to do something about it – the country is already facing how many crises? Will it be left to us, the non-spoiled foreigners, to clean this country up? I certainly hope not.

      • NoNoNo

        Stop demeaning racism with your absurd attempts of attaching notions of a power struggle to it. While you may make valid points about different forms of racism it’s infuriating to see people trying to distort understanding of generally accepted terms to fit their narrative/dismiss their opposition.

      • Christopher-trier

        The problem with post-modernist “thinking” is that challenging it is like poking an amoeba. It has no form, it has no structure. The meanings of words and terms have been hijacked and obscured to the point that they no longer have any meaning, but can still be wielded as a weapon against opponents who struggle to argue against a substance-less attack.

      • Expat77

        I admit that “privilege” is a bit of an amorphous term. I understand it to be “privilege to believe that you are normal and to enforce those cultural assumptions upon others.”

        For example, white men in America design video games and toys to resemble white men. “This is what a regular person looks like.” You might say, “Well, then don’t buy that game or toy,” but when all the biggest, major companies are producing characters that are white and male…it leaves non-white non-males with very, very few options. The white males in the community, however, see their own image repeatedly presented as “normal.” Privilege.

        Here in Japan, privilege will obviously manifest differently – it may be things like the racial profiling that the police enjoy. “You don’t look like me. I will wield legal authority over you.” I may be wrong, and I invite correction, but that right there is the very definition of “privilege.” We don’t look like them and they use their authority to enforce their idea of “normal” on us. We are not “normal,” so we must be stopped and inspected.

        These terms, while to some degree fluid, can be defined. Privilege is a pretty important idea; with countries like Japan and America, economic superpowers, our privilege can cross borders and destroy other nations. Part of what privilege means is that we can go to McDonald’s, or Sushiro and obliviously eat away our cheap little meal, completely clueless as to the environmental damage our dinner has on the global environment.

        So, I don’t know if you are accusing me of a “substanceless attack,” but, uh, there is a huge amount of substance to J-privilege.

      • Christopher-trier

        Um, no, there is no substance to “J-privilege”. Japan is a closed society that can better be compared to Iceland, Germany or Sweden than it can be compared to the USA. To be Japanese is deemed an ethnicity and Japan is deemed to be an ethnic homeland, much like Icelanders, Germans and Swedes are deemed to be ethnic groups and the countries are considered ethnic homelands. To be deemed “American” has no ethnic component. There are different variations — Chinese-American, Mexican-American, African-American for example, but there is at least for most an acceptance that anyone can be an American. The social dynamics are completely different. Oh, and I also consider being called “white” a racist slur — I have a culture, ethnicity and language. Not one of them is called “white”.

      • Expat77

        I’m not at all sure what you mean – Japanese people absolutely have privilege. They were once a colonizing, imperializing power. They oppressed people – they, to this day, maintain a certain power over the ancestors of colonized Koreans – known now as “zainichi.”

        The privilege that Japanese people enjoy within Japan is very, very similar to the privilege white people enjoy in America. I know, because I am white, and I used to make a hobby of insulting racists on the internet. The same tropes repeat over and over in white society and Japanese society.

        One of the most common that you see in Japan and white America is the post hoc propter hoc fallacy – a lot of Americans think that, because jails are full of African-Americans, that African-Americans commit more crime. Japanese people similarly make the assumption that Chinese or Korean residents in Japan commit all the crimes – hence the repeated theme that people ask, “Did a Japanese person do that to you?” Everyone knows that Japanese people don’t commit crimes! That’s J-privileged thinking.

        J-privilege is a term we need to start using, because the concept of white privilege has done a lot to tear down the presumptions and prejudices of white America – a similar approach can work in Japan. Maybe. Maybe you’re right – maybe the terminology is wrong, but I think it is a perfect fit.

        As for it being a power struggle or not…well, Japan is very picky about the immigrants that they allow in. They are already more pluralistic than they want to admit, but it hasn’t risen to the level of “power struggle” yet because the foreign population is low enough that the injustices we face are toned down. What do you think will happen when Japan accepts more immigrants? Do you think the prejudice, privilege or racial profiling will get better?

        Well, gee, did America get less violent when the Supreme Court declared segregation illegal…? Um…no. And Japan will only get worse as the foreign population grows before they get better. Why not nip it in the bud now by doing our best to push for social justice in Japan before it’s a real problem?

        Oh, and I’m not “demeaning racism” at all. What the Japanese do is textbook racism: power + privilege. Within that theory, we can’t be racist against Japanese people within Japan – this is their privileged ground, not ours. And while a white person may still maintain some global-level, post-colonial privilege over a non-white person in Japan, we lose every time against the privilege of a Japanese person.

      • Christopher-trier

        “Text book”, or post-modern theory? I do not accept “privilege + power” as meaning anything but having privilege and power. The two male British tourists who were raped and murdered in Florida because someone wanted to kill light-skinned people were raped (forced sex is rape) and they were murdered because of their ethnic backgrounds — that is racism, hatred, violence, antipathy motivated by no other reason than perceived ethnic background.

      • lasolitaria

        “Will it be left to [foreigners] to clean this country up?”. Seriously? So as soon as Whites perceive they’re a threatened minority, even slightly, they feel entitled to “clean” stuff up, a choice non-White minorities were never given! And here’s me thinking this “White man’s burden” thinking was a thing of yonder days…

        What is this “J-privilege” anyway? Cause as far this article is concerned, to construe the fact that Japanese men can seemingly get away with sexually harassing and attacking foreign women as some kind of “J-privilege” (as if it this sort of of thing didn’t happen anywhere else), and then equate this with “White privilege” is just preposterous and a disservice to history and the notion of “privilege”.

    • blondein_tokyo

      I can’t speak for the experiences of women of color, but I can tell you that the objectification the author is speaking of absolutely is worse for white women than it is for Japanese women. Japanese men routinely say things to me that they would not dare to say to a Japanese woman. All of my Japanese female friends have expressed shock when I tell them of my experiences, and those who have witnessed this behavior were angry for me and very embarrassed that their fellow Japanese would behave this way.

      It’s all about the “othering”- these guys feel free to make sexually explicit comments and harass us because they don’t see white girls as people, and they don’t get any social backlash for their behavior.

      It’s also easy for them to get away with it because they know we really don’t have anyone to back us up- not society, not the police, no one.

      • Christopher-trier

        “Othering”? Really? I am a light-skinned male in my 20s. When living in San Francisco I was groped and fondled more times than I care to remember by light-skinned men. Do you know what those enlightened minds in San Francisco told me? That I need to get off myself and that such things happen. Stop with this “othering” bollocks. It’s grotesque, hideous behaviour that has no place in a civilised society.

      • Expat77

        “groped and fondled more times than I care to remember by light-skinned men”

        See, there you go: that’s plain old sexual assault, not sexual assault fueled by racial othering. You’re right: you weren’t othered. Then again, the white men who fondled you were absolutely enjoying a type of privilege of their own.

        The fact that you weren’t othered doesn’t mean that women in Japan aren’t.

      • Christopher-trier

        But I am from continental Europe, and they were from the United States — so, as it is, I am different from them — an outsider. The skin tone is irrelevant.

      • scuttlepants

        Well, from their perspective, you weren’t. From yours, you were.Is that correct? Regardless, it shouldn’t happen to anyone and it does happen to some. It’s terrible that you had that negative experience, but it doesn’t really have any impact on the others’ experiences in Japan. The skin tone may have been irrelevant in your situation but that doesn’t mean yours is the same as the one they are describing.

      • Expat77

        “they don’t get any social backlash for their behavior.”

        A pretty basic aspect of what privilege, or in this case, J-privilege is: no social consequences for bad behavior when you are the privileged, “normal” group.

        As for Christopher, your groping in San Francisco being dismissed is a completely different problem: “real men don’t get raped.” Who were you groped by, and when, and where? The situation is different. You weren’t groped while being othered – women in Japan are. You’re comparing apples to oranges. I sympathize with your situation, though, I really do. I went through similar things in my life in America.

      • Holly Lanasolyluna

        A lot of women also felt this way. Thanks for sharing your experience.

      • Kelly

        While I was living in Japan, I received a lot of the same comments. Things that would shock Japanese women when I told them. Things that Japanese men would say to me as I walked by, sometimes in Japanese and even sometimes in English. I’ve been to many foreign countries, most of them far less developed than Japan, and yet Japan is where I felt like I was the most targeted for my gender and ethnicity. As a tall, fair-skinned, light haired, and light eyed woman, I truly believe that “othering” is a real thing that occurs all the time in Japan.

        Of course, men in America have also given me the occasional honk-of-the-horn, when driving, or yelling a few sexual comments, but it was completely different than the comments I received in Japan. In Japan it was creepy, detailed sexual remarks, that happened way more to me than to my best friend – a Filipino-American – while we were living there. In Japan, the men seemed much more likely to act on their remarks, whereas in America it was just annoying and embarrassing.

      • blondein_tokyo

        I’ve traveled a lot in India, and you definitely get targeted for being a western woman there. And it is much worse than Japan.

        I have also had men in the US, UK, and Europe make sexual comments to me. Walking down the street, guys would yell, “Hey nice tits!” or the like.

        But in those countries, there was always a furtive element to it, and it was quite obvious they knew well and good that what they were saying would net a negative reaction. In fact, that is exactly why they do it- they aren’t really trying to talk to you. They’re purposely trying to intimidate and harass.

        But only in Japan has a guy who is perfectly sober, perfectly casual, just wander right up to me and say, directly and to my face, “Wow, you have big boobs.” (mune ga oki desu ne) in a conversational manner as though he expected me to answer.

        Being catcalled, as in men yelling at you from cars or when you walk past them, has never happened to me here. But Japanese men seem to feel perfectly comfortable to just walk up to me in a bar, on the street, at a party, wherever, and speak to me as though he thinks it’s perfectly acceptable and perfectly NORMAL to sexually objectify and sexually demean women.

        They really do think that what they are doing is okay.

  • giapponemonamour

    Almost ten years I live in Japan and nothing like this never happened to me or to any foreign (expecially Italian) friend of mine. I wouldn’t generalize in such a superficial way since a mental Japanese person in not “all Japanese people”. The title of this article, on the contrary, suggests it.

    I’m married to a Japanese guy and, even when I was just a student, I knew how to distinguish a superficial man from a cleaver one (Japanese, American, Italian or what so ever). If you know (very well) the language is, on the contrary, difficult NOT to understand it. I’m always very surprised how so many foreigners pretend to understand (and even live in ) Japan without studying Japanese. Why?

    I’m sure that if the girl knew the language such misunderstandings never happened to her.

    • If

      Your, and other comments similar to it, are really horrible. Only because it never happened to you it does not mean it never happened to other people. This poor girl experienced something very bad, terrible for a woman, if she knew japanese nobody would ever harrased her? even the guy that then bought a bottle of water? come on, be objective, if you really love a country, japan or whatever, you should consider all the aspect of the same country, here is not only hello kitty stuff. wake up.

    • blondein_tokyo

      Wow, this is the second time I have seen this kind of ignorant comment, and I’ve only read about five so far.

      Just because this has never happened to you does NOT mean that it doesn’t happen to anyone. That is a glaring logical fallacy.

      And I can tell you, this is NOT a simple matter of “miscommunication” because of a lack of language skills. The author had a Japanese person with her when she reported the incident, so how can it be said they didn’t understand her? I have experienced the same sort of apathy, yet I can speak Japanese quite well.

      And may I ask, does a lack of language skills give the police leave not to investigate crimes? How good one’s language skills are shouldn’t determine how seriously the police take a crime.

      Surely you don’t think that the police should shrug off crimes just because they cannot be bothered to bring in an interpreter.

    • If

      Your, and other comments similar to it, are really horrible. Only because it never happened to you it does not mean it never happened to other people. This poor girl experienced something very bad, terrible for a woman, if she knew japanese nobody would ever harrased her? even the guy that then bought a bottle of water? come on, be objective, if you really love a country, japan or whatever, you should consider all the aspect of the same country, here is not only hello kitty stuff. wake up.

    • Vee

      She never said she didn’t speak Japanese

    • Andrea Secco ItaliaJapan

      If someone yells and attack you on the street I don’t think that been able to speak well a language can change something, I don’t understand at all this kind of reasoning. Japan is undoubtedly one of the safest countries in the world, but this fact often leads people to believe that they are totally safe here, and obviously that’s not true, especially for a woman. In my opinion the worst aspect of this story is the behavior of the police officers that has no excuse.

  • http://www.sheldonthinks.com/ andrew Sheldon

    Lived in 4 countries now – yet to encounter a country where the police don’t function as a useless bureaucracy with a monopoly over the crime reporting process & statistical analysis. I’m sure there is a reason Japan captures 99% of offenders…or so I was told. On two occasions the police approached me on the street and asked me to take them to my apartment. I was just walking down the street. Otherwise no issue for me – living there for 3 years.

    • Christopher-trier

      The Japanese justice system does need improvement and a number of those convicted of crimes were likely coerced into making false confessions by the police or were convicted on shonky evidence.
      The 21-day holding period is excessive and psychological torture is used by the police to crack people.

      That said, there are people who never cease trying to find faults with Japan, who are obsessed with tearing the country apart for whatever bizarre reason.

      • Franz Pichler

        luckily most of those wingers are flyjins when things get going so never mind

      • Christopher-trier

        True, many probably have never even been to Japan. Personal experiences always colour opinions. I’ve had many good experiences with the Japanese in Japan and abroad, and have many fond memories of Japan — where I am now on holiday.

    • Expat77

      The whole thing where the cops racially profiled you and followed you home (what Americans know as “violating your 4th Amendment rights”) is one of the reasons for their high conviction rate. They also lack habeas corpus laws, which means the cops can just throw you in a jail cell whenever they feel like it. The justice system looks good on paper, but as someone said above, when people are terrified to destroy the “wa” by reporting crimes, how can you begin to get accurate statistics?

      In other words: the statistics you’ve read on Japanese crime? All half-truths at best. 99% conviction rate? A fair number of that is just forced confessions – the rest is probably people who confess because they know that if they DON’T confess, they’ll be kept in jail for a long, long time (no habeas corpus). Just being arrested for jaywalking in Japan can ruin your life because the cops can just lock you up and bring you a confession to sign – and then just keep you there till you sign it.

      • Jamie Bakeridge

        That is simply not true.

      • Redrum

        No, this is true. I´ve read about this many times.

      • SJ

        where? links and references pls

      • Expat77

        Oh, I’ll admit that I’ve had few negative experiences with cops. I’m working off the vast – I mean really, truly vast – amount of personal stories that I’ve read on the internet and heard from friends – and official information I’ve gotten from employers, &c.

        I admit fully that I may misunderstand this, as I haven’t been able to double-check or confirm everything I’ve heard.

        Nevertheless, yesterday there was a cop car parked next to my office, and the cops clearly had nothing to do – I took a different street home, just to be sure.

        Oh, and I haven’t registered my new bike with the cops yet, because my wife is scared they’ll just arrest me.

        So, maybe you’re right – maybe I’m wrong. But a whole lot of people agree with me, so I’d love to hear your facts. The cops aren’t feared only by foreigners, so I’m comfortable with my assertions here.

      • Toramanz

        It is true.

      • http://www.sheldonthinks.com/ andrew Sheldon

        Its not true that Japanese don’t commit crimes because of consequences. Conservative misconception – the notion that more ‘punitive’ measures or more belligerent enforcement will scare criminals into submission. They’ll just direct their attention to soft targets – like (non-Japanese) women. Coercion is not education. The rest of your comment I agree with. I suspect even Japanese women with foreign BFs might be a target.

      • HayesOose

        The biggest reason for the high conviction rate is not forced confessions, though there is a record of that occurring, it is that prosecutors are very selective about which cases they will take to trial, meaning they only try what they are confident they can win.

  • Tubbysan

    If you don’t like it, leave it. You can’t try to make Japanese culture conform to your scewed sense of right and wrong.

  • http://amzn.to/madeindna Made in DNA

    Very, very sad to hear this. Time to invest in pepper spray?

  • Franz Pichler

    agree, very well said!

  • Moonraker

    For what it is worth, my wife, who is Japanese and has lived in the UK, Australia and Spain, has only been attacked on the street in Japan. And I have many Japanese female friends who have suffered sexual assault in Japan.

  • disqus_ZrNCUKyGrD

    One time, I was at a festival and twice I was groped. They were throwing mochi, so you would lean in to try to catch it, and twice someone grabbed my breasts. I thought that it was horrible, and I looked around for the perpetrator, but could not find him, and no one else either noticed or cared. I was there with a co-worker, and his attitude was an oh well.

    So, I understand the feeling of a blind eye, and the feeling of being objectified. The attitude here is a helpless oh well, it didn’t cause permanent damage, so no harm done. I feel Japan is generally safe, and I usually feel safe, but when an incident occurs, I feel like being a woman, not a foreigner, works against me here. But, I feel that Japanese women really have it harder than foreign women because of the social constraints placed upon them. Foreign women can feel like they can complain, when being a Japanese women, complaining is looked down upon. But, I don’t let incidents like these put me down, because they can happen anywhere, I just hope that women can learn to find their voices, and that men should realize women are not objects.

    All over the world there is still this problem, but since I live in Japan, it is Japan’s issues that are more important to me. Just because it happens elsewhere, or that it happens worse in other countries doesn’t mean it is okay for it to happen here as well. It is not a cultural bias to say you don’t appreciate being groped.

    • mattoELITE

      Did it occur to you that it was probably your co-worker copping a sly feel?

      • disqus_ZrNCUKyGrD

        No, he was at my side, so there would have been no way he could have touched me. I might have caught a glimpse of the perp, and it looked like an older man, but he ran off too fast and the crowd was too heavy to do anything about it then. My co-worker is a decent guy, but I don’t think he knew what he should do about the situation, so he just brushed it off. But, he did say sorry that it had happened. I would have rather have had the person who had really done it say it.

  • BB

    Drawing general conclusions from 2 personal stories doesn’t seem smarter than assuming that Japan is entirely safe. After a few years here I have never heard of such stories yet, I can thus not agree that it is “common” as depicted in this article. Anyway, I do not doubt on the sincerity of your story, and you may have been fairly unlucky to meet these persons. The same may have happened in any other country I guess. Nobody can assume that a 100% of the population is sane and that no robberies/violence/offense ever happen in Japan. If people come here with this image in mind it clearly means they didn’t inform themselves enough. Just reading here and there the news and you understand that as anywhere else bad things also happen here.
    Personally, and according to the different people with an experience of living abroad, I still feel safer here than in any other place I have been. But for that you need to compare what is comparable. Of course it may look safer next to the Wallstreet buildings than in downtown Osaka, but in terms of every day life, it is clearly safer in Japan than anywhere else. The point of view described in the article is corroborated by some other stories from other women it seems. Of course if you search the net, over the last years, on this vast territory you can find many other reports. Does it mean it is representative ? It mostly look like a poll stating that “100% of persons victim of a crime feel unsafe after what happened to them”… that is no surprise, isn’t it ?
    Anyway, everybody should keep in mind that here, as well as anywhere else, you may someday meet weird people, insane people or whatever.

    • Zachary Derrick

      This is not isolated by any means. This article has allowed other friends of mine to share shockingly similar stories. I think you are the one who is making the assumptions here.

    • Rachel

      You are joking, right? Just because YOU haven’t heard stories, that also doesn’t mean that your experience is representative. I’ve been followed home at night and during the day, groped by a man as he passed me on a bicycle, had someone follow me and then make vulgar sexual remarks as I tried to get away (at like 5pm on a Thursday, it was still light and there were a few people around!), someone approach me and then grope me after I ignored him. These incidents have happened to me in Tokyo, Osaka AND Fukuoka, as I’ve lived in all of these places. Many of my female friends have also had similar experiences, some much worse than mine. I agree, Japan is a safe country as a whole. But as Zachary said, these are definitely not isolated incidents, and I don’t feel completely safe walking home alone at night anymore for fear of someone approaching me again.

    • Expat77

      Part of male privilege is the ability to say, “Well, it hasn’t happened to me, so I don’t believe that it happens.”

      Listen to the women, and trust them. Some may exaggerate – a few may lie – but they all tell a very similar, very consistent tale.

      J-privilege is similar – the ability to say that, well, “I’ve never seen a Japanese person do that, so they must not do it.”

      • BB

        I think you misunderstood what I was meaning. I didn’t mean that it never happens. I just want people to realize two things: First: the fact that it happens to a few persons doesn’t mean it is a common thing. If you read the comments or the article you can easily imagine people masturbating in trains or in the street. I am sorry but no, it isn’t what life in Japan looks like.
        Second: Japan is not a fully safe country, and bad things may happen to you here as well as anywhere else. People who come to Japan thinking that is just a perfect safe country where nothing can happen in any place at any time are just stupid, there is no other words. But so far, and according to the discussions I have had with other foreigners/nationals, and from my own experience, I definitely feel more relaxed to walk in the streets late at night, and I really feel safer than in any other place I have been living before. This is no J-privilege or no male-privilege or whatever (by the way it is an easy way to cut off the discussion to just assume that people who don’t share your point of view are either male and/or japanese and thus cannot understand what you stand for).
        So in my opinion: people should know that while you may feel safer here than in other countries, you have to keep in mind that some people here, as well as anywhere else may target you. But I think this is common sense…

      • Expat77

        All fair points, and you’re right that making assumptions about you is absolutely not the way to go.

  • ann

    I’ve been living in a fairly rural part of Japan and it’s incredibly safe. I’ve never been harassed in any way. I’ve walked to the train station super late and really early in the morning while it’s still dark and I’ve felt safe. The Japanese people I’ve met across Japan have been incredibly helpful and I’ve felt very safe travelling alone, even in Osaka and Tokyo. While in your article you seen to have conflated “white” with “foreign”, I think the way white women are treated is different from the way other women are treated. While foreign, I’m not white, and I do feel safer because I think I am not seen in as sexualised a way as white women are here. I think that Japan is an amazing place for brown women like me, I lived in a similarly rural area of the UK for years and the level of racism I faced there was far higher and far more aggressive than the level of racism I face here.

    • TO

      Thanks for your great insight! Yes, this seems like how race, gender, (hetero-)sexuality, age, and nationalism at least work together.

      On the one hand, whiteness is idealized in Japan (as in many other countries), as you can see in ubiquitous ads either using young (“half-”)white actors/actresses or suggesting white skin/facial features=beauty, especially for women. So, “whiteness” becomes an object for desire, including sexual. In a patriarchal/sexist society like Japan, women are much more likely subjected to treatment like (sexual) harassment and violence in general. I think whiteness increases (hetero-)sexual objectification from Japanese men, as implied in several comments.

      On the other hand, whiteness especially connotes “foreign” or “non-Japanese” who do not really belong to racially and ethnically mythologized Japan. This becomes an ground for subtle and overt discriminatory treatment (though I must say being Chinese and Korean gets the most brutal treatment in Japan – but individually, they could blend in in urban areas like Tokyo). This includes an assumption that you don’t understand Japanese or Japan even before talking to you, and you are subject of both curiosity and suspicion. I wonder if this perceived “foreignness” also increases the likelihood of public harassment like described in the essay.

      Anyway, what a incredible amount of comments!

      • Ronald Wimberly

        I’d venture that Japanese women are still subject to more (unreported) abuse than white women and foreign women in general. Membership has it’s privileges. I liken it to being a black artist in Paris. Sure, you’re black, but you’re also an artist and that has currency. Membership in certain groups gives you privileges. If you are perceived to be a western woman, you may carry the benefit of western privilege. I’ve observed that Japanese women are expected to act a certain way and accept certain mores of society. I think this is changing. I hope this is changing.
        Also as a western white woman, you may be perceived to be more likely to report crime. Also you could possibly be connected to someone (a man) of import. This could be a deterrent.

    • Holly Lanasolyluna

      Thank you for sharing your perspective. Not all the women who told me their stories were white, but the majority were. It´s difficult to address such a complex topic in so few words, so sorry if I didn´t address your experience in this article. Anyway, glad to hear you´re living a good and safe life. By the way, you´re not the first person who has told me that they felt less racism here than in the UK.

    • Tina

      I agree that the author has generalized foreign as white; however, as an Indo-Canadian, I have definitely been accosted and chased by Japanese men from major cities like Tokyo to the tiny rural area I lived in. I can’t say whether there was a bystander effect or racism involved because in all cases, no one really was around.

      I remember once when my wallet was stolen, the police basically blamed me for it, so there’s that.

      • relmneiko

        I had a similar experience with theft when my wallet was stolen. They wouldn’t believe it was stolen because “a Japanese person wouldn’t do that” and automatically filed it as “lost” even though I knew for a fact it was stolen and insisted so repeatedly. I eventually managed to convince them it was stolen because I got a first-hand account from another Japanese person who said they saw it being stolen. Also I worked for the city and was on friendly terms with the mayor… I don’t think they would have investigated my case otherwise, tbh. I was lucky to have a lot of friends at city hall. Eventually they found the culprit, basically thanks to a photographer who worked for the town hall who had photos of the whole thing. I was so lucky.

      • Gordon Graham

        Wow! So many people seeing your wallet being stolen and even a photographer capturing the whole thing. How lucky for you…Did the police ask you what exactly all your wonderful friends were doing while you were being robbed…Taking pictures?

    • Dara Harris

      I know this comment digresses from the original story, but I felt this was the best place to put it, if any.

      Frankly, being African-American, I feel the same way. I’ve been here for eight months, and I’ve never felt an ounce of danger, which I accredit (perhaps falsely, but who knows,) to having dark skin.

      However, I don’t follow the same “amazing place” opinion, when it comes to this (I do love Japan for other reasons, though.) This is going to sound awful, and please do not understand me incorrectly when I say this, but I was actually a bit envious of Holly. Not of the awful things that happened, absolutely not, but I do miss being desired. Other than one nanpa experience, guys have a tendency to look the other way when I come around.

  • Chibaraki

    I’ve interfered with gropers and perverts assaulting young Japanese women. I’ve also been the object of groping, sexual innuendo and racist comments from Japanese men, all strangers. This never happened to me in my hometown, Vancouver, Canada. Japanese people are under the illusion that Japan is safe. It’s not for women. The police are part of the problem, inappropriately handling sexual assault reports, or dismissing their claims outright. Property crime, theft and murder rates may be lower than most countries, but men assaulting women is a significant criminal problem in Japan, and the assailants are Japanese men.

    • Kotorobu

      No base for comparison between Japanese and Canadian society, please. Vancouver is a century+ ahead,

    • Kurtz25

      Indeed. In all the Steubenville/Maryville online fracas, I’ve frequently said, “You want to see REAL ‘rape culture?’ Come to Japan, where 98% of the porn is built on violent rape fantasies, and the police won’t even investigate it when it happens in real life.” And we’re not talking about date rape, where there might be a question of whether the assailant intended to commit a crime; we’re talking about strangers forcing their way into women’s homes and raping them there, then leaving (as happened to a friend-of-a-friend, and the police just kind of shrugged their shoulders and told he she had better move).

      • kc

        You don’t have a good grasp on what rape culture is, if you think what happened in Steubenville can be invalidated by what happens in Japan.

      • John Snow

        Is rape fantasy actually rape? Is fantasy about sex is actually sex?

        Its hard to argue, but then again it is also not right.

    • Ronald Wimberly

      Are you a white woman? I think you can’t ignore the intersectionallity of “race”, sex and gender when you compare locations and what adversity people face in different locations. To make a generalization about the safety of one location vs another based sheerly on personal experience is very problematic.
      For instance, Japan feels safer to me then NY because I am an American man in Japan and reap all of those privileges. However, I am not a woman, so I am not subject to the sexism there. So I could say, Japan feels safer to me than the west because of my personal experience, but I would be ignoring the role sexism plays in how people feel and more importantly how people are treated.

      • Hanten

        Perhaps if the Japanese police accurately recorded crimes against women and foreigners we wouldn’t have to rely upon anecdotal evidence. What is especially worrying is that the small minority of Japanese men who are committing crimes against women and foreigners seem to feel they can do it with impunity.

  • Jimi

    I’ve never received any hassle or trouble in Japan, and I’ve always felt much safer in Japan than I ever did back home in Australia. Having said that, I’m a six-foot white male who works out at the gym and I’m much larger than most Japanese people I meet, so I tend not to get hassled by strangers.

    Until a few years ago, I thought that my experiences of respectful treatment in Japan was shared by most foreigners in this country, until I got chatting with a female friend of mine. What she told me totally shocked me and made me realize that the experiences of foreign women in Japan can often be radically different from that of men. She told me of a man pulling over and getting out in his car, attempting to pull her inside; men masterbating in front of her on the train; a man riding a bicycle beside her and masterbating at the same time! (actually, that last one rather impressed me in terms of his level of coordination). Since then I have heard similar stories from other foreign women who live in Japan. Before I was told this, I was totally ignorant to such behaviour in this country.

    • pervertt

      That is impressive – masturbating while riding a bike. With all these stories of Japanese men masturbating everywhere and in every way, no wonder the country has a declining birth rate. They must be too exhausted to have sex when they get home.

  • Expat77

    “Japanese laws have a very high conviction rate…”

    If you think this is a laudable aspect of their justice system, you don’t really know much about it.

    They have a high conviction rate because it’s legal to force prisoners to sign false confessions, and once that confession is signed, it’s nearly impossible to get a judge to dismiss said forced confession.

    Japan is very well-known for having a corrupt and inefficient justice system. Their 99% conviction rate is shameful because it is based on what most of the civilized world considers shameful abuses of human rights.

    You can call it “cultural bias,” but the world as a whole has come to agree that, no, actually, forcing confessions out of people is not ok. I’m comfortable judging this aspect of Japan harshly, because it is, frankly, objectively bad. Unless you have an argument FOR forced confessions?

    • HayesOose

      No, it is not legal to force “prisoners” to sign confessions, false or otherwise.

      That the police can hold a person for as long as 23 days is an outrage, but, the reason for the high conviction rate is actually much simpler and in fact laudable: Prosecutors in Japan don’t go to trial unless they are certain they have the evidence to convict.

  • Joseph Bandy

    Japanese laws have a high conviction rate because they often don’t prosecute cases if they aren’t sure they will get a conviction. Sexual assault is pretty hard to prove without witnesses and as the writer illustrated, witnesses don’t really care.
    Where you are living can make a very big deal. Sounds like the writer is living in a very urban place, I imagine in the country side or a smaller city the experience could be a lot different.

  • Joseph Bandy

    I believe it is a mix of certain elements of the culture that causes this sort of thing. A lot of (maybe not most, but a lot nonetheless) of sexual fantasies by men here seem to revolve around rape and unwanted groping that sometimes leads to consentual sex. It’s the last part that’s the most dangerous. Everyone knows rape is wrong, but when you read tons of comics or watch movies showing that the victim really enjoys it or enjoys it in the end, it can influence the reader’s mind to think it’s ok.
    Then of course there’s the culture of “don’t get involved with strangers”. Even though you can see that in any country, I feel like it’s even more of a thing here in the big cities and on crowded trains.
    I strongly believe that most people aren’t like this in Japan. But it only takes a fraction of a percent to be dangerous.

  • If

    sad story, and I heard many others similar from other people unfortunately

  • blondein_tokyo

    DarkNozomi, just because something hasn’t happened to YOU does not mean it has not happened to anyone- that is a glaring logical fallacy.

    I have lived in Japan for 22 years, and I have experienced many incidences of sexual molestation, physical assault and stalking, and have experienced police apathy at every turn.

    The most glaring example was when I was being stalked by an older Japanese woman who was threatening my life. When I reported it to the police, they actually became annoyed with me and accused me of making things up. I most assuredly did not make anything up- I even had the emails she’d written wherein she’d alluded to several of the incidents I was reporting. The police just completely shrugged it off.

    In another incident, a friend of mine was punched and kicked by a man in a bar. We chased him outside, and while I kept my eye on him, my friend found a police officer who took him to the koban. At the koban, she was asked what she had done to provoke him to attack her. Basically, she was blamed for making him angry, and they just let him go. She had to get five or six stitches to close up the cut on her eye.

    One more story- a friend of mine was out walking in Shinjuku with a male friend. A guy came up to them and threatened them with a huge butcher knife. The male friend yelled at the guy, and then took off running so as to draw him away from her. She called the police, but when the police arrived, they did nothing- they didn’t take down any notes, they didn’t interview the witnesses, they didn’t even look around to find out if the man was still in the area. They promised to follow up, but of course, they never did.

    These and other experiences have caused me to have a deep distrust for the police, and I have absolutely no expectation they will be of any help in an emergency. I would be much more likely to phone a friend than phone the police.

    And do I even need mention Lucie Blackman, Carita Ridgeway, and Lindsay Hawker? How many more deaths will it take before this gets the attention it deserves?

  • Fynn

    So because it’s never happened to YOU personally, it just doesn’t happen at all, right? Way to erase and silence the experiences of others who wish to bring attention to a real issue faced by many on a daily basis.

  • Max Erimo

    Japan is safer than the average city or even country. But it is not as safe as it used to be. The bigger problem that is not addressed is the Japanese police force is veryy close to useless.

  • urakidany

    I wonder how people can be idiot and superficial as “giapponemonamour” Tipical example of Japan’s nerd who lives in a dream world! Manga and anime can be really dangerous for somebody!

  • Jud Mag

    As a Caucasian female, I have never had any problems in Japan but that might be because of my height: 180cm. Every night I jog in the middle of Tokyo, for years now and have never had any problems.

    I used to do modelling before so am not on the ugly side either (although that is a matter of tastes, right?). I guess I do give out a “do not mess with me” vibe because Japanese men tend to avoid me like the plague. I mean, I am talking about parting the crowd: men staring up at me in my high heels (approx. 190cm) and backing off in each direction as I walk through. These are hilarious experiences but are also annoying. I have never felt weird putting on high heels in Europe.

    Yet again, I would not be afraid to use my kick-boxing skills on guys here if I had to. That might actually show in my posture, too.

  • leaf

    Japan has its share of perverts and people who behave in outrageous ways, and that part only mildly disgusts me. I mean, that can happen anywhere. The part that makes me furious though, is the part that says people just looked on and did nothing to help her. That doesn’t happen everywhere. That is something that we should know is wrong. It shocks me that some Japanese people are brave enough to try to help a stranger that has fallen on train tracks, risking their lives in the process, while others find it too much trouble to help someone who is so obviously a victim. It shocks me, but, I’m sad to say, I believe it. Having said that, I know for a fact that some people do not pretend to look the other way. One time, I felt faint and blacked out on the streets and woke up to a crowd of worried strangers calling out to me and peering over me. I’ve been touched by the kindness of strangers in Japan more than once and believe that there are more caring people in Japan than this poor woman has come to think. And yet, I’ve seen a woman fall down in a train and pick herself up without anyone asking her if she was alright or giving her a hand.
    In another instance, a Japanese friend (male) caught a guy taping the insides of girls’ skirts. He caught the guy red-handed and started wrestling the camera out of his hand and tried to pin him down while calling out to the people around him to get him someone with authority. His girlfriend pleaded with him. And everyone ignored him.
    I don’t know what it is, but my philosophy is that in Japan, there are observers and there are actors. If there are only observers in the crowd and no actors, people just keep on looking. If there’s an actor who acts first, and the other observers see that it’s safe to act, they start helping to. When something happens the majority of people tend to look to others before deciding on how to act. I really wish we could change this. I don’t think that it’s because the Japanese are cold and uncaring. I like to believe that they care, but they are too reluctant and unsure to go that extra mile and reach out.

    • Ronald Wimberly

      it certainly isn’t unique not to help others in danger. I don’t know about Scotland, but that happens in america frequently. Sometimes televised nationally.

  • Henry

    There is certainly a risk in Japan, and more so for women. I still think it is safer than any other country, though.

  • JS

    People who are intimately familiar with Japan and are in the know are fully aware that Japan is not as safe as it’s cracked up to be, or as its reputation would have you believe. Even the staff at the American Embassy in Tokyo know about the random crime, personal safety issues, poor legal system and questionable police tactics faced by foreigners in Japan. I’ll give you two examples.

    First, there are very few single American women who work at the U.S. Embassy here. A main reason for this is that employees of the U.S. State Department know of Japan’s reputation as being unsafe for American women, so very few of them express an interest in being posted to the American Mission in Tokyo. In fact, official statistics show that Japan ranks very low as a place where American (women) Foreign Service Officers have an interest in working. On the other hand, Japan ranks very high on the list of places which single male U.S Foreign Service Officers find desirable.

    Second, the U.S. Embassy sends a regular newsletter to American citizens living in Japan who subscribe to it. It is often full of warnings about crime, personal safety, the police and the Japanese legal system, which Americans who live in Japan should be vigilant about.

  • Paulina

    Japan is a country still `new` of accepting foreigners. Especially when u have different skin colors and face features, you will stand out a lot. Its a safe country in terms of killings and violent assault. Definitely not sexual related crimes and offense. Its probably due to their attitude towards porn, and they generally have a very conservative attitude when it comes to constructing relationships. When technology wasnt as developed, people have to go out and meet others. Not now, they keep more and more to themselves. On the other hand, treatment of women is improving, very slowly.

    • Ron NJ

      Foreigners have only been here what, half a millennium? This excuse has got to go, because that’s exactly what it is: an excuse to avoid addressing problems. After you’ve had 3 or so overlapping generations with as much exposure and contact with the outside world as most other places – as we’ve had since the end of the war – this excuse becomes nothing more than a cop-out to avoid addressing relevant issues.

      • Expat77

        Yeah, even during sakoku, there were regular foreign trading missions here – not to mention that people like Kobo Daishi – literally considered holy and sacred among many elderly Japanese – learned everything they knew in China. So much “inherently” Japanese stuff is already foreign – this whole idea that “foreign” things is new really, truly needs to go.

        I mean, if the Japanese can figure out Buddhism and baseball, they can figure out that I know how to use chopsticks, right?

  • kamakiri

    ‘The last time was in Osaka one morning, around 10 a.m., when a stranger picked me up and tried to carry me into a love hotel’ i don’t really understand this line. Were you past out on the ground at 10 in the morning (not to undermine the graveness of the situation, just wondering) To give a positive note , there is also a different side. One night i rode the last yamanote train after drinking. Next to me where some american girls and they were talking really loud. at one point a drunk salary man starts yelling from the otherside of the carriage “うるせー This is japan” and all kind of stuff like that.(they were loud but he could’ve asked it politely) One of the american girls spoke decent Japanese and gave him a good reply. Things escalated a bit from there. Knowing Japanese, the whole carriage was quiet and ignoring the drama but to my surprise at least 3 japanese people jumped into the discussion and it even came to a small scuffle with the drunk guy thrown out of the carriage at the next stop.

    • Expat77

      “This is Japan, be quiet on the train!” seems to be a common theme in the stories I hear. It’s a pretty perfect example of J-privilege, though, isn’t it?

      “I’m a screaming drunk man! You need to be quiet on the train because foreigners don’t understand Japanese culture! You can’t scream on the train like I’m doing right now!”

      J-privilege at its best.

      • kamakiri

        Then again, if you live in a country you should respect the ways it works. if there is no eating or loud talking or phoneconversation in the train allowed (better yet it is requested) you should respect that. The reaction of the japanese guy was just over the top and stupid drunk as stupid drunk does. still puzzled by : ‘The last time was in Osaka one morning, around 10 a.m., when a stranger picked me up and tried to carry me into a love hotel’

      • 思德

        Don’t take this post too seriously, (and especially not as some kind of uncle tom post), but foreign people who are noisy on trains or in general ARE annoying. Sometimes I am noisy too, and if my friends are aware enough to mention it I am happy for the reminder.

      • My Name

        I’m a foreigner and I agree. Sadly.

    • Holly Lanasolyluna

      I was walking to the train station and a big man came up behind me and grabbed me and tried to carry me into a love hotel. Sorry if that wasn´t clear.

  • Tamara Chmn

    Agreed that things are different for white girls in Asia in general, and I have had some crazy experiences myself. But, I also know Asians who were visiting areas in Europe or the USA where Asians weren’t common and had the EXACT same experience.

    So I think that simply being different triggers some things in narrow minded people, regardless of the location or nationality. Japan is in fact safer than most countries… even with these freak situations that some of us are familiar with. But, to tell you the truth, in Europe, some things like that happen if you go to a neighboring countries – where you don’t even look any different from the locals. Difference either scares people or they see it as a fetish, so basically that might be the roots of all problems.

    • 思德

      It makes my blood boil when foreign women get mistreated with no justice no matter where it is. I think this is important to realize. Sometimes people who criticize the critics forget that the critics also love Japan, just not the bad stuff that happens here. I’d be just as angry if a foreign woman was taken advantage of in the US and then laughed off by the police (maybe less so only because I didn’t belong to that group and didn’t feel a kind of direct kinship).

    • Franz Pichler

      Well said Tamara

  • Bort

    The Lonely Planet guide to Japan advises women who are victims of rape to report it directly to their embassy as there is little chance of being taken seriously by Japanese police.

    Japan also refuses to ban child pornography because it is regarded as an expression of freedom of speech. What chance do adult women have in such a society?

    • 思德

      I thought it was illegal but there was just child-look alike porn or something.

    • John Snow

      I know of some places that sells u-15 stuff… basically under 15 year old girls in raunchy out fit and poses…

      There are some questionable art which seems like child pornography….

      But how can one determine the age of a drawn character?

      Women do have it tough here in Japan….

  • JS

    This reminds me of a conversation I had with a Japanese woman in Tokyo a few years ago. Soon after the Ralph Lauren store opened on Omotesando some years ago, I went there to check it out. I was glad to see that they sold some clothes in American sizes and ended up buying a couple of shirts for work (since, the Japanese sizes are often too tight on me). The Japanese woman who helped me pick out the shirts was really friendly and spoke fluent English, so we ended up talking a little about where I was from in the U.S., and life in Japan, etc.

    It turns out that she was a manager at Ralph Lauren in New York and was temporary visiting Tokyo to help with the opening of the Omotesando store. It really struck me when she told me at one point in our conversation that she actually felt safer living in NY than Tokyo, since she was much more worried about her personal safety while in Tokyo. Her reason for this was that living in New York she knew what types of places and people to avoid there. However, she was more concerned about her personal safety in Tokyo, due to the seemingly random nature of crime, assault, and harassment here. She felt more vulnerable in Tokyo, since she just felt that it was impossible for her to take precautions against these types of things here.

  • Mori

    Squeaky wheel gets the grease … I’m honestly sick of hearing this, as if it’s going to happen to every foreigner just because they’re foreign. I wish the Japan Times could find commentators who weren’t so full of their gaijin selves. One only has to look at the poll results to see that this woman is just another squeaky wheel.

  • Hanten

    I love living in Japan for so many reasons but sadly, the general attitudes towards women and foreigners is not one of them. As a foreign woman, that makes my life a little difficult at times.
    Like Ms Lanasolyluna, I’ve been treated in a criminal fashion by a small number of men and the authorities have done little to nothing. The early instances of stalking, groping and theft happened when my Japanese was very limited, but even the corresponding phrase in my phrasebook was laughed off embarrassedly by the police. Luckily, none of these incidences left me feeling particularly unsafe, just angry and confused. More recently, I had to report several cases of sexual harassment at work, some of which left me feeling physically unsafe. Only after multiple complaints in each case was the guy in question told off, while I was counseled to dress in a less attractive fashion. Half a dozen of my female Japanese workmates also experienced similar treatment from the same men. None of them complained to the management because they believed, as they told me, it wouldn’t do achieve anything. Here’s the kicker, the sexual harassers were all foreign men. Some of our male workmates knew what was going on and did nothing, while admitting that some of the perpetrators’ behaviour would see them sacked in a Western country.
    Perhaps, living in a country that looks the other way as women and foreigners are abused, assaulted or harassed makes it more likely for a man to do that. Even our noble white knights.

  • ヽ(´ー`)┌ Annigiri

    I feel like sharing my intense experiences with you, but I’m german and my english is average. So, I’m sorry.

    For example inside a train, there was me and my friend sitting in front of a there guy in his thirties, Japanese citizen. He was obviously shooting a video, zooming at my breasts. (I’m having a D-cup). I know Its unusual, seeing bigger breasts compared to average Japanese proportions, but I felt very uncomfortable knowing that.

    Also there was a stranger at Yokohama following three girls, me included, through the popular sightseeing streets.
    We noticed his interest and kept an eye on him, because we saw him several times there this day.
    After we entered a Chinese shop, I saw him right in front of the entrance, pants open, hand obviously inside, masturbating. Sadly I’m not joking, I saw him right in the eyes, but that kept him turned on. We don’t know what to do, bechause I am taught to raise my voice if something like that would happen in my Country.
    We couldn’t do anything about it, no one wanted to interfere with this awkward situation and prefered to do nothing and we followed them beeing silent.

    The biggest thing I personally where involved in was a Shared Apartment for Women Only, the Owner was very nice, in his zwenties, fluent in English, his Girlfriend is french and he even runs a conversation Cafè for foreigeners in Tokyo.
    In fact, he was very trustworthy. He even invited us several times to join party events with his friends and other foreigeners during the time we stayed in Tokyo.
    Because he was partying all the time and seemed to be very busy with his Apartment rentals and the Cafe, he wasn’t suspicous while he entered the Apartment during the night sometimes, always about 5 o’clock in the morning, and cleaned the dishes. Again, he seemed very polite and nice, but quite informal. You see, we noticed almost nothing, but after we returned home, a friend of us, who also stayed at the Apartment (which we strongly recommended, because it was big, clean and cheap.) told us about how they cought him adjusting webcams inside the bathroom…

    After they called the police, he confessed, taping videos via hidden cameras for two years now.
    They took his Computer and harddrives to the office, but they found nothing.
    It was stupid, thinking that a confession is relevant to sue him.
    I even contacted the German embassy in Japan, if there is something we can do about this incident. But it would have been very expensive and hard to sue someone 9000km far away.
    I hoped for a class-action lawsuit, but nothing had happened since then and he obviously continued the rental of the Apartments, the Cafè and even got engaged with his french girlfriend.
    We know NOTHING about the video material, if it was sold on the internet, in which other rooms they where installed, or if it was for private use.
    But why would this woman want to marry him, if it was for private use.
    He just changed his official Name. I would happily announce the Website and the Name now..

    I feel violated and upset about what has happend to the girls who stayed there, maybe doesn’t even know about that.

  • usagibakari

    On my first trip to Japan I was walking along a busy street in central Osaka when I saw man beating his wife behind the counter of their small vegetable shop. I went in and started talking to the man in my very limited Japanese telling him to stop. He did, and left his wife curled up in a ball on the floor, protecting her head with her hands and crying. Her head was almost bald on the top and she looked like she had suffered years of abuse from her husband.

    A few years later I found myself in her situation as my now ex Japanese boyfriend beat me and broke my ribs because I wouldn’t eat the dried octopus legs he had brought home (I have severe food allergies). I ran out of his apartment and screamed for help in both English and Japanese. This lasted for about 6 hours and nobody helped me or called the police. I didn’t report it to the police because I had read horror stories online of foreigners reporting crimes and then being denied re-entry into Japan because they had been labeled a “troublemaker” by police. I was terrified of this affecting my chances of getting a work visa so I said nothing.

    There have been other minor stuff that has happened to me. Men slowing down their cars to have a longer stare, following me around shops, being stopped on my bike in a dark, empty parking lot by some pervert making comments about my body and wanting a date. But these things piss me off more than scare me.

    I’m from Scotland. I’m very pale, tall and have blonde hair so I couldn’t stand out more if I tried but I still feel a lot safer walking around Japan alone at night than I do in Scotland. Foreign women DEFINITELY attract more freaks and weirdos than Japanese women do. Sometimes I get really sick of being stared at so I go out in “disguise”. I dress more boyish with baggy t-shirts, hide my hair in a baseball cap and pull it down over my eyes. The staring and attention instantly reduces by about 90%.

    As a result of my experiences I now carry an rape alarm and wear a nice leather and metal belt tied around my waist that doubles nicely as a choking device. I’ve never had to use it yet, but if I do I’ll be dragging that fucker by his neck to the nearest police station. Part of the problem with Japanese men’s behaviour is that they know they’ll get away with it so they feel free to treat women any way they like. I have been witness to it, been a victim of it, and perpetrated it by not reporting it myself. Both foreign and Japanese women need to start reporting these crimes, even if nothing comes from it, our voices need to be heard that we will not accept being treated in this way by men.

    • Expat77

      “Part of the problem with Japanese men’s behaviour is that they know they’ll get away with it so they feel free to treat women any way they like.”

      J-privilege in a nutshell.

  • PEPO MOKU

    Honestly,I’m a woman who always travel alone in Japan.

    For
    many times that I walk alone at night in Tokyo (and other city in
    Japan),I always feel safe and thinking freely. Only one time in late
    night that a young Japanese guy and his friend (gangster look) tried to
    talk to me.However,I pretend that I didn’t hear anything then he gave up
    and walk away.

    In my opinion,most of Japanese people don’t
    wanna talk with the foreigner, due to their culture,manner and
    language.They’re not bad or unkind but they prefer “safe city and
    privacy” Sometime you might wonder that “why they’re so serious?”

    My friends who living and study in Japan used to get serious problem with the police just because his friend sit behind the bicycle rider or bike light broke.

    I strongly believe that Japan is the safe city for woman.We also can walk & jogging in night time.

    However,nowadays
    Japanese Government decided to relax visa rule for foreigner.Many
    people in my country can entry Japan easily without visa and tried to
    live illegally in Japan and maybe some people from other nation do the
    same thing.

    Yes! I worry that soon Japan night not safe as the past but I still trust in efficacy of Japan police anyway.

  • Jamie Bakeridge

    You carry mace?????? WTF?? Mace is an offensive weapon – do you have any idea how serious an offense that is in Japan?

    • Expat77

      A bigger offense than sexual assault?

      Thank you for succinctly outlining what the problem here is.

    • Children Of Nephilim

      People are allowed to carry mace and even Tasers over here.

  • mattoELITE

    As a white boy who lived in Japan for a few years, these kind of articles are semi-hilarious to me, given how obvious it was that white women (even more so than white guys) simply loved the attention that they received while living there. If it was as bad as they continually complained, they would have gone home a LONG time ago instead of sticking it out.

    It’s the same as all the long-timer, balding guy expats over there who sit and complain about every. little. thing about Japan and how much better things are in (Country X) yet make no effort to leave because they know they have “gaijin power” over there. Nothing funnier than a bitter foreigner living in Japan for 10 years who still only knows buzzwords like “sugoi” and “kawaii” and spends their days in gaijin bars belittling every single negative about the country yet doesn’t want to return to their loser status back in the Western world.

    • Expat77

      “If it was as bad as they continually complained, they would have gone home a LONG time ago instead of sticking it out.”

      And there you have it: male privilege at its worst. You’re basically saying that these women were “asking for it.” Good job, you’ve found the lowest possible point this comment thread can reach. You are officially the worst.

      Stop reading PUA sites and you know, read a book or something.

    • Children Of Nephilim

      Correction, SOME women enjoy attention as long as it’s non-threatening. If I were to use your logic, then I could say women enjoy being raped since they “love the attention” they’re getting.

      See how stupid your logic is?

    • Hanten

      “If it was as bad as they continually complained, they would have gone home a LONG time ago instead of sticking it out.”
      Do you think perhaps that it’s possible to love living in a country while still having some legitimate complaints about it? I enjoy lots of things about Japan but having my arse fondled by a stranger on the train isn’t one of them. So, no, I have never “simply loved” the negative attention that being a blonde foreign women here sees me attract. Your response is typical “blame the victim” laziness and as Expat77 male privilege at its silliest.
      How about your start using your power for good now? What are you going to do if you see someone being assaulted on the train or harassed on the street?

    • Holly Lanasolyluna

      I find it sad that the crux of the story, someone being attacked, is semi-hilarious to you. I have gotten a lot of attention in many countries simply because I have blue eyes and light hair, but it doesn´t mean I ask to be attacked. Not every woman I talked to was white and many of them are doing important research or are married to Japanese men, so they can´t just up and leave. I love Japan, but it doesn´t mean I have to stay quiet about every issue I might find troubling.

  • Mary Anne Hanna

    What happened to the Japanese spirit? Isn’t there any chivalry in Japan. Sad.

  • miscJax

    This doesn’t surprise me. A Japanese man drove past me while I was walking my dog. He slowed down to roll down his window to show off that he was masterbating and.watching porn on his GPS/tv system. I immediately reported him and his license plate to the police. I am female US military and always hearing about military getting in trouble, but somehow never manage to hear about some of the things that are committed by Japanese. Although his public indecency is relatively minor in the scheme of crimes, I felt it an important data point to add to whatever databases there are. I did not feel threatened at any point, but did hold back from doing society a favor and kicking the pervert’s ass. The police told me to stay in at night and consider walking my dog at a different time…I believe because I was female. They didn’t say anything about the offender. They also wrote that I had seen an Asian man instead of a Japanese man, even though he was (to me) obviously Japanese. I found all of this insulting. I still consider Japan in general safer than most countries, but the racism and masked sexism become apparent in many situations. This is only one of several that I have observed from Japanese officials.

  • Siobhean Gribbin

    I grew up in Japan in the 70s and 80s when there was a tendency for blonde gaijin women to be looked upon like sex objects because of the European porn. I´m sure Filipinas and Thai women probably suffer from a stereo type as well due to sex tourism. I got comments and gropers but I am 178 cm tall so was never scared. Japan is safe and sexual harassment, unfortunately, happens everywhere. It is always more frightening if you do not understand the perpetrator or don´t have the language skill yourself to control the situation. I doubt that the statistics are worse for foreign women, it is just that Japanese women put up with it as they don´t know any different. For the cowards that do this kind of thing, it is the fear that they evoke which is the turn on. In a packed morning train I shouted in Japanese “whoever is behind me stop moving your hand” – it worked. If women feel like victims, we have to help ourselves. We can´t not do anything and complain that nobody else solves the problem (obviously I mean non violent incidents and not assault or rape)

  • Matthias Lehmann

    I don’t mean to negate her experiences or those of other women – foreign or Japanese – but no government figures or other sources or peer-reviewed research articles are included here. Sentences like “I have always known that Japan had perverts” are problematic,
    even if she adds “like anywhere”. She writes that she doesn’t want to jump to conclusions – but I’m afraid she did indeed. At least the title, the byline, and several passages in the piece suggest she did.

    Government figures certainly wouldn’t reflect the actual number of
    incidents, but that is true for any such figures in any country. The
    government still is one possible source for data, as are community
    organisations, for example, or academics doing research on such matters. Lanasolyluna chose not to include either, and that is why I feel the article lacks sufficient ground on which to make her assumptions.

    Sexual violence against women is not just a problem in Japan, nor are racism or situations where passers-by ignore calls for help. Foreigners (= migrants) in any country are at a significant risk of being victims of all sorts of crimes or misfortunes and often enough have less access to help, e.g. because of language barriers, lack of training of law enforcement, and other reasons. (That’s probably one of the reasons why South Korea recently introduced a new tourism police unit.)

    As I said above, I do not mean to take anything away from Lanasolyluna’s experiences or those of other women who came forward following her Facebook post. I still think that the conclusion that Japan is no safe country for foreign women is one that she made too quickly, at least based on the evidence she produced here, and on the one hand, one could say, who could blame her? Those experiences must have quite scared her and would scare or even traumatise many, if not most or all people. On the other hand, it is a generalisation based on anecdotal evidence and it singles out a country as a whole without any frame of reference, neither where Japan itself is concerned or in comparison to other countries. If you state country x is unsafe for foreign women, the
    underlying implication is that other countries are, wouldn’t you say?

    The two comparisons she did make – Mexico and Barcelona – also bothered me. If you look into the experiences of women of colour in those places, they, too, might well qualify as places unsafe for foreign women – just probably different foreign women than Lanasolyluna.

    By the way, I’ve made my own experiences with law enforcement officers in other countries, both good and bad ones. And while I would probably
    relay my experiences to friends and acquaintances, I think publishing an
    article in a newspaper with my assumptions, regardless if they are positive or negative, is another thing and something I wouldn’t do
    without looking deeper into the issue(s).

  • acaiacai

    I don’t have a problem with your story and in fact believe it is eye-opening and no one should shame you for sharing it. I do have a problem with how some people might interpret it, many, in fact will likely judge an entire society/race/men based on your negative experience/story. That’s not your fault of course. The same terrible abuse like this happens to immigrant women/domestic workers/regular women in the U.S.A. every day. The subtle but crucial difference, is that it won’t make everyone judge and proclaim all white American men to be sexual beasts and predators and make blanket judgements on American society.

    Whereas since your stories involve Japanese men, men of color(who historically have been stereotyped/demonized as sexual predators of white women by white men) might not be given the same leniency as what is given to white American men who are judge as individuals rather than as an entire race. Thus some people will take your examples and under one convenient umbrella eagerly label all men of color, whether Japanese men, or Black men to be perverts and predators and nothing else.

    That is the danger I see with how people react to these types of stories. That possibility of people stereotyping other races shouldn’t stop you from sharing you story with others as a warning to women to always be on their guard wherever they live or travel in the world. You mentioned that you have a Japanese boyfriend who worries and cares for you, but it’s interesting that no one will notice that one detail. Men treating women badly isn’t soley a Japanese society problem, it’s a problem the world over.

    For me, as an Asian female, Japan was so different, in a positive way, I was treated with respect, like an equal and like a daughter to many of the Japanese people there, men and women alike, strangers or colleagues. This doesn’t mean I let go of my guard and expected everything to be safe in Japan. Having grown up in a rough neighborhood most of my life, I don’t even know how to operate without my guards on high. However everyone has a different experience in life and just because my Japanese experience is different from yours, doesn’t mean yours is less valid.

    • Children Of Nephilim

      She didn’t say that all are like this, but she needs to make people aware that Japan isn’t 100% safe like people think. Maybe if people were more aware that there are sexual predators and murderers in this country, we would have less rapes and deaths due to the fact that people wouldn’t be as lulled into a false sense of security. Take Lindsay Hawker as an example, would she have gone into a strange man’s house in Britain? I very much doubt it.

      Not only does this bring awareness to others who may want to visit and bring awareness to Japanese citizens who can read English, but this article lets us know that we’re not the only ones, and with that, more people, foreign women and perhaps even Japanese women, can start to take a stand against this kind of treatment.

      • SJ

        “Take Lindsay Hawker as an example, would she have gone into a strange man’s house in Britain? I very much doubt it.”

        Very valid point!

  • alexoi

    The Japanese watch TV-series about criminal western people all the time. No wonder they look at foreigners this way. It was the same 10 years ago! And I can imagine it has gone worse!

  • http://www.sheldonthinks.com/ andrew Sheldon

    Oh after 3 years in Japan, I actually forgot to mention this in my earlier post, bizarre because it occurred, but also because of my ex-GF’s response. This is hinterland Tokyo. Poor Japanese old guy comes to door. Her ex-GF accidentally opens it. In Japanese he is offering her all-manner of cleaning products and toilet paper. Insistently telling her to take them. This was in Japanese, so I had no idea what was going on. She is pretty conservative (as I would eventually learn), so she tells me later that she has signed up for a newspaper subscription. Surprised! “I’ve never seen you read a newspaper”. The newspaper distribution company calls up asking if anyone has extorted this subscription from you. She said indolently ‘no’. I was so mad at her for being so weak. She does however have to work home at nights. But it showed me a side of Japan I never knew existed, and how Japanese women are so fearful. That’s why she doesn’t answer the door. Anyway, my point being – its not just Western women. In fact, I think a lot of Japanese will be intimidated by Westerners ‘aggressiveness’.

  • Glen Douglas Brügge

    I think this illusion comes from the idea that things like murder, theft, break ins etc., or the lack thereof, make Japan a safer place – and that is certainly true. But it does not really take into the account such things as sex crimes. I am certain their is considerable under-reporting, and this “shikataganai” attitude toward them does not help either. I am a 6 foot plus male, and never had any issues – but I heard plenty of weird stories from females; everything from stolen panties to old guys propositioning them with porn – to a male friend being mistaken for a woman on a crowded train and being humped by another fellow (that was a bit of a laugh).

  • Glen Douglas Brügge

    There are female police; although I am not sure if they would be any more sympathetic. I never had any bad run ins with the cops, other than to check my bicycle registration. Although I did have a pal, who lived in the same area, and he did not have a good experience with them.

  • Mike Wyckoff

    Are you serious?
    You haven’t been here long enough if you still call the police box a konban.

  • Lara

    I lived in Fukuoka for about ten weeks & only had one occurrence of an attack. I was out at midnight on my way back to my dorm after a school party. Sadly I had missed the last train so I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know the way back by foot because I had always taken the subway to school. I could have gone to a net cafe for the night that was close by but I didn’t exactly know where it was. I just knew the area it was in. I approached a cab to see if they took debit cards because I wanted what cash I had on me to last me the rest of the week due to atm fees & the foreign exchange rate not being in my favor. The taxi did not sadly, so I walked away to further consider my options when a drunken middle aged Japanese man came up to me & started talking to me. My Japanese at the time wasn’t bad so I understood most of what he was saying but the drunken slur made it harder for me. He kept hovering around me saying “cute” & running his hands down my sides. He asked me where I was living & I lied saying that I lived on the other side of town which I had been living in previously. He said it was close to his place & was trying to get me into a taxi with him. He kept saying in English “marry with me.” He eventually approached the taxi that was in front of the one I had gone to & I ran to the one from earlier. I got in & asked how much to where I lived – thankfully I had the money. He asked me if I was ok but he nor the other taxi drivers ever came out to help me.
    Despite this, I still felt a lot safer in Japan than I have in the U.S. especially at that time of night. I still also love Japan dearly but I don’t think I’ll ever be out late like that again by myself.

  • Mike Wyckoff

    Very well written, my thoughts echoed throughout !

  • Mike Wyckoff

    And who said the Yakuza don’t serve a purpose!

  • Michelle

    While I was on an exchange to Japan last year, I was walking home from the bus stop, it was very dark and there was a lot of snow. Then this car pulled over and the (old) man started screaming to me. When I ignored, he followed me by car and I was so scared so I started running.
    I have always felt safe, but from that moment on, I was more careful, and like in my own home country, I would just look a few times over my shoulder.

  • Kayci A. Harris

    I’m sorry this happened.

    I go to Japan often and speak Japanese. But in the bigger cities, I never let myself be alone.

    However, one time in a mid-sized town that was hosting fireworks in Kitakyusyu, I got separated from my best friend at the time. I was approached quickly by two gents trying to pick me up with horrid English, not thinking I spoke Japanese. They scared me off and I wasn’t so polite, but luckily a friend found me an dragged me away.

    In tokyo, I stay with my friends. PERIOD. I probably would have been groped if my friend didn’t huddle me and hold me around my stomach to look like a couple showing too much PDA…I got the stares that hinted strongly at darker intentions.

    I still love Japan, but if I’m not in a small town (showing Izunokuni, Shizuoka some love)
    I have to be careful

  • Akira Kurebayashi

    I read all the comments over. As a Japanese myself, it is extremely embarrassing to hear this kind of stories – the Japanese guys grope women on trains, show off masturbation to them. I have to admit that, yes there are heaps of perverts in Japan. Although I hate to be stereotyped, when I’m out of Japan sometimes, as a pervert just because of my nationality, nevertheless, as long as these incidents are going on for real, it’s sad but I have no say about it.

    I don’t mean to defend the Japanese, but I think the reason why white women are sometimes objectified in a blatant manner is because of the higher availability of the American porn for some decades postwar; in comparison with the Japanese counterparts. It’s not the case today, but I’ve read a book about history of Japanese magazines which says this fact. Since there were not many foreigners, especially the white women some decades ago, and there were few occasions getting to know them for real, they were, though extremely moronic, related to pornographic image. As a result of that, I guess, some of the Japanese, especially those over their 40′s lacks intelligence, have kept distorted idea towards them and perpetrate the stupidities.

    On the other hand, however, now that I’m out of Japan at the moment, I’ve met some Japanese girls who have been through exactly the same annoyance. One girl let me know that when she walked down the road, which is supposed to be the safe road because it’s located just in front of uni, guys shout out from a car passing through like ‘can I f**k you!?’ Another Japanese girl told me that she was asked by her friend sober the same thing and got groped, though she could somehow avoid being raped. Concerning this one of my friends born and lived here for twenty years let me know some of the guys prefer to watch the Japanese porn and stupidly enough they assume real Japanese girls are the same, they have distorted image about them.

    Sorry for my repetition but I don’t mean to defend the Japanese. What I want to suggest is, instead, Japan take initiative to terminate it because Japan is supposed to be a safe country and it was one of the main reasons why Japan could win the bids for Olympic games. Olympic is going to be a turning point for Japan – the government has been trying to terminate yakuza by the means of stricter law enforcement; has been trying sorting out nuclear disaster issues as soon as possible. I sincerely hope the government includes in it the judicial system reformation and issues women are facing in Japan.

    • 思德

      I think you make a valid point. Pornography is awful. I was addicted to it for a few years as a child, thankfully I’m free of that garbage. It does shape how you perceive women.

      A lot of American men see Asian women in a similar kind of sexual fantasy sort of way. It’s awful, I guess the only thing we can do is train our sons to not be brutes and have some respect for women and foreigners in general.

    • Holly Lanasolyluna

      I think your point about pornography is a really good one, and one I hadn´t even thought about. Personally, I don´t think all or even most Japanese men are perverts (my boyfriend is the sweetest boy I´ve ever known and his friends are like family to me). I think a small percentage make a bad reputation for the rest, but people who think critically recognize that people are individuals. Thanks so much for contributing your ideas to this discussion, and don´t feel embarrassed as long as you don´t act that way towards other women.

      • Gordon Graham

        What makes a bad reputation for the rest is hysterical overreaction to bicycle theft accusation!

      • blondein_tokyo

        Hysterical? She had GOOD REASON to be hysterical! If a strange man accosted me on the street and started yelling and trying to grab my bicycle from me, dammed straight I’d be hysterical!

        For all she knew, the nutter could pull out a knife or suddenly start beating on her. Any kind of physical confrontation, which this WAS, has the potential to turn violent. We’ve all read the stories of crazies who pulled a knife on people for lesser reasons, so it is just smart to be hyper vigilant. Anyone who would not be afraid in that situation is either a 6′ tall MAN with a black belt in karate, or an idiot.

        Seriously, Gordon, this is the second comment where I’ve seen you specifically accusing women of being “hysterical” when they report crime, as if there is no reason for them to be upset! That is just *nauseating*.

      • Gordon Graham

        Well, I read YOUR story about a guy who pulled a butcher knife…I guess there are a lot of stories out there, so you should be cautious of both crazed knife wielders and story tellers. As for how I would feel about someone grabbing my bike and accusing me of stealing it…I guess some people have a lower threshold of what they consider to be trauma.

      • Gordon Graham

        I suppose some people have a different threshold for trauma. I grew up in a violent city in a violent area. I’ve been beaten and robbed more than once…badly. I’m sorry if I sound callous, but having your bicycle tire grabbed and being accused of stealing it does not register as traumatic on my scale of experience.

      • blondein_tokyo

        Well, I hate to say it, but you do sound callous. You can’t judge others reactions by your own personal yardstick of alarm. It’s an unfair comparison, particularly when you’re used to a certain level of violence, and when you’re a guy- you have height and weight and strength women don’t have. As a result, women generally feel and ARE more vulnerable than most guys are – especially compared to a guy who has learned to fight.

        It’s not fair to sit in judgment on Holly or any other person who IS intimidated in those situations, because it is not their fault they don’t have the same life experiences as you.

        You also have to trust them to know what they can, and cannot handle on their own – it’s *not* hysterical to be afraid when a strange man grabs you on a street at night. In fact, it’s SMART. The police themselves tell women to go ahead and *over*react, to trust their instincts. If they don’t, they might just end up dead.

      • Ronald Wimberly

        I wouldn’t waste my time replying to someone who can’t even bother to read a whole post before commenting on it. There’s hope for gordon, but he’ll have to start reading first. And he’ll have to realize the role his own privilege plays in his experience and his perception of the world. Until then, his comments are good for mild amusement at best, destructive at worst

      • Ronald Wimberly

        bad institutions/culture make good people complicit in bad things.

    • KaiHarate

      This has nothing to do with porn. The west as lots of porn yet things are 100 times better in the west for women than 30 years ago when porn was very hard to get (and only a very rebellious person would dare buy it or have it). And if anyone taught porn to the other, Japan had porn before America was a country. There were only soldiers in Japan after the war and they got Japanese porn they did not bring American porn into Japan like you suggested. American porn in America was not common at all until 1970s and even then there was not much so certainly it was not available in Japan more than Japanese porn. American porn in Japan was extremely rare until internet became common (about 2000).

      I want to be clear. Japan is a good country with some great stuff. I love Japan. But every country has bad things. This topic focuses on Japan, not America or some other place. It is a real problem. On Japan Times website there is another link asking Japanese and foreign women if they feel safe in Japan. 7 females. 5 told stories of having Japanese men follow them or do creepy/scary thing. If Japan is so amazingly safe for women, why did majority have a scary story? I suspect millions of Japanese women have similar stories of groping, harassment, disrespect, beating, verbal harassment, etc., never reported to police or ignored by police.

      This isn’t about sex, anime, porn. Harassment against women is a dominance using threat of or actual violence. It is more common in societies where government, police, society value men’s position and reputation more than woman’s. It’s about a society where men are dominant and use dominance to keep female equality low. World Health Organization came out with a list of best countries for women. Iceland was first place. They have porn and anime. Japan came in shocking low place with poor 3rd world countries. Japan is the worst developed nation to be a female. This can’t be ignored when discussing this topic. In societies like that, women are seen as less intelligence and weaker. They are not taken seriously. They are seen as easy targets when a men feels a rage or crazy urge. they are encouraged to play supporting roles to men. They are encouraged to stay girls. Japan is filled with high pitched voices that are common with teens yet in Japan it’s not uncommon to hear a 40 year old women speak like a confused teenager. This puts them in a dangerous role of being seen as weak and vulnerable. When government and police don’t take women seriously, it creates a dangerous atmosphere where men can feel a good chance they can get away with aggression to women. And in Japan this is true more so than other developed nations. It’s still a problem in America, but it also is very common now for female to say “this happened to me!” and the police take it seriously as does society.

      Japanese have fooled themselves about how safe it is compared to other safe countries. It’s not safer than most Nordic countries and it is not safer than several other countries. If you take out the very poor sections of America (about 20% of the land mass), America easily is as safe as Japan. But Japanese believe a myth about themselves they are safest. Statistically they are safest because they don’t document crime as much as other developed nations do. Their statistics don’t reflect reality. In America if you breath on someone the wrong way and that person calls the police, you better have a good reason/explanation or they will write a report and document it. Women in Japan just know it isn’t worth reporting many different things because nobody will take it seriously. Many Japanese women never report serious crimes against them such as rape, domestic violence, muggings. Violence or various harrassment against women in Japan is as common, or more, than developed nations. It is done in secret and kept a secret so it is not a statistic that can be documented. This sends a very dangerous message to the percentage of Japanese men who are potentially dangerous. It gives them a bold feeling they can do it and not get in serious trouble.

      The author tells of two frightening stories. These are not small things as some are trying to suggest. They are very strange and both were potentially extremely dangerous. The Osaka incident describes a long street battle not a drunken idiot harassing for a minute or two. That must have been terrifying. Nobody helped her or called police. If a 10 minute struggle for a Japanese woman happened on a busy street in Singapore, Melbourne, Toronto, New York, or Paris it would be headline news. People witnessing it would have rescued her and called the police who would have rushed fast to the scene and definitely arrested the man. The entire city would be be shocked for 2 reasons: 1) she was nearly carried off to be raped so blatantly on a busy street 2) nobody helped her. In Japan, this is just a normal Wednesday evening “oops”.

      Every country has dark side and bad things. This is a dark side of Japan that Japanese do not want to take seriously. Pornography is always brought in but it’s a cop out. It’s a completely different topic. It’s an excuse to explain unintentional consequence of pornography. But in most countries where porn is easily available, crime against females are less and reported more. There has never been a correlation between the rise of porn to rise of violence/harassment of females living outside of sex industry world. If anything, there is a suggestion that a society that allows porn is a society that has progressive laws to protect women more and more. Except Japan. And that is part of a reason they list extremely low as places to live as a female.

      Japan is still old world “boys club”. It is 50 years behind in some ways. Teachers don’t go to prison for having sex with 14 year olds. Some don’t even lose their jobs. Police officers rape sometimes and they are simply given a desk job. Bosses still ask cute office girl to have sex with potential client. High school girls in Japan live a dangerous life just walking around some Japanese nut wants to touch them or do much worse. I would be more worried for my niece living in Japan than if she lived in Bronx, New York. She likely would have higher chance of being fondled, touched, groped, physically attacked by a drunk, and no chance of work promotion over a male she is better than. Japan’s excuse for white women being attacked is the same as India gang rape case that involved blond European woman. Japanese women are not gang raped in America because they are seen as little porn stars who want it bad.

      These male dominated issues are why most (I didn’t say all) foreign women hate Japan once they spend a long time there. It’s why many Japanese women are desperate to leave Japan. Again, I’m just focusing on this particular topic and not suggesting Japan is a bad place compared to other places. America has gun violence and other serious issues. But Japan is not safe for women. My only complaint about her article is she said “foreign women”. I understand her need to educate foreign women so she’s not wrong. She should have said “women” and cited endless cases of Japanese girls and women dealing with all sorts of abuses. Female only subway cars are not needed in most progressive, modern cities. There’s not enough of them in Japan according to Japanese females.

      • Akira Kurebayashi

        Thank you for sharing your thought here. I really appreciate that. As you said, it certainly seems that this whole issue is not only about foreign women but also about Japanese women as well. You seem to get the point. But please let me clarify some:

        First, I though it was American porn but it could have been European porn. Anyway it is fact that white female porn were more popular than the Japanese counterparts until 80′s (not exactly sure until when though). Second, my point is not like ‘porn is definitely the only cause of this whole issues’ ,but what I want to suggest, instead, is that it ‘could be’ one of the reasons why white female are likely to be harassed more. Of course your suggestion could be one of the reasons as well though.

        Third, my point of referring to porn is that in countries which have few white women or countries which have few Japanese women, their image is likely to be made up through the exposure of information from media or entertainment, including movie and porn. If you are from America, or some other countries which consist of people from multinational backgrounds, you might not be able to imagine it, but it is really the case. In the foreign city where I mentioned above, there are almost no Japanese women other than international students from Japan. Although many of my white female friends say like ‘here is extremely safe’, nevertheless at least two of my Japanese girl friends let me know that they got harassed. I have to admit its statistical inaccuracy, but it seems that there is a certain difference in frequency between white female students got harassed and Japanese female students got harassed. Considering my friend’s information – some students here prefer to watch Japanese porn and they have distorted image about Japanese women-, it seems to be true that Japanese porn contributes to the harassment case to some extent. As for Japan, still now 98% of the people living in Japan is the indigenous Japanese and 1.2% is from other Asian countries. Which means only 0.8% of the entire population is from countries other than the Asian. Furthermore, considering that many of them are living in metropolitan cities, such as Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka, it is quite likely that most Japanese people have never seen anyone with non-Asian look other than from media or entertainment. Considering the popularity of white female porn until 80′s, some Japanese might have forged deluded image about white women. As a matter of fact, in many of the reports in this comment section, people say they are harassed by Japanese guys around 30′s or 40′s. You can’t deny that there is a certain influence from porn.

        Four, you mentioned ‘WHO’ data but it is actually from ‘World Economic Forum’. Also it is not about the comfortableness for female but instead about gender gap, which are not necessarily interchangeable. The four parameters of this research is below: Economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; political empowerment; health and survival. In this research, Japan is located in higher rank as for the second and the fourth parameter with almost no inequality but not as for the first and the third. I’m not really sure how much you are familiar with Japanese culture but please let me remind you that in Japan the notion of ‘楽にさせてあげたい’, or ‘I want him/her to take a rest’ is widely at work. That often means like ‘I will do my best for you, so please don’t worry about money.’ The working condition in Japan is extremely tough in terms of its long working hours and packed commuter trains accompanying it, so many workers do not want their partners to work unless the partners really want to. I think nobody wants to see their BF/GF exhausted from work unless it’s what they want. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve never had dinner with my father on weekdays. Since my mother loves housework almost to the point of obsession, even though my father suggested that she can work if she likes, she was like ‘I’m proud of my housework, so I don’t want to work anywhere else.’ Sorry for my redundancy but one last thing I want to present is the predictive words on Google which come after ‘専業主婦’, or housewife in English. What do you think it is? The answer is ‘勝ち組’, or winners, and ‘になりたい’ or ‘I want to be’ in English. I can’t say that google predictive words are exactly what all women are thinking, but as long as the algorism shows me these, it seems like many women think in this way and search with these words. I can’t be really sure whether the WEF data about Gender Gap is solely from the male dominance or not. It is just a cultural thing to some extent.

        That being said, it is true that in some cases male dominance is at work. My statement above, especially No.4, is solely out of defense for some Japanese, so please let me remind you again that I don’t mean to deny the fact that there IS male dominance to some extent, which has to be terminated. Sorry if you are offended, but above is what I really think as a Japanese male. I sincerely hope Japan become a better country.

      • Holly Lanasolyluna

        Thanks for such an insightful comment and I agree with you on just about every point. Thank you for realizing the gravity of these situations, since many have completely overlooked that. I didn´t write the article title, but I agree that “women” is probably more appropriate. Anyway, my interpretation of the title was that foreign women, in any country, experience a certain amount of othering and are targeted for sexual violence, even in Japan, a supposedly ultra-safe country.

        While some women feel that they are targeted because of being foreign, it´s absolutely impossible to know, so I didn´t want to draw conclusions, just ask the question. In a short article, it was difficult to address even just the diversity and horror of the experiences so many foreign women shared with me, so clearly there is still a lot to be said on this topic, particularly in regards to the type of sexual violence and domestic violence Japanese women are subjected to.

        As you can see in some of the comments, some women feel that they have it worse being foreign and because the police are not recording the data, it´s very difficult to know. These feelings came up enough in conversations for me to feel like it was worth it to put some sentences in about this topic. Because of “foreign” being in the title, I think people have put a lot of emphasis on these few sentences.

        Japanese women must be having these experiences too, but there is still a real reluctance to share them, understandably. It’s not easy to do, and when you do, as you’ve seen in the comments, some people’s responses are really insensitive. As a foreigner I cannot accurately predict how Japanese women feel about this topic, so I tried to stick to the experiences (which were all foreign) that were shared with me, and the women´s thoughts about them, as well as how people responded when I told my stories. My biggest concern was getting this information out so that hopefully fewer women will have to suffer this type of trauma.

        I truly hope that this article provokes a discussion among Japanese women as well. I am trying to have this article translated into Japanese, so hopefully that will help. I speak Japanese, but I would have trouble discussing something so personal, delicate, and nuanced in Japanese, so admittedly this was and is a barrier for me. Neverthelesss, lots of people have thanked me for sharing my personal stories, so now the discussion has started, and let´s see where it leads!

        Thanks again for your thought-provoking insight.

      • JS

        I know for a fact that Japanese women also have similar problems, since I have heard first-hand accounts from them about these types of issues. Unfortunately, the Japanese concept of “gaman” means they endure these problems silently without complaining about them, as they should.

        This reluctance by Japanese women to openly complain about these problems is compounded by Japan’s culture of shame, and the emphasis Japanese society places on sweeping dirt under the rug and to not air ones dirty laundry in public for all to see.

      • Hanten

        This is one of the best comments I’ve read to this article so far. Until Japan wakes up to the incredible cost of treating all women though they’re less than men, this widespread abuse will continue. The social and economic burden that this creates is massive.

      • Ronald Wimberly

        I like a lot of what you said, but…
        A. You can’t separate america from its poor population and you can’t separate economy from dominance, privilege, race and gender
        B. You can’t separate pornography from the role it plays in the perception of woman, dominance and sexualized violence.
        Those are two VERY important points, but I think a lot of what you said was very valuable.

    • Kurtz25

      You raise an important point. Asian women are horrifically objectified in the West, and are subject to jaw-droppingly-inappropriate and sometimes frightening approaches by Western men. As a university lecturer in the US, I hear the stories from students coming back from a year abroad, to the point that when I find that one of my female students is going to study in the US, I get all paternal and ask where she’s going to be staying, checking the neighborhood out on Google Streetview and saying things like, “I’d avoid this row of houses here, unless you’re with American friends. See these Greek letters on the front? I don’t want to tell you that they’re outright dangerous, but… Until you get a feel for the place, maybe steer clear…”

      Then I feel really old.

    • JTCommentor

      I have heard countless stories by other Asians, including Japanese, in the US having similar or worse experiences. Including men following them showing public masturbation.

      The difference here is its white people being the minority. This is the case with most anti-japan comments I read on this website.

  • missy k

    I’ve been accosted on numerous occasions, and the cops are never sympathetic to gaijin women. Romanticizing Japan fades quickly after the first few times you’re abused there, and no one cares. Bystanders do not even help their own. I’ve personally moved drunken salary men out of harms way, while dozens just walked by.
    It’s just how it is.

  • http://www.japaneseruleof7.com/ Ken Seeroi

    I hate to say it, but Japanese people are masters at ignoring problems, both big and small. The culture is such that if something doesn’t directly concern you, then you don’t get involved.

    Women seem to fare badly as a result of this, as some men take advantage of this situation. I will say that I too have seen men masturbating in the men’s room, in front of other men, completely randomly, on three separate occasions. (Check my site if you want to read about it, but I’d understand if you didn’t.) I have no doubt that it’s far worse for women, and not just foreign women. I’ve heard the same sort of stories from many Japanese women as well.

  • WOTDsctoo

    The scariest part for me is the police’s and public’s unwillingness to help.

    I have a *male* friend who was attacked in his apartment with a kitchen knife by a girl he had been seeing for around two weeks. He fled his apartment in his boxers and contacted the police as soon as he could. They shrugged off the incident as a “fuufu kenka” (domestic dispute) and didn’t offer him any help.

    • blondein_tokyo

      Lack of action towards DV is a huge problem here. My Japanese MIL was slapped and kicked by her boyfriend, and the police just told her to stop making him angry.

      • Happy Knees

        I agree that DV is a huge problem. When I first came to Japan, just walking around, I noticed a few women with black eyes. More than I had noticed in London where I had been living. Only anecdotal I know.
        In New Zealand back in the 80s I think the police treated DV like they do in Japan now. Police policy changed sometime around then so that if there was any evidence of violence in a domestic dispute the police could arrest the suspected perpetrator even if the victim didn’t want to make a complaint. I think the Japanese police need to institute a policy like this to make real change.
        Actually Japanese women need a women’s revolution but I don’t see where that is going to come from.

  • Denny Pollard

    “Do you feel safe while out and about in Japan?” Let understand the situation here 8:30PM, female “white” out by yourself, are you nuts? It would not matter what city in the world you were in this type of crime would still happen, just because you are in Japan does not mean it would not happen. After the fact, what do you want a single police office to do other than take a report just like any other country in the world? So why the Japan bashing?

    I see a trend here in the Japan Times with several “journalists/bloggers” writing about all the bad things here in Japan. As in other countries, foreign women do receive a lot of male attention and are often offered work as hostesses this is not unique to Japan only so why mention that?

    This article and others make it sound like everything that happens in the Tokyo wards is the same all over Japan and that is very wrong. Those of us that live outside the Tokyo wards in the real heart land of Japan see and know a different Japan. I have traveled all over Japan for many years and lived here many. I have noticed a trend of foreigner’s speaking out against Japan in forums like this and not being challenged on it. This article is a bit misleading and written through the eye’s of a western person bias with their western beliefs
    wanting Japan to be as they think it should be seen through their beliefs.

    Lastly, I since a bit of race issues with this article calling out “white” female. Japanese don’t see color as white westerns do so I was put off my this statement to start with. And to answer the question “Do you feel safe while out and about in Japan?” Of course I do. As the saying goes if you are afraid of snakes you will be the first to spot them. Just one opinion like the person that wrote this tale.

    • Guest

      In defense of “Japan bashing,” though, a LOT of people in the world have an overly-rosy view of Japan. Where I come from in America, Japan is like this dream world that everyone wants to visit at least once – usually even people who are otherwise racist and ignorant will claim to “love Japanese culture” and want to visit.

      For a lot of the people who come here, the shock from realizing the reality really brings them down. People aren’t prepared for life here because of it. If we can get the real issues out in the open, people who come here can be prepared for them. Ultimately, a little honesty in “Japan bashing” now can save a lot of bitter gaijin Japan bashing later – or, well, I personally hope so.

      Otherwise, I have to admit that you have a point.

    • blondein_tokyo

      I have every right in the world to criticize Japan as i see fit. As a person who lives here, works here, and pays taxes, I have as much of a right to complain about the treatment I receive as a Japanese person does. Let me ask: if you hear a Japanese woman complaining about the lack of police action in regards to assaults on women, would you accuse HER of “Japan bashing?” Why is only basing when it’s a foreigner saying it? Why is it when I complain about the exact same thing the Japanese women complain about, I suddenly have foreigners breathing down my neck and trying to tell me I have no right to complain?

      Sorry, but you are 100% wrong on this point. We not only have a right to complain, we have a DUTY to speak out and call attention to the problems we see in society and to work together to fix them. Assaults on women are a problem in every country, including Japan, and since I live *here* I am going to continue speaking out and continue complaining until I see something being done.

      I don’t know about you, but I’ve been here for over half my life, and will likely be here for the rest of it. I want to be able to feel safe here, be able to feel the police are on my side, and feel I can rely on them to take action when it is merited. Until then, you will just have to put up with my “Japan bashing”, and tough titty, lady, if you don’t like it.

  • blackpassenger

    Blah blah blah. Regardless of YOUR personal experiences, from a probability standpoint, Japan is far safer than any country in the West. Do strange things happen here. Yes. Here’s an analogy. Flying is the safest means of transportation (well, next to traveling on an elevator). But do air crashes occur? Yes they do.

    • blondein_tokyo

      What’s your point, exactly? I really don’t see one.

    • usagibakari

      The fact that sexual harassment happens to women at all is completely unacceptable!!!!!! And comparing sexual harassment to aviation disasters makes you sound like fucking moron but if you want to go that way, when a plane crashes there is an investigation, sometimes criminal charges are made, and safety standards are improved to prevent future disasters. In Japan when a women is sexually harassed the police do nothing. No investigation, no prosecution, and no change to the law. This is because sexual harassment and domestic abuse are seen as very minor offences. Now you imagine if plane crashes were responded to the same way and imagine the uproar there would be from the public.

  • kikai

    As a foreigner woman in Japan I had my underwear stolen from my apartment once. That made me fell uneasy and reported it to the police although no action was taken that I know of.

  • JS

    Crime does exist in other countries, too. However the difference is that Americans, for example, do not portray or “sell” their country to the rest of the world as one of the safest countries in the world, as the Japanese have a tendency to do.

    It is this myth of safety, societal harmony and “wa”, that many Japanese perpetuate, which should be questioned. Case in point, Tokyo’s Olympic bid repeatedly played up the city’s safety as a key selling point. When American cities have bid for the Olympics, safety is not generally cited as a selling point for those cities.

  • Heather

    I’ve been to various parts of Japan five times for extended periods of time over the last 2 years, and everywhere I go, things are seemingly calm and polite on the surface – until I hit the nearest Lawson and see those erotic magazines next to the fashion ones. I’ve always scratched my head about this extreme imbalance, so even though I blend in nicely with the locals – I’m a Chinese who speaks Japanese – not once have I taken my personal safety for granted. When I go out later than usual, I make sure that I’m either with my travel companion, or walk really fast with a “don’t-piss-me-off” face.

  • mel

    I’ve felt safe for the most part while living in Japan, but then, I’m half-Japanese, fluent in the language, and I’ve only been back in the country for about 2 months (I spent 10 years in the states and came back because I started college). I walk home from the train station at night on dark and fairly empty roads, but living in a generally safe residential area, I never worry; I know I should be more cautious, but I’m already taking the busiest roads as it is, even if they are practically empty by the time I get home. Even I know not to take small alleys or anything like that, though.

    I do agree that foreign women are objectified here. I was offered a job as a hostess on my way to work the other day in Ginza and it still annoys me, and I get stared at on trains a lot, not only by children or teenagers but even by adults (and they continue even when I stare back to show that I can see them!). I’ve had nampa happen to me too, and I’m sure it’s just because I look foreign. People also often assume I can’t speak or understand Japanese and talk about me right in my presence, and though it’s usually not bad, it still reminds me that to them, I’m not Japanese – the comments are usually about my curly hair, my big eyes, or my (supposedly) long legs.

    When I see posters and advertisements in Japan featuring foreign or part-foreign celebrities and models, it just makes me think: would they have been scouted/become famous if they didn’t look foreign? It’s the same with us normal people; we wouldn’t get half the attention we do now if we just looked Japanese.

    • 思德

      You know it’s weird, I live in a small town and as many times as I take the train here I have never felt stared at, yet in Tokyo there were a couple of occasions where I felt I was being stared at and it was uncomfortable (I am a guy, I was traveling with my mother at the time in Tokyo).

  • Notsorryinsaitama

    The very title of your article suggests crime is limited to foreign women (read: white women). Despite the terrible cormac McCarthy pun, the article, in all seriousness tries to paint herself as a much maligned victim. Congrats! In fleeing the scene as a woman suggested calling the police you went from victim to suspect.

  • Lisa Elise Yamabe

    My image of Tokyo is unsafe; because there are a lot of people. Place with a lot of people-especially people who are busy, ignores everything they see. With the effect of bystander, mostly Japanese people don’t do anything. (I as a Japanese do the same thing sometimes-which is unintentionally) Thank you for sharing your experience in Tokyo and Osaka. The point that you made about Osaka was so surprising, in the morning. I feel so sad that the reality of the security in Japanese is not as safe as the image input in the foreign countries. I-even felt really unsafe when walking back to my home from my station when I had an experience of being molested…

  • squish

    Although I’ve received nothing of the level of harrassment portrayed in the passage above, I’ve been in Japan for three months. I am a white female, and within the first week of me moving to a rural town in Kyushu, I was sitting in a mall when a random Japanese man approached me and sprayed my chest with cooling spray, and then cheekily walked off. I was in utter shock, and when I told a Japanese coworker about it, she just responded with “Really? Are you sure he was Japanese? He sounds like he wasn’t.” Since I’ve been here I was informed that the two white females who were my predecessors both had Japanese men stalk them. I personally have been advised never to walk home at night on my own and have been specifically told that because I was “blonde and foreign looking I was always in danger.” I’m not going to lie, as a new member of the Japanese expat community who had been told multiple times just how safe Japan is… it’s been a bit of a shock. I so far have never felt that my life was in any danger, however it’s good that articles like this are written so awareness can be spread. I for one make sure to be a lot more cautious when I’m travelling anywhere at night now, rather than blindly wandering the streets trusting all the “Japan is the safest country in the world,” comments. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, isn’t it?

  • 10yen

    While this particular article is from the viewpoint of a white-female, I know that, as a foreign female in Japan myself, that sexual harassment here is not uncommon. I’m glad this article was posted because I feel like there is not much open conversation about this topic. While sexual harassment and assault is usually tied up in gender politics and racial discrimination, I hope that this conversation can move beyond petty in-fighting and really become a place for women and those who have experienced harassment to air out and discuss the issue.

  • https://researchprojectkorea.wordpress.com/ Matthias Lehmann

    To clarify: what I criticise are generalisations based on anecdotal evidence, which in itself, I have no doubt is correct, just as I think that it is commendable that
    she wants to start a dialogue that might help to create greater awareness by the public, law enforcement and policy makers and help prevent such incidents in the future.

    Just because I disagree with generalisations, doesn’t mean that I dismiss the problems among law enforcement officers, the negligence among policy makers, or the problems that do exist with statistics. I am faced with these very problems on a regular basis.

    • JS

      As many posters here have pointed out, the Japanese Police do not register data about crimes commited against non-Japanese victims. This is a typically Japanese method of dealing with problems, by manipulating, denying, ignoring and sweeping those things under the rug which may reflect poorly on Japan to the outside world. Hence, one needs to treat all statistics and data coming out of Japan with skepticism and suspicion.

      Faced with such a situation, it is perfectly valid to go by victims’ personal accounts of crimes commited against them and the Japanese Police’s response (or, lack therefore) when these crimes are brought to their attention, especially when these accounts are corroborated by scores of non-Japanese victims.

      • lasolitaria

        I work as a translator of Japanese news for a foreign news feed service. I’ve found many reports of enforcement actions against sexual attackers. Since the particulars of the victim are seldom released (save current address and age), I can’t assure whether the victims are foreigners or not but I have enough evidence that sexual attacks are addressed in Japan. You may confirm what I say by reading any major Japanese newspaper any day and you’ll most likely find at least one of such reports. However, that’s pointless to you, seeing as you propose that we disregard “all statistics and data coming out of Japan” and go by anecdotal evidence -and in so doing you cleverly neutralize all possible evidence against your claim coming from the only sources, i.e. Japanese ones, that provide information relevant to the issue, i.e. crime against non-Japanese in Japan. I’m not saying your claims are false, I’m saying your logic is flawed.

        Even if we rely only on anecdotal evidence from victims, it’s still a huge generalization to say Japan is unsafe for women, let alone foreign women, because when you say Japan is unsafe for women, there is, As Matthias
        said, an underlying implication that other countries are safe for women or at least safer than Japan, the former being blatantly false and the latter being highly debatable -if not just preposterous. If what you want is to raise awareness, a more proper premise would be “Japan is unsafer for women than [or not as safe for women as] it is believed because sexual attacks against women happen there more often than you’ve been led to think”. But a premise like “Japan is unsafe for FOREIGN women because Japanese male sexual attackers are especially inclined to target foreign women and always get away with it while enforcement agencies just look the other way” is unwarranted, alarmist and kind of racist, too.

      • blondein_tokyo

        Racism goes both ways, you know. Foreign women are hyper-sexualized in Japan though porn and comics. That’s why we get treated differently than Japanese women do- they think foreign women are all slutty, and so treat us like “bad girls”. Being blonde and big-breasted, I get rude and sexually harassing comments all the damn time. My female Japanese friends experience it as well, but not at the same rate. They have all expressed dismay and embarrassment that this happens to me so often.

        Actually, the same thing happens to foreign men- especially black men. Loco In Yokohama (check out his blog) wrote a book about his experiences with racism in Japan. One of the points he mentioned was being hypersexualized – he said he constantly gets asked about his penis size and how many girlfriends he has. This is NOT NORMAL. Foreign women – and men- absolutely do get treated differently in Japan.

        It is also not racist to criticize the police for not taking sex crimes seriously. This is a world-wide problem, and when compared to other first world countries such as the US and the UK, Japan is WAY behind on dealing with sex crimes. There are few female officers, and male officers do not have proper training to deal with female victims of sex crimes. Hell, rape victims are forced to re-create the crime while MALE police officers watch! They re-traumatize the victim. Japan has a LONG way to go when it comes to how they address sex crimes.

      • lasolitaria

        “Foreign women are hyper-sexualized in Japan though porn and comics.”
        “Being blonde and big-breasted, I get rude and sexually harassing comments all the damn time.”
        Seriously? These comments of yours are incredibly biased. You cannot in good sense blame Japan for “hypersexualizing” White, blonde, big-breasted women when the West has been doing the same thing for centuries since before the Japanese society at large even became aware of the fact that such women existed! Western countries like the US champion the world in objectifying precisely these White, blonde and big-breasted women, who are portrayed as temptresses and more sexually desirable in porn, comics, movies and every other media (the “bad blonde” is actually one of the last PC stereotypes). I therefore say you’re biased because you seem oblivious to this behavior when it happens back home (I’m assuming you’re foreign) but extremely sensitive to it when it happens in Japan! Granted, Japan has a long way to go before it reaches the level of the US and the UK in addressing sex crimes, but it also has a long way to go before it reaches the level of the US and the UK in number and seriousness of sex crimes! In fact, it has a long way to go before it reaches the level of the US and the UK in almost every crime and that’s why suggesting Japan is unsafer than the countries where most foreigners come from is simply preposterous.

        P.S.: everything I said about White, blonde, big-breasted women goes for Black men, too.

      • blondein_tokyo

        Your assumptions are way off base. I’m not comparing Japan to anywhere else, because I’ve never lived anywhere else. I speak about Japan because this is where I live, and this is where I have had these experiences. If I actually were to compare Japan with other places I’ve traveled to, for example, India, my take would be entirely different, now wouldn’t it, because compared to those kinds of places, Japan is paradise!

        It’s not bias to say, “This happened to me in this place.” or “I get treated differently here because I am different.”

      • lasolitaria

        “I’m not comparing Japan to anywhere else”.

        What? But of course you ARE doing precisely that!:
        “This is a world-wide problem, and when compared to other first world countries such as the US and the UK, Japan is WAY behind on dealing with sex crimes”.

        And in the context of comparing Japan with other countries, you ascribe to Japan certain flaws -such as sexually objectifying White, blonde, big-breasted women (and Black men)- but totally fail to recognize those same flaws are actually worse in those other countries that your comparison is favorable to. That is bias.

        Look, I refuse to argue whether Japanese officers deal with victims of sex crimes less adequately than officers in other places because I’m not a police officer nor a psychologist nor any kind of professional trained in the field of dealing with victims or sex crimes and I believe neither are you (unless you conveniently are).

        My points are: 1) Japanese authorities do address sex crimes. Maybe not as many and as properly as they should but it cannot be said, like JS did, that they do not; and 2) Japan is not only not unsafer for women, native or foreign, than any other place but in fact a lot safer. I don’t see how anything you said even tries to address any of my points.

  • 思德

    It is refreshing to hear a positive story amidst all the horror stories. Let’s hope yours is far more common (in the sense of people doing something).

  • wagamama

    The author is right — every foreign woman in Tokyo has a story. About 10 years ago i was walking to my apartment in Ogikubo. A guy rode past on a bicycle, and as he passed me, made a grab for my breasts. He just kept riding on. Japan is full of freaks and weirdos.

  • Selchuk Driss

    Maybe it’s also time for Japanese women to share their stories of sexual harassment abroad. All my female Japanese friends who have traveled or studied abroad in civilized countries such as US, Europe, Turkey have in some form experienced sexual harassment, rape or racism. And I’m sure everybody remembers the news of Japanese girls getting raped and killed in foreign countries.
    So we should really look at this more like a global problem. Women who are obviously foreign or insecure are always easy targets in every country. The only difference is in the police/justice response.

  • Ceyt

    Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if foreigners would make good targets for petty crime accusation, because in Japan, the general consensus is that foreigners are the perpetrators. It’s a difficult stigma to live with, but I did love living in Japan. I wonder how this attitude will pan out come 2020?

  • Holly Lanasolyluna

    Thank you so much for your comment!

  • lasolitaria

    I’m glad to hear OP carries Mace. It’s too bad she can’t pack in Japan, cause when you need help in seconds Japanese police is hours away or sometimes isn’t even paying attention (this is true almost everywhere, though) and nothing says “you must not do this” like a gun pointed at your attacker. Every woman should pack and know how to use it.

    However, I disagree with trying to make this a Japanese men vs. White women thing (I’m not sure that was OP’s intention but that’s what many posters here seem to have understood). See, White women (and obviously White men too, but let’s just leave it at that for the sake of argument) are usually scammed by locals. Is it because they’re unaware of the ways of the land and thus easy targets? Because they’re perceived as attractive targets for whatever reasons no matter how misguided? Because you can easily avoid criminal complaints and escape prosecution? Because there’s a much smaller chance of retaliation from the victim’s relatives and friends? You may answer yes to all these reasons, yet no one will say that it happens because of any sort of racism towards White women. Now replace “scammed” with “harassed/raped” in my above statement. The same reasons are valid, yet people somehow jump them all over and straight to the conclusion that Japanese men are out to harass/rape White woman, just as non-White men are supposedly out to harass/rape White women in the West.

    These incidents are deeply regrettable and fully condemnable as a serious crime against a person but linking the whole thing to xenophobia or racism is simply uncalled for and saying Tokyo is less safe than New York and other big Western cities is just preposterous.

    P.S.: I’m not Japanese.

  • blondein_tokyo

    Thank you for being so brave as to share this with us. This was obviously a difficult thing for you to do. The dialog has indeed begun! :)

  • Paulina

    IMO, objective of the article is to pass on the message that Japan is not 100% safe. It may be 90% or even lower safe, but not 100%.
    I have heard from friends that her underwear were stolen from her apartment’s balcony at night while she is in her apartment, lights on. Another female friend was stalked and received calls from an unknown numbers, which the caller sounded like he was masturbating. (sexual harrassment, assaults etc.)
    I have received widely sent email from my university informing students that there was a guy on bicycle, cycling behind his victims, hitting their heads with a metal chain. It happened in front of a supermarket, bus taxi station and restaurants near a train station(national news).
    However I have also heard of dropped phones being returned to owner, thrice. And plenty of hospitality from Japanese. They probably won’t go all out to help you risking themselves, but generally they will try if they are capable.
    In terms of the crimes or offence above, Japan is not safe. But sexual harassment happens everywhere. So no where is safe.

    On the other hand, I have heard vicious crimes from my country which i dont heard of in Japan. For example, my cousin who was pregnant was dragged on to the road when her purse was snatched from a motorcyclist, luckily she only suffered minor injuries and her child was safe, but it could have been fatal.

    A friend who was driving, stopped in front of a red light, when her passenger side window was smashed and her bags n purse which were stashed under the passenger seat, got snatched by some motorcyclist. Plenty of other stories.bIN terms of these vicious crimes, Japan is far more safer when compared.

    I guess in a developed countries like Japan, where most citizens enjoy a decent life. Crimes for survival (perpetrators are either forced/choose to do it) is much lower. Yu-kai-han愉快犯 which translate into crime for pleasure/due to mentality problem is far more higher. Japanese is great at treating guests, but in general they keep to themselves a lot. Plus, their society remains a very closed circle. I have heard of cases that apartment residents died without being noticed until the neighbours cant stand the odour and called the police. Months if its winter. This maybe one of the reason why they stood looking on. They assume that they may end up at the police station or in court. To them its mendoukusai(troublesome). But hey, its not only Japan, big cities with busy citizens tend to have such behaviours.

    On why the police just shrugged the thing off, cause IMO,one its not fatal, no one is hurt(seen comments stating they were hurt, i am sorry).two, police are civil servants, since its petty crime that they get a lot, recording down everything, to them its again troublesome, knowing they wont be able to convict the criminal, energy n time waster.

    If people just realize that if they wont help out those in need of help, in the end no one will help out each other including themselves. For example, you returned the phone someone lost, hopefully next time this person will return the phone he picked up, leading to the next person to do the same thing, eventually people will be returning phones to everyone. They help because they were once helped. But the world doesnt work this way does it

  • Kelly

    I lived in Japan for one semester while I was studying abroad. For the first few months I felt incredibly safe, and was comfortable walking home alone at night. I am a 5’11, white girl, and never really thought of myself as much of a target because of my height. One day when I was walking home alone on a relatively lit street in the center of a residential area and I was stopped by a Japanese man. He was riding a bike and he pulled up right next to me. I noticed his presence and that he was way too close to me, so I pulled far off to the side, thinking he was just drunk and was unaware of how close he was to me (keep in mind I still thought Japan was incredibly safe at this point). Once I moved to the side, he got off of his bike and threw me against a wall of someone’s house, and began groping me. I was shocked at first, so I tried pushing him off, but he fought back. I screamed and fought harder, and managed to push him off and run down the street. Even through all of my screaming NO ONE came out of their homes, not even the person who’s house I was pushed against! He followed behind me on his bike, but I ran across a really busy street (with a lot of cars, it probably wasn’t a great idea but I was willing to do almost anything to get away) and he stopped, but I continued running all the way until I was safely behind the gated walls of my host family’s apartment building.

    I don’t speak Japanese at all, I was only in Japan for a few months, and I have no idea how to say “help” in Japanese, though I was taught “chikan” (molester) which came in handy at that time. I told one of the foreign student counselors (a Japanese man) at my school about what happened, hoping that, since he spoke English and Japanese, he could tell the police or someone that would help. I never got any word of anything happening, and he never promised that the police would do anything. He didn’t seem very surprised either, so I imagine that I wasn’t the only girl it happened to. But now I know, and I will never walk alone in Japan again.

  • http://mayogax.ne/ Priscila Mayumi Sato

    There is a huge amount of pornographic videos in which a woman, Japanese or foreign, is raped in public. This shows how they feel normal and exciting violating another person.

    I’ve wanted to live in Japan, where my dad lives, but today I have my doubts.

    I remember reading several mangas that tell stories of rape as something day-to-day. A woman who has never experienced it think is untouchable, never going to happen, but nobody is sure.

    In addition, Japan is already considered junk abroad, foreign woman should be considered “public object of repudiation”

  • Kendra

    Holly, I would love to hear your thoughts on white foreign women visiting Japan rather than living there. I understand it may not make a difference as someone walking down the street cannot simply determine if you live there or are visiting (depending on a few things). However, I have planned a trip there by myself for one week next month. Your article has inspired me to research this a bit more and see more stories and some suggestions on how to be more careful. I would love some advice from you. I am white, have light eyes and brown hair, but I’m also tall. Perhaps my height might intimidate Japanese men? I don’t know…I feel like I need more answers or more insight into this but …answers to what? There is really no way to tell how safe I will be there…is there? In any case…thanks extremely for sharing your story. It is definitely an eye opener because as you said, many Japanese people feel the country is safe. I’ve had Japanese men and women tell me I’ll love it and that its so safe. I mean, they all say that right away without me even asking if its safe. Then again, they wouldn’t know unless they witnessed it or heard stories of it happening before. Thank you again, I hope you can give me a bit of advice on staying safe.

    • blondein_tokyo

      Hi Kendra, maybe I can help answer your question. I’m a western woman who has lived in Japan (Tokyo) for 21 years. These incidents do happen, but let me assure you that Japan actually is quite a safe country, generally speaking. Keep in mind, we are all telling tales of harassment not to scare people or to make them think Japan is full of perverts, but more as a warning to keep women from being lulled into a false sense of security. That can happen because when you arrive, you will be surprised at how clean and orderly things are, how nice and polite the people are, and how generally safe it really is. People can leave their cell phone on a table in a cafe while they go to pick up their food! :) You can walk around at night by yourself, and you can feel secure that no one will suddenly attack and rob you.

      But no country is *entirely* safe, and Japan is no exception. Take the same basic precautions that you take in your home country, and you’ll be fine. :)

      If you’re coming to Tokyo, be careful around the Kabukicho section of Shinjuku, where are the sex parlors are, and I’d recommend not going to the bars in Roppongi alone. That area is known for it’s pick up joints, so the guys tend to be more aggressive there. Otherwise, you can go everyone alone and you’ll feel quite comfortable. People here love tourists and anytime you need help you’re going to find them to be very kind, going out of their way to give you a hand. :)

    • Holly Lanasolyluna

      I’m so sorry that I just saw this comment. I have been really overwhelmed. I agree with the comments from “blonde in Tokyo”. Follow your instincts, and you should be fine. I have mostly had a lovely experience in Japan, I just wish I had known more about these types of incidents and how common they were before they happened. Certainly don’t want to scare anyone away from visiting a beautiful and fascinating country.

  • markingtime

    The problem is that rather than change when they get older, many Japanese become the same as the older group when they enter it. Just look at the unusual clothes worn by elderly women in Japan, for example. Do you think they imagined many years ago that they would be wearing those obaa-san kind of clothes?
    It’s the same with the 40s-50s salary men coming home on the train in a depressed drunken state. Don’t you think they also never imagined that would be their lot in the future?
    Also, in another culture, when someone joins a business, it is hoped they will bring innovative ideas. But in Japan, it is how well they show they can conform that is valued.
    This is why nothing ever really changes in Japan. Change itself is not valued in Japan.

    • Gordon Graham

      What a load of hogwash…”In Japan, it is how well they show they can conform that is valued”…”Change itself is not valued in Japan”. Do you actually believe the generalizations you offer up as insight or do you just regurgitate the garbage you’ve been fed by disgruntled foreigners?

  • Lukavito

    In 1991, I was attacked in a small town in Niigata pref.

    It was night time, I was chased to my car on an empty street by a man who was unzipping his trousers as he ran at me. I managed to run fast enough to get into my car and lock it just in time before he reached me and pulled on the door handle. He thumped the car window and then pulled down his pants before starting to thrust madly at the windows. Even lying across the bonnet to thrust against the windscreen. it was horrific. I was in full panic, trying to comprehend the situation and working out what I needed to do. I started the car and struggled to get it out as it had been jammed in on each end by two cars. As I manoeuvred back and forth in the tiny space I had around the car, making slow progress. He was running around pulling at the doors, punching and scratching at the car, thrusting against the windows and pressing his evil twisted face against the glass. Incredibly, I was taking care to not to hit him with my car. He started pulling on the hatch at the back, it was only a little flimsy car and I could hear it creaking. As I pulled forward the catch began to break and the door started to lift. I decided it was either me or him, I was sure by his madness and rage that he was going to rape me and kill me. I pulled all the way forward, put the car into reverse and put my foot down, crushing his legs against the car behind me. His screams haunted me for years. I managed to squeeze out of the space and drive around the corner to where my boyfriend was. I was terrified and so completely freaked out that I was afraid to open the doors in case he was on the car.

    We told our Japanese friends what had happened, but they just dismissed it and didn’t want to speak about it. I understood there was no point in going to the police, so we left town as quickly as we could.

    • blondein_tokyo

      Wow. I think you did what you had to do. I hope you are okay now. :)

      • Lukavito

        thank you.. yes i had no real choice other than to do what i did. I’m fine now, i feel i’ve grown from the experience.. i know i can get myself out of a really awful situation even when i feel completely head explodingly freaked out and panicked to the extreme.

  • Anne

    I lived in rural Japan and once, when I was out for a morning jog, there was a guy who insisted on taking pictures of me, in broad daylight, in a park, when I explicitly asked him not too. And not pictures of my face, either. It was humiliating and scary. But when I told the ladies at my church they told me if I ever saw him again to tell them immediately and call the police. I don’t know if the difference is that the Japanese women I’ve talked to or Christian, but they were pretty open about having received similar treatment, and told me to be very careful and not go out alone at night. I think it happens to Japanese women all the time, they just don’t talk about it. And I’ve observed that many Japanese people tend to try not to get involved with strangers at any point… for example, even when you’re pregnant, with a courtesy seat tag, standing in front of a courtesy seat, most Japanese won’t give up the seat. Not really related to sexual harrassment, but I think it’s part of the big problem: that Japanese pretend nothing is wrong or that it has nothing to do with them.

  • Holly Lanasolyluna

    Thank you. That means a lot to me. Take care!

  • Jen Donehoo

    I have only been bothered aggressively twice, and that was while drinking at the river in Kyoto at night. I have straight black hair, brown eyes, and a simiar skin tone to Japanese people, plus I am short, so I really do not stand out.

  • http://www.BrendanArthurRing.com Brendan Arthur Ring

    I know this happens to Japanese women too. My wife has told me stories of some one stalking her multiple times, and even trying to get into her house through the bathroom window. But she said that the police didn’t or couldn’t do anything about it because there was no evidence and no one saw it. – in the US police take a description of the man and tell the other police officers on the radio to look out for this guy. I don’t understand the sho ga nai attitude. Like they can’t legally do anything. I guess it can go the other way though and it’s just sho ga nai if you kick your attacker really hard in the crotch or mace them – don’t think there will be any assault charges.

    I get the feeling that a lot of Japanese women have stories like this too. My wife has always told me that there are a lot of crazy people in Tokyo and that I should be careful.

  • JS

    There is unfortunately a strong tendency among many Japanese to pick on, bully, harass, intimidate and commit violence upon those who they perceive to be weaker, helpless or less privileged than they are. In the eyes of these Japanese, foreigners in general, and foreign women in particular fit this bill and are therefore fair game.

    It is often said that rape is not a sexual crime, as much as it is a crime of violence. I cannot help but think that many of the crimes described by the posters here that were perpetuated against them by Japanese aggressors fall under the category of violence against the victims. Therefore, one should not try to minimize their severity and they should be treated for what they are, which is serious violent crimes against women.

    The famous quote that a society is measured by the way it treats its weakest members is indeed true.

  • http://www.turning-japanese.info/ Eido INOUE

    Thanks for the story. For next time (and everybody else), if you’re ever in a kōban (police box) or police station, fill out a higaitodoke (被害届), or “victim report form”. As per Japanese law, the police are legally REQUIRED to accept it, even if it’s not their jurisdiction. It’s a shame your Japanese boyfriend did not know this. I’m sorry about your tramatic experiences.

    • Holly Lanasolyluna

      Thanks for sharing that information with the community!

    • JS

      As the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to the water, but you can’t force it to drink. In this case, even if one forces the Police to fill out a higaitodoke, or “victim report form”, you cannot force them to conduct a proper investigation of the crime, if the Police are not inclined to do so.

  • Asian Perspective

    Honestly I always hear stories about foreigners who experience bad things in Japan, but at the end of the day they always say, “Oh but I still love Japan because (insert random reason).”

    Having lived in several other Asian countries, and actually living and growing up in them, all I have to say is that Japan isn’t so awesome to the point where people can overlook its flaws.

    I’ve always tried to convince my girlfriend that other, less highlighted Asian countries like Taiwan and Korea are far superior to Japan in so many ways, such as cost of living and uniqueness. When we went to those places on vacation, she realized that she only liked Japan because it was the first and only Asian country she actually looked into before coming from the US, and that other countries are just as good, if not better.

    After living in Japan for over 5 years, I can say that honestly it’s one of the places I dislike the most. I’ve tried to give it several chances, but comparing it to places like Korea or Thailand, it’s not really such an awesome place as everyone says. Racism, prejudice, social hierarchy based on age, lack of ability to think outside the box, and many other issues plague Japan in such openly, undressed ways.

    I’m not saying that Japan doesn’t have its good sides, but most of the reasons I hear why foreigners praise Japan are really superficial reasons that makes me think they either have not lived in Japan long enough, or have not been to other Asian countries to know better.

    I guarantee that if these people who felt that Japan is so great, traveled to other countries such as Korea or Taiwan, they would soon realize that Japan shouldn’t be put on such a high pedestal.

    • Happy Knees

      It’s really sad that you have used this article to bash Japan. The writer is mainly using this article to point out that Japan is not safe for women.

      • Asian Perspective

        I’m sorry you feel that I am bashing Japan, but that wasn’t my intention; What I was trying to get at is that yes, Japan has it’s good sides, but I know a lot of foreigners who travel there thinking its the best place in Asia just because it gets the most exposure in western society.

        If I thought Japan was so horrible, I wouldn’t have stayed there for 5 years. I did like living there, but I don’t blindly agree that it’s the best country in Asia. Every country has it’s ups and downs, but it seems that a lot of Japan’s negative points get ignored by people who visit it as their first/only exposure in Asia.

        However I will say that despite the sometimes blatant prejudice towards “gaijin” in Japan and the point of the article, amongst all Asian countries Japan is still the safest in my opinion. It’s the only Asian country where I know I can leave my door unlocked and nothing will happen to my home. It’s also the only Asian country I know that will return my lost wallet if lost in a public place with all my cash in it, if I go back for it. However there is a discrepancy between how someone is helped based on if they are Japanese or “gaijin”.

  • Mangococo

    I am from a country where as a woman you had better protect yourself and don’t wait on others to help you. When I lived in Japan, I used these same ‘skills’ to ensure my safety. Some of the first Japanese words and sentences I learnt were about getting help and protecting myself.
    Did I get comments and looks? … Too many if you ask me
    Did anyone try anything? ,,, Thank God, no!

    I believe as women we come to Japan and behave a bit too naive, trust the wrong people and end up putting ourselves in undesirable situations.
    I’ve listened as women talked about similar disturbing incidents and when I questioned whether they would behave as carefree and ignore their surroundings in their own home country … The answer was always no.

    Why then do women drop their guard in Japan? … Who knows!
    Are women forced to drop their guards? … No, they aren’t.
    Are women told that Japan is/was safe? … More than likely yes
    Do women deserve to have this experience? … Absolutely NOT!!!!
    Can women prevent this from happening to them by being more vigilant and taking better precautions? … That’s up to each woman to decide.

    Nothing is the same for men and women.
    Being a woman automatically puts you in the seat of objectification, not necessarily being white.

    I hope you and so many other women, will be able to find peace and find better ways to be safe.
    Best,

  • Happy Knees

    To be fair I have heard that kind of comment said to foreigners speaking their own language on buses both in New Zealand and London. It is racism through ignorance and it happens in many countries.
    I think this article is very useful for foreign women living in Japan. Crimes of a sexual nature are probably about as prevalent in Japan as in most English speaking countries (I have no statistics to back that up though)

  • Tang InumonstAr

    So “The safe country” means the country that doesn’t report about crime, right? That’s why it looks safe. How great.

    • Kurtz25

      Bingo.

      Japan has low crime statistics not just because there’s little crime (there actually is very little violent crime), but also because the police are incompetent at best and complicit at worst.

      On the other hand, I think that the reason the US thinks it’s so dangerous is that the crime statistics are grossly inflated by having every little indiscretion turning into a criminal complaint. Crime numbers go up with the number of cops on the beat, because they find more crime.

      There is something to be said for dismissing minor crimes, as prosecution is likely much more costly and socially disruptive than just saying, “Don’t do that.” One time a cop in America pulled me over for speeding in a residential neighborhood. He was in his cruiser, but when he got out, I saw that he was actually off duty. Just a guy in jeans and a polo shirt. He comes up to my window and says, “You can’t see it from here, but one block over, there is an elementary school. My daughter goes there. SLOW THE HELL DOWN.” He turned around and went back to his car, did a U-turn, and went on his way. I never sped on that road again.

  • Sarah

    In the three years I’ve live in Japan, I’ve often had this thought: Japan is not Tokyo. Tokyo may be Japan but Japan can not be generalized by using Tokyo as an example. The majority of Japan is actually rural and very unlike the metropolis. I live in the country and never once have I, or anyone else I know out here, ever been in danger. So to generalize by saying ‘Japan’ is not a safe country when in reality it is Tokyo being referenced, is rather unfair to the the culture. That being said I’m sorry the writer experienced the dark side of the city but that can be expected from any of the major cities in the world.

    • Ysabee

      Only Osaka was mentioned as well, and so are a bunch of other places in the comments.

    • JS

      Tokyo is almost a third the size of all of Japan, in terms of population size, and is the only part of Japan who’s population is growing as Japanese people move there from the countryside (Japan population 127 million, Tokyo population 37 million). So, yes, what happens in Tokyo matters a great deal to Japan.

  • JennR

    I’m a Korean-American who studied abroad in Japan last Fall. I had a disturbing encounter with an older Japanese male in a “safe” public place in which no one around me helped me even though it was clear that I was being harrassed. I think though I am obviously Asian in appearance, my foreignness to the Japanese was equally obvious (not to mention that I had a white friend with bright red hair with me), so perhaps that’s why they didn’t help…I’m not as strong or assertive as you and the women you talk about seem to be, though, so I’m really thankful my friend was there to help me out.

    This same friend, and some other female friends of mine in the program with me also had dangerous or disturbing encounters of their own during this semester we were all there…we all love Japan very much and would like to return again someday, but this is definitely an aspect of Japan that has been burned into our memories.

  • justwantanaccount

    Probably unpopular opinion:

    First, I give my condolences to all the women who have suffered molestation, and that I’m not going to deny that those things happened or say that Japan is safer than other countries, etc. However, some people are starting to say that Japan is worse than other countries, which I think is jumping to conclusions. As many people have mentioned, these problems happen everywhere, and in a social setting like this information tends to get exaggerated, because any argument that tries to moderate the tone of the conversation tend to get shot down by prominent members of the community.

    This goes both ways, of course – on the infamous Japanese Internet, the US/the West is often portrayed as this incredibly racist place, and Japanese bloggers/expats will talk about their horrible personal experiences in the US/Spain/Thailand/etc. like people have in here, and anyone who tries say that the typical experience is not like that will be met with doubt. One story I’ve seen is that someone was denied entry into a hotel because he was Japanese, or that another Japanese person was called a derogatory term by a random passersby in Spain, or that this Japanese person traveled to Thailand and witnessed how white people were given privileges (allegedly, some hotels only let in white people/tourists and not natives, some banks will let a white person cut to the front of the line, etc.). Some gaijins living in Japan will confirm that the US/etc. is much more racist/dangerous than Japan (especially if that person used to live in the inner city of a major city as a minority, it seems – this is my personal, casual observation so I have no idea if this is true or not obviously).

    But those are exaggerations. Of course problems exist in the US, but I live in a suburb and, other than one teacher getting caught for sexually soliciting children online and one another teacher who was suspected of bringing a gun to school and therefore shut down the school, my neighborhood is quite safe and I’ve even strolled out around my neighborhood at midnight by myself once, and I’ve never had any problems. Of course, the two exceptions I listed sound quite scary, but they’re just that – exceptions. I’m Asian American and I’ve never felt I experienced any racism, either. Similarly, I’ve never had any problem living in Japan, either, though obviously that’s not to say that Japan or the US doesn’t have problems.

    I think most people realize that people here are saying that Japan isn’t 100% safe, but I think that some viewers might get the impression that most/every foreign/Japanese woman will be molested at some point in their life, which I’m sure isn’t true. I think the author is saying that as well. But I’m afraid that the conversation has taken a turn in a direction so that people who have never experienced this kind of thing will be afraid to speak out, or that some readers will think that Japan is this horrible, horrible country when that’s not true for the most part, just like how some Japanese people on the Internet will think that the US is this horrible, horrible country to live in when that’s not true for the most part. Every country has their good parts and bad parts, and I think it’s important to put things in perspective, and remember that people only speak in places where they feel comfortable speaking on the Internet (a.k.a. in places where they won’t get bashed for what they said).

  • My Name

    I’m not talking about tourists, and the article is not talking about tourists. I’m talking about people who LIVE in Japan.
    What is this negativity against speaking the language of the country you live in all about???

    • blondein_tokyo

      No one is negative about learning the language. What we are reacting to is that you seem to be saying “what do you expect when you can’t speak Japanese”? It looks as though you are asserting that if someone doesn’t know Japanese, then it is their own fault that no one will help them.

      It shouldn’t matter – if you see someone struggling, you should help them no matter what color their skin, or whether they speak your language.

      And tourists were brought up because it’s possible tourists might be attacked, too- do you think tourists should be blamed for not being able to ask for help in Japanese? I too study phrases to use when I travel (even Hindi! LOL) but when you are in a total panic, trying to remember a few words you studied in a foreign language you really don’t understand might be impossible.

  • My Name

    American English speakers generally don’t realize how loud they are …. sad.

    • Dawnzo

      Yet another great sweeping generalization from “My Name.” I can see by your comments that you view yourself as superior to all the other foreigners in Japan for some reason. Your elitism is tiresome. Please brag about how you became fluent in Japanese in only half a year elsewhere (which I personally call BS on, as someone who majored in Japanese and lived in Japan for 2 years and yet I still don’t claim I am or ever was truly “fluent”). This is a discussion on violence, primarily against women, and the complacency of a society and it’s law enforcement that contributes to this violence. It is not a forum for you to rhapsodize how “impeccable” your Japanese is and how you find other foreigners so annoying.

      • blondein_tokyo

        I know, all of her comments have been the same. She seems to take pride in looking down on other foreigners.

    • blondein_tokyo

      How do you know where I am from? Enjoy bashing Americans, do you?

      Also, I was absolutely speaking in a normal tone of voice. Your comment is uncalled for and unnecessarily confrontational.

  • My Name

    In any other country I wouldn’t dare to meander alone after 8pm on a Friday or Saturday nights in city central and even dodgy areas (I’m not suicidal) but in Tokyo I definitely do!
    And therefore I consider an occasional misguided guy rather expected than anything else …

  • My Name

    I have to agree my experience with Japanese police has also been both professional and courteous.

  • gabriel grub

    Very disturbing stories to be sure. Reminds me of the story of a friend of a friend’s Japanese girlfriend being subject to an attempted kidnapping by US servicemen (with the ultimate intention presumably having been rape). She and her boyfriend tried to report it the US military but were just thrown off the base.

  • guu

    Lucy Blackman unfortunately was in a company that has high level of danger in it in *any* country, call it yakuza, mafia or anything else.
    I think most of the women saying Japan is safe mean – it is safer for an ordinary working woman/ student who doesn’t spend her time in Roppongi and Kabukicho (or even Ginza and other areas of similar kind in other towns) or with people commonly working in these areas (except the art galleries, of course! ^^). It has never been safe to be a hostess.
    (No, I’m not saying ‘it was her own fault’ – I’m saying depending on your lifestyle you may significantly increase or decrease the danger you’re in)

    Lindsay Hawker case was an horrible accident, a result of misunderstanding and miscommunication on so many levels – as horrible for the guy who ended up being a murderer than for everyone else involved, I’m sure.
    Now are you telling me women, wether foreign or local, never get murdered in any other country?? Her case is the only one we know of – it’s not like tens of mean Japanese mean are lurking behind every corner to get the vulnerable English teacher …

    • blondein_tokyo

      The point is, they were both killed because they let down their guard due to this idea that Japan is so much safer than other countries. They both acted uncharacteristically careless, taking risks they would not have taken in the UK, because they mistakenly thought there was nothing to really fear in Japan from Japanese men. This image of Japan as a “safe” country has been oversimplified to the point where it’s made women over confident, and that’s dangerous. It doesn’t matter one whit whether or not the crime stats are lower, or the streets generally safer- a lone woman should not take such risks no matter how “safe” the country is. You can do more things here when out and about than you can in other places, but you always, always have to be on your guard. That is what the author wanted people to get from the article.

      And do not call Lindsey’s rape and murder “a horrible accident, a result of misunderstanding and miscommunication” – Ichihashi deliberately led her to his room so that he could rape her, and when she struggled he panicked and strangled her. That cannot by any definition of the word be a “misunderstanding.”

  • JS

    I have been really impressed by so many good comments posted here in response to this article.

    However, I want to take exception to some of the comments, which are along the lines that Japan is not so bad because the problems and crimes in Japan highlighted here are even worse in country X or country Y. I honestly cannot understand this type of logic, which I find somewhat unique to people living in Japan (I am not singling the Japanese here, since I have noticed this among both, Japanese and non-Japanese living in Japan).

    When people discuss problems in my native country of America (and other countries like Britain and Germany, with whom I have some familiarity), residents of these countries do not say that, yes we have such-and-such a problem, but that OK, since it’s even worse in Japan. I’ll give you a few examples below.

    The growing government debt is a problem in the US, event though, it is not nearly as bad as Japan. I have never heard an American say that the US should be complacent about it’s debt, since Japan’s is much worse.

    The US has made great strides in narrowing the gender gap over the years, but it still exists in some areas. Americans are continuing to address this issue, but never once has anyone said that we should not try to close this gap more, since Japan is even worse.

    After the Fukushima accident, the German government has taken a strong stance against nuclear power plants due to the potential for accidents. They did not take the position that nuclear power plants are OK for Germany, since Germany does not have tsunamis and frequent earthquakes llike Japan, so nuclear power plants are even more risky in Japan than they are in Germany.

    My point is that everyone outside of Japan makes decisions based on their merits and what is the right thing to do, without invoking that things are worse somewhere else, so no improvement or action is needed.

    So then, why is this type of logic, that things are not as bad in Japan as somewhere else so common in Japan? Is it to distract from the real problems? Is it arrogance and hubris that things are so superior in Japan that there is no room for improvement? Is it ignorance? Is it the hunkering down mentality? Is it an effort to deflect any criticism, no matter how constructive, because some are afraid that Japan is so fragile that it cannot withstand any criticism? Is it to muddy the water and confuse the issue by creating smoke and mirrors? Or, is it resistence to change because change is scary to some people who may have a vested interest in the status quo?

    • SJ

      I guess it is a reaction against yet another black-and-white scandalizing title of the article, no?

      I recently watched in UK a documentary about Japans’ declining birthrate. What did they show for the first 30 minutes? Empty playgrounds in Yubari shi and otaku playing with virtual girlfriends…

      So everyone watching got first the idea Japan has no children because all men have only virtual relationships … Great?

      So. “Outrageous!!! Foreign women in danger in Japan!!!”? Yeah.

      Commentators who say it’s worse everywhere else are not the people who want to silence or downgrade the issue – they are just the people who’re getting tired of media showing Japan as ultra extraordinary, weird quirky, mystical, non-sensical etc

      Single white women are not safe in any country. Have a discussion on it, an open one, by all means, but do not turn it into a cheap scandal to sell a newspaper.

    • justwantanaccount

      For me personally, I’m worried that some readers will come out of this article/comment section thinking that Japan is much, much worse than ~the West~ — in fact, some commentators are already making comparisons about how much ~the West~ is better than Japan, which I’m guessing is why some people are pointing out that the West isn’t so perfect, though whether that’s the right response or not is a different question.

      For the examples you raised, “residents of these countries do not say that, yes we have such-and-such a problem, but that OK, since it’s even worse in Japan” because those people probably never encountered people who said “You should do this because Japan/Russia/some prominent foreign country does this,” or at least not to the extent that they start feeling inferior to / reverence for the other country (in the case of reverence, usually the good parts get exaggerated and the person gets disappointed that the country has faults too and then suddenly swings the other way and start exaggerating the negative parts of the country). I agree that problems should be pointed out and solved, but I don’t understand why some people have to say “Well, Japan should do this because ~the West~ does this” and make the other party feel as if that person’s been told that Japan is inferior to the West. Just say, “Japan should do this,” or “I like Japan in this way and that, but I think that Japan could learn from the West in this other aspect,” and the other party will listen.

      • JS

        I cannot speak for all of the Western hemisphere, but as an American I can confidently say that, yes, Japan is much, much worse that the US, when it comes to the way its police, courts and other institutions treat women and non-Japanese residents.

        Japan ranks 105 out of 136 countries in the World Economic Forum’s ranking of female equality around the world. Japan does not have basic laws against discrimination and hate speech directed towards its minorities and weakest members of society. I have heard many first-hand accounts from women and foreign residents, where they felt that they were marginalized, discriminated against and treated unfairly by the police and the Japanese courts.

        This brings out the worst in some people, who feel that they can get away by committing criminal and civil crimes against women and foreigners in Japan, since these two groups lack basic equality and protections in Japan, as compared to an advanced society like the US.

        Japanese women and foreigner residents are constantly remindede of their marginalized status in society, and are expected to keep quiet and endure with “gaman” the crimes and injustices against them. Otherwise, they are branded as trouble makers. This is why most criminal and civil crimes against these two groups go unreported.

        This artificially low crime rate in Japan does not mean that Japan is a just and safe place for women and foreign residents. On the other hand, crime statistics in America are actually somewhat inflated, since much of the crime takes place in certain self-contained areas of larger cities, where most people have the common sense not to venture (such as, the South side of Chicago, or South-Central LA). So, as long as you take some common sense precautions in the US, I think America can actually be safer than Japan, since the nature of crimes, violence, sexual assaults and harassment in Japan is so random and ever-present that it is impossible to guard against these.

      • justwantanaccount

        That’s where I’ll have to disagree with you. I’ve lived in the US for thirteen years and I’ve lived in Japan for eight years, but I don’t feel that one country is necessarily ‘better’ than the other. Each country has their own culture/customs/habits, and they each have their advantages and disadvantages. Different people have different opinions, of course – I’ve seen some Japanese people online who feel that the US is a nicer place to live in, and some others who feel that Japan is better. Those who feel that the US is a nice place to live is usually tend to be those who’ve understood the US way of living (people are friendly, they feel confident, etc.), while those who miss Japan tend to be those who value the Japanese way of living more (protect manners, think of others before yourself, don’t act like a child and be realistic, etc.), while some others had unrealistic expectations of the US and feel that the US is a horrible country (some person said that s/he feels caged up in the US because s/he feels afraid to talk to people who are not Japanese in the US or something along that line, that the US isn’t a ‘melting pot where different people respectfully exchange different opinions’ at all contrary to his/her expectations – though personally I was taught that the US is a salad bowl rather than a melting pot and I don’t see what’s wrong with people associating with people they feel comfortable with – also it sounded like this person wasn’t very good at speaking English and is living in a poorer part of the US). I’ve never personally encountered any sort of crimes in either the US or Japan, and statistics are never completely reflective of what life is actually like in any country that I do not find them useful in judging a country. For example, Japan (and S. Korea, Hong Kong, etc. really) rank high in academic performance of high schoolers / middle schoolers /etc., but the top universities are in the US and more innovations come out of the US than in the Asian countries. Similarly, from what I’ve seen on 鬼嫁 threads on 2ch / matome websites / etc., housewives seem to be considered ‘parasites’ and people seem to prefer working women more, contrary to what’s being claimed here.

        You’ll enjoy any country if you understand and accept the values of that country. If you look at a country from another country’s values, that country will never be good enough to you because no two countries can be the same. Some Japanese people who live in the US would rather go back to Japan because they don’t understand US values or because they had strange/unrealistic expectations out of the US, while some US people who live in Japan would rather go back to the US because they don’t understand Japanese values / had strange/unrealistic expectations out of the country (when I lived in Japan I never had an impression that Japan was safer than other countries, it seems to be that this attitude came about recently as a result of the netouyo translating weaboo websites).

        If you feel the need to compare Japan with the US to say how you feel that, then you can’t exactly complain about comments saying that “Well Japan is better than country X in this aspect.” Of course people will start feeling the need to point out that the other country mentioned isn’t so perfect, if you really want to say that country X is *better* than Japan.

        So just don’t. Just say, “I think we can make Japan better,” not “In the US we do this so Japan should do this.”

        >as compared to an advanced society like the US.

        I’m sorry, that attitude is imperialistic and ethnocentric and I’m not going to tolerate that kind of ‘White burden’ attitude out of anyone, whether they be a US citizen or Japanese. I’m not going to tolerate Japanese ultra-nationalists thinking that the Japanese has a higher 民度 or whatever than the other ethnicities, and I’m not going to tolerate you thinking the exact same thing. Who the hell are you to decide what an ‘advanced society’ looks like? Why can’t you treat Japanese people as different individuals who think vastly different things, instead of making sweeping generalizations about what they’re like?

      • Selchuk Driss

        Sorry, but the US is a bad example for an advanced society.

  • Hanten

    Dear Patronising Foreigner, do you really believe that you are immune from being called a racist just because you’re generalising about other foreigners? While speaking from Japan, a foreigner by definition is a non-Japanese person. If you make a blanket criticism against all foreigners you are being racist. Your nationality is irrelevant on this point. Here’s a dictionary definition:
    racism
    ˈreɪsɪz(ə)m/
    noun
    noun: racism
    1.
    the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

  • SJ

    Dunno, I always learn a set of expressions when traveling:
    Hello!, Thank you!, Please, Excuse me, Sorry, and HELP!!
    6 phrases can make a huge difference.

  • SJ

    IMO, when ppl say “I have never heard of this problem” they mean – I have never thought Japan is like say India which was in world news recently.

  • SJ

    so how about hostesses? the very job is about getting paid for being sexually harassed and in tokyo where women have choice (meaning they are not forced into being an hostess) it’s only the girls who enjoy this who get into the profession, isn’t it?

  • SJ

    I think it is not short term visitors who are the subject here but residents, or am I missing something?

  • SJ

    who said they don’t happen?
    the point is it’s not like every single white female on japan island gets raped, abused etc as the alarmist contingent tries to prove.
    in fact, most encounter very little trouble.

    • blondein_tokyo

      Every woman gets sexually harassed at one point or another in their life. If they are in Japan long enough, logic dictates it’s likely to happen here.

      Depending on what exactly their experience is, and their tolerance for such things, they may find it simply an annoyance or extremely traumatizing.

      It’s not “alarmist” to let women know that they need to keep up
      their guard here just as much as they’d need to when traveling or living
      in any country.

  • Ken Sekiya

    Even as a (Aust) Japanese Male, there were several incidents in Japan that made me feel uneasy. Several friends that had shared their stories with me as well : Male, Female, Nationals and Foreign…

    The most common theme that arises in each of those stories was how they felt uneasy about approaching the police (stigma), or when actually approaching the police – how they simply dismiss the incident.

    This fact, and the fact that crime rates are described by official documents probably should raise the suspicion that Japans “Low-crime” brand isn’t reliable.
    The lack of transparency is horrid – opening up many opportunities for negligence, and misleading reporting

    Probably makes a case for a Community-based NFP organisation to deal with incident reporting to be established for Japanese communities. (In Australia, we have the “Crime Watchers” program for “non-emergency incidents”.)
    Or secondary means of reporting possible criminal incidents, to ensure that someone is documenting

    The other would be raising public awareness of “How to report” and “What to do”… I can rant and blame Police negligence all day, but could argue the case that they only reflect the behaviors of Public negligence/ignorance within the community.

    … when talking to friends from Japanese-Australian backgrounds and associations, we often agree, if we HAD TO be caught in the middle of an Emergency incident (Medical or criminal), hope its in Australia.

  • Dustie

    My only guess would be that perhaps the reason for police’s negligence is their unfamiliarity (I know it seems odd) with the issue of such odd attacks and events. I’m convinced that a big part of the reason they didn’t feel obliged to do much about it is that it was indeed a pretty out-of-ordinary attack and it happened to a foreigner, and a woman. I’m happy you managed to get out of that situation and that you weren’t afraid to go to the police with you boyfriend to report. I hope that this will in turn make you stronger and braver, so that in case anything like this happens again you won’t back out from reporting to the authorities and seeking help. Always stand your ground and people will listen to you finally. I can imagine the things you have described are an unusual view to by-passers and perhaps they were also shocked, intimidated and surprised with what they saw (because of how rare such attacks are) to the extend they didn’t know how to behave and didn’t provide help. The lesson from this is that nowhere is actually completely safe and we always have to be alert at least at the minimum.

  • M.M

    As a Japanese girl who grew up with an American education in Tokyo (I went to an international school) I feel like this article definitely touches the problem that many women face in Japan. Although I am certain that both “foreign” and native Japanese women almost equally has a chance of sexual harassment, I feel like there could be a tendency for “foreign” women to be objectified because of the way they dress.

    The reason I say this is because many of my friends who grew up in Tokyo, but have different nationalities and backgrounds seem unable to grasp the “norm” of attire in Tokyo. For example, a woman going to the gym in short spandex and a sports bra will definitely grab unwanted attention in Japan. Another would be the acceptable amount of “cleavage” shown, in which I’ve personally had experience of being told for showing too much when I was just wearing a V-neck t shirt bought at a casual clothing store in the U.S. Many of my friends still dress in the acceptable way in their own home countries, which may not be suitable in Tokyo.

    Although it’s definitely unfair and callous to blame women for “asking for it” by dressing a certain way, I think it is also important to understand each culture’s unique “dress code” as a measure people could take to prevent these incidents. As a girl who’s not shaped to fit the Japanese clothing brands tailored for the “normal Japanese girl”, I hope that Tokyo becomes a safer place for women to express themselves in clothes they like!

    • Hanten

      Blame the victim, why don’t you? Why aren’t you criticizing the behaviour of the minority of Japanese men (and they are overwhelmingly men) who are sexually assaulting people in Japan? Why aren’t you asking why the police aren’t helping enough?
      How you are treated shouldn’t depend on what you’re wearing any less than your gender or the colour of your skin.

    • Hanten

      What is this “norm” or dress code you speak of? How is it possible that your friends who grew up here still can’t understand it? Why is it ok to wear really short skirts in Japan but not low-cut tops?
      Perhaps you should expect all Japanese men to treat all women with dignity regardless of their clothes, ethnicity and background instead of telling the mistreated women that its their fault.

  • lily

    ‘Tokyo’ and ‘Japan’ are hardly synonymous. Tokyo is a terrible place to live and it’s unreasonable to expect it to be a paradise full of balanced people. Bad things do happen in such cities. It’s a lot easier to live in smaller towns or rural areas if you can communicate and be part of a social circle. In big cities there are a lot of crazy people who have no families or social circles and no one to rein them in. Foreign or native, makes no difference. They’ll be out somewhere looking for victims who are afraid to fight.

    I experienced harassment on several occasions living long ago in Tokyo, most of them when I was in a weak condition, heading home with high fever (malaria), looking drunk. Those times I was actually very
    dangerous, and standing on a train platform at the time I felt frightened by the nearly irresistible impulse to throw the b*stards onto the tracks. I don’t know why they didn’t sense the danger themselves.

    I figured a certain kind of person only targets the weak, like vultures, has anger to unload on someone weaker than themselves who seems to be cut from the herd, unprotected, and like vultures may not be intelligent enough to imagine consequences other than the ones they fantasize. However, I’ve had far worse experiences in North America and South East Asia, often from other women. There are people like this in every country I’ve ever been to. People don’t normally bother me, but they bother someone who tells me about it. Apparently it’s human nature both to want power and to be stupid.

    One time I was in a crowded train in Tokyo and found a hand crawling up my leg. I grabbed it and pinched it calmly until I got off the train. He was very upset but what could he do? There was another strange time when I was fondled by a teenage boy on a train in full view of a bench full of girls in uniform and the man I was with. The girls watched and waited to see what I would do so I chased the student who was running away scared and smacked him hard, but cheerfully. The girls giggled. My Japanese friend only said, that was strange, didn’t he notice I was not alone?

    On that occasion and all the others I felt people were waiting to see if I was a victim or a lion. More than in other places I feel ashamed to ignore a chance to stand up for myself and show some spirit because people are actually watching to see if it’s safe to win, even the cops. Maybe I feel like that becuase I was afraid to defend myself in some other countries and the people I allowed to get away with it went on to abuse others with impunity, including children who grew up thinking such behaviour is OK and inevitable.

    Over time I’ve learned that foreigners can sometimes, here and anywhere, get away with confronting injustice when people native to the place cannot due to their conditioning. I have the idea that we are all a little bit in charge of law enforcement at the moment of confrontation, that not everything can be left to other people or other moments. I know, that sounds bad to people who have always had someone to complain to.

    During those years in Tokyo I worked in schools, several nightclubs, and one famous company. The nightclubs were fine, I listened and gave everyone a respectful attitude and was treated like royalty in return, even by the rarely seen yakuza, and was never sexually harassed by a Japanese, the *one* harasser was foreign Asian and needed setting straight, easily done. The real sexual harassment was from an old man in the company. I quit when I couldn’t stand it anymore. No one helped me because he was old and they were all scared of him.

    A lot of people seem to get this attitude of futility in school. I’ve been in PTA meetings where even parents in high positions, even the headmaster himself, were afraid to speak out against a bad teacher. It seemed strange, but the teacher was actually scary and took quite a few people down, including little
    kids. I tried to have him sacked, but he was protected at the ministry level. I’ve seen quite a few things like this in 25 years. Japan is like a petri dish of the troubled world. It’s small and concentrated where you can see everything at once, but nothing unusual.

    To live safely I’ve concluded that it’s up to us to do our best to take a martial arts attitude: Be mindful, protect ourselves as required but never get mad. This attitude creates an aura of power and enhances intuition, and that is the only safety any of us will ever really have anyway.

  • Franz Pichler

    I think you’ve a point! To many people in Japan don’t learn the language and moan about it all the time how bad it is here. back in my university days I had a fight with some Americans, went to the police in Osaka and everything I expected happened, nothing more, nothing less. This lady makes a link between someone stopping her because he is sure she nicked the bike and sexual assault. Good on her to actually manage such a link but bad on the JT not to push his lady to put more meat on the table instead of so much smoke.

    • Holly Lanasolyluna

      I´m sorry, but I disagree with your assessment. I did nothing wrong. A man held me against my will and verbally mistreated me. This is a form of assault, although I never say in the article that this specific incident was sexual assault. Moreover, not a single person who heard the story believed he wanted my bicycle, athough we will never know, will we? Sex criminals and kidnappers often make women as vulnerable as possible before attacking them. After posting this, some women shared with me similar stories. Moreover, the incident in Osaka? Not attempted sexual assault? Yes I´m sure the guy just wanted to drink instant coffee and chat in the love hotel. By the way, if you notice my comment above, I speak Japanese conversationally and most of the women who were assaulted are fluent and have Japanese partners. Besides, as many people have commented, Japanese women have also been subject to such things, so what does language have to do with this conversation?

      • JS

        I absolutely agree with you, Holly. I think the comments about “speaking Japanese” are actually code to mean that one should know one’s place in Japanese society, suck it up and don’t complain, not fight back when abused or belittled, and be reverential and subservient.

        This is why some people keep repeating “speak Japanese” like a broken record, even after you have made it abundently clear that you and the other victims speak Japanese. What these commenters really mean by “speak Japanese” is “act Japanese”.

      • Gordon Graham

        I interpreted speak Japanese to mean speak Japanese. As in make yourself understood if someone were to accuse you of bicycle theft, or being clear if you accuse someone of something as serious as sexual assault.

  • blondein_tokyo

    I never said Japan isn’t a relatively safe country, nor have I been “ranting”. If you’re going to get insulting, then I really don’t think I need to continue this conversation.

  • blondein_tokyo

    I’m sure your friend’s husband is an exemplary policeman. But not all police are as honest. There have been many cases over the years where the police have forced confessions and used other unsavory measures. It’s been in the news, very well publicized, in fact. And since it happens in every country, then I think it’s quite reasonable to say that it happens here, too.

  • blondein_tokyo

    I agree with that, actually. But that isn’t what she said. She explicitly equated criticism with “bashing”, when they clearly are not the same things.

    “Bashing” implies the criticism is unwarranted, overly harsh, or done out of malice.

    Requesting that the police take down reports, even of petty crime, and treat crimes against women seriously is not by any means “bashing”.

  • blondein_tokyo

    What you are saying is, women don’t have the right to sexual autonomy, and if they exercise it, i.e., by taking some nude pictures of themselves, they automatically are not to be believed if they report a crime.

    I’ve read quite a few misogynistic comments on this site. Congrats- yours gets the number one spot.

  • blondein_tokyo

    It IS an unfortunate title. Holly said somewhere in the comments that she didn’t chose it.

  • Lukavito

    thank you, i’d never considered the possibility of my actions potentially saving other women.

  • Lukavito

    thank you holly for writing this piece and creating space for this discusion.. it’s been a powerful experience for me to read these stories and post my own.

  • lasolitaria

    Your comment is unfair and full of unwarranted assumptions. What’s with “Your choice is now whether to be part of the problem or are you going to be part of the solution”? Why do you assume I even have to make such a decision? Why do you assume I wouldn’t render immediate assistance and take any steps at my disposal to see that a sexual attack is stopped and/or punished? You’re like “This one dares to speak against the article… frakking rape-abiding Jap wouldn’t even call the police, I bet!” (btw, I’m not Japanese so stop addressing me as if I were; I’m also obviously English proficient).

    From its very title “Japan: no safe country for FOREIGN women”, this article is proposing a “Japanese males vs. foreign females” discourse. I don’t buy it. In fact, I vehemently reject it. In making such a claim, you suggest that male Japanese sexual attackers target only foreign females or at least much more often than they do Japanese females. I find that preposterous. Then, in order to even start speaking about “J-male privilege”, you have to prove both that Japanese sexual attackers get away with it on a regular basis AND that Japanese enforcement agencies are unresponsive. Yet, as a person who translates Japanese news for a foreign news feed service, I’ve found countless reports of enforcement actions against sexual attackers, even for groping and taking upskirt pics. But don’t take my word for it: read Japanese papers in Japanese. “if you directly ask most Japanese people to help they will” help you read them.

    I even challenge the notion that Japan is “unsafe” for women. In many other places, including that where this lady comes from (California), sexual attacks are much more frequent and usually end up with the victim not only with “psychological (and sometimes physical) injuries” but raped, seriously wounded and possibly infected with a V.D. or pregnant. As far as sexually “unsafe” places go, Japan is far away from the top of the list.

  • JS

    In English composition class, I was taught to use terms such as always, never and all, etc., sparingly. You write, “it is unfair to say that ALL of Japan can be based on Tokyo”.

    Yes, I don’t doubt that your statement is true for at least one Japanese person outside of Tokyo, since technically that is what you are saying by using the word “ALL”. However, my point is that Tokyo is the heart of Japan and dominates everything in Japan, so one cannot ignore or discount Tokyo and its culture, when talking about Japan.

    • Sarah

      I never said that ALL of Japan was entirely safe either. I only asked the writer to refrain from generalizing Japan based on the major cities. If we were to use the dangers of major cities to define a country, America might come across as a terrifying place if we just looked at just Detroit or Atlanta as an example. The urban areas and the rural areas of Japan are very different culturally. I do not believe that Tokyo is the heart of Japan but the heart of Japanese media.

      • Holly Lanasolyluna

        Sarah I understand your point, and some people have brought up similar points. I did live in Kyushu and Kyoto and have many friends in those places still, so a lot of the experiences I talk about are from different areas, not just Tokyo. Most of the stories shared with me did come from big cities, however. If you look at some of the comments, though, women have some terrible incidents in the countryside. Anyway, all of our experiences are individual, so thanks for adding your perspective.

  • JS

    You are absolutely doing the right thing. Keep on trucking! Many people are rooting for you.

    • Holly Lanasolyluna

      Thank you! I will!

  • blondein_tokyo

    “what we wear tell others who we are.”

    “I’ve seen many Western ladies thinking they are dressing well and properly and actually
    making me feel I want to cover *my* eyes because according to local sensitivities it feels as if they were half naked …. Huh, maybe it’s time to start pointing it out to them?

    “Local sensitivities”? We’re talking about JAPAN, not India.

    “under the skirts there are pants”?

    No, there really aren’t. Their legs are bare, and their tops are as low cut as any I’ve seen on the streets of NYC. The way girls dress here is about the same as any other first world country- more fashionable and sexy in cities, and more conservatively in the
    countryside.

    What it seems you are saying is that women who dress sexily must therefore be sexually promiscuous, too (how you know
    this only from their clothes, I have no idea) and so should not expect the same respect as conservatively dressed women.

    My answer to that?

    A woman’s morality does not lie between her legs. This line of thinking is slut-shaming and extremely misogynistic. You may think saying “but..” safeguards you, but anything before the “but” is negated by the “but”. It’s like saying, “I’m not a racist, but…” “I don’t think sexily dressed women deserve harassment, but…” All you are doing is trying to justify your own misogyny, and it’s really rather disgusting.

    Women deserve respect no matter how they are dressed, and it is not up to you, or anyone else, to be the judge of their morality or set the standard for how women “should” behave or or dress. But hey, if you want to go around Tokyo telling women in your perfect Japanese that they are dressed too “slutty,” then knock yourself out- I would love to see that. It would be HILARIOUS. My grandmother used to do that too, actually. She’d go up to girls in the supermarket and haughtily inform them if she thought their skirt was too short. The girls were usually polite to her, because it was obvious she was just a senile little old lady who was raised in a bygone era when women weren’t allowed to show their ankles, much less their legs.

    You on the other hand, don’t really have an excuse for your piss poor attitude towards women, so I doubt the women you try to slut shame will feel any obligation to be polite to you. I wouldn’t be surprised if 100% of them, both Japanese and foreign, told you go to F yourself.

    And you do realize that this reply of yours puts you firmly on the side of the harassers, don’t you? Is that where you REALLY want to be?

  • Philomena Pidgeon-Shimaoka

    Thank you for sharing this story. Please warn foreigners about the dangers of chikans in Japan. To be prepared is to fore armed, is to be alert and hopefully to be able to avoid and prevent such devastating experiences. 24 years ago I went to live in Japan (I stayed there for 5 years). I was in my early thirties, newly wed and absolutely loving my wonderful husband and new life. Unfortunately, one beautiful Spring afternoon I decided not to take the train
    from Tomio but to walk
    to Gakuenmae. As I was walking along enjoying the beautiful weather
    a completely naked man jumped out of the bushes screaming. I ran for my life. When I got to my work place I told my colleagues what had happened. They looked and said that the police had come into the school (children’s juku) and told them that there were some chikan’s out and about. No one asked how I was, nothing. I phoned a number I was in the Time Out magazine for gaijins only to get the reply that these things do not happen in Japan. When I told my husband he became silent and did not speak to me for about two weeks. Then one night he came home and told me that a colleague of his also living in our town told him that the police had come to his daughters school two weeks ago and told them they must be careful to walk to and from school in groups because there were two chikans working in the town. My Japanese husband did not believe me, but did believe his colleague. I could have prevented this horrible incident if someone had informed me of the dangers of chikans in Japan. To be prepared is to be armed, I did not need to have this negative experience which frightened me so much and shook my confidence and left me feeling very disappointed
    with both my colleagues and my husband. I always warn people about the dangers in Japan. Recently I was with my late husbands colleagues in Kyoto, before getting on the train one of them took a photograph of a beautiful young girl lying up against the window asleep. This happened this year 2013 in June. This is an act of harassment and is not acceptable. Please do warn foreign people and tourists about the dangers of these chikans. I love late husband dearly and I love Japan. But these incidents are not good for my health, mind, body and spirit. Nor for my safety while I am in Japan. Let’s hope the Olympics in Japan will be safe for everyone.

  • Philomena Pidgeon-Shimaoka

    Are you seriously demented. You don’t have to speak Spanish to get your wallet robbed out of your pocket in Barcelona. You don’t have to speak American to get shot to death in New York (remember John Lennon) and certainly speaking Japanese will not keep you safe from chikans in Japan. I know, when I first went to Japan no told me of the dangers of chikans, I spoke Japanese. The first time
    I got attacked I ran for my life. The second time (both times in the Spring time, different years), i beat the bastard with my fists until I was sure he would have to explain to his family where he got the bruises from. Ignorance is not bliss, tell people about the chikan situation and let them decide for themselves. I love visiting my family and friends in Japan. But I am certainly wiser and more alert to the dangers of chickens/chickans.

  • Anonymous

    I was harassed literally dozens of times over 4 years both in the rural area in which I lived as well as big cities such as Tokyo and Kobe. I’m a translator so I speak very good Japanese and, like others have said, I really don’t think language ability has anything to do with it. In Kobe I had THREE men try to take me to a love hotel within the course of the half an hour it took my husband (who is Japanese) and I to walk from the train station to our hotel. I could not believe they did it with my husband right there. Understandably, he got really upset with them as did I.

    I was followed home and physically pulled off of my bike numerous times in the rural place where I lived. Stalked on trains all the time, etc. The police actually handled it really well when I spoke to them, beefed up their patrols in the areas I indicated were dangerous, checked in with me numerous times to see if there were further incidents. My work on the other hand, who refused to allow me to use my car for work…handled it very poorly. Wouldn’t listen to me at all, told me to deal with it, told my husband to leave when he came to tell them he was worried about me. Although my husband is the oldest son, we eventually left Japan and I am sad to say that the danger that I was in was a big reason for it.

    • Holly Lanasolyluna

      I´m so sorry to hear all of that.

  • Electra CV

    A couple of months ago a woman was standing inappropriately close to me at an ATM so when I backed away from it I accidentally stepped on her. I of course apologized immediately (even though she had no business standing right behind me) and she started screaming at me in Japanese. Everyone in the convenience store was of course staring so I just walked away. Crazy is crazy and you can’t possibly cure it with polite smiles.

  • miscJax

    And when a Japanese national commits a crime against US military it tends to be swept under the rug.

    • Gordon Graham

      It’s only a newsworthy incident when it’s rape or murder. How many US military have been murdered by a Japanese in say the past 20 years?

  • blondein_tokyo

    Yeah, because a jogging suit is WAAY sexy, and those poor, poor men couldn’t control themselves when they saw her jogging by. It’s really the perverts we should be feeling sorry for, eh? We gaijin girls are such temptresses. *off sarcasm*

    Infuriating, isn’t it?

  • blondein_tokyo

    It’s not easy to figure out addresses in Tokyo. The blocks are never in numerical order, and even the police who patrol the area need maps to find their way through the tiny side streets and alleys.

    And not only do you blame her for not knowing the address, you are also blaming her for not pushing the police? It’s the police’s JOB to investigate crimes- what kind of logic is it to say we need to push them to do their job? It’s their responsibility, not the public’s.

    Your entire post drips with victim blaming. It’s really rather disgusting.

  • blondein_tokyo

    Is it women’s fault that men can’t control themselves when they see a little leg or boob? Do you really mean to say that men are so animalistic that when they see a little flesh, it makes them so crazy that they just *have* to grope and grab? Personally, I have a lot more faith in men to have the ability to control themselves and take responsibility for their actions.

    Or perhaps you’re saying that they can see the difference between a “bad” girl, and a “good” girl, and the “bad” girls deserve to be groped because they are “bad”? After all, girls who enjoy their sexuality must be immoral, amirite?

    And girls who are “good” and dressed conservatively never, ever get groped, do they?

    Oh wait, they do.

    Hmmm…it’s almost as if what one wears has nothing to do with whether they are sexually assaulted.

  • Kurtz25

    Every foreign woman I know has at least one story like this. I only know a few Japanese women who have had similar, though. I think it is as you suspect toward the end of the piece: Foreign women are not viewed as real people.

    This, of course, is part of the general attitude toward foreigners in Japan. Make no mistake; I’m no Debito; I have been treated very well by this country and live here by choice, and would leave if I actually thought it were a problem. However, we are never going to be viewed as “normal” people, and that opens us up to treatment that would almost never be expected if we at least LOOKED Japanese.

    Three times I have been accosted on trains, one of which almost came to blows (three undercover police arrested the guy—I think they’d been watching his erratic behavior for a long time, waiting to see if it would escalate beyond yelling at everyone in the car), but in all cases, the bystanders did nothing. They averted their eyes, or giggled nervously, as they backed up to give whatever psycho was shouting at me plenty of room to attack, I guess.

    The first time was when I was a student. I understood Japanese fairly well, but wasn’t very good at fluent speech yet. I was just listening to my headphones on the way to meet a friend, and an older man with a beer in hand staggered up to me and started demanding to know if I paid taxes, and why did I think I had a right to be there (he would have loved it if I had told him, “no, actually, it’s your taxes that brought me here, because I’m on a government scholarship.”). I had probably only been in the country for 3 weeks, and I expected someone to step in and talk to the guy, but no, everyone just cleared out and averted their gaze.

    The second time was the drunk, belligerent guy and the undercover officers.

    The third was only a couple months ago, and it was perhaps the most bizarre, because the guy was about my age (late thirties), well-dressed and well-groomed, and apparently sober. I have lived here since the late 90s, so I don’t really stand out anymore, aside from my skin color. I wear all the same clothes, have the same general posture, as any other guy my age around here. But for some reason this guy really took a disliking to me on a crowded train. He started driving his elbow into my lower back, “gently” at first, so I thought that maybe he was just claustrophobic, and I tried to find some more space to give him. But he just kept pushing harder and harder. Then I looked up to see the station display right above my head, wondering how much longer I’d have to deal with this. As I did that, the thrust his elbow hard into my kidney.

    I turned to face him and said, “I’m sorry, but I’m not moving”—I had assumed that he thought I was crowding him, and wanted to point out that I was standing still.

    He went apoplectic. Screaming at me, saying my hair got close to his face when I looked up, that I stunk (something I’ve never, ever heard before in my life—if you want to send someone on weeks of anxious self-examination and delicate conversations with friends and loved ones, tell them they smell), and that I didn’t speak Japanese, which clearly didn’t make any sense, under the circumstances. And then he dropped the “gaijin” word. Now, again, I’m no Debito, and that word does not bother me, in most cases. But when it’s spat, dismissively, at me, a guy who has lived his entire adult life here, and who has probably paid more in income taxes than the guy spitting it, I get upset.

    I wheeled around and shouted “Haahhhhh?” into his face. I’ve never been in a fight in my life, so I was relieved when I saw the same kind of dim “oh crap” in the other guy’s eyes as was probably in mine, as he dutifully replied with his own “Haaaahhhh?” Then a tongue click, and I turned around to go back to reading my book on my phone, enjoying all the extra room our area of the train suddenly had.

    I think this guy was just having a bad day or something, and thought that picking on a small foreigner who probably couldn’t speak Japanese anyway, would be a good way to blow off stress. He would never have done it if I were Japanese, and it probably just increased his stress when it turned out that I DID speak Japanese, and wasn’t having any of it.

    If I were a woman, though… I wouldn’t live here. I can put up with 3 shouting matches on the train in 15 years; I could not put up with the things my female friends have had happen.

    Come to think of it, they couldn’t, either. They’ve all left.

  • Holly Lanasolyluna

    Strange experience!

  • Holly Lanasolyluna

    I´m sorry I don´t see you other comment, but I agree that language is power. I think a lot of people just automatically assumed that I didn´t speak Japanese, which I do, and that was the reason I couldn´t get help, and those comments upset people. However, I don´t think anyone disagrees that having superb Japanese helps your life here. I do study and can communicate and understand well, but of course having more language would help.

    • keihanshin

      I think people were responding to the fact that you described shouting for the police in both English in Japanese, and the fact that you had your boyfriend translate for you at the koban. Based on those details in the stories, that doesn’t seem like an unreasonable assumption. It does seem to suggest you were handicapped by language to some extent, so I don’t think it’s fair to treat people like they’re being unreasonable or irrelevant for bringing that up.

    • Gordon Graham

      I’m pretty sure if you told the guy who accused you of bicycle theft to go ahead and call the police because that in fact was your bike…So either make the call or eff off or you would call the police… He would have left you alone…Something fishy about your story…

  • http://bolddebauchery.tumblr.com/ Amaterasu

    Good insightful and informative comment. Thank you.

  • blondein_tokyo

    Actually, if a completely random person came up to me and said, without preamble, “You have nice hair” I would be completely creeped out! I would be thinking, “Who ARE you, and what makes you think you have any right to say such a thing to a complete stranger?” Talk about crossing boundaries! That is completely and utterly presumptuous.

    And I would really like for you to name me even ONE culture in which it is considered totally normal and to walk up to random strangers and comment on their breasts. Really, name ONE.

  • blondein_tokyo

    You do realize that address in Tokyo aren’t immediately discernible, don’t you? The block numbers aren’t in any logical order. For example, 2-21 is often nowhere near 2-20. It’s as likely to be next to 2-13. Even if you live in one place for years, you still won’t know the addresses of every street you walk down on your way around the neighborhood, which is why everyone gives taxi drivers specific directions or else the driver uses the navigation system.

    • keihanshin

      Yes, I do realize that. No one was saying anything about addresses, though.

  • http://bolddebauchery.tumblr.com/ Amaterasu

    Very revealing comment, both yours and JS’s below. Didn’t know this.

  • JS

    I think your comment is off-base.

    The original post above by “My Name” for this thread states, “When in Japan learn Japanese. I hear incidents like these only from those who apparently don’t speak the language”.

    In response to this, Holly has written in her many comments here that she and most of the other female victims she spoke to all speak Japanese. Clearly, their ability to speak Japanese did not prevent crimes against them, and did not prompt the Police to take these crimes seriously. So, it’s not a language problem, it’s a cultural problem.

    • Guest

      I’m not claiming that it prevents crimes, I’m saying that it empowers you to respond better after a crime and empowers you to bring the law to bear on the criminals more effectively both by being able to more effectively communicate what happened and what you expect to be done about it, and be taken more seriously when you do.

      People without full proficiency in the local language anywhere frequently face this kind of marginalization, not only in Japan. I think a refusal to acknowledge this can only come from being in a place of privilege in your home country and not wanting to acknowledge that.

      Holly specifically describes shouting for the police “in both Japanese and English,” and having her boyfriend translate for her — so clearly it’s a relevant issue in the cases she describes. And that’s fine. None of it is her fault regardless of her Japanese ability. It’s the fault of the would-be attackers and the lack of police response — they’re the ones who actually did something wrong. But the only one who suffered the consequences of their actions was Holly, and what I’m talking about it how to potentially get a different outcome should it ever happen again. Speaking the language of the law and the language of the culture is critical to being empowered to enjoy full protections of that law and participate in that culture.

      I don’t see what you’re objecting to in the notion that empowering yourself is part of making people who feel entitled to commit these kinds of crimes fear the consequences. It almost feels like you didn’t actually read my comment.

    • keihanshin

      I can’t speak to what “My Name,” wanted to say, and I think he/she may be engaging in a little bit of victim blaming. But I don’t want to see the relevance of language proficiency lost in the discussion just because one person used it in an aggressive and dismissive way.

      First of all, and I have to stress this because I’ve already said it but you’ve brought it up again — no one is saying that language ability can or does prevent crime. The discussion is about how it effects the aftermath of a crime — or in this case, a brush with a potential crime.

      Holly did write in her comments that she speaks Japanese. She also however described in the story yelling for the police “both in English and in Japanese,” not understanding anything the man was saying clearly except for “you stole this bicycle,” and having her boyfriend translate for her at the koban. It’s hardly fair to pretend like language doesn’t enter into the picture in circumstances like that. Clearly she found herself out of her depth in Japanese. That doesn’t make her responsible for anyone of what happened to her here, but it is a factor she can and should take steps to help empower herself should a similar situation ever arise in the future.

      That this might have worked against her in dealing with the police, and possibly even in the situation itself (by making her look more vulnerable and less self-sufficient) is not a unique cultural phenomenon in Japan. Language is a roadblock to equal treatment all over the world. As an American with an immigrant parent, grandparent, and extended family, I can tell you firsthand that any language deficiency can and does lead to victimization and marginalization in North America as well. If you aren’t aware of this it can only come from being in a position of privilege in the country you are from, and that means that what we’re talking about is not a uniquely Japanese evil but rather someone who is not accustomed to a certain kind of common marginalization being suddenly and unexpectedly subjected to it.

      None of this is a defense of the people who victimize language minorities, or the authorities who neglect them. They are responsible for the bad they cause. But we’re not them. We need to call attention to their behavior (one important half of half of how to cause change), and we need to look out for ourselves too (the other important half, and the one that will actually have more immediate and tangible results in our lives).

      Their behavior should be brought to attention by articles like this. That’s important, and it’s half of what needs to happen. The other half is we need to become better participants in Japanese society, not least of which involves empowering ourselves to interact with the law and authorities effectively on our own, and making would-be criminals learn to fear the consequences of seeing us as targets.

      The most crucial step in doing this is becoming self sufficient in the language of the land (and of the law and of the police) and to using it to push hard for equal treatment and direct accountability for anyone who victimizes or marginalizes us — in the most direct, immediate, and socially-integrated way possible. We won’t always be successful, and it will often not be our faults. But that doesn’t mean we’re allowed to reject the responsibility we have (to ourselves and to the authorities we expect to be looking out for us) to integrate with society and look out for our own interests to the best of our abilities. If we don’t take this society seriously and engage with it head-on, how can we expect its members to take us seriously?

      • blondein_tokyo

        I agree with this, actually. I think what people were mainly reacting to was how “my name” phrased her comments. She absolutely was indulging in straight up victim blaming.

  • Gordon Graham

    I guess you must be a consumer of Japanese anime. Either that or a Chinese who is only too willing to take a shot at Japanese society any time you get a chance.

    • blondein_tokyo

      Cheap shot, Gordon, even for you. Damn.

      • Gordon Graham

        “you could try visiting China instead…You would be swarmed by schoolgirls asking you to correct their English or men who would politely ask to take your picture”…This is what Mr.Xin offers up as a comparison to the perverted Japanese. If you don’t recognise a shot being taken, then I guess you’re not as sharp as I supposed you to be.

      • Gordon Graham

        Mine was a counter. If you couldn’t identify the original as a shot then you’re not as sharp as I supposed you to be.

      • Jeffrey

        Gordon is quite the special commentor, isn’t he?

      • Gordon Graham

        Hey, someone has to call the BS and the piling on

  • Daniel R. Larson

    I was in rural japan with my mixed Japanese/American kids last year. We went to the onsen (hot springs). As I washed my six year old daughter I noticed an old man staring at her. My incredibly rude face did not deter him at all. This won’t be a surprise to any other peole with “geijin” experience, as I generally found that I was not taken seriously there no matter how serious the situation was. He stared and stared. It was truly disgusting. I got up and yelled at him in Japanese, which he basically ignored, and got my kids out of there as quickly as possible. Just another day in the life in Japan.

  • Daniel R. Larson

    dude, not an informed response. i speak the language and have had many experiences like this. you can’t say with a straight face that foreigners are treated the same in Japan.

  • ballerinaninaritai

    Thank you, Holly, for writing this article, and thank you to everyone who courageously came forward with similar stories. It’s sad how little information there is out there to contradict the myth of a safe, almost crime-free Japan. (This is honestly the first time I’ve ever read anything to the contrary.) As someone who has been studying the language and culture for many years but not yet had the chance to go there, I’m so thankful to have read this article so that I could learn sooner rather than later that it’s not nearly as safe as it seems (or as everyone tries to tell you it is). Thank you all for opening my eyes, and for inspiring me to start taking self-defense classes before I ever set foot in Japan.

  • blondein_tokyo

    Wow- great comment! You are exactly right- we need to speak out about abuse, and not allow the naysayers to downplay the problem and silence us.

  • blondein_tokyo

    This doesn’t excuse your tiresome comments wherein you take others to task for not being as “Japanese” as you believe yourself to be.
    And how exactly does speaking Japanese help you “avoid and deal with violence”? Answer me this:

    1. Do you think criminals can tell the difference between a FOB tourist and a permanent resident?
    2. Do you think shouting at a perv in perfect Japanese will make him think twice about assaulting you?
    3. Do you think speaking fluent Japanese will make the police act more quickly and decisively? And if it does, do you think it is acceptable to treat Japanese speakers better than non-Japanese speakers?
    4. And finally, do you think someone who accidentally commits a cultural faux pas out of ignorance deserves to be assaulted?

    I look forward to your answers.

  • blondein_tokyo

    There- I liked it for you. Happy now? LOL. :)

  • blondein_tokyo

    We talk about Japan because we are IN Japan.

    But if you want to start a new conversation about sexual assault in other countries, I will be happy to participate.

  • Gordon Graham

    I think there are a lot of exaggerated claims of assault that make it more difficult for women who have legitimately been hurt and police to act. What are the police supposed to do about a woman who comes screaming into a koban saying someone tried to rape her, when in fact it was some loser who grabbed her ass on a crowded subway? Well first they would have to ask the woman exactly what happened, with embarrassing questions that you’ve already indicated they shouldn’t have to answer. What to do then? How should they respond? Run down to the crowded subway and start searching for a 40 something balding Japanese guy in a grey suit? The long after the fact type accounts like the one about the bike leave the police very little options other than to say something benign like “be careful”. What of the women who wrongly accuse a man of such a crime? It seems the way you prefer is for the police to simply take anything any woman says as gospel. “That man accosted me”…Ok, we’ll arrest him then…Not “did anyone see this assault…can you verify it. This is a very serious charge”…On the other hand, I’m confident that if a woman were to come into a koban with a bloodied face and disheveled clothing the police would respond immediately. I wonder how many incidents of assault accusation on women or men happen in a metropolis of 30,000,000 people. I assume the police who man the kobans throughout Tokyo are instructed to act on immediate danger and determine the gravity of other claims based on the information given, their experience and the probability of being able to do a god damned thing about it…Or it could be that they just hate foreigners.

    • blondein_tokyo

      “What are the police supposed to do about a woman who comes screaming into a koban saying someone tried to rape her, when in fact it was some loser who grabbed her ass on a crowded subway?

      What of the women who wrongly accuse a man of such a crime?”

      Dude! Duuuuude, REALLY? REALLY!?

      Okay, now I get you. You’re one of those “bitches be lyin’” guys, who thinks a woman has to be beaten bloody before the police should believe she was assaulted. I wonder if you apply the same amount of skepticism to people who claim their wallet was stolen? 

I wonder how many incidents of stolen wallets there must be in a city of 30,000,000? Quite a few, I bet. The police shouldn’t bother investigating pickpocketing, since it doesn’t put people in immediate danger, and there’s not much they can do about it, eh? Why even take a report, when they probably just lost it themselves, anyway…

after all, he didn’t seem THAT torn up about it, he must be exaggerating.

      If the police addressed all petty crimes with the same apathy that they address sexual assault, people would be up in arms demanding something be done. But somehow sexual assault merits even less concern than a stolen bicycle. 

The fact is, sexual assault DOES put women in serious danger. A man who feels he has the right to violently violate a woman’s bodily integrity is a dangerous man.



      According to you, though, women should just “get over it”. What you don’t understand is, all the little assaults MATTER, because they add up over time to become a menace to women’s peace of mind and a threat to their very freedom to feel safe in moving about freely in public spaces. It’s both maddening and terrifying to know that if a man sexually violates you, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it, and no one will even try to stop him from doing it to someone else.



      Yeah… I’m done here. I’ve had quite enough of arguing with online misogynists. Time to step away from the keyboard, and maybe go watch some cute cat videos or something else that will restore my faith in humanity.



      Oh…
And you’re wrong about the police responding immediately to disheveled clothing and a bloodied face. My friend was punched in the face by a man in a bar, and it required several stitches. She was bleeding all over herself, and the police response? “What did you do to make him angry?” “Are you sure this is the guy?” He totally denied it was him, and despite the fact that *I SAW HIM AND CHASED HIM* she was forced to apologize to him (and he to her- why, if he didn’t do anything??) and they let him go. So much for that theory, hey?

      • Hanten

        I think your post were wonderful and I hope many more people took notice of them. And that you’re now peacefully enjoying cat videos. You deserve them!

    • Hanten

      I can kind of see your point. It’s difficult to find one alleged assailant in a big crowded city but it is still the police’s job. It is not your role – thank goodness! – for you to decide whose claim is exaggerated or not.
      If you have read only some of the comments to this wonderful article, what you will realize that there are many women, both foreign and Japanese, who have gone to the police with bloodied faces only to be fobbed off. You and your attitude to female victims of crime are part of the problem.

  • JS

    I am usually the first one to stand up against generalizations and stereotyping people.

    However, the irony does not escape me when some posters write that one should not generalize comments made here by non-Japanese victims about the crimes, harrassment and poor treatment they have suffered in Japan to all Japanese, given the fact that non-Japanese residents of Japan have long sufferred from much worse stereotyping and generalizations which are routinely made about them by the Japanese.

  • Gordon Graham

    Well, Mr.Xin, I see you’ve posted that all Western women have to worry about in China is schoolgirls swarming them to correct their English or men politely asking to take their photograph. Thank you for your balanced assessment of the two cultures.

    • Eric Xin

      LOL. Learn to debate, “Gordon.”

      You haven’t denied a thing I (or anyone else) said. Why don’t you go take a rest. There is nothing balanced or unbalanced of what I said.

      My American and Russian friends living in China had little 8 years old schoolgirls asking them how to say things in English.

      My friend who visit Tokyo at 16, along with most of the women on this page, seem to have a different story.

  • Gordon Graham

    You’re right…it did come off as a rant

  • Gordon Graham

    I find it amusing that you gave “Han” a thumbs up for stating that the only stories of sexual assault that get reported are those of US servicemen on Japanese women…Yet here you are contradicting that statement.

  • Ngaire

    When I first arrived in Fukuoka, Japan as an exchange student ten years ago, a man tried to get me into his car. Six or seven months later in Fukuoka’s busy Tenjin area, I was seized around my arms and waist (pinning my arms to my sides) by a man in broad daylight at the busiest time of day by a man who may have had a mental disability. He would not let go. I called for help and nobody would even look at us.

    I now live in Kyoto and every single foreign woman I know has been groped or sexually harassed in some manner. In the past two years I have had four strange incidents. Two were light; salarymen trying to proposition me (once in a bookstore of all places). The second two were far more brazen and both occurred while walking home at night.

    The first was almost a year ago; a man with Nara license plates followed me in his van, pantomiming that I should have sex with him. I yelled at him, but he persisted until I went up a pedestrian walkway. The second was just one month ago. A young man on a bicycle came up beside me and started telling me in English that he had “a very big penis”. I told him congratulations and laughed at him, but he persisted, even asking me to have sex with him, until I held up my fist and told him I would hit him. At that point he apologized and hurried away.

    Even many of the Japanese women I know have had similar problems. So, no, I don’t feel Japan is safe for women, foreign or not. But just as there are Japanophiles in Western countries, you have your Anglophiles here.

  • Selchuk Driss

    The japanese police is definitely behind in these matters. But please show me a western country where there is no comparable level of sexual harassment!

  • keihanshin

    You were writing such a great comment until you couldn’t resist the urge to be confrontational for its own sake and overgeneralizing at the end.

    I’m at five and a half years living in Japan (this time around) and I’d been coming and going for another ten years or so before that. I’ve also got the same amount of time of serious study of the language under my belt, and live my life here in it and without ever falling back on my native language. Given that you felt the need to issue a challenge on that regard, I’d love to hear your own depth and breadth of experience and expertise now. (I actually don’t care, because I find people who like to measure this stuff against each other as some sign of self worth or conversational validity to be disgusting — but since you wanted to go there, I’d be interested to see you go there with yourself too.)

    Japanese people are hardly uniquely xenophobic — as you’d know if you, like me, have ever been brown (or had immigrant parents) in the U.S. This generalization is just the impression of a bunch of white people who’ve never not been white in their own countries and have no idea how different from Japan they aren’t, in this regard.

    “Westerners” (of course completely ignoring Asian-Americans etc., which is illustrative) do stand out in Japan — and white people have extreme discomfort finding themselves outside of a position of near-total social privilege. Full stop. This is not evidence of uniquely Japanese xenophobia.

    Look at your comment and try flipping all the races and countries around. The same is all true in reverse.

    • Leon P. Fletcher

      I like the “FULL STOP” in your “comment”. It sounds like “please, don’t argue with me, I am perfect and I know the truth”.

      • keihanshin

        I actually just meant it as PERIOD, as in there is nothing more to that statement, it is complete on its own.

    • Ronald Wimberly

      keihanshin, I think you bring up legitimate points about ethnicity/nationality, but you have to acknowledge the role sexism plays in your argument. Even the clear labeling of chikan does not absolve the culture of sexism, particularly in how it treats the abuse of women. Furthermore it perpetuates victim blaming, ie. “can’t you read the signs”, “why were you out so late by yourself, wearing those clothes”, or what have you, wether or not that is your intention.

      I do agree with some of what you said though. The shock and outrage that many white people feel abroad is due to privilege withdrawal. Which is crazy because even within a country like Japan where there aren’t many westerners, western white folk exert an overwhelming amount of privilege due to the position of dominance America holds internationally. Although that’s changing.

      That said, this intersection of race and gender makes Japanese culture’s serious problem with sexism (certainly not a uniquely Japanese problem) starkly evident for white foreigners. It illuminates things that are easier to ignore at home or may not be experienced as much due to white privilege.

      For instance, I could say, for me, many places considered “safe” in America are not very safe at all. Very often people like me are killed with impunity by Americans and often even by the very law enforcement officers charged to protect us.

      In a similar sense, I recognize danger in the streets, read signs and have few notions shaped by privilege. When I’m in Tokio, Fukuoka, Osaka, I don’t expect the police to be helpful, therefore I’m on my guard and I am pleasantly surprised to reap the benefits of international patriarchy while mostly avoiding that particular brand of American racism. A woman won’t have this privilege. A white woman particularly may be shocked to be exposed to patriarchal dominance sans white privilege.

      • keihanshin

        I don’t know why you chose my comments as a platform for this. What exactly are you responding to in what I said? Was it just the fact that I was calling a woman out for being disingenuous? I just read Philomena Pidgeon-Shimaoka’s comment and my response again, then re-read yours, and I don’t see any places that your comments about patriarchy and sexism could be seen as responding to. I was just talking about this one individual woman’s statement being disingenuous and untruthful.

        The discussion wasn’t about sexism or patriarchy — it was simply about the question of whether chikan is a secret that Japan sweeps under the rug or whether it’s a widely acknowledge problem. It sounds like you agree with me that it’s the latter. What does the rest of that have to do with that?

      • Ronald Wimberly

        I am acknowledging that this discussion can’t be had outside of the discussion about patriarchy and sexism. The fact that chican is both widely recognized and also often unreported or swept under the rug is directly tied to patriarchy and sexism. You don’t thing so?

      • keihanshin

        I understand that that’s the discussion you want to have, but that is not the discussion that the person you are talking to was having anywhere. If you want to tell me your thoughts on the relationship between patriarchy and sexism and chikan, I’m happy to listen — but if you think you’re responding to something I’ve actually said, I’m not understanding what that is. I’m just asking you to clarify that.

        And for the record, you’re not acknowledging; you’re asserting. And that’s OK. But don’t be disingenuous and say you’re just copping to a fact when what you’re really doing is making an argument.

      • Ronald Wimberly

        Hey Keihanshin, you’re awfully defensive, antagonistic. I’m not trolling you, I’m just discussing the topic at hand. Your reaction to what I’ve said comes off as a personal defense and dismissal of the content and not an attempt to comprehend and communicate.

        Calling me disingenuous comes off as you trying to discredit my character so that you don’t have to respond to what I’ve said. First of all I never said I was “just copping to a fact”. I made a two part statement; I responded, in acknowledgement, to part of what you said and then using the issue of ethnicity/race you introduced explained how patriarchy may be more readily perceived by a white woman depending on that context.

        I responded, in acknowledgement, to the following statement you made:

        “…Japanese people are hardly uniquely xenophobic — as you’d know if you, like me, have ever been brown (or had immigrant parents) in the U.S. This generalization is just the impression of a bunch of white people who’ve never not been white in their own countries and have no idea how different from Japan they aren’t, in this regard.

        “Westerners” (of course completely ignoring Asian-Americans etc., which is illustrative) do stand out in Japan — and white people have extreme discomfort finding themselves outside of a position of near-total social privilege. Full stop. This is not evidence of uniquely Japanese xenophobia.”

        I’m with that 100% and I responded with the following:

        “The shock and outrage that many white people feel abroad is due to privilege withdrawal. Which is crazy because even within a country like Japan where there aren’t many westerners, western white folk exert an overwhelming amount of privilege due to the position of dominance America holds internationally. Although that’s changing.”

        I went on to state that your argument that suggests that a woman’s subjection to violence was exacerbated by her ignorance of signs or language is problematic because it can’t be separated from it’s position in a larger discussion. That larger discussion is sexism and patriarchy. And the way you introduced your legitimately helpful advice about chikan and the environment ignored the overarching discussion of sexism and patriarchy and that’s why it was poorly received. By not placing it in the correct context, it could be used to disregard a woman’s experience with violence. In order for you to have a meaningful discussion in ANY WAY about violence perpetrated by men against women you must understand it’s ultimately a discussion of sexism and patriarchy and it must be a part of the discussion. If you do not understand this then you do not understand the discussion you are having. It would be as ignorant of you as it is of the writer of the article to not acknowledge the role race plays in her experience or perception, in fact it would be even more ignorant than not paying attention to the chikan signs on the train. Now that is certainly an assertion. You can address that, acknowledge or rebut it, but to continue to dismiss it would be ignorant and disrespectful.

  • kc

    I choose to read this comment as satire.

  • JS

    You can buy it on the Amazon Japan Website. I recommend that you carry it with you at all times for personal security.

  • Vee

    When I was in high school, my physics class took a two week trip to Japan to go to an expo. It was an amazing experience and I definitely have more good memories than bad, but I was assaulted twice and followed from a restaurant all the way back to my hotel once.

    The first time, my friends and I came across a Studio Ghibli “catbus” in a mall. It was one of those things for little kids to play in, but was rather large so I went inside to take pictures. A bunch of men in business suits who had been passing by stopped and started taking pictures with their phones. I assumed they were just taking pictures of the crazy foreigner in the kiddie attraction to laugh over with their families when they got home or whatever, so I didn’t think anything about it. Turns out, one man had circled around to the back of the bus and was blocking my exit. When I stepped to one side, so did he. This went on for a little while with me saying “excuse me” and other phrases in Japanese, but he wouldn’t move. Finally, I just barreled past him, but there wasn’t much space between his body and the sides so I ended up being smashed against him as I pushed my way out. He groped me in the process. I ran back to my friends upset and he walked off like nothing happened.

    The second time was in a pretty sketchy area of Osaka. (There were lots of love hotels and things around) These young men were on the sidewalk trying to get people to come into what I think was a host bar. As I walked by they made some rude comments about my breasts, and one of them grabbed my arm and tried to pull me inside. I pulled back instinctively, and another put his arm around my waist and tried to hold me. I got loose and ran back down the block to the bowling alley where my friends were.

  • Selchuk Driss

    Rate of sexual assault per 100,000 population (United Nations, 2010):
    Japan – 1.0
    Canada – 1.7
    Denmark – (6.4)
    Netherlands – 9.2
    Germany – 9.4
    France – (16.2)
    USA – 27.3
    UK – 27.7
    Sweden – 63.5

    Even taking into account possible under-reporting in Japan, it is very safe to assume that Japan’s level of sexual assault is actually lower than most western countries.

    • illerz

      The japanese mentality makes the likelihood of reporting such crimes even less. For god-sake they need a woman’s only cart on the train. That alone should tell you something.

  • Selchuk Driss

    Maybe statistics are indeed incomparable, but you can’t make any assumptions about how one country is more or less safe than the other based on your subjective impression either. Also, Japanese police may be incompetent in this matter, but a blanket statement like “Japanese Police do not record sexual crimes against women” is simply false.

  • Maelle78

    I have not experienced such violence in Japan however I once experienced the ignorance when i lost my conscious in front of a subway station on a busy morning. I was looking for help as I couldn’t move or breath normally but all i remember is the looks from the passengers passing by… I eventually recovered after a while from that sudden stroke and tried to stand up. Then the shop keeper who has been observing me for some time came to me to ask if i was all right. I still don’t understand why no one was willing to lender help …

  • Trigorah Liadon

    Is there discrimination against women with darker skin, or are we viewed as less desirable, and hence less targeted than lighter skinned women?

  • JS

    I recently heard a very disturbing story from a non-Japanese friend of mine. He is tall, speaks native level Japanese and is physically very fit, since he likes to exercise and work out at the sports gym.

    He started noticing that the Japanese members and staff at his gym started acting very strangely and aggressively towards him everytime he visited the gym. Things like following him around, bumping into him, and making inappropriate comments about him in Japanese.

    One day a staff member struck a casual conversation with him, which seemed innocent enough. That is, until he dropped a bombshell on my friend, by essentially telling him pretty directly that the Japanese members of the gym felt uncomfortable when he worked out at their gym, since he was non-Japanese.

    Needless to say, my friend quit the gym after a while and now he just goes running by himself to get some exercise. This is pretty blatant xenophobia and racism.

  • Alina Rădulescu

    I speak Japanese to an academic level. It happened to me twice and I got rid of the guys by threating them in Japanese. I am all for people learning the language of their host country, but・・・Don`t blame the victim. That is obscene! Also, I don`t think these pervs attack only foreigners.I think it`s the idea that you are weaker than them, an easy target, a sure victim that gives them the courage. That`s why the “appology water” in the first incident. I am no expert, but I have the feeling their perversion is often case border to mental illness. If you get unlucky, you get stabbed, if you get lucky, you scare the guy into peeing his pants and run.

  • FredrikJones

    The main issue here aside the crime is the lack of willingness to ”get involved”. Cowardice is inculcated into Japanese people……..All this kowtowing, conformity and following instructions etc comes at a cost, inaction and fear.

  • Marie

    Hi,
    I have been living near Tokyo for 4 months now and although I am small, blond, blue eyes wih a very white skin am lucky to say that nothing bad has happened to me so far, though I am walking around mostly alone, sometimes even late at night. After having read all these experiences I still think my homecountry Germany is more dangerous than Japan, especially for foreigners. I have often seen groups of drunk and very aggrssive young people in Germany who would start beating you if you looked at them the wrong way. I have not seen that here in Japan so far. But I may have had a naive image of Japan and be more careful from now on. Thank you for sharing your experience in public.

    • usagibakari

      as a fellow small, blonde, blue eyed girl with pale skin from Scotland I can guarantee that you will find yourself in frightening situation with a Japanese man eventually. Just remember to aim for the balls and shout a lot in German. Fluency in foreign languages scare them ;)

  • JS

    Since you have been so critical and dismissive of the author’s style and methodology, may I suggest to you, based on your own comments that brevity and conciseness are considered to be assets in the English language, and are generally preferred.

  • Jessica (shika)

    It is really fascinating that in my near year living and studying in Japan (Chiba was where I studied, but I was in Tokyo for 2 nights with my boyfriend every single weekend) I didn’t really have any of this experience. I speak the language, but certainly stand out with lighter coloured hair, blue eyes and a ‘figure’ as such.

    I found that I felt about 1000 times more safe in Tokyo than I do in Sydney, where I now live again. My experience in Sydney is guys verbally abusing me on the street at night (hence why I hate going out now) and often groping in clubs/bars. I actually never want to go out at night without at least one guy ‘escorting’ me. In Tokyo my since experience of groping was when on an alcohol-fuelled cruise party in Odaiba, where I confronted the guy straight away (I think I really scared him) and he apologised. Another time when I was walking out of Omotesando station, which I did every Friday evening for almost a year, a guy clearly was very interested and was insistent on taking my number but I politely declined several times. He did walk behind me for a short time and I felt very uncomfortable, but it was a busy street and I made a B-line straight for my boyfriend’s apartment. I learnt early on to avoid red lipstick, and I agree that it is WRONG to have to change the way you dress, but taking actions to ‘avoid’ these unfortunate situations is what I’ve learnt to do. In Sydney, unfortunately, as long as you have lady bits you are considered a ‘bitch’ and a ‘whore’ for saying ‘no’ to a guy who approaches you in public.

    Perhaps being 170cm tall and not stick-thin makes me a less-attractive target, as I am a bit ‘bigger’ than many Japanese guys? I am not sure. I am so sad to hear these experiences of other women in Japan, as I love this country to bits as well like the author of this post. I plan on living there and raising a family there if possible, so if there is any action to increase public awareness I hope to get involved. If I ever have children (female especially) there, I want them to be in what I feel is the safest environment possible.

  • MB

    It’s amazing to know that the discrimination between the native and the foreigner is persisting in the developed Japan. It means development is not a big thing or changes there should be change in culture along with the horizon of the thinking towards
    other. And it is a great message to all the developing countries, to develop their nation is not that much greater than the cultural changes or respects to other.
    Or there should be the balance between humanism and development. Hence this article shows that Japan is developed only by the technology not from the perspective of humanism.

  • http://www.twitter.com/wheres_my_phone zzzzz

    My Japanese friends have had stuff like that happen with guys forcing themselves on girls. I’ve seen crimes with people having car accidents and that sort of thing happen and people are always quick to help. It’s weird that nobody helped you. It must have been because people were unsure what to do. I know I wouldn’t know what to do and probably wouldn’t want to get involved unless it was becoming violent or overly aggressive.

    People will stare at you because you’re different. Being a hostess and an object might be viewed as bad by you, but a lot of people don’t see it that way. Some people are born smart and others with good looks. You can also improve both of those parts of yourself. Paying someone for their brain is the same as paying them for their body. Either way you’re using part of them for profit or whatever. It’s all the same, really. I guess it’s because the west only views the inner-self as important, but I think the outer-self is a reflection of the inner person. It’s the smile and look in your eyes that make you pretty, and that comes from the heart. I don’t really distinguish the two, to be honest.

    Anyways, these sorts of things happen to all women. It’s not only foreigners. The reason they have women only train cars is because of what men do on the trains. I’m not sure how to help, but try yelling “chikan” or “hentai” when some guy starts touching you. It should be enough to embarrass him and make him run away.

    • usagibakari

      “paying someone for their brain is the same as paying them for their body” whoever told you that needs a good slap. Have you ever heard of a female librarian, doctor or scientist being objectified and used by men? Sex sells, intellect doesn’t.

  • http://www.twitter.com/wheres_my_phone zzzzz

    I agree with you. There’s crime here, but not much in comparison to other countries. Guys force themselves on girls in all countries, and a lot of times people don’t know what to do when these sorts of things happen in public. Usually people do help though, but sometimes they might be unsure of what happened.

  • loulou

    I will tell you the place where foreigners treated better than the locals, ====> Morocco

  • scuttlepants

    I think if people are ignorant enough to read this article and say “All Japanese men are predators” or “Japanese culture is bad”, then they’ll interpret the article that way no matter how she writes it.
    I think only a very ignorant person would come to that conclusion as logically, there are always good and bad (and crazy) people in every country and culture and you can’t judge an entire race (or place) based on the actions of few.

  • Stacey

    Japanese people and non-Japanese people alike should extend the
    omotenashi spirit to the realm of
    personal safety: If you see a woman screaming for help,
    please shout back asking if they need help. Even if you can’t physically
    stop the attacker yourself, solidarity does a lot for victims of
    harassment and violence.

    Having said that, Thanks for this article. It’s always a shock to hear about the assaults and harassment that go on in Japan, especially if you grow up being told how Japan is so “safe”. As someone else mentioned, many crimes go unreported, especially when the victims are women and non-Japanese citizens.

    I have friends and family in Japan, and so it pains me that almost every woman I’ve talked to has a story about being stalked, groped, assaulted, or chased during her stay in Japan (of one year or more).

    Believing the Japan I know to be a safe country for all who enter, I initially would respond to womens’ stories with suspicion and doll out reasons why it must have happened to them: Oh well, you don’t speak Japanese. Oh well, you’re outfits are considered sexual in Japan. Oh well, you’re white/black and stand out. Oh well, you were walking alone at night.

    Eventually I realized that these factors had NO CORRELATION: I met a woman who had been almost attacked while wearing baggy jeans and a sweatshirt; a ugly woman who was stalked; a bilingual-from-birth Japanese-American who was groped outdoors during her commute to school. My friend’s bilingual and conservatively-dressed daughter was nearly raped at 1pm on a Saturday in a karaoke box by a Japanese college student. Apparently she opened the door, cried out for help to a patron in the hallway, and that guy looked at her for a moment and then awkwardly went back to his karaoke room. Am I supposed to tell her never to go to karaoke again? I don’t think so.

    I’ve heard horror stories from Japanese women too, so Japanese women do face the same problems. Non-Japanese women have an extra disadvantage because the creeps that attack foreign women are often extra bold, perhaps curious what will happen with a non-Japanese target. Also it may be harder for non-Japanese women to locate police boxes and effectively explain everything that happened to them in Japanese. (Although filing a report can help victims emotionally, filing reports doesn’t do much to prevent crime: koban police often just put the report in a filing cabinet and ask victims to call the police should the assailant reappear.)

    Anyway, my point of this whole post is that I hope the non-Japanese and Japanese communities in Japan and abroad can be more aware of the problems women in Japan face regardless of skin color and language abilities.

    And here’s to extending the omotenashi spirit and always offering support to women who ask for help in public spaces. がんばろう日本。

  • Stacey

    Maybe she speaks Japanese but can’t read it? Even so, reading a poster doesn’t prevent molesters from approaching you. We’re actually not even sure if the “chikan is a crime” announcements convince chikan to not go through with flashing or groping.

    • keihanshin

      The commenter is clearly implying that chikan is something that is kept quiet, not discussed, and that people are not warned about it. This is simply not true.

      “I know, when I first went to Japan no told me of the dangers of chikans, I spoke Japanese. … Ignorance is not bliss, tell people about the chikan situation and let them decide for themselves. I love visiting my family and friends in Japan. But I am certainly wiser and more alert to the dangers of chickens/chickans.”

      You can hardly pass through a train station without hearing/seeing a warning about it — both to be wary of it, and that it is a crime that will be severely punished. There are even women’s only cars because of it.

      This person is being dishonest — either about their understanding of Japanese or about Japan itself. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt by assuming it’s just their Japanese, since that seems the lesser of the two evils.

  • JTCommentor

    Obviously you are not an Asian who grew up in Australia or the US. The amount of times I got beaten up, eggs thrown at me from cars, etc just for being Asian. I speak like a local, yet people speak to me like a moron as if I cant speak English.

    France? Have you ever been? Their opinions towards Muslims, Africans, Americans, British, Germans etc is some of the worst in the world.

    • keihanshin

      Dude, exactly. And let’s see how many of these people who are in such a rush to criticize Japan will even acknowledge your voice.

  • JTCommentor

    And yet on a subway in the US I saw a guy drop to the ground having a fit. I tried to stop him hitting his head on the chair, and people yelled at me warning me not to touch him as I could be sued. Nobody else intervened.

    Its human nature and group mentality being discussed here. Its interesting, and has nuances dictated by culture, but non of this is unique to Japan or Asia.

    • anthony

      in actuality the best one can do when someone is having a fit is not to touch as he may straight up hurt you or himself unintentionally as well as move possible dangers away from him. but i applaud you for attempting to limit him from hurting himself by keeping his head from the back of the chair

  • JS

    Lest people get a false sense of security living in Japan, consider the latest statistics of purse snatchings in the largest areas, as reported by the Japanese press today.

    According to these reports, Osaka’s total number of purse snatching incidents currently stands at 1,244 for this year. Kanagawa Prefecture reported 811 cases and Saitama had 758 purse snatchings. I think it’s a reasonable guess that most of these victims are female, even though, I see many males in Japan carrying purse-like bags too.

    People sometimes get complacent, since they hear stories about wallets being left unattended at Statbucks, etc., but that does not tell the whole story.

  • tsotha

    Japanese cops are famous for beating confessions out of suspects. You don’t get a conviction rate that high in a working justice system.

  • Shun

    Japan is considered safe, but it just means “safer or safe compared to others”. Crazy people are everywhere inside and outside Japan, and crazy things can happen everywhere too. I’m so sorry that this happened to the women.

  • Fraga123

    This is true for all foreigners in Japan, not just foreign women.

  • Monika Ambroziak

    I came to Japan just a month ago and I am working here as an intern in all-Japanese company. So far I haven’t been the object of such a crime. Here in Nagoya they don’t deny that they have such a problem. Or maybe they know that I already know much about dark side of Japan (writing thesis on the subject) so they don’t hide it from me. Once after dining and drinking with my Japanese colleges we were returning home early enough to caught last train my male colleague who lives in the same neighborhood didn’t walk me to my flat (for me – completely natural). But next day at Saturday when I met for dinner with the same group of people and girls asked this guy if he had walked me home, they were really angry that he said that he hadn’t and yelled at him (he is their junior). Usually they give me ride home their car or taxi or sometimes guys walk me home – but I thought they were doing that because of my intoxicated state. Then girls said to me that it’s really dangerous for women here and especially for foreign women so I should drag him with me for protection. The other time my female colleague took me to her favorite spanish pub, and when boss of the place who is her friend took me outside to show some buildings from Edo period in the neighbood (when he learned that I like period houses) she and her other friend look after us really worried and said something about kiddnapings of foreign women… so no, Japan is definetely not a safe place for women.

  • spfx

    The title of your article is over the top and unjust, but I guess effective at selling readership and bringing the issue forward. Come to America and live in a big city if you think Japan is not safe.

  • Leila

    Wow, mind-blowing, I’m a huge fan of Japanese culture but have only been there twice. I generally felt safe there in most places, even though I know the prevalence of “less severe” crimes such as groping on a train etc. I would never have expected to hear about this incident, but I can see how bystanders would just not do anything (that’s very characteristic of Japanese society in general, status quo and “not my business” attitude). Anw, this is a very interesting and insightful article, thank you for sharing. I do wonder though, what are the experiences of foreign people who looked similar to Japanese people (cos I’m Asian and many people have mistaken me as being Japanese while in Japan since I speak a little Japanese) and also what are the experiences of foreign men?

  • ThatFrenchGamer

    I voted “Yes. In fact, I’ve never felt in physical danger here, period.” but I’m a male and thought I’m french I was raised in Japan when very young, so it’s to be expected.
    On the other hand it’s a pretty well known among japanese people (especialy the youngest generations, that don’t blind themselves) that Japan isn’t as safe as it advertises itself to be. Women still get molested/raped, bullying often climbs up to extremes… Japan also has its own kind of crimes you don’t see in western countries (though crimes often seen in those countries don’t happen in Japan), for example the “toorima” which you could translate as a “demon that walks by”, it’s a modern Jack the reaper exept they just stab people (not always to death) when they walk by them.
    I wouldn’t say that Japan’s crime rate is “high”, but it’s definitly higher than the country advertises. Also what makes it worse is that most bystanders wont act, it’s this whole “mind my own buisness” mentality, I’m pretty sure it’s stronger when the one involved is a foreigner (though I think it’s less true in more rural areas, where they have a stronger sense of community, but then again I’m no specialist).
    Anyway Japan is a place with lots of secrets, some are awesome things to discover but a lot aren’t nice at all.

  • Inago

    I think the author of this article is only beginning to touch the surface and really stating, almost verbatim, what a lot of foreign women around me have been saying lately.

    While ultra-nationalists will repeatedly affirm that Japan is homogenous, there is a similar broad spectrum of personality types here as anywhere. Some are fantastic people and some are plain dangerous. Japan also has its share of sociopaths who prey upon the vulnerable, and I don’t think I can illustrate my point better than mentioning the famous cannibal Issei Sagawa who graphically murdered a dutch woman in Paris in 1981 before slicing off her breasts and buttock and eating them and then repeatedly copulating with her lifeless corpse, before moving on to eating other body parts. He admitted to having a long repressed cannabalistic “fetish” for caucasian women. Due to a bizarre loophole in the law, and to the horror of many people in Japan, he was freed and now frequents bars in Roppongi that are popular with foreign hostesses. Now this incident doesn’t represent the typical Japanese male persona at all, but should be a reminder that not everyone is safe.

    I can think of similar situations that have occurred with many foreigners in Japan: somebody was beaten up by a whole family of “yankis” after complaining about them picnicking in the middle of a bike path in Sakai City for example (he didn’t report it to the police). Most of the incidents that occur in Japan tend to be much more passive-aggressive and easier to dismiss (perhaps as coincidence, accidents, or some sort of cultural misunderstanding). Once a man, seemingly in a hurry to catch a non-existent train, rushed past me dismissively, then slammed into my visibly pregnant wife so hard at a train station that he spun her around, then proceeded to stand in line for the train as if nothing happened. Sometimes people cross that line that shakes up the cycle of endless benefit of the doubt: while walking with my Japanese wife in Saitama, down an empty street, a man approached us, then proceeded to cross the street, then slam into my wife, then me, then walk on again dismissively as if nothing happened. Yet, when it comes to women in Japan, things get much more brazen, and much of it goes un-reported. A foreign woman in Tokyo chastised a woman for cutting in front of her in line. The woman pulled out a ball-point pen and stabbed her in the chest with it, then, again dismissively, walked on as if nothing happened while bystanders looked on. She didn’t report the crime and simply left Japan. A woman living in a building near me had a young man walk up to her, grab her breasts, and then walk away again as if nothing happened. She protested of course, but he blatantly ignored her. My Japanese wife pressed her to report it to the police. Within a period of one year, an Australian woman living in Suminoe, Osaka had men sit across from her on an empty train and stare her down with looks of disdain, openly stare at her breasts on other occasions, expose themselves to her, etc. In Tennoji, on a bus, a man attempted to climb over the seat in front of her while trying to grab her. She protested in English, and the bus driver finally said something and the man stopped, but what bothered her the most was that other passengers stared ahead as if nothing happened. But women aren’t the most vulnerable, I just recently watched a group of 3 drunken men in their 60s wave an open flame in the faces of some foreign toddlers while repeating “fiya”, “fiya” in bad English. I just sat there, unable to believe my eyes—while a Japanese friend eventually reported the incident. Twice, in South Osaka, I turned away to discover men standing over the top of my mixed-looking 2-year-old staring at her with a violent look of disdain and contempt: one time in a hospital lobby, the other time in a grocery store.

    In my 20 years of experience with Japan, it actually seems like these incidents are getting worse, and while we are the same mixed couple (caucasian and east-asian) in the US as we are in Japan, our experiences are far worse here. In fact, we have traveled together in many parts of the world without encountering any obvious problems. In fact, we have traveled extensively and repeatedly to many parts of Mexico where we both stand out (Tijuana, Tecate, Ensenada, Mexico City, Puebla, Merida, Celestun) and never had a single problem. A native Japanese friend in Osaka, has lived off an on repeatedly in California, and didn’t have any problems. A previous neighbor, now living in San Mateo, hasn’t had any problems so far, but she did have someone mock her accent at a store once.

    There are probably a lot of factors to consider, and these factors are curiously more readily understood when talking about the minority experience in other parts of the world, or traveling or living in other countries in the world. Yet, in the case of Japan, where newcomers face an unusual barrage of both positive and negative stereotypes and misconceptions, a certain amount of logic goes out the window.

    The US FBI Uniform Crime Reports always cautions people against comparing crime statistics across jurisdictions due to differences in policing, reporting, different conviction rates, etc. When comparing countries people should probably exercise far more caution. I’m not making an absolute statement, but if there is a tendency for people in the US to over vocalize problems; there is a probably a tendency for people to ignore and bury problems in Japan. For example, Japan invented methamphetamine, and though it is now illegal, it was once legal and widely available, and drug treatment experts feel usage and addiction is highly underreported and likelihood of arrest is extremely low. My mother-in-law recently admitted, after 50 years of silence, that two of her cousins died from meth abuse in her small town in rural Kyoto. In the case of Japan, for a variety of reasons, police are often less likely to make an arrest and prosecutors are less likely to press for a conviction than in the US. While false convictions are far lower, so are actual criminal convictions. Unless, there is really solid evidence, police often let things go, even settling for an apology from the offending party (I have witnessed this process a few times). Like many yakuza related crimes, in the case of non-citizens, where there is less of a compelling reason to act on the part of the police, murders can turn into accidents or even suicides. If you look at graphs comparing international rates to population, Japan becomes an obvious statistical outlier. Given that Japan has one of the largest organized crime syndicates in the world and that people are afraid to report anything remotely yakuza related, it seems reasonable to question Japan’s safe reputation. While many Japanese nationals second guess whether Japan is nearly as safe at appears, adjusting for differences in conviction rates and reporting, my guess is that Japan is probably closer to average amongst wealthy countries.

    When you are a visible minority that makes up less than .1 percent of the population, it is even wiser to practice caution. There is an irrational level of presumed innocence on the part of people in Japan. While foreigners are innocently told that “Japanese are “shy around foreigners”, in Japanese they use different expressions ranging from “I feel uneasy around foreigners” to “there is just something I don’t like about them” (nanika ga iya). While foreigners are bound to encounter completely sensitive and empathetic people in Japan, native Japanese will easily admit that xenophobia is rampant, and there has been little education to address the problem. One common stereotype about foreigners in Japan is that they don’t speak and are unwilling to learn Japanese, making them likely targets. Woman are even more open targets for a variety of reasons.

  • disqus_qZ005ScqrF

    I thnk there is a large difference between ‘Foreign women’ and ‘Foreign looking women’. I think you assumed your audience would assume the latter. I am ‘Foreign’, but I’ve never been targeted like that because I am Asian (Japanese blood). Also, the Japanese cartoon style often features white people. If you have lived in Japan for some time, you should realize this. This is not meant to presume that criminals/victims are white. Please be more careful when making such statements.

  • Hanten

    Did you really just say that working women are going to be assaulted more because they go to work? Good lord. Quick women, get back to the kitchen and take off your shoes! There are no statistics that back that up, by the way.
    My own government advises me to take all necessary and regular precautions against assault while in Japan. As well as recommending that if I’m the victim of crime to report it to both the police and my embassy, regardless of the standard of my Japanese ability. Why, if my Japanese was perfect, would I need consular assistance? Because history, both recent and less so, has shown that the Japanese police are sadly terribly relaxed in their attitude towards crimes against women and foreigners. I fit into both categories.
    I’d be much happier if you spent less words defending a broken system and more trying to fix it.

    • Nathan Oyama

      > Did you really just say that
      working women are going to be assaulted more because they go to work?

      Yes.

      > Good lord.

      Well, I think you should have listened to your elementary teachers. Remember when you were little your parents and elementary teachers didn’t allow you to go outside especially in the evening. Little kids, skinny young girls, foreigners who can hardly communicate to others, and even skinny guys have higher chance of being assaulted compared to heavyweight boxers. That’s sad, indeed, but naturally the same thing apply to any country.

      > Quick women, get back to the
      kitchen and take off your shoes!

      (Are women this dumb? The answer is no. But Hanten’s super-hasty conclusion is.) Such decision making as “working outside” vs “staying at home” is not a binary but
      quantitative problem. Some people are likely to work outside though
      it’s more dangerous than staying at home, and others just stay at
      home. Their decision-making depend on several factors like how safe outside is, how wealthy they are, their family structure, etc. Thus
      your unkind remark about “All women are better off staying at
      home!” only suggests how simple and unsophisticated your, well,
      maybe I should just stop here.

      > There are no statistics that back
      that up, by the way.

      I just searched with this obvious idea
      about “women working outside have higher chance of being victimized” in Google and could easily find lots of papers suggesting the correlation between womens’ participation in the market and crime rate, including
      but not limited to “The Labor Market and Female Crime” (Stanford,
      USA, 2007), “Measuring violence
      against women: Statistical trends”
      (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Canada, 2013), and “平成25年警察白書” (National Police Agency, Japan, 2013).

      > Because history, both recent and
      less so, has shown that the Japanese police are sadly terribly
      relaxed in their attitude towards crimes against women and
      foreigners. I fit into both categories.

      So please be careful when you go
      outside, wherever you are. As I said Japan is not an exception at all.

      > I’d be much happier if you spent
      less words defending a broken system and more trying to fix it.

      I’d be much happier if you spent less
      words badmouthing—without good reasons (see my previous comment)—a specific country and more trying to fix your naivety. And I hope you
      wouldn’t be depressed when you learn that the exact same things apply to your country too.

  • Big Gap

    To be honest, there’s no “safe” place in this world. As much as I feel “safe” in Tokyo, my head is always on a swivel wherever I go. It’s a choice I make that I am responsible for my family’s and my own protection and train most everyday to prevent these situations. If anything, the criminal would fear me – not the other way around. Crime and evil exists everywhere and I wouldn’t bother relying on authority figures as personal bodyguards. Speaking Japanese would definitely not get me out of this situation.

    It doesn’t surprise me that the police wouldn’t do anything. They’re pretty useless over there anyway as they are in most countries.

    Although I feel badly that you have experienced this, my advice would be to take self-defense classes and always be aware of your environment. I know that it sounds stressful, but training yourself to be aware eventually becomes second nature and keeps you “safe” from these situations.

  • Ronald Wimberly

    I think it is important to acknowledge the details of your perspective in your story to avoid conflating things. Acknowledging your place of privilege in one place will illuminate your experience elsewhere. I commend you for telling your story and look forward to more dialogue like this.
    I recently traveled through Japan (Fukuoka, Osaka, Tokio) with my girlfriend. It was her first time. She is a white woman. I had a hard time articulating the strange intersection of sexism and racism in Japan and how it plays out. The most I could muster was, “be careful/mindful”.
    Mass media (international and domestic) certainly plays a big role in the perception of foreigners in Japan. International branding plays a large role in the way sexism and racism are experienced.

  • Nathan Oyama

    JS, I kindly suggest you read my comment again, and you will realize that I had carefully chosen qualitative and quantitative analysis depending on the situation. I said

    “Ok, Japan is not safe–but compared to where? [both]”

    “[W]hy doesn’t the author provide any number to use statistics and make comparison in support of her argument that crimes by Japanese people are common as well? [quantitative]”

    “The cop said “shoganai ne [i.e.,] that’s also your fault (about biking alone late at night in a big city and met strangers), idiot.” [qualitative] ["]

    ["]Even if she does the same thing in Singapore, I bet she would experience deja vu. [qualitative]”

    “I hope she learns how to develop rational argumentation–using statistics [quantitative], describing public policies [qualitative], comparing to foreign countries [both]…”

    Also, I think you misunderstood what I said in the beginning:

    “This article [...] is not very convincing since the argument [..] is way too anecdotal.”

    Anecdotes (i.e., stories about very personal experience) are, in a sense, a type of informal qualitative research rather than quantitative. Great articles like one in the NY Times do use anecdotes too–but usually these are no more than *icebreakers*. This article overuses icebreakers so badly that I can hardly find the main argument; as a newspaper reader, I am expecting professional analysis (on both qualitative and quantitative) and arguments rather than apathy or personal complaint.

    Lastly, I show you that I’m not advertising The Economist; search with “Japan’s sexist labour market” which resembles this article–too many anecdotes, qualitative research in only two paragraphs, and no quantitative analysis.

  • Hanten

    Nathan Oyama, it’s great that you’re participating by commenting on this article but I fear you’ve missed the point and spectacularly so.
    I’m sure it’s hard to hear any sort of criticism of your wonderful country, especially from a foreigner but I think it’s in all Japan’s best interests if you do. Japan has a stagnating economy and a disastrously low birth rate, two problems that would both be rectified by making the country safer and fairer for women. This may seem like a long stretch at first but please bear with me. At moment, women in Japan are suffering very high rates of sexual assault and harassment. Sadly, as many commenters here and elsewhere have pointed out, many incidents go unreported and the police commonly do not take much notice even if it is reported, so statistics on these in Japan are highly unreliable. Many guidebooks actually recommend if anyone is sexually assaulted to go their embassy first because that is often only way to get the police to do their job.
    As for sexual harassment at work – anecdotally more than four out of five working women are victims of it – its easy to see how it would actively discourage women from working. Speaking out about it, which is apparently rarely done here, often results in the woman being sacked and the perpetrator seeing no consequences at all.
    Let’s move onto the fairness of the Japanese employment practices when it comes to gender. But why pretend that there’s much fairness there at all? It’s terribly unfair that less women are employed in full-time salaried positions. It’s outrageously unfair and blatantly illegal that women are paid less often for the same work. Even though, there’s a law banning it, women are routinely sacked for getting married or falling pregnant. What sane woman would want to stay in or go back to work in such an unfair system? It’s early days in Japan’s shift to a more equal world so I suspect many working women here don’t expect more yet.
    I read in the Japan Times recently that more than 70% of Japanese mothers wanted to return to work but found it extremely difficult to find work. Most companies refuse to interview mothers regardless of how qualified and experienced they are. Finding childcare, which should be both parents role, is generally left to the mother and in Japan there is very little of it available. I may be wrong but as far as I know the Japanese government appears not to provide any financial assistance or tax breaks for childcare.
    All of this happens in a country with excellent an education system where women are getting excellent results.
    Why is Japan wasting this most valuable resource? Why is Japan allowing women both Japanese and foreign to be assaulted and abused?
    Holly Lanasolyluna wrote an excellent piece based on her experiences that has acted an wonderful consciousness raiser. The resulting flood of horrible stories of the sexist and racist treatment many people have received in Japan must come as a shock to you and any Japanese people who read them. Why is it so shocking? Because Japan sells itself on being a safe country when its only safe if you’re Japanese man or women who doesn’t work or ride her bike at night. You indirectly called Ms Lanasolyluna an idiot for doing so. More fool you! She is doing something very brave to help fix some serious problems in your country.

  • illerz

    There is a big difference. Sharing your brain is as easy as this typing a comment. But the body is something of an up close and personal experience. It’s very different. I’m shocked you think they are the same thing.