“Japan: no safe country for foreign women,” Holly Lanasolyluna’s article published in the new Foreign Agenda slot on Oct. 23, attracted an unprecedented number of online comments. More than 5,000 people also answered the accompanying poll about safety in Japan. Here are just some of the mails and comments.
Not a strictly foreign problem
Yes, Japanese women are also victims. I teach at university and have had the following stories related to me by students.
While at a birthday party for a classmate, a friend of two of my students received a phone call from her boss at her part-time job. She worked for a dentist in Shinjuku. He said he needed to meet with her about something work-related.
It was around 10 p.m. on Tuesday night and she didn’t want to meet him, and asked if it could wait until the next time she was at work. He insisted, and said that he would drive out to where the party was and pick her up. Her friends — my students — overheard the conversation and joked that he was going to profess his love for her. She responded that she would not like that at all.
He called again around 11 p.m. to tell her he had arrived. Expressing disgust, she told her friends that she would be “right back” and left the party, leaving her book bag, club gear and purse behind. Her friends have not seen nor heard from her since.
After weeks of searching (they didn’t go to the police out of fear of “making it worse”) they found a friend of a friend of her family. All they were able to learn was that she was alive. They got her home address to send her purse and other belongings to her. A month later, all the students in the same year as her were called together and told that she dropped out of school and that they should not try to contact her. That was October 2010.
One of the girls who used to know her said that four other of her friends have also been raped. Only one went to the police, and after her experience with them, she said that if ever she was raped again, she would not report it. The police at the kōban [police box] where she reported the attack made her show them what he did to her and where he touched her. She felt as if she had been raped a second time by the intrusive questions and contact by the male police officers taking her report.
The second attack was on a longtime student of mine. She related her experiences during our discussion class, made up of a small group of close friends, all of whom were my longtime students. As she was walking home from her station in downtown Tokyo late at night, a man grabbed her from behind and, with his hand over her mouth, carried her between two office buildings and raped her.
Afterwards, she immediately ran to the kōban to report it. The officer on duty there cautioned her that if she filed a report the police would have to inform her parents, even through she was of adult age. Voicing her desire not to have her family, especially her father, know, and yet afraid of being attacked again, the police officer told her, “Don’t worry, this is a safe area.” She left for home without filing the report.
Later, she would tell her family, except for her father. Once her father did learn of it, he became infuriated and did not speak or even look at her for a month. Getting over his anger at her, he and the rest of her family then urged her to file a report. It was then at least a couple of months since the attack. I haven’t had contact with her since so I do not know the outcome. I do know that I have read about neither in the newspapers nor heard about them via any other news media.
A few years ago my wife was given the following warning from a member of a group we were members of. The speaker was a police officer assigned to the labor ministry to investigate workplace crime. She told all the female members of the group not to go into any bathrooms in any of the department stores in Shinjuku alone. She was investigating reported rapes numbering in the hundreds. Men would either follow a victim into the restroom or be waiting for them inside.
Whenever I try to tell anyone about any of this, the first thing they ask is always, “Are [the rapists] Japanese?” Second is, “In Japan?” Most of the Japanese men I tell this to get very angry, call me a “lying Japan-basher,” and disassociate themselves from me. Several Japanese women have responded the same way. Others are shocked and outraged. Some just look down in silence.
NAME WITHHELD UPON REQUEST
Translate this into Japanese
I’ve literally just finished reading your article “Japan: no safe country for foreign women.” My immediate thought was: This has to be translated into Japanese.
I’ve heard many horror stories myself, and not just from foreign women. It is our responsibility as minorities in Japan to make our case known to the Japanese public.
Please get this translated and publish it in Japanese any way you can! Put in an English and Japanese version, share it on Twitter/Facebook and watch the foreigners in Japan make it go viral.
All the world has freaks
How far can Ms. Lanasolyluna walk at night in her native California? I came to Japan when I was 21, and now I am a grandmother of 60, and I’ve never had a problem.
I guess it depends much on how you adjust to the culture you chose to live in. It is the same everywhere; all over the world you will meet freaks and hentai [perverts].California is dangerous even in daytime!
Nasu Karasuyama, Tochigi
Preoccupied with white women
Perhaps the story could have been improved by the removal of the distinction of foreign women in Japan being “white women.” Shades of racialism, I think, as all Japanese women also have white skin unless they spend time in the sun, at which time they become “tanned,” just like other “white women”.
(married to a “white” Japanese woman)
Self-restraint maintains order
I have lived in Japan for 12 years and have experienced many things, including verbal, mental and physical harassment, both in and out of the workplace.
These are all isolated incidents and I prefer to consider them more as exceptional rather than normal. However, these “exceptional” incidents happen far too frequently for comfort.
Japan’s image of being a safe country is strong, and in a sense, it is safe. Unfortunately, it’s the prolonged sense of safety in the country that has made the police completely useless. A Japanese friend of mine, who has traveled a lot, calls it heiwa boke — a naivety brought about by prolonged peace.
A third person getting involved in an altercation can often only escalate the situation ,which is why I believe a lot of Japanese people prefer to not get involved. Unfortunately, the dark side to such a way of thinking is that taken to its extreme, such a policy simply allows criminals to commit crimes.
I like to consider myself a peace-loving person, but unfortunately it is all to apparent that the only way to guarantee your safety is to take care of it yourself. You cannot expect the police to do anything, and the general public certainly won’t help.
The police and the government need to realize that the only thing maintaining order in Japan is the self-restraint of the general public, which is thankfully still very strong in Japan.
What will happen when there is no law (or maintenance of the law) and order?
Porn habits shaped attitudes
I read all the comments [accompanying this article]. As a Japanese myself, it is extremely embarrassing to hear these kinds of stories — of Japanese guys groping women on trains, masturbating in front of them, etc.
I have to admit that, yes, there are heaps of perverts in Japan. I hate to be stereotyped, but when I’m out of Japan sometimes, [I'm stereotyped] 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 nothing I can say against 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 American pornography for some decades postwar, in comparison with Japanese material. It’s not the case today, but I’ve read a book about the history of Japanese magazines that said this.
Since there were not many foreigners, especially white women, in Japan some decades ago, and there were few occasions to get to know them for real, they became associated [by Japanese] with pornographic imagery. As a result of that, I guess, some of the Japanese, especially those over their 40s, have kept this distorted idea towards them and [that's why they] perpetrate these 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 kind of ordeal. One girl told me that when she walked down the road, which is supposed to be the safe because it’s located just in front of uni, guys in passing cars shout out stuff like ‘Can I f—k you?’ Another Japanese girl told me that she was asked the same thing by her sober friend and got groped, though she somehow managed to avoid being raped.
Concerning this, one of my friends who was born and lived here for 20 years told me that some of the guys prefer to watch Japanese porn and were stupid enough to assume that real Japanese girls are the same [as the actresses] — they have distorted images of them.
Japanese porn predates the U.S.
This has nothing to do with porn. The West has 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 even a country. There were only U.S. 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 the 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 the Internet became common (about 2000).
Japan not the safe place it was
I’m shocked to learn the ordeal of Ms. Holly Lanasolyluna. I’m a Japanese man from Iwakuni who experienced a similar robbery a few years ago. My 81-year-old mother had her bike stolen when I was home. So we all have to be careful about our bikes. Japan may be relatively safe, but it’s no longer as safe as it was.
Speak out about every incident
[Ms. Lanasolyluna, ] as a native of Japan, I must say you are right on about complicity regarding personal crimes against women regardless of nationality. I’m sure you’re aware of many women who silently endure sexual harassment or outright rape, because Japanese society still views violence against women as not serious or a private matter.
Lack of bystander intervention is very much of a characteristic of this false perception. Good Samaritans in Japan do exist, but they are often not rewarded for their kind acts and too many times are stigmatized for getting in the middle of “personal” matters.
Blaming non-Japanese for increased crime incidents or victims for their behavior needs to be addressed soon and changed if Japan wants to maintain the image of being a “safe” country in the world. I believe a false sense of security is gradually shattering, with more reports on heinous crimes committed by Japanese in recent years.
One way to address violence against women, regardless of the severity of incident, is to speak up about each and every incident and make it a public forum to change the culture of complicity. In this sense, the group mentality of Japanese culture may come in handy: If most people are fed up with constant sexual assault and harassment that the police will not even pay attention to, and if they express dissatisfaction with the way violence against women is handled, something might happen. Also, if many people openly reward Good Samaritans, the culture of marginalizing them might diminish.
I hope your article about your personal experience and the experiences of many other women will inspire cultural change, particularly a positive change for the good of women and girls in Japan.
I look forward to reading your articles in the future!
Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice
The University of South Dakota
Vermillion, South Dakota
Strong cultural bias in account
I call this malarkey. I’ve lived in Japan for a number of years myself and have never been the victim of anything more than an attempt to practice some long-neglected high school English. As well, the people of Japan have always shown a sincere willingness to help any time I’ve had difficulty with the language or even wandered around looking lost.
Additionally, the (admittedly few) times I’ve spoken to anyone at a kōban, they have been both professional and courteous. Japan has a very high conviction rate, and violent crime is absolutely not tolerated.
I’m detecting a strong cultural bias leaking through these claims, and wonder if perhaps [the writer is] not simply using this as a platform to vent some general frustration with gaijin life.
Corrupt, inefficient justice system
[DarkNozomi:]“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 percent 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?
Reason for high conviction rate
[Expat77:] 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.
Deep distrust for the police
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 kōban.
At the kōban, 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 Ridgway and Lindsay Hawker? How many more deaths will it take before this gets the attention it deserves?
Amazing place for brown women
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 U.K. 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.
Stats reflect reluctance to report
Here’s the thing: If women are discouraged from reporting sexual violence and related crimes, and the police are reluctant to follow up on the cases that do get reported, you end up with statistically very low crime rates that don’t reflect women’s lived reality. This study is pretty old now, but little has changed:
“The true prevalence of rape is not markedly lower than that of other countries, but the number of cases reported in official statistics is extremely low. For example, in the USA it is estimated that 14.8 percent of women are raped during their lifetime, and 96 252 (39.3/100 000) offences were reported to law-enforcement agencies in 1996. The percent of victimisation in the USA is thus only less than twice that in Japan, but the number of reported cases in the USA amounts to 30 times those in Japan. In 1999, the Office for Gender Equality of the Prime Minister’s Office did a nationwide survey of 3405 people, which showed that 6.8 percent of the 1773 women had experienced ‘physically forcible sexual relations.’
“In clinical practice, we often encounter rape victims with severe post-traumatic stress disorder who have neither reported the assault to the police nor sought treatment in the mainstream health-care system. But, another important factor is that victims are generally portrayed as being nonassertive, passive and patient. In particular, Japanese society is only mildly tolerant of female victims who react with anger and aggression towards their assailants or who assert and articulate their rights.
“The number of legal cases related to sexual assault is rapidly increasing but it remains a small number compared with the true extent of crimes committed. By contrast, attributes such as self-blame, tolerance, and suppression of feelings are praised. It follows that, if recovery from trauma is defined as the re-acquisition of self-esteem and self-control, a societal attitude that runs contrary to this process will hinder victims’ recovery.
“Thus, although improvement in the clinical management of victims’ physical injuries is necessary, a more urgent and important task in Japan is teaching specialists in the support services about the psychological needs of victims.” (“Cultural Aspects of Violence Against Women In Japan,” Takako Konishi, The Lancet, 2000)
Actors versus observers
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 filming up 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 too.
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.
Contact embassy, not police
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 the 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?
Myth of noble white knights
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 phrase book 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.
Police can’t refuse higai todoke
[Ms. Lanasolyluna:] For next time (and everybody else), if you’re ever in a kōban or police station, fill out a higai todoke, 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 traumatic experiences.
Turned off Japan for good
Many years ago, I was a friend to a young white girl who really wanted to study in Japan. She was a anime fan and loved Japanese culture. A year later, when she came home changed. She stopped talking. Hated Japan whenever the topic is brought up. If I hadn’t know better, I would’ve thought she had been to Nanjing, not Tokyo.
At first I thought it was because she was 16 and found out there are no Doraemons or Pikachus in Japan. But I managed to piece together the story from another friend.
Blonde girls/women, for one reason or another, are portrayed in the anime as the most sexually aggressive/active of all womenkind. If you put a couple female characters in a standard anime together, the blonde, white girl will always be either the sexually dominant or young and willing to learn about sex. And these “facts” are taught to Japanese boys in light novels designed for the early high-school population. The adult reading material can get a lot worse.
My friend, living in Tokyo, found herself to be a symbol of some kind, and all kinds of strange things happened, ranging from unwholesome interest from men twice of her age to pornographers asking her if she is 20 so she can be in a shoot , and most of all, boys of her age having some astonishing misconceptions about her sexual habits. She reported incidents to the police several times, and just like in the author’s case, no one cared. She came back to the U.S. and never touched anime again.
Misplaced trust in the system
I can’t believe that Holly “go lightly” Lanasolyluna has lived on and off in Japan for years. Surely she read about the brutal murders of Lucie Blackman and Lindsay Ann Hawker, and the underwhelming response from the Japanese keystone kōban kops? Just how naive is she, this professor?
Did she really write, “I’ve always known that Japan had perverts — but until recently they seemed benign”? As opposed to the more malignant stalker/rapists in Los Angeles or London? After being molested on a train, would she tell the police, “The perverted salaryman sexually assaulted me, but in a very benign manner”?
Japan is no country for foreign women blindly in love with it. Blackman and Hawker are rolling in their graves!
Lanasolyluna claims that she loves Japan and wants to keep living here, “unlocking the mysteries” she encounters every day. It’s a mystery she hasn’t been violated by some stalking Japanese sex predator. Nearly every foreign female English teacher I ever met told me stories of being groped, stalked, harassed or assaulted. Many fled Japan after being groped one time too many on the Yamanote Line or having their best silk panties stolen, again, right off the laundry line.
Holly “go lightly” Lanasolyluna reminds me somewhat of Blanche DuBois of “A Streetcar Named Desire” fame. Dubois famously said, “I’ve always trusted in the kindness of strangers,” much like this deeply troubled woman.
Given the fact that even drunken police officers and prison wardens in Japan do a bit of groping when off duty, is it any surprise that the police responded to her complaint by essentially saying, shō ga nai, ne?
All cynical kidding aside, get yourself an industrial-size can of Mace, Holly, and spray liberally at the appropriate time.
Send your comments and story ideas to email@example.com.