Images of Koyuki Higashi’s childhood came back to her in flashes. She was almost always in the bathroom; sometimes she caught a glimpse of the stool she used to sit on while taking a shower, other times she saw her father and her, bathing together. For a long time Higashi was unable to make much sense of the flashes. A few years ago, however, she finally began to remember: She had been sexually abused as a child.
The abuse always occurred in the bathroom and her mother was invariably just outside, preparing dinner in the kitchen. How could Higashi’s mother not hear her cries of pain? How could she keep quiet as her husband raped her own daughter? Higashi still asks herself these questions today. “When I began to remember what had happened, I couldn’t believe it at first,” Higashi says. “I didn’t want to believe it. My parents were good people and my father was well-respected in society. Nevertheless, I couldn’t pretend that it didn’t happen anymore.”
Higashi, 29, made headlines in March 2013 when she and her partner, Hiroko Masuhara, became the first same-sex couple to hold a wedding at Tokyo Disney Resort, even though gay marriage has no legal standing in Japan.
In June this year, she revealed her darkest childhood secret in an illuminating book titled “Nakatta Koto ni Shitakunai: Jippu Kara Seigyakutai wo Uketa Watashi no Kokuhaku” (“I Don’t Want to Pretend it Didn’t Happen: My Confession of Being Sexually Abused by My Father”), which was published by Kodansha.
“It’s taboo to talk about sexual abuse by fathers in Japan,” Higashi says. “However, what my father did was wrong. I never did anything to deserve this; no child ever deserves to be abused like this. I wrote this book about my true identity in order to face the truth.”
Higashi was born and raised in the city of Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture. Her parents were both professional narrators. Higashi suffered from a number of physical and psychological disorders during her childhood, struggling with anorexia, losing her peripheral vision and experiencing convulsive seizures. She started to refuse to attend class in the second grade of elementary school and, as a result, was put into a special school until she reached the sixth grade.
Higashi was accepted into the prestigious Takarazuka Music School in Hyogo Prefecture when she was a teenager, and worked under the name “Maki Aura.” However, she quit after three years on account of the bullying she experienced while in the troupe.
“I wasn’t allowed to sleep or bathe,” Higashi says. “Abuse comes in different forms and we were definitely controlled, suppressed and harassed by the older students at Takarazuka. However, I knew what I was getting myself into … and I think that violence was such a normal part of my life that I was unconsciously drawn to it.”
After leaving Takarazuka, Higashi struggled with severe depression. She became suicidal and tried to kill herself several times by cutting her wrists, jumping out of her second-story bedroom window and overdosing on a cocktail of sleeping pills and alcohol. She was ultimately committed to a psychiatric institution, where she was diagnosed as having emotionally unstable personality disorder. Higashi spent the next eight years on prescription drugs but her prognosis never improved.
She managed to turn a corner, however, after starting counseling sessions with her current therapist in December 2011. It was in these sessions that she began to remember bits and pieces of her childhood, working out that her father had begun to abuse her sexually while she was in kindergarten and continued to do so until she started menstruating in the second year of junior high school.
The process of reliving the horror she experienced as a child was incredibly painful. In her book, Higashi likens it to having her “body torn into pieces.”
In 2013, an estimated 1,500 cases of alleged sexual abuse were reported to children consultation centers nationwide. However, experts argue the number is likely to be a lot higher because sexual abuse leaves little visible physical damage and most children are too ashamed to admit it happened in the first place.
Higashi did, in fact, tell her mother about what her father was doing but her mother ignored her. When Higashi took her mother to a therapy session in February 2012 and told her she had been sexually abused, her response was simply, “I’m not surprised.”
However, that was the only acknowledgement Higashi has ever received from her mother. “All of my problems were caused by violence in my own home, my father’s abuse and my mother’s continuous denial,” Higashi says. “You’d think that if you knew your daughter was being sexually abused, you would help her. I still can’t believe she didn’t help me.”
Higashi’s father died of cancer in 2008 and she was never able to confront him about his abuse because her memories had been suppressed until after this time.
“I still harbor a lot of anger against my father,” Higashi says. “At the same time, however, there is a part of me that wants to forgive him because I want to forgive myself as well. However, I don’t know how to do that with a person that is no longer here, nor do I know what to do about my mother who is still alive.”
Higashi last tried to reach out to her mother in an attempt to invite her to her wedding at Tokyo Disney Resort. Her mother, however, said she would go only if Higashi said the abuse never happened.
Higashi, though, is tired of the lies and refused to back down. “I still wish that my mother and I could build a new relationship based on truth instead of pretending that it didn’t happen but, unfortunately, she has disappeared into her own little world,” Higashi says. “I am a lesbian and a sexual abuse survivor, and I want to live my life just the way I am.”
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