The brand image of Japan’s most prestigious universities has long been regarded as a guarantee of an elite career.

But the recent arrest of five students from such universities for alleged gang rape has set off alarm bells and suspicions that some people have been abusing the schools’ prestige to camouflage crimes.

The suspects, current and former members of a Waseda University social club, were arrested in mid-June on suspicion of gang-raping a female student in May. They allegedly got her intoxicated after a club party.

The arrests were followed by a series of gaffes by senior politicians that were both discriminatory and offensive to women.

An investigation has determined that the club the suspects belonged to, Super Free, apparently used the image of Waseda to attract participants to its large parties. Several other female participants have since reported that they too were sexually assaulted by the club’s members.

Those arrested and indicted are club leader Shinichiro Wada, 28, Junichiro Kobayashi, 21, also from Waseda, Sho Fujimura, 21, from Nihon University, and Daisuke Kobayashi, 20, from Gakushuin University. Another 21-year-old student from Waseda was arrested but has not been indicted.

They initially denied the allegations, according to investigators, but later admitted they had done the same thing in the past. People familiar with the club’s activities said members competed with each other in some sort of bizarre contest over the number of women they raped.

Shock waves from the incident spread further in late June when, during a politicians’ debate, House of Representatives lawmaker Seiichi Ota, 57, said: “Gang rape shows the people who do it are still virile and that’s OK. I think that might make them close to normal.”

A weekly magazine, Shukan Bunshun, quoted Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda as making an off-the-record statement to reporters that “it is wrong for women to dress almost naked. . . . Men are like black panthers, so leniency can be contemplated (for the rapists).” Fukuda, also state minister for gender equality, denied making the remarks.

Fukuda is an alumni of Waseda, while Ota earned a doctorate from Keio University, another elite school. Both are senior lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

No wonder Reiko Oshima, a female lawmaker in the Social Democratic Party, said in protest, “Education programs on sexual harassment and sexual assault are necessary for lawmakers, too.”

Despite rumors that Super Free was a dangerous club, hundreds flocked to the large-scale parties organized by Wada and his cronies in Tokyo and other places. At the start of the school year in April, for example, 1,700 attended a freshmen’s welcoming party in Tokyo’s Roppongi entertainment district.

“April is the peak, as there are so many newcomers who know nothing,” a former Super Free staff member said. “The number of participants decreases once rumors of ‘victims’ spread.”

But Wada was not concerned, with former staff members quoting him as saying, “It’d be OK if the situation is ‘reset’ every April.”

Many female participants were from rural areas. One of the victims, a 20-year-old university student from western Japan, said, “The heady atmosphere and the opportunity to meet men from famous universities were the attractions (of the parties). They took advantage of that sense of longing.”

The assaults allegedly occurred after the “nijikai,” or second party, which followed the main party and was usually held at smaller restaurants or bars in secluded places where the offenses would go unnoticed.

The club’s staff selects female participants for the second parties, which often develop into heavy drinking sessions where women are pressured into downing drinks with high alcoholic content in big gulps, former members said.

Wada has been an undergraduate at Waseda for nine years since transferring there from Chuo University in 1994. He was once expelled but then returned by entering a lower track faculty.

“He is a professional in planning the events, but he was not the type that was popular with girls,” a former staff member of the club said. “Perhaps that was why he wanted the title ‘Waseda student’ so much.”

Clinical psychologist Sayoko Nobuta said: “The (suspects) used the Waseda brand to lure in people. They had a kind of peer identity and felt they could do anything without taking responsibility.

“For women, rape is vicious violence. But the (suspects) saw the women as no more than an object to satisfy their sexual desires,” Nobuta said. “I guess somehow, they selfishly assumed that the girls were also enjoying it.”

Following the indictments, Waseda expelled Wada and Nihon University issued the same penalty for Fujimura.

But as the cases go before the courts, with further revelations possibly to come, it may take more than that for the schools to repair their tarnished images.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.