National / Media | DARK SIDE OF THE RISING SUN

War against stalkers broadens its aims

by Jake Adelstein

Special To The Japan Times

If you would, dear reader, please take a moment of your time today and let Prime Minister Shinzo Abe know that you’d like him to treat Japan’s stalking problem seriously. Let him know that you’d like the Diet to make real laws that would protect the women who are subject to harassment, humiliation, injury and even death by men who chase them.

So far already, 112,000 people have signed a nonpartisan petition to this effect — including Abe’s own wife. But more on that later.

About year ago, I wrote how Japan’s soulless stalking laws were costing lives. Even after she spoke with police, a 33-year-old housewife was stabbed to death in November 2012 by an ex-boyfriend who stalked her. The stalker had hired a private detective to find her, and even though that man was recently charged over his role in her death, nothing will bring the woman back to life.

Similarly, in October 2013, a high school student and budding actress was also stabbed to death after alerting police to her stalker.

The laws at present existing in Japan to prevent stalking and protect victims — as well as the enforcement of those laws — are all abysmal. But now, at last, people are beginning to protest.

The new champions of anti-stalking are an unlikely duo: a former Miss International, Ikumi Yoshimatsu, and Akie Abe, the prime minister’s wife. Together, this January, they launched a movement to combat stalking nationwide — and here’s the story of how it happened.

In December last year, Yoshimatsu, 2012 winner of the Miss International contest, filed criminal charges against one of Japan’s most powerful talent-agency executives, whom she alleged was stalking and harassing her.

The result: the management of the pageant, The International Culture Association — founded in 1969 as an incorporated organization of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs — ordered her to skip the succession ceremony and “play sick and shut up” out of fear of scandal.

She didn’t attend the ceremony — but she did speak out.

After The Japan Times and the Shukan Bunshun weekly magazine reported the story, Yoshimatsu received encouragement and support from around Japan and many other parts of the world.

In contrast, she received little support from the other mainstream Japanese media, which has a cosy relationship with the talent-agency executive and his company bosses, who are widely reported to have cozy ties with unsavory groups in society.

However, one of those supporters was Akie Abe, who had been a judge for the 2013 Miss International contest. When she posted a small comment on her Facebook page about judging the contest, hundreds of people wrote her, saying: “Why aren’t you doing anything to help (Ikumi) Yoshimatsu?”

She responded to her online followers that she would look into it — and she did.

As a result, on Christmas Day she met with Yoshimatsu and the two of them discussed her case and the appalling situation of stalking victims in Japan. They decided to do something about it.

Together with a website named change.org, on Jan. 9, they launched the Stalker Zero campaign, calling for an end to the Japanese “culture of silence” toward crimes against women.

The campaign asks the public to petition for changes in the law. The recipient of those pleas will will be Akie Abe’s husband, the current prime minister. One may think she could just bring up the subject with him over dinner — but maybe he needs to know there are more than 100,000 people who agree with her before he can bring himself to pay any heed.

The response was tremendous; by Jan. 16 — after just one week — the campaign had 20,000 signatures. As of Jan. 31, there were more than 112,000 signatures on the website, with countless numbers of them coming from overseas supporters.

Words written by Yoshimatsu to accompany the petition explain the plight of stalking victims in Japan much more eloquently than I am able to do. Here they are:

“Mr. Abe, as prime minister you have been a strong and vocal supporter of women’s rights. You have called time and time again for a ‘society in which women shine.’

“Your strong leadership on this issue would be a game-changer.

“As a first step, I ask that you establish a task force to investigate stalking and violence against women with the objective of laying out an immediate national strategy to address these issues and offer real protection for women.

“Out of all the industrialized nations, Japan is by far the lowest- ranking country on gender equality — a disgraceful 105th out of 136 countries.

“We need strict anti-stalking laws and strong punishment for perpetrators of crimes against women. We need a police force that will protect women and immediately act to prevent stalking and intimidation.

“We need restraining orders granted by the courts for any woman who has been threatened, before she is harmed, murdered or commits suicide. We need media that report on these issues without fear.

“Without protecting the women of Japan, our country will never enjoy the economic and moral benefits of a truly equal society.”

Before writing this article, I spoke with Yoshimatsu about her own experiences with the police.

“I know that they are doing their best, but even though my stalker has repeatedly called my family, barged into a television shooting and grabbed my arm, and hired private detectives to follow me — they say that they can’t charge him under the stalking laws.

“Why? Because he has ‘no feelings of love for me.’ So unless your stalker ‘loves’ you, can’t you get protection? That’s a little crazy.”

Yoshimatsu says she’s received hundreds of mails and comments from victims — including men. Many of these describe how, when the victim has gone to the police to file a complaint, the procedure has turned into “a consultation” on affairs of the heart.

One foreign resident of Tokyo also told me of her depressing experience with the police despite now having been stalked for almost a year — with the perpetrator on one occasion breaking into her home.

“I will credit the local cops with recently trying to do something, as they now monitor where I live,” she said. “But I’ve got so sick of dealing with the police-box staff. I’ve given up trying to follow my case up. No feedback. No updates. No English support. Honestly, I’m saving to move out. It’s crazy that I may end up moving, not because of the stalker — but because of lack of confidence in the police.”

However, Yoshimatsu feels that the problem isn’t just the police, but the laws.

“The police do things by the manual. If you want to change how stalkers are prosecuted and how victims are protected, you have to change the rules first.

“I hope that the prime minister means what he says about making a better environment for women in Japan. Setting up a task force to deal with the stalking issue and creating real legislation would be a great start.”

Anyone who wishes to add their name to the petition can do so at: www.change.org/petitions/stalker-zero-end-the-japanese-culture-of-silence-toward-crimes-against-women.