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Japanese actress who sued director for sex harassment to use redress to launch Me Too group

by Yuri Kageyama

AP

A Japanese actress who won a settlement earlier this month from a director she said sexually harassed her plans to use the money to start a Me Too group for Japan’s entertainment industry.

“I don’t know any theater groups that don’t have power (harassment) or sexual harassment,” the 20-year-old actress, who goes by the name Chino, told reporters at a Tokyo courthouse Friday.

Chino, leader of the Tokyo-based theater troupe TremendousCircus, said she came forward because she wanted to be a role model for other victims.

“Was it hard? Was I afraid? Of course I was. But I came forward for the sake of others who may also want to pursue their dreams,” she said.

According to the April 17 settlement, signed by both sides, director Mikiya Ichihara took her to a karaoke parlor in 2015, when she was still a high school student, touched her shoulders and thighs, and made obscene remarks, promising to land her roles.

She was shocked, she recalled, ran away in a daze and wept for hours.

Ichihara paid several hundreds of thousands of yen to Chino under the settlement. The exact amount was not disclosed. They had been in negotiations since January, according to Chino’s lawyer.

“I apologize from the bottom of my heart to Chino, who suffered so much both mentally and physically because of my sexual harassment,” Ichihara said in a statement.

Victims of sexual misconduct in Japan rarely go public because they often face a social backlash. Chino chose to come forward late last year with her allegations, first on Twitter, after seeing the Me Too movement abroad. She was surprised to learn that at least five others alleged they had been harassed by Ichihara.

Sexual misconduct scandals recently have grabbed headlines in Japan.

Last week, Tatsuya Yamaguchi of the popular pop group Tokio tearfully apologized in a news conference, televised live by national broadcasters, for forcibly kissing a teenage girl at his home. He suspended his work with the band and other projects.

Junichi Fukuda, who was the Finance Ministry’s top bureaucrat, resigned earlier this month over sexually suggestive remarks to a female reporter that got published by a magazine. The ministry acknowledged Friday its investigation had found sexual harassment. Initially, the bureaucrat had denied the charges.

The ministry said Fukuda had damaged the credibility of his post and caused confusion in the Diet, which has been deadlocked as opposition lawmakers demand the resignation of Finance Minister Taro Aso. The ministry slapped a 20 percent pay cut for six months on Fukuda, which opposition lawmakers slammed as too little.

The governor of Niigata Prefecture has also stepped down recently after acknowledging he paid cash for sex.

Just as Hollywood has seen an upsurge in activism against sex harassment, Japan’s entertainment world may also be on the cusp of change, though at a far more gradual pace.

En Tanaka, a script writer and director at TremendousCircus, noted that sexual and power harassment was common in Japanese entertainment, as almost all directors are male, and there are few acting roles for women.

Chino’s new group aims to stop sexual and power harassment in Japan’s theater, film and entertainment industries, and offer counseling and legal help for victims, with the goal of showing that speaking out comes with no repercussions, Tanaka and Chino said.

“We want to build for the future,” Chino’s lawyer Izutaro Managi said. “This effort should be meaningful for perpetrators, as well as for victims.”