A Tokyo court ruled Wednesday that Noriyuki Yamaguchi, a prominent journalist said to be very close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, must pay ¥3.3 million plus additional fees in damages to freelance journalist Shiori Ito, in one of the most high-profile cases of the #MeToo movement in Japan.
Ito, 30, filed the suit with the Tokyo District Court in September 2017 against Yamaguchi, 53, a former Washington bureau chief for Tokyo Broadcasting System Television Inc., accusing him of sexually assaulting her at a Tokyo hotel on April 4, 2015.
Ito said she met Yamaguchi at a restaurant after he offered to help her find a job as a journalist, and that after dinner and a few drinks, Yamaguchi dragged her into his hotel room and raped her. She claims that she lost consciousness while they were at a sushi restaurant and woke up pinned down in Yamaguchi’s bed. Ito has stressed that she tried to stop Yamaguchi.
The case has drawn global attention, given that victims rarely come forward with allegations of sexual assault in Japan.
Ito was seeking ¥11 million in compensation, as her complaint filed with the police after the incident was dropped by prosecutors who said there was insufficient evidence.
The court also dismissed a counter-lawsuit filed by Yamaguchi, who was seeking ¥130 million in compensation from Ito, claiming the act was consensual and that her accusations have damaged his social reputation.
Later the day, Yamaguchi said he was upset with the ruling. “I’m going to appeal this ruling as soon as possible,” he told a packed news conference in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.
“Both of our accounts were disputed during the trial but only my statement, my testimony, has been disapproved while Ito’s claims have been taken at face value, as truth.”
He repeated his claim that he had not done anything illegal and asserted that much of what Ito said, including statements about the amount of alcohol she drank that night, was incoherent or simply not true.
The ruling accepted Ito’s account of the incident, noting that her actions following the events were consistent and objectively showed that she had no reason to make false claims about them.
The court took into consideration that Ito reported the incident to police and sought support, indicating that the sexual act was against her will, and that she acquired an emergency contraceptive pill given that intercourse was not protected.
According to the court, when the two got to the taxi stand, Ito asked the taxi driver to take her to the nearest train station but Yamaguchi asked the driver to take the pair to the hotel.
Presiding Judge Akihiro Suzuki pointed out an inconsistency in Yamaguchi’s claims and said the most important part of his testimony, regarding how Ito found herself in Yamaguchi’s bed, lacked credibility.
The judge concluded that Ito had disclosed information about the incident in the hope of shedding light on the challenges sexual abuse victims face in society, and said her reaction following the incident did not fit the definition of slander.
“We won. The countersuit was turned down,” she said at the entrance to the court, offering her gratitude for support throughout the trial. “It was a long journey. But I believe that such small steps can, too, lead to major changes. … I hope (the ruling) will become a milestone in the process toward changes in the penal code (pertaining to sexual offenses).”
Ito said she hopes her case and the court’s decision will serve as a precedent for future cases of sexual abuse and will lead to changes in the criminal law that will offer victims greater protection.
TBS, Yamaguchi’s former employer, said in a statement that the company found it “very regrettable that a former employee was involved in such an incident.”
Ito filed a complaint with the police after the incident occurred, but prosecutors dropped the case in July 2016 citing insufficient evidence. Ito later filed a complaint with the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution, but it reached a judgment in September 2017 that the prosecutors’ decision not to charge Yamaguchi with incapacitated rape was appropriate and that there was no common law basis to overturn it.
Ito has alleged that her case was dropped because of political interference, given that Yamaguchi is regarded as one of the closest journalists to Abe. In recent years he has published two books detailing accounts from within Abe’s Cabinet.
Initially Ito withheld her last name when speaking to media about the incident, but in 2017 she decided to disclose her full name and detailed the events in a book titled “Black Box.”
The book, which has been translated into Swedish, French, Chinese and Korean, was awarded the best journalism award by the Free Press Association of Japan in 2018.