Japan’s Big #MeToo Moment: You Think Hollywood Abuses Women? You Oughta See Tokyo.
Shiori Ito was determined not to let her alleged rapist go unpunished. Now the global uproar that began with allegations against Harvey Weinstein is helping her make her case.
TOKYO—Freelance journalist Shiori Ito shocked Japan when she went public in late May with allegations that she had been raped by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s close friend and biographer, Noriyuki Yamaguchi.
This is a country where countless women might have said #MeToo, but, four months ago, few did.
Yamaguchi publicly denied raping Ito and says the case is now closed.
Ito, however, refused to back down and has written a book, Black Box, that explains her experience and urges other victims to come forward. And the coincidence of its publication on Oct. 20, amid the growing international furor sparked by the alleged abuses of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, may now give Ito’s message real momentum.
If you think things are bad in Hollywood, consider the way the system works here, where pigs protect pigs, including at high levels of government, to the point where women, no matter how brave, feel they have no recourse at all.
After Ito was raped, she went to the police to try to have her assailant arrested. He wasn’t. And as The Daily Beast reported in June, subsequent inquiries showed the acting chief of the Tokyo Police Department’s criminal investigative division, another member of Abe’s circle, personally called off the arrest of the suspect and scuttled the investigation.
When Ito went public with her story, sadly, it wasn’t the allegations of corruption that caused so much of a stir in Japan but shock at the audacity of a woman who was prepared to go public on camera to detail a sexual assault and name the alleged perpetrator.
The stigma here against reporting these crimes is so powerful that only 4 percent of victims of sexual assault file complaints with the police, according to Kazuko Tanaka, a female prosecutor and author of the Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Investigation Handbook. Japan’s justice ministry in 2012 estimated that only 18.5 percent of sexual assaults were reported to the police over a five-year period. Statistics on how many of those cases the police actually investigated were unavailable.
After the arrest warrant on rape charges issued for Ito’s alleged assailant was pulled, Ito sought through her lawyers to have the investigation reopened and brought to trial, but this was rejected by the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution last month. This isn’t surprising since only about 1 percent of prosecutorial decisions are overturned which is coincidentally the odds of winning a not-guilty verdict in Japan; the country has a 99 percent conviction rate. And if you’re accused of rape and actually arrested for it, prosecutors drop the charges over half the time.
Ito is continuing to wage legal battles.
On Sept. 28, she filed damages against Yamaguchi in civil court, exploiting a recent precedent. Last March, a civil court ruled in favor of a rape victim who had filed a complaint with the police immediately after the alleged assault only to see investigators sit on the case for more than four years, forcing the victim to seek relief outside of the criminal justice system.
On Oct. 24, the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan, invited Ito to speak. An invitation was sent to her alleged assailant as well, but he did not respond. Ito also spoke to The Daily Beast one-on-one in Japanese and in English.
“After my experience, I tried to seek help from the hospital, a rape crisis center, and even the police, but none of them could help me,” said Ito. “I came to the painful realization that the legal and social system in Japan isn’t working properly for victims of sex crimes. The police didn’t want to let me file [a case]. They told me, ‘These things happen a lot. It’s difficult to investigate sex crimes.’
“I had to really encourage them to do the investigation—and gather evidence. The detectives worked really hard and were about to arrest [Yamaguchi] at Narita airport—and it got called off. Victims in Japan are expected to keep quiet. The media and the police try to hide us. They tell us that’s it for our own good. That’s not always so. I thought it was time that someone came forward so that others can and things change.”
When asked what precisely needs to be done, she paused to take a deep breath. Ito doesn’t think many people, especially men, understand the difference between consensual and nonconsensual sex.
“I’ve been interviewing and talking with many of my male friends and gotten into fights with them,” she said. “I’m quite surprised. They believe—that ‘If we [men] ask every time, if that’s OK, for consent, that we will never have sex.’ It’s such a simple thing, if you really care about someone else, to ask.”
She notes that Japan is full of sexual images, sleaze, and pornography, in movies, newspapers, even comic books; sexual services such as fellatio can be legally purchased and advertised. But the core question of consent and sexual assault is off limits. “We talk about what or how people can be sexually pleased. Japan’s known for its adult entertainment. Fine. But then we need to be able to talk about sex. But we don’t. We treat all of it like a taboo. We put all of it in a black box.
“Police do a terrible job investigating these cases but it’s not entirely their fault,” said Ito. “They lack training and the prosecutors want a high conviction rate and cases like this are hard. And most police don’t know how to use rape kits. Few hospitals have them. Response is slow. Police are trained to doubt everything you say [as a victim]. You have to repeat the same story over and over for hours and I don’t how you’d find the time to do it if you have a regular job.”
Ito’s book cites a study by Japan’s news broadcaster, NHK, on what constitutes “sexual consent.” Eating dinner alone as a couple was considered equivalent to sexual consent by 11 percent; wearing skimpy clothes, 23 percent; drinking together as a couple alone, 27 percent; getting drunk, 35 percent.
“Black box” is a term used by police to describe situations they think will never be clarified. Ito remembers, “The police and prosecution kept saying everything is in a black box: ‘It was just the two of you in the hotel room. Nobody knows what really happened.’” And no one feels compelled to explain legal decisions.
“Police won’t explain why they called off the arrest. The prosecutors won’t explain why they didn’t prosecute or why the first detective or first prosecutor were all suddenly taken off the case. The Prosecutorial Review Board won’t explain their decision. Everything is in a black box. And I wanted to shine light on that black box. You can actually prove what happened. You can collect evidence. I went with the police to the hotel to get the videotape. I found the taxi driver who was a witness. I’m not hiding.”
Ito found that writing Black Box helped her deal with the PTSD that has plagued her since 2015, when she woke up in pain in a hotel room, with her alleged attacker on top of her.
“There was a time when I couldn’t even look at the manuscript of this book—it was too traumatizing. I didn’t think I could handle it but in the end it was cathartic. I had to check the details and the facts and I feel fearless now. I know that I have the truth. It’s hard to have written this book and see it published. It’s like being naked in front of everyone. But I’m glad I did it… I want women to know they’re not alone. I want people to think about what if it was your sister or your friend who is the victim, that this can happen to anyone. It’s not just about my case—it’s about all the victims who remain silent. The sexual assault laws in Japan finally changed this year, after 110 years. It was about time. Now the police and prosecutors have to change and so does Japanese society.”