November 11th was the first time I attended Tokyo’s Flower Demo. These demonstrations are now a monthly phenomenon throughout Japan. They’re inspired by the #metoo movement, and by anger over cases such as the man who was acquitted after raping his daughter for years because “she did not resist.”
I’m not sure why I hadn’t joined before, as it stands for everything I believe in. Perhaps I was uninformed, or maybe I was scared of being overwhelmed. In any case, I would keep seeing photos and tweets of the events after they were over, I’d regret that I’d let my insecurities dictate my actions.
So that 11th after work, I rushed to a supermarket to buy a flower bouquet and took a taxi. I could’ve gone by train, but I was scared of missing it. I was already fifteen minutes late as it was.
“Where are you going?” the taxi driver asked me.
“Tokyo Station, at Gyoko-dori,” I replied. I was strangely nervous. Does he know why? Does he watch the news? Is he judging me? “I’m not sure where exactly, but there should be a concentration of people around. Could you please take me when we see them?”
“A concentration of people?”
If he thought anything about it, he didn’t say. Maybe I was reading too much into it, after all.
What Victims Had to Say
Indeed there was a crowd of people. Lots of lights and some cameras, speakers, and a microphone that passed from hand to hand, from victim to victim to ally. They all spoke about how the system had failed to protect the most vulnerable.
This is what I heard that day, as well as when I attended on December 11th.
Trigger warnings: Murder, death threats, power abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment, rape, stalking, incest, pedophilia, victim-shaming. Please also note that this article was written on a binary basis of cis-gendered people. I am very well aware that trans men, trans women, and nonbinary people are indeed a part of this conversation (despite the fact that the Japanese laws and even the society are still very much outdated in that aspect). I sincerely apologize for the cis-centered binary language. This article is a reflection of the demonstrations and conversations I have attended, and not a reflection of my own personal convictions.
Japan Doesn’t Believe That Victims Can’t Escape
Victims of sexual violence in Japan need to be able to prove that they could not run away from the assault. In the eyes of the law, there is no such thing as freezing in fear. This, despite the overwhelming evidence and the fact that victims do not know if their attacker will kill them if they resist. This lack of evidence (?), in many cases, will make judges throw the cases out because the victim could not prove they tried to leave when, indeed, they just froze. As one woman testified, she couldn’t “prove” she fought back against her father. He raped her as a child and told her everyone would die if she told anyone about it.
Until 2017, Men Could Not Be Considered Rape Victims…
In 2017, Japan finally updated its laws regarding what “rape” meant. Before 2017, it could only mean vaginal penetration by a penis. This was eventually broadened to anal and oral sex—which means now men can also be considered victims of sexual assault in Japan. (Yes, before 2017, Japan did not acknowledge men can also be raped.)
…And “Lack of Sexual Intent” Could Justify Sex Crimes
Taking pictures of someone’s underwear, sharing nude photos with third-parties, even molesting minors. Courts couldn’t punish these crimes before 2017 if the accused claimed a “lack of sexual intent.” These laws were a roadblock for a law student who didn’t even go to the police because she was aware she had already lost.
A Lack of Interest from Men
A man, a male ally, also testified, acknowledging that feminism isn’t only a women’s issue. Men, he said, also need to be actively involved. He recalled being told by his friends in high school and college that the only reason he stood up for women so that he’d “be popular.”
Revenge Porn is On The Rise
Private photos or videos that are sent to intimate partners, that are taken without consent, that are coerced… these issues are not only happening “in the West.” Not only that, but these photos and videos are also often taken of minors. Often, minors are too mortified to tell their parents and lack the tools to fight against the perpetrators.
A General Understanding of the Effect of Sexual Harassment on Victims
One of the speakers was a young woman who was assaulted as a child and raped by an acquaintance, which lead her to have violent flashbacks and PTSD. She is going to therapy and has a very understanding partner. However, her father shrugged his shoulders and said: “You should be glad men are interested in you.”
Another speaker brought up the fact that the trauma of being sexually assaulted can take years, even decades, to process. By the time the fact clicks, many victims have somehow redone their lives only to be hit with the realization of what was done to them and re-traumatization. Many are told to “forget and be happy for your own sake.”
Japanese Men Rail Against “False Accusations”
Rather than listening to victims of sexual assault, harassment, and rape, and helping society fix this systemic problem, men often pretend women are “out to get them” and are making “false accusations” to ruin their lives. Which is, incidentally, what rapist Noriyuki Numaguchi accused survivor Shiori Ito of in their trial (which she won).
One woman who testified was coerced into sex by her boss at work, and later told that “accusing him would ruin his life.” In the end, she did go to HR — only for her rapist to escape with a scolding. She was let go when her contract ended.
Japan’s Police Aren’t Ready to Deal with Rape Victims
I am not only talking about the traumatic experience of having to role-play their own rape with a life-sized doll in front of officers taking photos. The police also offer terrible advice. One woman testified to being told to go home, take a bath, relax, and come back the next day. Any DNA trace of her rapist was lost that night.
Another speaker said that, when she reported her rape, she was told that “if you are alone with a man, you need to be prepared. We can’t make a case out of everything. This isn’t a TV drama.” When she consulted with a lawyer, she was asked if she was falsely accusing someone. And when, finally, her rapist was forced to go to the police station, he just claimed (falsely) he’d been drunk and therefore did not remember. That was enough for him to be let go. The speaker asked the shocked audience if the police would’ve reacted the same way to a murder.
No Education About Consent and Assault
There is a general lack of understanding of what constitutes rape, as proven in this poll aired on Japanese TV.
Question: What could be considered consent?
11% Eating together with someone
23% Wearing “revealing” clothing
25% Riding a car with somebody
27% Drinking alcohol with someone
35% Being drunk
One of the younger girls explained how, when a close friend confided to her that she’d been sexually assaulted, she finally realized she’d been a victim too.
Another young woman who came forward explained that, after meeting a friend of a friend, he put her on the spot and asked to stay the night. Since they had a common friend and she thought she could trust him, she accepted. He raped her that night. She didn’t believe the police would help her, so she didn’t report him.
Sex Workers are Extremely Vulnerable
One of the speakers – a sex worker herself – denounced those who encourage violent men to work out their violent fetishes with sex workers. She recounted how one of her had clients raped her. Her company did not do anything to protect her as he was a rich man who presumably bought their silence. When she shared this experience with her boyfriend, he got violent with her, assaulted her, and raped her. As she believed she had eventually consented and because they live together, she did not go to the police.
Sexual Misconduct is Seen as Shame on the Victim
This condition is extremely troubling for children who are victims of sexual violence. A young mother explained that she had witnessed a man on the train groping her child, who was too young to understand what happened. When she went to the train station master, she was told to file a harassment complaint. However, because her daughter was so young, the authorities questioned whether she had felt harassed by her groper. Shocked, the mother had to file the complaint as a witness, because nobody accepted that such a small child could feel harassed.
Predatory Teachers Often Walk Free
One speaker said that, currently, more than 200,000 children refuse to go to school due to sexual harassment. When these cases are perpetrated by the teacher or the adult staff in the schools, there is a distinct power imbalance that makes the harassment difficult to prove. As a matter of fact, the law is so lenient with teachers that even if they’ve been accused of sexual misconduct, they can still teach and be surrounded by potential victims. One of the schools discussed had a teacher accused by 31 different people. He is currently still employed. The speaker in question is the mother of a victim, who had been shamed into never leaving the house.
The Words of The Victims
(paraphrased from my notes)
“We feel the coldness of the world. Words like ‘calm down,’ or ‘you need to get over it’ are not helpful—and we know that because nobody would ever say that to victims of any other crime. How could you even say that to us? We have this pain with us until the day we die. Never say those words to us. It’s okay to say nothing—just be there. Be mad for us. Be mad with us. We need you to be involved because victims tend to give up, whereas rapists will just keep climbing. We cannot forget what they did, so we need to talk.”
“Powerful people everywhere never think about the victims. They only protect other powerful people so they will always support the rapists.”
Every 11th of the month, I will be standing with all the victims of sexual violence in Tokyo. Despite the outlandish myth that Japanese women are docile and submissive, hundreds and thousands gather every month to voice how they’ve been betrayed by this patriarchal country—and how we work together to fight for our right to live with dignity and justice and free opportunities and rights. Victims are speaking out after months, years, and decades of silence.
With the advent of social media, women are getting together to talk about private experiences many of us share, to lift each other up, and to hold those who hurt us accountable.
As the movement gains strength, hopefully, the media with start to pay more attention.
Feminism isn’t something created in the West. Feminism isn’t here to colonize Japan. Feminism exists in the hearts of thousands of Japanese women and has for as long as the country has existed.
Japanese women aren’t soft and delicate.