Review: “Black Box: The Memoir That Sparked Japan’s #MeToo Movement”

Review: “Black Box: The Memoir That Sparked Japan’s #MeToo Movement”

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Black Box, Ito Shiori's memoir
Ito Shiori's arresting memoir, Black Box, has been credited with starting #metoo in Japan. Now her seminal book has a superlative new English translation.

Journalist Ito Shiori shined a spotlight on the shameful stigma surrounding rape in Japan when she went public with her own rape in 2017. That same year, she published her memoir Black Box, chronicling her quest for justice; both for herself and for other sexual assault victims.

That groundbreaking memoir is now out in English by Feminist Press. Masterfully translated by Allison Markin Powell, Black Box: The Memoir That Sparked Japan’s #MeToo Movement [1] is a seamless blend of memoir and exposé. Told by a prosecutor her assault was a “black box,” and therefore impossible to prosecute, Ito extends that metaphor and uses her case as a springboard to explore long-formed taboos on gender-based sexual violence in Japan. What she finds is a matryoshka of black boxes, daunting for someone who is “just one individual victim, up against a massive institution.” But as she states in the introduction, if she “waited for someone else to speak out, things would never change.”

The cover for the English edition of Ito Shiori's Black Box.
Black Box: The Memoir That Sparked Japan’s #MeToo Movement by Ito Shiori. Translated by Allison Markin Powell, published by Feminist Press.

Before and After “That Day”

In her introduction, Ito rightfully assumes the reader already has some preconceived notions about her; after all, Black Box came out only a few months after Ito held the press conference where she publicized her rape allegations against TBS journalist Yamaguchi Noriyuki. Addressing these preconceptions right away gives her full leeway to dismantle them and present the real issues at the heart of her book.

“If you are taking the time to read my book, I wonder what you may already know about me. Do you think of me as the woman who was raped, the woman who had the courage to hold a press conference, or the woman who appeared on TV with her shirt not buttoned all the way up when she was discussing rape?”

Black Box, pg. 4

There’s often a stark before and after for survivors of trauma, and Ito sets the stage for that divide in the first two chapters. She covers her life up to “that day,” detailing her early years as a curious, headstrong girl who veered from society’s expected path at a young age, from taking on modeling work to studying abroad in rural Kansas. She also describes her determination and grueling efforts towards becoming a journalist, as well as her initial impression of Yamaguchi when she first meets him in New York. Subsequent interactions, laid out in a matter-of-fact manner, further cement her belief he was merely a business acquaintance, “someone who knew a lot of people and was friendly about making introductions. Nothing more, nothing less.” This only makes her rape even more horrifying, and debunks Japan’s perception of rape as perpetrated by a total stranger.

Taking Matters into Her Own Hands

Hindsight is 20/20, as the saying goes; nowhere is that reality more painfully evident than in Ito’s recollection of what she should have done after her rape. The memory loss from the date-rape drugs Ito suspects Yamaguchi used haunts her, and haunts the reader as well. The systems meant to help her — hotlines, the hospital, sexual assault clinics — fail her, and the shoddy police investigation forces Ito to take matters into her own hands, including communicating by email with the rapist himself to confirm the timeline of what happened April 3, 2015.

Those emails are a powerful addition to Black Box. They’re damning evidence, and a testament to Ito’s courage to pursue the truth. One can’t help but tremble in anger at Yamaguchi’s sordid attempts to paint himself as the victim. As the reader, I felt incredibly angry on Ito’s behalf multiple times (so much so I had to breaks to calm down before reading more). While Ito acknowledges her anger and that of others, she also takes care not to let it distract from the issues she wants to draw attention to.


“I Am Not Victim A.”

Ito also doesn’t shy away from detailing the emotional and physical toll of having to recount — and in one horrific instance, reenact — her rape. Her unflinching accounts of navigating PTSD during the investigation only drive home the impact sexual trauma has on a person’s life, and how Japan’s flawed legal system perpetuates a survivor’s initial trauma into a series of “second rapes.”

There’s an expectation of how a sexual assault survivor should act, and Ito does her utmost best to avoid being pigeonholed as one. Hiding behind the visage of “Victim A” wouldn’t help her shine a light on the issues of rape in Japan. When she’s pressured to settle out-of-court, she veers once again off the established path. What I found most notable about Black Box is how Ito deftly manages to avoid catering to the perceived image of a victim without putting down those who do, something which raised my esteem for her even more.

A courthouse sign in kanji, reflecting the many legal efforts undertaken in Ito Shiori's Black Box.
A building’s signage reads saibansho – courthouse.

Unwavering Journalistic Integrity

Ito’s journalistic integrity shines bright all throughout Black Box; it’s especially prevalent in her chapter on the social issue of rape in Japan and elsewhere, positioned as a kind of intermission between her case’s dismissal and her efforts towards overturning it. She untangles the problems behind that uniquely Japanese legalese term “quasi-rape” (now known as “quasi-forced sexual intercourse”) and the judicial system’s impossibly tall “consent wall” making guilty verdicts almost impossible to carry out. People are quick to point out Japan’s lauded 99.9% conviction rate, but as Ito reveals, there’s a reason why some label Japan a “rape paradise.” When she opens the black box of political machinations interfering with her case — notably those that prevented Yamaguchi’s arrest — she lays out the facts of her case, with no embellishments, and poses the ultimate question: why? That “why” is yet another specter that haunts the reader.

No More Labels

Despite the continued slander Ito faces to this day, there’s a strong sense of certainty, if not total closure, in the epilogue, revised in March 2021. Ito’s achieved much since Black Box‘s release. In 2019, Ito won her civil lawsuit against Yamaguchi in a landmark victory; in July 2021, she won a defamation lawsuit against a Twitter troll, and currently has a couple of other defamation lawsuits pending. Time named her one of 2020’s 100 Most Influential People of the Year. I’d go so far as to say she’s one of the most influential people of the decade, and Black Box is a testament to her courage and drive for truth.

“Since speaking out, I’ve had many labels attached to my name: victim, Me Too’er, liar, sexual opportunist. And other names—abusive and unprintable words—as well that are still launched at me one after another, like arrows that go straight into my still-healing wounds.”

Black Box, pg. 221

In Black Box, there’s no Ito the resigned victim or the attention-seeking martyr. There is Ito the survivor trying to navigate her trauma and resume a fulfilling life, and there is Ito the journalist, opening as many black boxes as necessary to reveal the truth; be that the rising numbers of elderly people dying alone, or the social issue of chikan. At the core of Black Box, however, is Ito the woman who doesn’t want what happened to her happening to anyone else. How can anyone not be moved by that?

Black Box is available now from Feminist Press.

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[1] Black Box: The Memoir That Sparked Japan’s #MeToo Movement.

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Alyssa Pearl Fusek

Alyssa Pearl Fusek is a freelance writer currently haunting the Pacific Northwest. She holds a B.A. in Japanese Studies from Willamette University. When she's not writing for Unseen Japan, she's either reading about Japan, writing poetry and fiction, or drinking copious amounts of jasmine green tea. Find her on Bluesky at @apearlwrites.

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