Notes on "Japan's Secret Shame" on BBC

I watched "Japan's Secret Shame" aired on BBC this past week, which stirred controversy and anger in Japan. To watch the documentary, please click on the links below:

There are a certain number of people who support her and believe her claims - they seem to support her wholeheartedly - and blindly - because she spoke up for other victims of sexual assault without remaining anonymous. Many of these people say that not being anonymous while going public with her experience of sexual assault should be considered a  sign of Ms. Ito's honesty, bravery, and good-will to change Japan's society. I do not think this is a logical conclusion about the credibility of her claims and legitimacy of her activism against sexual assault.


Ms. Ito started to appear in several media outlets in 2017 with a claim that she had been raped by a C-level Japanese journalist based in Washington, D.C. in 2015. She asserted that the man mixed a "date rape drug" in her drinks at a bar and took her to a hotel at about midnight while she was being unconscious. According to her, when she woke up at 5:00am, she found him on her body, raping her. After the incident, she claimed that he made inappropriate remarks such as "Can I take your panties as a gift?" and "I've fallen for you." She then criticized Japan's law enforcement authority that the case was abandoned after his arrest was warranted and right before the arrest was going to be made at an airport. Ms. Ito told the press that she had received a phone call from the police one day, informing her of the date and place of the planned arrest of the man and asked her to be present at the site, but later she was told that he would not be arrested. She contended that this was because this journalist was close to Prime Minister Abe and that PM and/or his secretary office must have used their authority to protect the man from arrest and criminal prosecution.

What Has Been Discovered Since Then

It is important, however, to look closely at what has been discovered since her claims in 2017. It has been found that Ms. Ito asked the man out to a bar to discuss her career as an aspiring journalist upon learning that he was a tenured journalist. Back then, she was working as an escort providing sexual services in NYC and the man happened to visit the bar she worked at. She then started binge-drinking and get trashed to the point where she couldn't handle herself. The man decided to take her to a hotel to sober her up. She walked along with him in the hotel hallway, and into a room. This was captured on a security camera of the hotel. According to the man and emails he submitted to the law enforcement, it was revealed that:
  1. Law enforcement found no evidence on his laptop(s) and other devices that shows purchase of illicit drugs (or, "date rape drugs").
  2. She threw up on a couple of spots in the room, and after rushing into the bathroom, she threw up again and fell to the floor on her puke. He had to remove her clothes and let her lie on a bed. He decided to take another bed in the room because he could not stand the smell of her puke in her hair.
  3. She was actively looking for employment in the U.S. and even submitted her resume to the man, in the hope of him handing her a job in Washington, D.C. as a journalist.
  4. After the incident at the hotel, she emailed the man, thanking him for letting her borrow his shirt on the way back home and asked to further assist her with the visa application process (journalist visa applicants need offer letters, company-issued photo ID and other documents to prove their employment status. It is presumed that Ms. Ito was convinced by that time that she had secured a position as a journalist, as she was only concerned about the visa application process).
  5. During a press conference in Japan, she voiced her wish for the Diet of Japan to focus more on policies and regulations on sexual assault than on the anti-terrorism act, which was on the table and about to be signed into a law in 2017, around the same time when she appeared in Japanese media outlets. She has been involved in activism with politicians, attorneys, and other activists who have ties with the Communist Party of Japan. Japan's Public Security Intelligence Agency considers the Communist Party was a potential terrorist group, of which the utmost goal is a "revolution with violence."
Problems of "Japan's Secret Shame"

Ms. Ito's assertion on the "everyday experience of women in Japan" is problematic and not truthful. She said in "Japan's Secret Shame" on BBC that"
  • Every girl in Japan experiences sexual assault, including rape, and harassment, especially when they start commuting to high school using public transportation.
  • Girls talk about their sexual assault experiences on the way to school every morning.
  • It is considered a taboo to discuss sexual matters in Japan in public, resulting in numerous unreported cases of sexual assault that are not reflected in the crime statistics. This has led to a misconception that Japan is a safe country.
  • She is finally free to speak up in public now that she resides in London. She faced harsh criticisms form Japanese people for speaking up about a taboo.
I grew up in Japan, and visited it three years ago. I know Japan is a very safe country with the majority of its citizens and residents respecting and valuing the order, respect for others, and harmony of the society. I have been molested in Japan once when I was 16, but I have experienced a far greater degree of sexual harassment in the U.S. I rarely walk outside by myself after dark any longer because these incidents have made me worried about my security. I did not have this feeling of vulnerability and insecurity in Japan. 

What I have found dangerous is girls' and women's tendency for self-victimization. In some cases, girls and women turn men into authority with false claims that they have been inappropriately touched on public transportation. Law enforcement tends to be harsh on the men, whether or not the claims are false, ruining the men's lives altogether. Some of these falsely accused men lose their families, job, and anything else that they have established socially and personally by working hard and living just like any other people. What the falsely accusing women get is money, attention, and validation, which are all superficial and not worth ruining random men's lives.

Ms. Ito attempts to spread an image of Japan as a backward society with little sense of respect for women and equal rights despite its economic development and technological advances. I strongly contest this view from: 1) my first-hand experience in Japan, and 2) a political point of view. 

Creating Victims and Victimhood

Ms. Ito is an activist, who thinks societal change is necessary and creates issues where they do not exist to the degree that damages the lives of local people (in this case, girls and women in Japan). Activists need social issues to destroy in order to achieve their political goals. When I was a graduate student at a progressive school in NYC, I was told to "problematize everything" (Pyles, 2013) even if they did not seem like problems, that most people are desensitized to injustice and violence because they have been normalized, and that we ("progressive activists") must act to change the society to protect the vulnerable.

How arrogant. Do they think "the vulnerable" are not capable of protecting themselves? Do they think they know better than them about what's good for them? Aren't they the ones silencing and disempowering "the vulnerable" by offering the unsolicited, self-righteous hands in public?

Reasons for Criticism

The reason for the anger in Japan after the "Japan's Secret Shame" is Ms. Ito's deliberate political attempt to defame Japan as a nation and its citizens and residents based on her experience with this former journalist whose career and family she has crushed out of spite and vengeance (she did not land a journalist job in Washington, D.C.). She has been domestically and internationally accusing him of raping her for over one year now although the provided and discovered evidence was found too weak for arrest and/or prosecution - he has never even been arrested for the potentially consensual sexual relationship in 2015. The emotional burden of her acts on his family was such that the man's aging father was hospitalized with heart failure. The first decision against the arrest of this man made in 2015 was appealed by Ms. Ito and her representative(s), to again result in a decision that their claim was found not legitimate and strong enough to proceed with arrest and prosecution in 2017. The second process in 2017 involved 11 laypeople randomly chosen from the voter registration, who were presented with written and audiovisual evidence of the claim and concluded that the case was not criminal. Needless to say, and to ensure the clarity of this particular process, there could have been no room for the Abe Administration to influence its outcome.

Pyles, L. (2013). Progressive community organizing: Reflective practice in a globalizing world (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

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