Shamed and Blamed
11 months ago I moved to Japan, my life seemed perfect.
I found a great apartment, and I was about to start my dream job: teaching English in Kansai.
Four years ago I had spent six months doing a high school exchange and had fallen in love with the country.
I had worked hard to get good grades at university and actually found a job in Japan.
I had even found a group for foreigners. Things should have been fantastic.
I loved the culture, J-pop and everything about Japan. But this time things felt different. I was older and seemed to stand out more.
I felt that people were always staring at me.
Men would often ask me if I was a hostess, which I found insulting and unsettling.
So I tried to fit in more, I even changed the way I dressed. I so badly wanted this to work.
Then one morning when I was on my morning commute to work, something happened that really shook me up.
I got on the train like any other day. I tucked in my bag and stood quietly in the aisle.
But a man behind me stood closer than normal.
I tried to move, but there was nowhere to go.
He kept moving closer and
pressing up against me.
Then his hand was brushing against me and it moved across my butt, this was no accident.
I was so angry, I had nowhere to go, and I couldn’t escape.
I wanted to scream “stop”, but thought everyone would think I was an angry foreigner.
Thankfully he got off at the next station.
I felt so embarrassed and ashamed I didn’t say anything.
I just let it happen to me.
When I got to work, I spoke to one of my colleagues.
She told me this sort of thing often happens on the trains, and that many of the subways lines have women only carriages during the morning commute that I might find safer, especially with my figure.
I had always thought Japan was so safe.
That dream was now shattered.
But I loved my job, so I made sure I always took the women’s only carriage in the mornings and often took the bus home to avoid the trains as much as possible.
Things settled down. I focused on my job and worked hard.
Before I knew it, it was December and I was looking forward to my first Bounenkai*.
*Bounenkai: End of the year party
I was surprised by how different everyone was at the Bounenkai and after a few drinks.
I found myself at a table with just a group of male colleagues from lots of different departments that I had never really spoken to before.
Everyone was laughing and having a good time, but I was becoming more and more uncomfortable.
Out of nowhere, one of the men leaned across, the table and grabbed one of my breasts and asked what cup size I was.
All the other teachers laughed.
He said they were so soft and I should show them off more.
It was happening again, I couldn’t believe it.
I rushed out of the party. I was furious and embarrassed. This time I was going to do something, I was not going to let them get away with this.
I went to my boss and told him what had happened. But he said that things happen at Bounenkai when people are drinking, that it was harmless fun. He said I should feel flattered.
I couldn’t believe it. I started crying and he suggested I take the rest of the day off and try to control my emotions.
I left work and started crying uncontrollably. All my dreams and plans I had for my life in Japan were shattered.
I felt dirty and ashamed.
I felt my life had turned into a nightmare. I felt so alone, no matter what I did or who I reached out to; it was always my fault.
I thought about how easy it would be to just jump from my balcony. I didn’t want to keep feeling this way.
I locked the door to my apartment, nothing felt safe anymore.
I couldn’t sleep, I didn’t feel like eating and I couldn’t bring myself to go outside.
I found myself spending lots of time on my phone. Everyone’s lives back home looked wonderful.
I couldn’t tell anyone how bad things were, not even my mother.
Who would believe me anyway? They were all so happy.
As I scrolled down through social media, a post from TELL came up, saying you don’t need to be alone. I didn’t think it would change anything but I thought I would give it a try.
The support worker listened to me and let me know that it wasn’t my fault. They said the things that had happened to me weren’t OK, even in Japan.
They told me that I did have rights and that these were crimes in Japan.
They also told me that sexual assault is never a compliment. She praised me for being so strong and reaching out to the line and that my feelings mattered.
For the first time in months I felt heard and validated that I wasn’t the one in the wrong.
After the call, I had the courage to reach out to my mum and to tell her what I had been through. She got on the first flight and I didn’t have to manage this alone any more.