Ten years ago, on Thanksgiving day 2006, a Japanese auto executive was quietly taken into custody on charges of molestation and possession of child pornography. Under a mountain of evidence discovered in a false ceiling within a closet and captured on a USB his daughter plucked from a hidden camera in her bathroom, “Mr. Right” pled guilty, mysteriously vanishing from the automotive scene. Pedophiles exist everywhere, but this was no ordinary perve.
I met my future first husband when I was just sixteen. I had spent the summer of 1980 in Tokyo on a youth exchange when I encountered “Right Man” in Narita airport. The 22-year old Japanese college student was on his way to study in the US when he all but inserted himself into my world. Two years later I was his teen bride; the wife an only son– heir to a 500 year-old estate on the remote island of Sado.
Over the next few years, both in Michigan and in Japan I was trained to become the perfect Japanese wife. During my “bonsai years,” as I call them, I was pruned and shaped by shame and fits of violence– my speech, dress, and mannerisms effectively regressing to reflect a more child-like essence. It wasn’t until I was several years into my marriage that I found evidence that I was dealing with more than a controlling husband.
In 1986 while living on Sado, I discovered my husband was some sort of Japanese version of Peter Pan. Carefully tucked under his futon mattress were three paperbacks containing fanciful photos of very young nude girls– innocent erotica. When confronted my husband advised that they were ‘fantasy, art, and nothing more,” adding that the materials were legally obtained; purchased at the local newsstand. I thought at the time, “What have I gotten myself into? After nearly six years in the culture how could I have missed this?” Back then, information wasn’t what it is today and I was too enamoured.
What I hadn’t overlooked was that all around little girl cuteness was idolized and mimicked as the preferred style for young women. Wanting to fit in and please I had naturally followed suit. By my husband’s training I had become soft-spoken and demure. Essentially regressing in mind and body– my nearly six-foot frame fitting into the perfect Japanese size “M.” Japan’s idolization of young girls, a trend that began in the 1980’s and has expanded throughout the world, is most often symbolized by the cute schoolgirl uniform-look popularized by the anime (animation) “Sailor Moon.”
Reminiscing about my days in Japan, I recall that Electric Town, Tokyo’s Akihabara district, was once a place where we shopped for boom boxes and the latest Sony Walkman, but today it is filled with anime, manga (Japanese comics) and cosplay (costumes for teens and young adults). It’s all fantasy…most of it innocent, but some of it crosses a line foreigners may recognize but often dismiss on cultural grounds.
Although I left the culture long ago, I worry that modern Japanophiles do not truly grasp the cultural underpinnings of what they are buying and watching today. Mr. Right wasn’t your average pedophile. Child pornography was legal to manufacture in Japan until 2011 and to possess until 2014. Sexually graphic anime and manga involving youthful characters in school uniforms is protected as freedom of expression both in Japan and the US.
While I readily admit there are plenty of wonderful animation and comics coming out of Japan, parents and fans alike should be aware of the cultural context surrounding the materials they are watching and buying. When the sexually graphic or even titillating content featuring children is readily available, it normalizes what would otherwise be considered taboo. In Japan teenage girls desperate for money and attention sell their time for walks or conversation…putting themselves in precarious situations that can easily lead to sexual acts. Add to this the fact that Japan is a country where molestation is rarely reported and victim services are sorely lacking and opportunity abounds
It seems no one can say for sure whether or not molestation is more common in Japan than elsewhere as data is sorely lacking, but it would not be surprising that victims would come out of the woodwork if public disclosure were more common. I am painfully aware that the reporting of such incidents is often discouraged by Japanese family members to avoid bringing shame. My ex mother-in-law, still living in Japan, is an example of this old-school mentality. It is apparent to me from several conversations that she is blaming the victim for allowing the abuse to occur and angry that her son was reported vs. allowing the matter to be handled internally.
More and more I think the tide will turn for Japan. In 2009 when I first began to put the pieces of our story together I Googled “pedophillia in Japan” and was shocked to find child porn was still legal. At the time I reached out to several scholars on the culture and could not find one researching the negative effects of child erotica normalization, but laws regarding child porn have changed and now I’m starting to see a few articles and research papers on virtual characters as well. It’s a good sign.
It has been more than a decade since Mr. Right was taken from his suburban home to the county jail and he remains incarcerated to this day. And, even though I long ago returned to my American roots, I am still somewhat bound by my 21-year infatuation with Japan…those bonsai days when I was essentially forced to be a child. To put all that occurred into perspective I’ve written my account in a memoir called “The Six-Foot Bonsai.” I’m hoping my personal account of living in a culture of child idolization opens a few eyes.
For those that love what is often termed the “cutie” culture of Japan it is important to understand that there is a dark side. They need to understand that the popularity of such imagery can cause girls and young women to hide their own character and personal strengths. Further, when a young woman becomes a mother, a man whose fantasies involve much young girls may in fact treat his wife more harshly and consider her “too old” and unappealing. This is precisely what happened to me as became “too old” in my late twenties. For the love of Japan, girls need a real voice– their own style…not some idealized, comic-like version.
You can find my redemptive story “The Six-Foot Bonsai: A Soul Lost in the Land of the Rising Sun” on Amazon.
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