On Thanksgiving day 2006, a Japanese auto executive living in Michigan was quietly taken into custody on charges of molestation and possession of child pornography. Under a mountain of evidence discovered in a false ceiling in his home— both images he captured on his own and collected, “Right Man” (the meaning of the characters in his given name) pled guilty and lost everything. Pedophiles exist everywhere, but this was no ordinary perve. In fact, he was my ex and I was the American who brought him to the US.
It all began in 1980. Until that year I was a country bumpkin— an outdoor kid from rural Michigan raised to think young men married women their own age and together they grew in mutual adoration, through thick and thin, wrinkles, grey hair and all. Pollyanna as this might seem, it was at the time my dream. If I found the “right man,” someone who accepted me for me, I’d have a wonderful life.
I was just sixteen when I met my first husband. I had spent the summer in Tokyo on a youth exchange when on the way out I met a 22-year old Japanese college student headed to the US for study. As I recall, he was talking to a group of girls younger than I when I injected myself into the conversation. Two years later to the day I was his bride. I didn’t know it then, but at eighteen, I was already “over the hill”— too old for him.
Loving the culture as I did and seeking my husband’s approval, I sought to be the best 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 in his homeland, 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 underage nude girls. When confronted my husband staunchly defended his collection saying it was “fantasy, art, and nothing more,” adding that the materials were legally purchased from the local newstand.
“What have I gotten myself into?” I thought at the time. “After nearly six years in the culture how could I have missed this?”
Surely I had seen similar graphic materials at train station kiosks. Perhaps when I too was younger, men’s magazines with cute teenage girls on the covers didn’t strike me as odd. Coming face to face with the content in my home was another matter. Clearly the images were intended to titillate.
While I had somehow overlooked this seedy side of Japan, I hadn’t missed the fact that little girl cuteness was idolized and mimicked as the preferred style for young women in Japan. And wanting to fit in and please my husband 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, has now shockingly expanded throughout the world as “cool Japan.” It is most often symbolized by the cute schoolgirl uniform-look popularized by the anime “Sailor Moon.” And once upon a time, “Electric Town,” Tokyo’s Akihabara district, was the place where we shopped for boom boxes and the latest Sony Walkman. But it has changed. 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 long ago abandoned the culture, language and most everything I knew, I worry that postmodern Japanophiles do not truly grasp the 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.
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 is an example of this old-school mentality. It is apparent to me from conversations following her son’s arrest that she would have preferred the matter to be handled within the family. Of course she would.
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. Since then, Japan has joined the rest of the industrialized world and passed laws against the manufacture and procession of child porn. Yeah. But still, right under our noses, the cutie culture persists and virtual representations of sex acts on children skirts regulations. Subtly it permeates.
For those that love Japan for all of its “kawaii” cuteness, it is important to understand that there can be a dark side. The popularity certain imagery can cause girls and young women to act vs. be (an example of this is the way many Japanese girls and young women speak). 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 and I realize now how stunted I was under the pedophile’s rule.
Although my ex in the end turned out to be a vile pedophile, I believe that permission for his view came from the cultural normalization of his preference. And by the same token, rather than run, I stayed. After all, the materials he purchased were readily available and all around little girl cuteness was idolized. In Japan, it was all just “natural” as he put it, “For who can deny the loveliness of little girl?”
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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