BLACK BOX (2021) BY SHIORI ITO – THE MEMORY THAT STARTED THE #METOO MOVEMENT IN JAPAN
ELLA KELLEHER WRITTEN – “We can’t know what’s going on behind closed doors” is a frustrating and insidious phrase that is too often instrumentalized to reduce cases of sexual assault to minor misunderstandings. In Japan, if a sexual assault occurs in a witnessless space, the case becomes a “black box” – a place that local police departments choose not to investigate. Author, journalist and filmmaker Shiori Ito found herself in this void. A place where the crushing void of darkness could have engulfed her entire and silenced her like countless other victims if she hadn’t fought to expose one of Japan’s greatest legal and social problems.
In Japan, the #MeToo movement was adapted by survivors of sexual assault to #WeToo in an effort to overcome the anxiety surrounding distinction and “to demonstrate that as members of society these issues concern us. all “. In a very collectivist culture, deliberately calling attention to yourself, especially something as appalling as sexual violence, is severely despised. This intimidating social reality is precisely why Shiori Ito has been and continues to be an incredible inspiration to survivors of sexual assault. Not only did she choose to stand out and speak for the repressed victims, but she did so without hiding her face or name.
In 2017, Ito held a public press conference in Tokyo about a rape reported by Ito, which the Japanese authorities deemed “not liable to prosecution.” Since the assault took place in a private room, where the hotel cameras could not observe, the case was considered a “black box”. Not only did Ito find herself with the impossible task of fixing the missing pieces of the situation on her own, but she was also expected to reassemble the scattered fragments of her psyche after such a traumatic experience.
Black Box (2021) is as revealing and informative as it is heartbreaking evocative in his story. This is made even more palpable by the skillful translator, Allison Markin Powell. One of Ito’s main goals in this story is to dispel the myth of Japanese society surrounding sexual assault. Instead of society stereotyping rape as a situation in which a woman is violently assaulted in a “dark alley,” Ito says the reality of sexual assault varies widely. Assaults by acquaintances account for 88.9% of reported rapes in Japan. In the United States, the numbers are almost identical, as 8 out of 10 reported assaults are committed by people the victims know personally. Ito poses the idea that instead of being wary of only dimly lit hallways and dingy alleys, we also need to recognize that danger may be closer than expected.
Following her adventurous nature, Ito found herself in New York City in 2013 – a young and brilliant aspiring journalist doing what anyone would do, network to move up the professional ladder. She meets Noriyuki Yamaguchi, the Washington bureau chief of the Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS). Ito crosses paths with Yamaguchi in the workplace, a space where many victims meet their future abusers. When Yamaguchi learns about Ito’s career goals, he offers his connections and professional support. By exchanging emails, which the book displays in full, Yamaguchi repeatedly promises to secure Ito a job as a producer at TBS.
The couple met again two years later to discuss Ito’s rise to journalism in Ebisu, a hip neighborhood in Tokyo. Ito arrived with a reasonable presumption that others besides Yamaguchi would also be present – the so-called “producer connections” he had promised him. As night fell on April 23rd 2015, Ito and Yamaguchi walked from a train station to a local kushiyaki bar. Despite the cozy setting, Ito found herself in the metaphorical lion’s den. She writes that “no one else [was] there is waiting for us, and deep inside, I was surprised that it was just the two of us. Unbeknownst to her, Yamaguchi drugs her drinks and takes her to the Sheraton Miyako Hotel, only for her to wake up as he brutalizes her.
In perhaps the most haunting and infuriating moment Ito explains how, when she asked for her clothes, Yamaguchi took that moment to look at Ito bloodied and distraught and said, “Before, you seemed to be a strong woman.” and capable, but now you’re like a troubled kid. It’s adorable. ”Ito includes this disparaging comment to reveal the devastating impact of rape: it takes away an individual’s physical autonomy and control – effectively killing a person without needing to murder them.
The destruction that an assault creates can persist long after the rape has taken place. After his attack, Ito was plagued by night terrors, severe anxiety, depression, and PTSD, while also having to deal with corrupt Japanese police who preferred to protect a prominent TBS leader rather than an innocent victim of sexual assault. Despite the “black box” functioning as a social sarcophagus, Ito took it upon herself to appear publicly in press conferences, on television and even in documentaries. Ito has decided that in order to validate the many other rape victims whose stories have been appeased, she must share her experience rather than remaining anonymous. Without their trauma being recognized, the survivors are trapped by their own mental entombment, destined to be the forgotten ghosts of patriarchal societies.
After years of fighting with the Japanese justice system, in 2019 Ito finally succeeded. She explains that “the decision of my two-year civil lawsuit for [rape] has been announced. I won the case and the ruling recognized that “there was no consent”. Black Box: “If, as in many Western countries, sex without consent was systematically prohibited in criminal law and I had found redress, then maybe I would not have gone so far as to write this book. This book is its healing process, and we, the readers, are its witnesses.
Years after the assault, numerous press conferences, and the court verdict, Ito’s resounding mission proves as courageous and powerful as his single-handed clash against Japan’s seemingly impenetrable legal system. “I want to continue to make things visible, to bring them to light. Because that’s how they’re going to change, ”Ito writes as a final note to his book.
Black Box humanizes the dehumanized by the power of its translation. As Ito explains, there is no Japanese ”[words] for a woman to use in protest that puts her on an equal footing with a man who is her superior. Powell’s translation uses the English language’s lack of hierarchical rhetoric to give female survivors of sexual assault an equal footing with their abusers. Survivors are no longer forced to act as sexualized and weakened victims hiding behind their “shyness”. Ito gives us readers his story, his trauma, and his ultimate victory in a way that challenges the status quo and seeks empowerment rather than pity. It proves that there is light, even in the grim darkness of the “black box”.
Ella Kelleher, LMU English graduate, is Editor-in-Chief of Book Review and Editor for Asia Media International. She majored in English with a concentration in Multiethnic Literature