On the afternoon of April 6, 2018, I was beginning a new life in the apartment I had just moved into a few weeks earlier. I moved there partly because I wanted to live in a large room in the countryside for relatively cheap rent, partly because I wanted to live quietly in a natural environment, but most of all because there was no one around who knew me. My previous apartment was near the university, so I frequently ran into people I knew from graduate school when I went out for a bit of shopping. This was a burden on me mentally – even though I liked the apartment itself. I wanted to forget all about my time in graduate school. I was ready to start a new life, had found a good job nearby, and was feeling upbeat about the future.

 It may have been before or after I left for work, and I was probably checking the weather on my smartphone. I opened the news page, and one of the new articles caught my eye. I was glued to the screen. Two words caught my attention: “Waseda University” and “sexual harassment”.

 I was unable to move for a while. Instantly, I thought, “It says something about me”. I still don’t know why I thought that. It was not possible, but my mind was filled with a series of worries – who had told them? Who leaked the story? What did they write? I felt my heart palpitating and my face burning hot. When I finally opened the article, I found that it was not about me, of course, but about a faculty member of the Education Department. He had been disciplined for sexual harassment for taking a female student to dinner and a movie, holding her hands, and so on.

 It was only a few lines of text, but enough to shock me out of my stupor. On April 20 of the previous year, I was sexually harassed by Naomi Watanabe, a literary critic who had been my advisor in the master’s course at the graduate school. As was later reported in the media, he took me out to dinner under the guise of providing guidance, and at the restaurant he propositioned me, telling me that he would make me “his woman” after I graduated. When I was too stunned to respond, Watanabe repeated the same line, and as we were leaving the restaurant, he leaned in close and whispered shyly in my ear, “I said it”. Almost as a reflex, I got on my bicycle, which I had parked in front of the store, and rushed away to my friends who were nearby.

 I can now clearly say that what happened to me at that time was a clear violation of human rights, that it was totally unforgivable. But for a long time I had not been able to find a way to deal with this problem that had suddenly been forced upon me. At the university where I studied before entering graduate school at Waseda, I had never been the victim of sexual harassment by a faculty member, nor had I ever even heard of such an incident. Indeed, when I entered graduate school, I was advised by my seniors to be careful of sexual harassment by Watanabe, but I did not think it would happen to me. At that time, sexual harassment was something more distant to me, something that had a clear outline that you could see from the outside. I did not understand that the outrageous stories I heard on TV and in the newspapers, about university faculty members being fired for sexual harassment, were the same as what my supervisor had done. When I heard Watanabe say, “I’ll make you my woman,” all I could feel was a sickening feeling that I could not dispel, and a tremendous fear of what was going to happen to me.

 Two days later, after I had calmed down a bit, I told my graduate school classmate about what I had experienced from Watanabe, and she told me that it was unquestionably sexual harassment. My friend also suggested that the chief professor was well versed in feminism and might be able to help me, so we immediately made an appointment, and went to see the then chief professor together. However, contrary to our expectations, all that came out of his mouth were excuses mixed with laughter: “I don’t want to get into trouble,” “It’s no big deal,” “Sexual harassment is much more serious than that,” “There’s no problem, if it’s with Mr. Watanabe.” H “You shouldn’t talk about it too much outside,” he told us, “Because you’re defenseless.” The conversation turned to my shortcomings, not Watanabe’s. I took the chief’s suggestion to heart and consulted with those around me in an attempt to correct what seemed to be my own shortcomings, but when I told them about the chief’s words, they felt uncomfortable on my behalf, and told me it was typical secondary victimization. Also, around that time, I began to hear from several people that Watanabe had caused similar problems in the past.

 After April 20, I continued to receive phone calls from Watanabe. When I did not answer his calls and kept my distance from him at the seminar and the class drinking party the following week, his attitude suddenly changed to intimidation. I felt that this was not a “no big deal” situation, and after consulting with other professors, I decided to change my academic advisor. The procedure was quick, my advisor was changed, but from the beginning to the end of my time at the university, Watanabe did not apologize to me at all. And in fact, the chief instructed me to convey a word of apology to him. My friend, who had seen this exchange between the chief and others and felt indignant, went to talk to the chief, alone this time, and insisted that Watanabe should apologize to me. However, the chief did not listen. It seemed that my case had been “settled” within the department. Both my friend and I had no choice but to give up, even though we were both deeply frustrated. Disappointed by the faculty, I felt unable to attend almost all of my classes after that. However, I was determined to finish my master’s thesis, which I had already started working on. I knew from the beginning that I would not be able to get enough credits because of my lack of attendance.  I wrote and submitted my thesis in January 2018, but as expected, I was not allowed to graduate due to lack of credits. In March, I dropped out of the university and moved away.

 When I told my office worker friends about the series of events, reactions were split. Most of my female friends, regardless of their line of work, were surprised, saying that if it were a company, official action would surely be taken. Close male friends had a similar reaction; one male classmate boycotted the Watanabe seminar after I told him. Yet, while some men were understanding, there were many men, both on and off campus, who burst out laughing when I said I had been sexually harassed. I was told, “That’s good for you! Wouldn’t it be nice to be nurtured by him?” Some men would start calling me “Watanabe’s woman”, while others would reprimand me, saying, “Don’t talk about that kind of thing at a drinking party like this.” None of the women laughed, but one said, “You were not raped, so it’s not so bad”. I listened to all these reactions, but I did not know what the right answer was. I tried to forget about the bad things and concentrated on what I wanted to do.

 A year had passed since the incident.

 I wonder how long I stood there, in my new apartment, eyes fixed to the article on my phone. I must have read it dozens of times. I finally took my eyes off the screen, and felt a thought growing stronger and stronger in my mind; that if I had spoken out when I was victimized, maybe this would not have happened. By not publicizing what I had experienced, had I failed to protect the next victim? Was I right to remain silent? I had erased the bad memories and started a new life, while Watanabe continued to harm new victims. Was that really the right thing to do? I was no longer in a place where I could say, “I didn’t know anything.” If I knew the truth and remained silent, was I not indirectly complicit in the crime?

 At the same time, another feeling welled up inside me. The feeling, in a word, was “unfair!”. Watanabe had put me through much worse; it was not fair that the university should punish him for something as trivial as that! But immediately, I was horrified to realize that I was feeling that way. That trivialization, the phrase, “It’s just a small thing,” was the worst thing I had ever heard anyone say to me. It is not only the perpetrators who create the backlash of victim-blaming; the victims of the past, who have lived through their suffering and sealed away their pain, also play a role. If I do not take any action, if I forget about it, pretend as if nothing had happened, I may become a person I do not want to be. Every time I see someone raising his or her voice against sexual harassment, will say to someone else the same words that were used against me? I had a niece who was two years old at the time. I thought, when she grows up, if she ever goes through something similar at school, will I say to her, “That kind of thing happens all the time”? I never want to be that kind of aunt.

 So what could I do now? I had no idea where to start. I didn’t know how to fight. I didn’t know where to go for advice. I didn’t know what to ask for.  I wondered, should I ask for an apology? But I knew that if I went back to the teachers who had already “solved” the problem, they would probably be annoyed with me. Even if they personally apologized to me, it would not necessarily prevent future victims. So, should we tell the harassment prevention office and hope for a public punishment? Or should I join the #Metoo movement and stand up for myself, by disclosing the names of those involved? But if someone who has just started writing, stands up against a well-known literary critic in the publishing industry, won’t he or she just incite a lasting grudge, and ultimately be deprived of a future without any power? Is it better to build up more of a career and then go public? Or is it more powerful in the long run to raise the issue by weaving it into a work of literature, rather than fighting it directly?

 I didn’t know what to expect. And to be honest, I was terrified to stand up to someone who was much stronger than I was. I had rarely stood up to others, except for those very close to me. I had adapted reasonably well to an authoritarian value system. I have had my share of unreasonable experiences, but I have always been able to put them behind me by smiling, clowning around, and eventually walking away quietly. But because I have lived my life bottling up the cries of “pain” inside my body, I have become unable to judge whether I even feel pain at all.

 I discussed these convoluted feelings of hesitation with trusted friends and acquaintances. They were concerned for my safety first and foremost, and told me that everyone has the right to live the life they want to live, and that I did not need to feel responsible for everything that happened. But the truth is, I think I had already decided on my answer before I asked them for advice.

 So, on April 16, 2018, I called the harassment prevention office at Waseda University. What happened after that was reported in an article in President Online on June 20.

*  *  *

 There is a movie titled The Help (2011) in which the story takes place in Mississippi in the 1960s. It was a time when racism was still legal and, conversely, anti-racism movements were illegal. The main character, an aspiring writer played by Emma Stone, was born into the upper class and was surrounded by black maids from a young age, but as she grew older, she began to question the position of the maids in white society. She tries to interview the maids to reveal the truth and write a book, but they are reluctant to open their mouths. It is natural for them to be hesitant to speak, since to do so would mean putting themselves in danger. However, the protagonist patiently continues to visit the maids’ houses, and gradually the maids begin to talk about their own experiences. One day, one of the black maids, Aibileen, tells the story of her son. She is a veteran of child rearing, having raised 17 white children, but her own son had died at the young age of 24. He was hit by a car at work and left untreated. She says to the protagonist: “Every year on the anniversary of my son’s death, I can’t breathe. But you all are just playing bridge as usual.”

 Everywhere in the world, there are people who bring violence. As long as human beings are human beings, I think that is inevitable. Unfortunately, such beings will never disappear, nor will they ever be eradicated. However, what I did not expect, and what saddened me most of all, was the fact that many people turned a blind eye and did not extend a helping hand. However, I sometimes think, what if I had been in the opposite situation? I happened to be the victim this time, but what if what happened to me had not happened to me, but to another student? If I had not been so close to that student, would I have ever said, “But she also bears some responsibility, doesn’t she?” Or let’s assume that I had a reasonably good relationship with Watanabe, was not being hit on, had graduated without incident and with all my credits, had been offered a job at a literary magazine after graduation, and felt that my future career as a writer would be smooth sailing. What if, at that very moment, a victim of sexual harassment by Watanabe had approached me and asked for my cooperation? Would I have supported her without hesitation?

 At the very least, it is a relief for me not to be on the side of those who hurt the victims. In the long run, the memory of having hurt someone is heavier than the memory of having been hurt by someone else. Memories of harm remain unhealed at the bottom of one’s heart; they eat away at a person from the inside. And if this series of events had not happened to me, I would have become a worse person I would have grown indifferent to others, interested only in what I wanted to do and my future career, and unaware that I might be involved in some kind of violence, I would not have listened to the voices that were being drowned out around me. I would have felt like I was doing good and proper “literary” work while keeping myself in a safe zone. 

 The biggest lesson I learned from my experience was that “doing nothing” can easily hurt others. I am a victim of sexual harassment, but I can also be a perpetrator in ways that I am not aware of or avoid seeing. Until those days, I had been a person who dreamed of becoming a writer, playing bridge as usual, while someone close to me grieves the anniversary of her son’s death. But now that I have let go of my cards and left my room, I can hear the myriad of small voices around me.

 It was a single moment – a short article that I happened to read on an April afternoon in the apartment I had just moved into – that became a major turning point in my life. Since then, my life has changed drastically. I was able to untether myself from a life of simply following someone else’s footsteps, trying to be appreciated by others.

 For a long time, I have tried to keep as much distance as possible from direct language. I am a poet, not a journalist or a non-fiction writer, and I am probably the farthest away from direct speech. I am sure that somewhere in my heart I thought that speaking directly about things was not in the spirit of “literature”.

 That is why I have never spoken directly about it. The media were very careful in their coverage and respected my words, but I knew that the words I heard through the media were not my true voice. My friends wrote articles and called on me, but I still did not speak in my own voice. During the allegations and the trial, I simply listened to the various words that flowed past me through the series of events, and I did not respond to them. Each time I was disappointed; I felt that one by one, the words died within me. Silence piled up inside me. Sometimes I couldn’t read any text at all because of it, and in fact I threw away many books. I haven’t written any of my own work for a long time. In the end, I felt that the only way to talk about it was to be silent.

 My goal is quite simple. To provide a safe place to learn, for my niece and the children of our society, when they grow up. To create an environment that will make life as stress-free as possible, by the time we pass it on to the next generation. If humans have a unique value that other animals do not, I believe it ultimately boils down to this one thing. However, the reality of changing the world, changing society, and changing the environment is, despite the glamour of the words, a painstaking process. It is unspectacular, muddy, and unobtrusive; it is difficult to see results and outcomes; even if you spend a great deal of time and effort preparing documents, you will not receive a manuscript fee or a literary award. It is a tedious task, just like screwing nails into a plank of wood, one by one, in a corner where no one is watching. But if a running faucet is left unwatched, the floor will be flooded unless someone notices and turns it off. Evil is not something that has a clear-cut outline. It is like water that overflows before you know it. In order not to be swept away by the slow flow of evil, we have no choice but to patiently keep turning off the faucet.

 I am going to tell you what happened to me in direct words. If there are those who say that this is not “literature”, I do not care if it is not literature. I do not care whether it has literary value or not. To be frank, I don’t believe in the power of literature as much now as I used to. I just want to stop the water from flowing any further.

 From now on, I am going to put my own words here.


 Plaintiff A

 (Later, in May 2022, the name of the author, Rena Fukazawa, will be made public.)

翻訳協力:Ruby Marita Ramsden