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'#MeToo' campaign spreads in Japan, but some sexual violence victims face backlash

In this May 29, 2017 file photo, journalist Shiori Ito is seen at a press conference in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward after filing her request with a committee for the inquest of prosecution over a rape accusation against a former Tokyo Broadcasting System reporter. (Mainichi)

The "#MeToo" campaign, which has rocked Western societies as the two-word hashtag was used on social media to denounce sexual violence while people came forward with their own experiences, is now also spreading in Japan after a blogger shared her experience of sexual harassment, using the hashtag, from when she worked at Japan's largest advertising agency Dentsu Inc. Will the "#MeToo" movement in Japan take hold in society?

The blogger and writer under the name of "Hachu," 31, accused prominent creative director Yuki Kishi, her former senior colleague at Dentsu, of sexual harassment on Dec. 17. She claimed that he used to call her up in the middle of the night and tell her to come to his house and insult her appearance, among other inappropriate behavior. Kishi admitted part of the allegations and apologized over his actions, and quit the company he had established after leaving Dentsu the following day.

Since then, tweets with "#MeToo" sharing sexual violence experiences are increasingly being posted and retweeted.

A Tokyo woman in her 20s shared her sexual harassment story that she endured during job-hunting and at work. She told the Mainichi Shimbun, "Seeing Hachu's action, I thought I couldn't just be silent."

A 26-year-old Tokyo man recently tweeted that he was sexually harassed at a shoe store where he was working part time. He said an older male employee at the store frequently touched him. Disgusted, he eventually quit the job.

In May, journalist Shiori Ito, 28, held a news conference over a sexual assault accusation against a former Tokyo Broadcasting System reporter. The accused man has denied his actions were criminal, and the two parties' claims contradict each other. Ito published a book in October on her account of what happened and has become the symbolic figure in the movement in Japan. Hachu also said on Twitter that she was encouraged by Ito's action of coming forward.

At the same time, some sexual harassment accusers in Japan have been facing a backlash. Following Hachu's revelation, Rika Shiiki, a 20-year-old university student entrepreneur, also shared her experiences using the hashtag. But she then faced attacks online, with comments such as, "Show us evidence" and "Just go to the police." Shiiki says she did not expect such a backlash, but adds that she does not regret talking about her past experiences. Hachu was also criticized over her past remarks and behavior that had nothing to do with her sexual harassment claims.

Takaomi Yoshida, 25, who runs a video production company in Canada, attached subtitles to an anti-sexual violence video released by the government of Ontario and shared it on Twitter. In the video, a man harassing a woman at a bar says to the camera, "Thanks for keeping your mouth shut," and another man massaging his female co-worker's shoulders says, "Thanks for minding your own business." The video then shows a message: "When you do nothing, you're helping him."

Still, many victims cannot bring themselves to tell of their experiences of sexual violence. A 23-year-old university student in Hyogo Prefecture was sexually assaulted by the president of a publishing company she had hoped to join when she was job-hunting. The president took her to a hotel and kissed her without consent. Shocked by the incident, she could not get on trains for a while because she got scared when she saw men who resembled her aggressor. She thought of posting what had happened and wrote drafts over and over, but could not bring herself to actually post the story. Now she blames herself, worrying about other potential victims.

A Cabinet Office study in fiscal 2014 showed that one in 15 women have been forced into having sex, but 67.5 percent of the victims did not talk to anyone about their experiences.

The "#MeToo" movement was sparked by Hollywood actresses accusing big-name film producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment. In Western societies, apart from the powerful in specific industries, many politicians have since been forced out following sexual misconduct allegations. In Japan, however, the campaign has yet to gain that kind of momentum.

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