Originally published in 2017, Black Box, journalist Shiori Ito's memoir about her experience of sexual assault and her struggle to bring her attacker to justice, prompted a reckoning over gender-based violence in Japan and jump-started the country's #MeToo movement. Starting tomorrow, Allison Markin Powell's English translation of Black Box will be available from the Feminist Press at CUNY. In the excerpt below, Ito receives an update from Mr. A, the investigator on her case, about the possible arrest of Mr. Yamaguchi, the man who raped her.
Had Mr. A. really done everything he could? It was around mid-May when this thought occurred to me. Mr. Yamaguchi had been in the United States, so there didn’t appear to be any further developments.
When I thought about it, there had been so many hoops to jump through even just to file the complaint. I had spent those days doing everything I could possibly think of to get the police to continue the investigation.
During this time, having managed to gradually resume working, I received a job opportunity in Germany. I was still suffering from panic attacks whenever I saw someone who resembled Mr. Yamaguchi, so it was somewhat of a relief to be in Berlin, where there were comparatively fewer Japanese people. I was finally able to return to my own work and a normal lifestyle.
While I was in Germany, I received a call on June 4 saying that Mr. Yamaguchi was going to be arrested at Narita Airport, upon his return to Japan. Hearing the word “arrested” over the phone, I felt as though I were having a strange dream—I couldn’t quite grasp that it might be a realistic possibility.
“He’s returning from the US on Monday the eighth. The arrest will take place at the airport, once he passes through immigration.”
Mr. A maintained his composure, but there was a trace of excitement in his voice.
The purpose of his call was in preparation for the interrogation that would follow the arrest, to request that I return to Japan as well, as soon as possible.
I should have been glad to receive this news.
And yet, I couldn’t summon the least bit of happiness. The moment the call ended, it felt as though I lost all sensation in my body. What lay in store for me now? I felt a wave of exhaustion, imagining the offensive backlash I could expect from Mr. Yamaguchi and those in his circle.
Just when I had managed to resume my own life, this attack and its aftermath were about to drag me back down.
But I had to pull myself together. The time had come for the truth to come to light. I made the necessary arrangements to cover my work, and I started looking for a return ticket to Japan.
Up until now, Mr. A. had repeatedly referred to the “benefit of the doubt,” the principle of innocence until proven guilty. He had told me that a person can’t be charged with a crime based on suspicion alone, without evidence. The most heartening fact here was that the police must have gathered enough evidence and testimony for the court to authorize a request for the arrest warrant.
* * *
Four days later—on the day the arrest was scheduled to take place—I received another call from Mr. A. Of course I expected to hear that Mr. Yamaguchi had been arrested, but when I answered the phone, Mr. A’s voice was bleak as he said my name.
“Ms. Ito, we were not, in fact, able to arrest him. We were prepared to do so. I was ready to go, but at the last minute we were ordered to stop. I am truly sorry for my own inadequacy. I’m being taken off the case; I will no longer be in charge. Until they assign my successor, please be in contact with my supervisor.”
I was surprised and disappointed, yet a part of me had expected this all along.
Questions surged up, one after another.
Why did this happen now? Something wasn’t right.
“The prosecution granted the request for the arrest warrant, the court authorized it, didn’t they? How can something that’s been decided be overturned so easily?” I asked.
The answer was astonishing. “The stop order came from MPD, from the top.”
It was impossible. How could the police put a halt to the activities of the prosecution that was controlling the investigation of the case?
“Does this kind of thing happen often? I mean, the police stepping in?” I asked.
“In rare exceptions. Hardly any cases.”
I kept repeating the same questions, and Mr. A. said, “The new person in charge of handling the case will explain this to you. And it’s likely my phone number will change after this, but when you’re back in Japan, I’d like to meet with you to talk things over.”
“Every path forward seemed to have been blocked.”
His cell phone number would change? What was going to happen to Mr. A.? “Will you be okay, Mr. A.?”
“I haven’t committed a fireable offense, so I should be fine.”
He apologized profusely and, no matter what question I asked, the only reply he gave was, “I hope you can pardon my failure.”
“I just can’t understand.”
Before now, Mr. A. had told me many times, “If you’re going to involve yourself in the investigation like this, why not do it yourself? You don’t need the police, do you?” But I had relied on them; I had placed absolute trust in the police and cooperated fully. Had I not done so, I would have lost my nerve, and now I had learned the hard way that I wasn’t being taken seriously anyway.
But having come this far, those things no longer mattered.
“I just don’t get it,” I repeated.
Mr. A. said, “Neither do I.”
Mr. A. had been the one who would have confirmed Mr. Yamaguchi’s identity, and he must have seen him pass right before his eyes.
My sense of powerlessness—that it didn’t matter what we did—merged with my fear and loneliness that there was no one left to trust within the police force. I felt frustrated by my own insignificance. All of these thoughts and all of my exhaustion erupted within me, and the sobs welled up in waves.
I kept questioning him further, but Mr. A. would not tell me anything about why the arrest had been stopped. Would the new person who took over after him be any different? “Probably not,” was his reply.
For the past two months, Mr. A. had devoted a tremendous amount of time to the investigation of this case and had persevered, even while being caught between my insistence and the pressure from his superiors. Who would take his place now? Would I be back at square one, forced to tell the same story over and over again to a new investigator?
Mr. A. and I may have argued with each other, but he had diligently kept up the investigation. The fact that he had been taken off the case was a huge shock to me, more than the arrest being called off.
“One single investigator and one victim would never learn the truth.”
The last thing he said over the phone was to repeat, “I’m sorry for my inadequacy.”
All I could manage to stammer was “Thank you very much. You worked very hard. Take care of yourself.” Before hanging up, I added that I was sorry this incident had had a negative effect on his career as well. Although up to that point we had been in opposition as victim and investigator, I felt saddened, as if I were bidding a sudden farewell to a comrade-in-arms.
My tears spilled over with all of these inexpressible emotions. I felt weak, at a loss, completely alone on a residential street in Berlin. Every path forward seemed to have been blocked. Here I was, just one small person, up against this unseen force that I couldn’t even properly confront.
A decision from the top of Tokyo’s MPD. From just that, I already knew that one single investigator and one victim would never learn the truth.
There had to be some other way to go about it.
Who should I ask? This question kept running through my mind.
I returned immediately to my friend’s place where I was staying in Germany, and I made a phone call from the kitchen. I wanted to try to reach Prosecutor M., who had been in charge of the case.
The person who answered told me that Prosecutor M. had been taken off the case.
Him too. On the day when the stop order for the arrest had been issued, both the investigator and the prosecutor in charge were removed—everyone was gone.
The kitchen was drenched in afternoon light, and as I stared at a basket filled with fruit and vegetables, I realized that I needed to get back to Tokyo where I could seek out the truth as soon as I could, but a part of me was still glad not to be in Japan.
It was a clear and crisp day. Not the usual overcast Berlin sky—the weather was quite fine. It was the one thing that saved me, at least, on that day when I got the call.
Mr. Yamaguchi hadn’t been arrested, and he would still be working at TBS’s main office. If I went back to work at Reuters in Japan, my office would be in the building directly across from where he was. I couldn’t bear the idea of going back there.
From Black Box by Shiori Ito, translated by Allison Markin Powell. Forthcoming from the Feminist Press. By arrangement with the publisher.
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