As I climbed into the backseat of the police van, my analytical conscious asked me, “When was the last time you were in a police vehicle?” I’ve had several meetings with the police in America, Ireland and Japan, but none lately had resulted in me getting a ride from them. “Eight years ago,” it answers its own question. When I was being driven away to be locked on the floor with red streaks on the walls.
The seats are not made of plastic, like the ones in Milwaukee. There is not a crisscross bar separating the officers from me this time. I am not a criminal today.
Five minutes later we are at my apartment. I point out where he parked his car and lead them upstairs. Sosuke points out to Yosuke that there is a camera pointing at the doors. I walk to my mine. Sosuke looks at my door and passes to my neighbor on the east side of my apartment. It’s only the littlest bit unsettling, his proximity. They confirm with me that the people next to me are my next door neighbours. I nod. For men that spent the last 2.5 hours in a mixture of assiduity and dilly dallying they suddenly move incredibly quickly. Within a second of my confirmation they have pushed the intercom buttons and the apartments are ringing out in unison from within.
No one is answering. They say they will come back tonight. They tell me to keep safe. They tell me to use the deadbolt and chain. Use the intercom camera. Yosuke tells me to call, even if I am uncertain someone is there. If I think I see someone and call them and then there doesn’t turn out to be anyone, it’s okay. If I feel scared walking back from a conbini in the evening, walk to the station and we can home home together. I can’t help but smile. It all makes me feel a lot better. They smile then, unexpectedly, and I bow, unlock and swiftly enter and relock my door.
Stalking is a problem in Japan. There are scholars and cultural anthropologists and reporters who could better explain why Japan’s society has been a hotbed for it’s prevalence, but an ordinary 外国人 (がいこくじん, gaikokujin, foreigner) with an outside eye can see links in everyday facts of Japanese life. Division between sexes is greater, perhaps building curiosity/mystery, expression of emotion isn’t polite/acceptable, women are attractive if they are timid and childlike, and men are admired if they are rough and demanding.
Walking around the nightlife district in Kokura with three guy friends, two hosts approach me and tell me they like my clothes, that I’m かわいい (kawaii, cute), and gush on. Because I’d been getting stared at for ten minutes my patience was wearing thinner than thin and I snapped back at them that they were adorable too, and oh their hair was so nice. They got turned off and left. Somehow, the pinning to the corkboard only works one way. It is only fun when she gets startled and nervous and resists. But if she let’s the pin pierce right through her wings and flits toward the other, all ceases.
As I shake, as I know I look as terrified as if I was seeing him float, I think, he’s enjoying this. I don’t reach my hand out to accept the paper, it moves of its own accord, or worse, he commands it. But either way, my hand moves out, to accept the paper. He is still looking at me. The good part about experience with creepy strangers is that memories replay when confronted by a new predator. I am ready to run, or push or kick. I do not look at the paper, I do not let my eyes look down in embarrassment or avoidance. I am completely on guard. Door is unlocked, there is a wall two meters behind me, but a wide enough space to pass him, if I’m fast he won’t get a good enough grip, I can jump the rail, I might be able to make it to the bike rack…
Probably one second passes. He turns on a dime and rushes away. I stand at the empty door. I stand and my over-cautious consciousness says “I told you. I told you he was staring at you that way. I told you that car was following you. I told you. You felt it when the car was passing. When it parked right in front of your apartment. Why did you run up the the stairs if you didn’t think he was after you?” Loving consciousness replies, “I thought I was being egotistical, I told myself the narcissist in me has got to die and I am encouraging it. I told myself that van is probably waiting to pick up one of the thirty people that live in my building.” “But you knew he wasn’t if you ran up the stairs!” “Yeah. My self-absorbed self won in the end. I thought, just in case, I better make it to my place quickly.”
I get followed a bit. Just earlier today I came out onto the main road from a side street and a young man followed me into the conbini. He looked at me behind his manga, bought nothing, and stared at me as he pretended to smoke on the other side of the entrance as I took advantage of 7/11’s wifi outside. As I started to walk away he followed, then turned back to go the other way.
I understand curiosity. It was the cause of almost all my transgressions growing up and since college still accounts for about 85% of my mistakes. I understand the interest in something peculiar or strange. I get today’s Stalker One. Stalker Two crosses the line when it’s car vs pedestrian, when its her living area, her closest sense of safety, when she is unarmed, when her door is unlocked. The behaviour shouldn’t occur. I shouldn’t be standing at the 玄関 (げんかん, genkan, entryway) debating if I should spend the next three hours filling out a police report, or going inside to work on my Japanese and submit to feeling anxious for the next weeks.
I cannot kill the worry or fear, but I can make it less. So I act on what I have the power to change.
When I was in Fukui, a random person started talking to me one day. This happens multiple times in a day in Japan, but this guy ended up touching my ass and chest and I had to go to the police office once, go to city hall three times, identify him in photos, describe the exact movements his hands made on me, meet with our Area company manager.
After my first month here, a man followed me down an alleyway. He had the same look as the guy in Fukui, he had the same anxiety and hunger in his eyes. I recognized it, did not slow down. It wasn’t happening again. I didn’t walk home. I circled and waved rights and lefts after he had said goodbye. There was no way I was letting him know where I was.
Since then my encounters have been limited to the kind of today’s Stalker One, harmless, if somewhat annoying, because it does take energy to keep that awareness cap on.
This guy knows where I am now. So my window door I sometimes keep unlocked or open is no more. I won’t leave my door unlocked when I go to the conbini, take out the garbage, wander about the shrine near my home.
I learned some Japanese, I’m scared of the sounds outside my apartment, and if there was more diversity and discussion between genders and nationalities in Japan, I and other foreign women in Japan wouldn’t be such peculiarities.
百当番 (ひゃくとうばん, hyakutouban, 110 number)
到頭 （とうとう, toutou, finally)
じゃんじゃん (jyanjyan, clanging noise of a bell)