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Tokyo Court Delivers Landmark Ruling On Sexual Assault Case


Earlier this week, Shiori Ito, the most prominent voice in Japan's #MeToo movement, stood outside of a courthouse in Tokyo.


SHIORI ITO: (Speaking Japanese).

SHAPIRO: She held a banner announcing that she had won her civil lawsuit against the man she says raped her, a prominent Japanese TV journalist. Her case is considered a landmark in a country where women rarely speak out about sexual assault, and we want to warn listeners that we are going to be discussing that subject for the next few minutes. Joining us now is Motoko Rich. She's The New York Times' Tokyo bureau chief.


MOTOKO RICH: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: What does Shiori Ito say happened to her on the night of the incident in question?

RICH: She said that she went to dinner and drinks with a prominent TV journalist. She was hoping to talk about a possible job. He was then the Washington bureau chief for Tokyo Broadcasting System, which is a major TV network here in Japan. She apparently had quite a bit to drink. But she has said that she didn't drink that much but that she felt very woozy, went to the bathroom, passed out. The next thing she remember is at about 5 in the morning, she felt intense pain and that Mr. Yamaguchi was on top of her. She ran out of the hotel. She reported it to the police. An investigation ensued.

SHAPIRO: And no criminal charges were brought. This story will sound familiar to Americans who follow the #MeToo movement. How frequently do victims speak out like this in Japan?

RICH: It's very unusual. There have only been a couple of other women who have spoken out publicly. The fact that she called her own press conference, wrote a book and has persisted in talking about her case for nearly two years is extremely unusual. The topic is a taboo here in Japan.

SHAPIRO: And there's been a real backlash against her, hasn't there?

RICH: There has. When she first made her allegations publicly, she was attacked on social media fairly mercilessly such that she left the country because she was worried about how it was affecting her family and close friends.

SHAPIRO: And now this court has ruled in her favor, granting her this $30,000 judgment. Is this seen as a major milestone in Japan?

RICH: I think it's a very big milestone. I don't know if this is the only time that someone has won a civil case for sexual assault, but it's extremely rare, and the fact that she is so public about it is extremely rare. The other thing that's a milestone about the case is that it mentions consent. Consent is not part of Japanese rape laws. But this judge found that - why he awarded the judgment was in part because he had said that Mr. Yamaguchi had sex with her without her consent while she was unconscious.

SHAPIRO: Does this seem like the beginning of a cultural shift?

RICH: You know, it's really hard to tell because back in 2017, when the first stories broke about Harvey Weinstein, it was sort of a snowball effect with the media in the United States, whereas in Japan, when Miss Ito spoke, there was kind of an immediate flurry, but the Japanese media didn't pay that much attention to it. And there was not a flurry of other women coming forward. There have been pockets, but the other women who have come forward to have tended to want to maintain total anonymity, completely understandably. But there hasn't been kind of the outpouring that there has been in the United States.

SHAPIRO: I know the media didn't give a ton of attention to her initial claims two years ago. How are they treating this court ruling?

RICH: It's gotten a lot more attention. I mean, it wasn't the top of the news. It was interesting. We were watching on the day of the court ruling. There were tons of people at the courthouse, tons of people who came to both her press conference and a press conference given by the defendant. But it was not top of news. I think there are certain types of reporters that are really, really interested in the story, but it isn't necessarily getting kind of the widespread attention that these #MeToo stories were getting in the United States.

SHAPIRO: That's Motoko Rich, Tokyo bureau chief for The New York Times.

Thanks for speaking with us.

RICH: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.