Unrequited, Unrelenting, Unlawful: A Meditation on Stalking and Romance in Tokyo
“Why did you unsend the message?”
“Am I moving too fast for you?”
“Did I make you uncomfortable? I’m confused”
“Please tell me why you’re mad at me”
“I’m sorry for my behavior… Could I hang out with you again?”
“Can’t we be friends? Should I stop keeping in touch with you?”
“I have no idea why you’ve suddenly changed your mind because you messaged me saying you really enjoyed your time with me and can’t wait for next time. Anyway now you’re not interested in me. Ok bye”
“I’m really sorry may I call you later?”
These were some of the 23 messages Kyo*, a seemingly (keyword) kind boy I met at a bar in Roppongi, fervently sent me the hour after our first and only date. He drafted these nuggets of neurotic poetry when I wrote to thank him and tell him I had fun, before quickly un-sending the text because of a spelling error. This set off a red alarm in Kyo’s mind (think Kill Bill “Ironsides Siren” alarm), one that pushed him to deliver this concerning text message constitution of demands and pleads, all within the span of 3 hours, all without waiting to hear a word from me. After I asked for space, and a ticket off the Kyo romance river rapids, he continued to message and call me asking for another chance, at times falsely compromising, at times blatantly aggressive.
Kyo is not Young Werther, nor is he Heathcliff, nor even Majnun. Rather than a tortured hero of unrequited romance and chivalry, he is a creep. He is a man who went on one date with a stranger and felt entitled not to an explanation, but to another date, and another, and eventually a relationship with an unwilling partner. Forget that he didn’t stop to consider he’d known me for all of 4 days; He didn’t stop to consider that the woman he decided on didn’t decide on him, and that his relentless cries for love read more as misguided than McDreamy.
Although an explanation that I no longer wanted to see him did not curtail Kyo’s onslaught, the Line block button did. My brush with this proactive romantic ended pleasantly, without me having to resort to a talk with my landlord, or worse, the police. Here in Japan, the latter outcome is far more common.
“It was absolutely unforgivable that something I owned would run away from me” “I thought I might as well kill her, making her mine forever”
An anonymous man known only as “Hiro” interviewed by Al Jazeera stuttered out these accounts as an explanation for stalking and threatening to murder his ex-wife and three daughters following her divorce plea in 2013. Hiro is one of thousands, judging by the increase in stalking cases to a record 23,079 over the past year in Japan. His sentiments mirror that of Charles Ikenaga, whose notorious civil case ended with the accused releasing pornographic photos of his ex-girlfriend after stalking her for months and stabbing her to death, to show that he “owned her, even in death”.
In portrayals of unrequited love in romantic literature, perpetrators are colored more as eccentric and enthusiastic than criminal. He repeatedly bullied her son, called her ethnic slurs, and worked for a genocidal killer until the moment of her death, but we’re still expected to take Snape’s lifelong dedication to Lily Potter as romantic, not toxic. Moreover, series like “Revenge of the Nerds” and “Twilight” teach us that men who relentlessly pursue their prey will eventually get what they deserve: women who are initially repulsed by them. Jessica Valenti of the Guardian pointed to this aspect of culture as a pivotal reason for Elliot Rodger’s 2014 massacre of seven women on the streets of Isla Vista, California. Rodgers created a Youtube series before committing the shooting, in which he proclaimed to all women: “You denied me a happy life, and in turn I will deny all of you life”. To Valenti, “Rodger, like most young American men, was taught that he was entitled to sex and female attention.”
In Japan, psychologists Kayomi Kurihara and anti-stalking academic Ryoichi Hiroi connect
the issue of stalking more to an ideology that simplifies wives and girlfriends to property, rather than a warped revenge narrative that promises men a princess at the end of their quest, as the issue is culturally spun in the west. From her psychiatric sessions with reformed stalkers, Kurihara concludes that men believe they own the women they pursue and want to “reclaim” them. They prioritize their demands over another human’s comfort and decisions because, well, they’re women. Yasunari Kawabata’s Snow Country pens this variety of relationship using the characters Shimamura, a bored writer from Tokyo who returns every season to a remote town in Hokkaido see a Kamoko, a woman he uses to his entertainment and delight, ignoring her feelings for him or personhood.
The law does nothing to help these lesser-beings, or stalking victims, as the rest of the nation perceives them. Kurihara states “The police don’t do anything for [victims], and only asks the victims and perpetrators to be nice to each other”. While asking a mugger and a civilian or a serial killer and their prey why they “can’t just get along like we all did in middle school” may seem wilfully neglectful and unlawful, it is perfectly acceptable when the victim is a woman and the perpetrator is a man she once (or never) kissed.
There is hope for the future, and the past few years have given rise to organizations like STEP which rehabilitate stalkers with counselling to decrease repeat offenses. Realistically, however, we must do more. These reforms and organizations are bureaucratic bandaids shakily taped over societal tumors. Helping existing stalkers is the same as cutting each head off the stalking hydra; it will not stop new cases from popping up in place of the old. Only when we reframe the societal lens surrounding entitlement to women’s attention, bodies, and personhood can we eliminate the Kyos of Japan, America, and the true source of the stalking problem.
*Name changed for privacy