Editor's note: #metoo isn't just about rape, but a conversation surrounding the different forms and entire spectrum of sexual violence that is too often normalized. Sexual harassment and violence shouldn't have to get to the point of rape, to be considered important enough to talk about.
Disclaimer: This is one woman's account of her experience teaching English in Japan. Not everybody has the same experiences.
I've had many jobs since moving to Tokyo in 2015. My occupations have altered a lot, but I've come to realize that they don’t define me. Especially when the English teaching positions I've had, resulted in horrible experiences.
Ask a majority of foreign students what they do besides studying, and you’ll get 4 common answers: 1) teaching English, 2) if they’re tall probably modelling of some kind, 3) interning somewhere and 4) waitressing or bartending. Seemingly normal positions but the “English teaching one” is so common- it’s almost expected.
Common first encounter conversations for foreigners in Japan start with:
“What are you doing in Japan?”
“Oh you’re working here? As an English teacher right?”
Rinse and repeat.
I guess I got used to this, and when I was working my eikaiwa job and privately tutoring, shrugged it off as something normal that all fellow students had also discovered functioned as an easy money making job. But ask me this question now and I’ll probably get defensive, recoil, and snap a “no way.”
Incident 1: I started working at my first eikaiwa in August 2015, fresh off the plane from home and starting my first semester in Tokyo. It was through a mutual friend and at a casual place. Come in, talk for 3-4 hours, walk out with cash kinda deal. No problem. And for the first few months it was just that- not a problem. My coworkers and boss were nice, students sometimes weird and boring but painless overall, and I got quick cash. Then, Student A started frequenting. He was older, over 60 years old. Long, white hair, and always wore nice clothes. He didn’t have an accent. He was a certain type of student that would come in just to show off their English level to beginners and try and match the staff. He was also heavily political and argumentative; always challenging me on my country’s politics, trying to figure out my own political views and inclinations. When I signed up, we were told not to delve into controversial matters so I always changed the subject. He’d come to class every Saturday and stay for my entire shift, trying to use the three hours to squeeze anything personal out of me, all the while demeaning me; challenging what I was talking about and trying to appeal to other students to question my credibility. Nice, man. At first I thought he had a personal vendetta against me.
I hated it when he came in:
“Hi, how are you today?”
“Oh, tired, I had a test today.”
“Was it on Donald Trump? Hillary Clinton? You know your hometown is dangerous, right? You really don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Rinse and repeat.
So not only was this guy an asshole, but he started getting too personal. He was obsessed with me and I stopped acknowledging him during group lessons. Big mistake. What followed was an extremely awkward encounter. He waited for me until my shift ended and approached me outside of the building. I was caught off guard and immediately uncomfortable. Would he try and attack me on politics again? Berate and belittle me? No, he asked me about my relationship status, my preferences, and my plans for the rest of my day. Then he mentioned his wife feeling ill and that he had nothing to do that night. Gross. That escalated quickly. I said I had to go and the other questions weren’t appropriate. Didn’t deter him.
I then changed my shift last minute the next week, having a friend fill in for me. We met up for dinner afterwards, and she told me something so ridiculous. She said that Student A had come in thinking I was working, and after finding out I was not at work, demanded to know why. He sat down in the lesson my friend was teaching anyway, and from there, things worsened. Apparently, every time she’d bring up a new topic, he’d interrupt to ask about me: “where is she? Does she have a boyfriend?” etc. She’d change the topic saying that that’s not what they were discussing, trying desperately to get other students to speak up and join in to distract. Not gonna work with this one. Then the shocker question came:
“Is she into casual sex?”
“She said she’s into that. That she likes casual sex. She told me this. You’re her friend, you’d know.”
“That’s incredibly inappropriate and I know her, she wouldn’t say something like that in public, especially at work in front of students. That’s not true.”
“It’s time for me to go.”
Awesome. So now my students and coworker have heard this? This creep’s delusions about me? And this whole time he’s been trying to feel me out to see if I’m interested in banging him? Great. I had to go to my boss and say he couldn’t be at my lesson anymore. Never saw him after that.
Incident 2: This was at the same eikaiwa and involved Student B. Nice, great English, friends with the owner. I thought that he was kind, and for some reason, had a son (he didn’t), so I figured he had fatherly affection in mind when he offered his home for me to rent a room in when he knew I was apartment hunting. No thanks. Looking back, that was weird. Maybe it was a language thing? He was just being helpful in an awkward way and said that he had an extra room? Then he friended me on Facebook. I mistook him for a different student and accepted (he didn’t have a profile picture, okay). Then, he liked every photo and post by me since 2014, found my Instagram account, and liked everything there too. Not cool, dude. I came into work a few days later and he started talking about my personal Facebook life during the lesson; showing off that he had access to my social media to other students? Who knows? - but it wasn’t right. Queue me trying to change the subject. He changes it back to my Facebook posts, showing them to me and the other students on his phone. He then, made a comment that my mom was as pretty as me. Yeah no, strike three - you’re out. Bye forever dude. I told my boss and luckily didn’t have another lesson with him.
Incident 3: Queue the same eikaiwa. Now, it’s my boss’ turn to sexually harass me. Yep, the guy who was shocked by the past two incidents as much as I was and vowed to protect me and said I could always come to him immediately. I had gotten to know this man like an older brother for two years. First conversation we ever had, he pointed out he was 20 years older than me - old enough to be my dad. That kind of set my feelings towards him. We’d joke around, have fun at work parties, get food sometimes. I confided in him occasionally, felt like he had my back, and assumed there was mutual respect. Imagine a relationship with an older brother, you know? Well, he didn’t really see me in the same way, I guess.
From when I had started working there, apparently, he had been telling staff and regular customers that were his friends, that we were sleeping together. Or, as he put it, “he slept with me.” Apparently he’d bring it up at random times or after work too. Like “hey you know her, right? Yeah, I did her.”
Glad to know you respected me too, buddy. Best part is, I only found out about this around 3 months ago. From another co worker. She told me casually one night and said “well, I told him I didn’t believe that. There’s no way you would!” Can’t say everyone I interacted with felt the same way though. Two whole years of this going on, and I didn’t know. I only thought we were getting to be better friends. Cool. I love being dehumanized. Besides these three incidents at the same eikaiwa, I have had more similar experiences. They were smaller though, and not as shocking. For instance, uncomfortably inappropriate comments about me, my appearance, and/or my relationship status. I quit teaching at this eikaiwa in the beginning of October.
Incident 4: I started using hellosensei because my internship was unpaid, I quit my eikaiwa, and my waitressing job. I needed money. I took on a ton of students and was making bank. In September, I started receiving phone calls with no caller ID. Found out I forgot to turn off the “make cell number public” switch on my profile. Go me. I answered the next time it happened, thinking it was a potential student. Queue in heavy breathing and no response. Weird. Then I get 7 calls in a row. I answer none. This happens almost every other day for the entirety of September and October. My friends and I would be out, it's 1AM, and I get 10 calls in a row. If I answer it’s heavy breathing. Sometimes a “moshimoshi,” sometimes he’d say “Yuki.” I don’t know of any Yukis. So now, I have a stalker. My friends say to stop answering altogether. You can’t block “no caller ID” numbers that keep calling. It goes on for two months; either during the day in clusters, or late in the night. Freaky as hell. Then it stops suddenly. I’m still afraid to pick-up my phone sometimes.
Incident 5: This is the last incident - thank goodness. This one was short. I did a trial lesson with one guy about a month or so ago and he wanted it to be at a bar. Tried to walk me into one, insisting it’s great for lessons. Nope, to Starbucks we go. And so begun a hellish hour of way too personal questions from a guy who's English was nothing short of native. I get interrogated on my life, relationships, body, etc. Gross. Then I feel my leg being caressed and it takes me a minute to process him asking me to dinner later. I tell him to fuck off. I’ve had enough.
And so marks the end of my sexual harassment incidents whilst teaching English in Tokyo. I will never teach again. I know many teachers who have had similar things happen to them, and many who luckily, haven’t. Choose your companies and students carefully. It took me a bit after each incident to recollect myself and process what had happened. Like now, I realize all of them were mulch older than me, fluent in English, Japanese guys with nothing to do, and wanted a young girl to occupy their time. It’s nothing short of disgusting. I think I’ll stick to other jobs where I won’t be harassed.
Wait, I said that in the beginning of Fall and yet just finished dealing with harassment in my current workplace.
Rinse and repeat.