Review: Black Box by Shiori Ito — The Mistress of the House of Books
TRIGGER WARNING: Rape
I was introduced to this memoir at a book club meeting a few months ago (shout out to the FBC Paris for always having the best picks!) and I am so happy that I was. It’s not an easy read — far from it — but it is a necessary one.
Hailed as Japan’s answer to the #MeToo movement, Black Box by Shiori Ito is an at times chilling, at times uplifting story of Ito’s experience when she was raped by a prominent Japanese reporter in 2015. She came forward with her story in 2017 after she was told by the police that they could not (and would not) help her in pressing charges.
Despite film footage of Ito being dragged, unconscious into a hotel room by her attacker. Despite eyewitness accounts from people working at the restaurant where she was drugged and by the taxi driver who drove the pair to the hotel. Despite all of this glaring evidence against her attacker, the Tokyo police essentially shrugged their shoulders and told her, “there is nothing we can do to help you.”
Is it because her attacker is famous in his own right in the world of Japanese journalism? Or is it because the police didn’t find it necessary to do their jobs? Or is it because it was culturally unacceptable for Ito to find herself in the position she was in (alone, drinking with a male colleague) as a woman?
It seems that all of these reasons collided to form the perfect storm that Ito found herself in after going through one of the most traumatic experiences that a person could ever find themselves in.
In Black Box, Ito tells her story from start to finish. At times her recounting sounds almost clinical, but she had to separate herself from her memories in order to get it all down on paper. The scene of her attack is raw, and the moments leading up to when she was drugged were clear.
I won’t go into the details of the attack as I don’t find it necessary to write them, here, again. It was tempting to skip over that section of the book but I didn’t — I needed to know what happened as a way of showing respect to Ito for having the courage to write it herself. That’s one theme that fills the entire memoir: Ito’s courage.
After she explains what happened to her, the aftermath of the attack becomes clearer and clearer. At first, she’s afraid to share her store, even with her closest girlfriends. She eventually does tell a handful of people, and it makes her feel better. But, in a lot of ways it doesn’t. Her attacker is still out there, and she wants — needs, for him to be arrested. The rest of the book is centered around her struggle to get her story heard, and her struggle to bring her attacker down.
The most shocking part of Ito’s story is the resistance she comes up against again and again. Her attacker is famous, so he can’t be pulled down. The police and some coworkers urge her to keep quiet, especially if she wants a future in journalism. The whole story echos so clearly so many other #MeToo stories, that it’s somewhat scary. A different country, a different culture, a different people…same story. Same results.
Another gut-wrenching side of Ito’s experience (and the experience of so many other women) is that her attack seems to follow her everywhere. She is nervy, jumpy, and very much a victim of PTSD. She loses weight. She becomes a recluse. She can’t work and it turns out the police were right — she no longer has a place in Japanese journalism. A huge part of why Ito struggles to move on even after sharing her story is that as she tells her story, her attacker is still out in the world.
In 2019, Ito won the civil case against her attacker, but, as she writes in the Epilogue of the book written in 2021, there is still much to be done. Mainly, she wants to continue to bring stories like hers out into the light. She writes:
“We have gone from the invisible, nameless existence as victims to “Me.”
In my ongoing work to represent the truth, I want to continue to make things visible, to bring them into the light. Because that’s how they will change.”
Ito joined the end of the book club meeting for a little Q&A session and it was such a pleasure and honor to meet her and to ask her questions. She said that she’s happy that her story launched a movement in Japan, as in her opinion, it was about time. She mentioned that the problem begins within the Japanese language, saying that there aren’t even words to describe what it feels like to be raped.
I’m eager to continue to follow Ito and the progress she’s making in Japan. And, to quote her again, “there are a great many issues that still need to change.” I’m proud to say that I support these changes. And although this website is just a small drop into a larger puddle of feminist activists, I’m happy to swim along with them.
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