Firsthand account is a cautionary tale for women living alone in Japan.

Japan is reputed to be a safe country, but that doesn’t mean it’s not without its problems. One of those problems is stalking, with more than 20,000 cases reported in 2018.

One of our Japan-language reporters, Mai, has firsthand experience of being stalked recently, and in order to help protect others she has now decided to share her story with our readers.

While she’s comfortable speaking about it now, at the time it was frightening, so she hopes that this cautionary tale can help at least one other person from suffering the same way she did. We’ve laid out her account of the experience below.

At the beginning, I had a good impression of my neighbour

At the time, I was living in a small apartment block, with only four one-room units spread out across two floors. In between apartments was a staircase, and I was living on the first floor.

▼ The apartment block had stairs in the middle, with my apartment on the bottom left and my neighbour’s on the bottom right.

Soon after moving in, I first saw my neighbour when we left our apartments at the same time one day. I remember he was in his thirties, not fat but stocky, and wearing a tight leather jacket. He had small eyes and wore glasses, and his short black hair looked unkempt. Seeing as our gaze met when we exited our apartments, I greeted him quietly with “Hello. I just moved in.” He returned the greeting in a quiet manner, so I thought he was polite, and I got a good first impression from him. 

But then, strange things started happening

After that first meeting, I gradually noticed that day by day he started leaving the apartment at the same time I did, and after a few months he was leaving at the same time as me for half the week.

Our front doors were pretty close to each other, so whenever we saw each other, I felt I had to be polite and say hello to him. Sometimes he would try to start up some small talk, but it was nothing strange or out of the ordinary.

Then, not only did the timing of us leaving the apartments coincide, but the time we returned home began to coincide as well. Whether it was in the evening or late at night, he began appearing on my walk home, always greeting me from behind as he walked up to me, and not only near our apartment block, but near the station closest to us as well.

So we would end up walking home together, and he would just talk casually about everyday things, and I didn’t think he liked me or that it was anything to be worried about at the time. But gradually, the conversation began shifting to include comments about my personal routine, with him inquiring about the times I was away from home, or commenting on the fact that I stayed up late at night.

That started to make me feel uneasy, but I figured he probably saw my light on late at night because we were neighbours, so I told myself it wasn’t anything to be too concerned about.

The plushie incident

While at home one day, the intercom rang so I went to answer it and saw it was my neighbour. He said, “It looks like something dropped outside your place so would you come and take a look to see if it’s something you left behind?”

So I went to open the door and then I saw this:

▼ He was showing me a stuffed toy.

My neighbour held the plushie out to me with a smile and said, “It fell”. And then, instead of looking at me, he looked beyond me and into my room. It was then that I became convinced there was something strange about him and this whole situation. I told him it wasn’t mine but he kept talking, so I pushed the stuffed toy back at him and closed the door.

Did he look through my trash?

After the plushie incident, I talked to some trusted people about my situation and they told me what he was doing sounded like stalker behaviour. They told me I should move somewhere else, but I didn’t want to waste money moving all over again after I’d only been living there for six months.

They also told me I’d better be careful to make sure he wasn’t going through my trash so one night, after I returned to my apartment from taking out the trash, I put my ear to the door and I heard his door open. Then I heard the sound of someone going through the trash, but I was so scared I didn’t dare open my door to confirm it.

From then on, I tried to open my door as quietly as I could so he wouldn’t hear it. I dreaded living there, so I often stayed at a friend’s house instead.

The used underwear on my door handle

After being away from the apartment for a while, I eventually returned. And when I did, there was a plastic bag hanging from my front door handle.

I checked inside and saw it contained women’s underwear. And they weren’t new underwear, either, they were used, with marks on them.

I have no words to explain how disgusted and scared I felt. I knew this was the neighbour’s doing, and now I felt it was actually dangerous to continue living here so I made arrangements to move out straight away.

From then to now

It was a hassle to move out, but everything was finalised in about two weeks, thanks to the help of my friends, who were a great support. It’s now been a month-and-a-half since the underwear-on-the-doorknob incident, and I’m in a much better place and haven’t seen that neighbour since. 

I’m sure there are some people out there who will think that I was partly to blame for letting things escalate to the level they did. However, I grew up in the country where I was taught to greet people with a smile when you see them, and to be amicable when people strike up conversations with you.

I don’t think it was wrong for me to greet him. His character led him to do what he did, and I honestly didn’t fear for my safety until the plushie incident occurred.

I hope other women don’t have to go through what I went through, but if you do find yourself in that situation you should never compromise your personal safety. Don’t prioritise things like saving money or wanting to avoid the hassle of moving out. Reach out to people around you and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Many victims of stalking are afraid to contact police, but Japan has an Anti-Stalking Act to help protect people in these situations. If you feel you are being stalked in Japan and need to talk to somebody in English, you can contact Tokyo English Life Line (TELL) on 03-5774-0992 or Japan Helpline on the toll-free number 0120-46-1997.

Photos: © SoraNews24
● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

[ Read in Japanese ]