CW/TW: Sexual Violence
I started a new life overseas in Japan. This was immediately following university graduation in 1998. I was a young 23 year old female teacher, living alone for the first time.
I became a survivor of labour trafficking, as well as attempted sex trafficking, by both my Japanese boss and the madam at the local brothel.
In the backdrop of the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, and the complex social fabric that I found myself in, I learned in new and profound ways what it meant to be an outsider. To be vulnerable to others because I did not know the language, I did not know the laws, and I did not have the money and social connections to protect myself.
We need to be aware of the complex situations that immigrants to Canada and indeed, anywhere, find themselves in, and act in compassionate ways that centre around their rights for safety and belonging.
Kumomoto-san is kind to me. When I moved here, my predecessor left gomi everywhere in the apartment. It was in the cupboards, the closet, and on the landing outside my door. There were even small broken appliances in the small cubby that served as my bedroom “closet”.
Kumomoto-san helped me. He tried to explain how gomi collection works, and when I didn’t understand, he told me I could just put my garbage with his garbage, anytime.
So I feel safe this warm day, in his small shop that I see every morning and evening from the window of my small second story apartment, next door.
I finish placing the grapefruits in my plastic bag and turn to my right, still looking downwards. I wonder if I should add more fresh produce to my purchase today, or if the June heat will be a problem and my food will spoil before I get to enjoy it. And then, there she is, practically right up against me.
I’ve seen the Russian prostitutes around town who work for her. There are three of them. They are taller and thinner than me, very leggy. It was only a few short years ago that white people came to live amongst the locals of this area. Right now there are only six white people in our town of 18,000, all of them young women. Three Russian prostitutes, three North American teachers. One time I’d passed the Russian ladies on the street, and how I wish I could have talked with them. All three had walked side-by-side with one another, and kept their eyes trained on the ground. These women of the Masanoi are cloistered. Separate. Another world, yet right beside me.
The madam is fearless, like the heavy make-up on her face. She is short and dressed in a tailored outfit.
My bosom is fruit to her. She squeezes my right breast firmly, then runs her hand commandingly over my stomach, right hip and thigh. Her English, impeccable.
Now she speaks Japanese in a sly, silky voice, to Kumomoto-san’s son.
His face becomes the deepest red I’ve ever seen, his laughter so embarrassed and yet – excited? I feel the familiar red blotchiness of heat creep up from my chest to my neck. I pay for my fruit. I leave.
In the early morning hours, drunken men’s voices accompany heavy, insistent banging on the exterior door of my walk-up apartment. I freeze, silent and staring into the darkness until my eyes adjust and focus on the handle. The scratched and dented door vibrates with each hit. Shadows weave and mingle with streetlight just outside my kitchen sink window. The flimsy door eventually stops shaking. Voices continue, layered and strong; I hear clattering as the men descend the metal staircase to the alley below. I remain crouched in position for hours, facing the door, listening to all the different sounds of the night.
[Image: Black and white photo of a smiling young Caucasian woman teaching nursery school, seated carefully on the floor in a modest dark dress, leading a nursery rhyme]