The recent death of Lindsay Ann Hawker has been a shock, not only to people in England and Japan, but also making headlines around the world. The young English teacher, only 22 years old, came to Japan as a fun place to visit before getting married, planning for her boyfriend to join her shortly. Hearing it is a safe country, her father was happy for her to come over. Young and fun-loving, she became used to trusting the people around her, who had probably mostly been fellow English-teachers and their students. Then, the tragedy occurred.
Many of us know her feeling. Whilst N*va is often seen as a pretty amoral employer, they at least facilitate a safe environment for teachers and students to meet each other. Being such a large company, with recruitment offices all over the world, it’s probably the easiest way of coming to Japan. The whole process only took a few weeks for me.
I too got to know the friendly, cosy atmosphere that exists in the student-teacher relationship here. You get to the point where you just can’t imagine anything bad happening. As people in Japan generally have the same reaction when they hear you are an English teacher, it’s like a ‘safe zone’, where every potential student can be trusted.
She seems to have stalked by a man, who at one point even ran after her bicycle to find out where she lived. Ordinarily, this would have set off alarm bells, but in a message to her boyfriend, she told him, “Don’t worry about the man who ran after me. It’s just crazy Japan…” He then seems to have continued to secretly stalk her, even waiting outside her birthday party, according to bar staff there at the time. Finally, it appears he tricked her into going over to his apartment on the pretext of teaching him English. Many teachers here teach privately on the side- it makes for a few extra yen and it’s also a way to get to know people better, cutting out the ‘middle man’ making it better for everyone and a lot cheaper for the student.
Japan is famous for being a safe country and people are used to trusting people here to be peaceful. This is generally very true. But even here, there are dangerously unstable people. Girls (whether foreign or otherwise) need to be especially careful who they let near them, as their vulnerability makes them more likely to be targets. On a more general note, I have noticed that people can do nasty things in a way that isn’t always obvious, for example taking advantage of perceived kindness. I’ve seen and had some employers whose ethical standards are disturbingly low. However safe it is, we have to remember that it isn’t totally so. It isn’t a utopia- bad things happen here, too.
Though it may not have any direct bearing here, recently the murder rate in Japan has been growing, as seen in a lot of high-profile cases. What is so unsettling, is that the murders are not for personal gain (which would be bad enough), but more often the motive is revenge, or an over boiling of suppressed rage. Children are killing parents and former teachers because of bullying. Neighbours are killing one another, saying they are unable to bear the repeated noise from next-door. Such things are happening on an almost daily basis. You won’t see much of this is the English-language press, for fear of tarnishing Japan’s ‘clean, safe’ image, but it is almost an obsession for the Japanese media. The only thing that made this case headline news abroad was the fact that a foreigner was the victim. The heavy police presence around the apartment when they tried to arrest the suspect indicates that they were ready for something like this. Sometimes, my private students desperately ask me what I think can be done, and all I can do is admit that I don’t have the answers, but maybe making counseling more available would help people to deal with their problems, before they become so overwhelming?
Japan is indeed peaceful, but it can also be very stressful. The darker side to Japan’s unusually harmonious society is that all the negativity gets kept in. People simply can’t say what they want to people, or let off steam about their frustrations. More so, they fear to discuss mental problems they might be suffering, for fear of ‘losing face’. One of the outlets for these frustrations are the weekly ‘manga’ comics, which are full of all kinds of stories, mostly benign, but often including fantasies of rape, murder, imprisoning people. Suicide is sadly common here, as a way out of seemingly intractable situations. It happens, people just try not to talk about it too much. Sadly, it seems murder is also being seen as a way out, for those who can’t cope with life’s pressures, often acutely stressful in such a tightly-organised society. Of course, there has to be justice and there has to be penalties. Yet, on a broader note, I feel the best way to deal with crime is at its root causes, something Japan is otherwise extremely good at.
There are no easy answers. It has to be said, Japan is still amazingly safe, street-crime being almost unheard of. It’s a great thing to be able to come home to my apartment in the middle of the night, with no fear of any dangers, or go for a walk anywhere, at any time, something much more risky in London. Yet, like other places, there are the twisted, obsessive few. Usually, speaking to them ends up in nothing more than an uncomfortable conversation and we avoid getting too involved. We want to help such people, we feel sorry for their loneliness, but sometimes we just can’t. Now we know that trusting someone who sends all the alarm bells ringing can be a fatal mistake. If any good can come of this, it’s that someone, somewhere, will be saved from a similar fate.