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  • Kokoha

Confessions From a Minor in Japan

I will no longer be a minor in 10 days.

I sit with the bittersweet feeling of reaching the end of my adolescence, desperately soaking up the last of what “being a teenager” has to offer me. Nagoya has raised me through my teenage years, molding me in its colorless classrooms and underground parties in Sakae. Among my polar opposite characters – a uniformed school girl to a skin-tight dress strutting down dark roads – I’ve experienced the same thing throughout my youth here.

When I was 14, I was catcalled in the streets for the first time.

It was after school, and my friends and I cheerfully skipped as we walked to the mall. We took purikura pictures in our uniforms, decorating each picture with cute stickers and words. I remember writing the word 青春! (The springtime of life!) over a group photo of us in pink glittery marker, a word that was trendy at the time. It resonated with us – we were in the springtime of our life. We were newly blossomed teens, and every breath felt like a celebration of our life.

Holding our purikura pictures, we walked to the nearest train station. Leaning on the grimy walls of the station stood a middle-aged man. He hollered at us, calling us “ladies.” Surprised, we looked in curiosity and fear as he proceeded to call us cute, asking us if we were free tonight. It was a strange experience, a grown man catcalling us – middle school girls for sex? For fun? For entertainment? It was then in that moment of confusion that I felt my innocence be stripped away from me, as I was then a mere object for this grown man.

At 15, I stopped my friend from meeting with an online predator.

In the dark corners of the Japanese Twitter scene, Japanese children and teens seek help for their mental health. I personally did not use Twitter, although I’ve experienced it secondhand from my friends who did. In the depths where there seem to be no regulations, teens tweet their age, gender, prefecture, and their secrets which they shield from their public life. To no surprise, it’s older men who flock to these sites to offer their “help” – a place to stay, a place to talk.

One of my friends started chatting with a man, who so kindly offered her an open conversation through direct messages. She excitedly told us the following week, announcing that she had found a great guy online. She added that she told him the name and location of our school, and he had promised to pick her up.

Hearing this, I was bewildered that she would even tell him our school name, let alone her name. “Online safety!” I yelled. I knew that his “help” was just a disguise for his intent to assault my friend. I scolded her, telling her that it was stupid. Looking back, I wish I had hugged her first and reassured her that it wasn’t her fault. Instead, it was the man’s, a man that had groomed a 15-year-old girl online. She didn’t know any better, and I didn't either.

When I turned 17, I went to my first party.

It was underground, hidden in a worn out building in Nagoya. As soon as I entered the door, I was taken aback by the smell of burning cigarettes. I held the hand of my friend, whom it was also her first time. As we nervously sat on the bar counter, looking awkwardly out of place, we met a pair of girls smoking. They were also 17. By the way they sat and smoked, I could tell it wasn’t their first time. They seemed relaxed and almost zen as if the music wasn’t pounding in our eardrums. We became friends over the loud music and started dancing on the dance floor. Soon, more girls joined in, dancing together in solidarity.

One man bought me a tequila shot, calling me sexy as he handed me the drink while I danced. I politely refused, giving the drink to one of the older girls. I felt bad, but the man knew I was underage. I was met with a moment of reality, realizing that this 24-year-old man knowingly bought me a 17-year-old girl a drink, in hopes of sex. But it wouldn’t be sex, it would be assault. I went to the bathroom for some fresh air.

After the music calmed down, I found myself talking with the two 17-year-old girls from earlier. They told me that what I encountered was a completely normal experience within the partying scene. In fact, they usually tend to entertain older men for free drinks and sex. “The guys don’t care what age you are! You shouldn’t either! I mean, they're only a few ages older than us!” she yelled.

These experiences that I’ve had as a minor are not unique to me and have only touched the surface. I’ve heard and witnessed girls the same age as me having sugar daddies, going to love hotels, and even dating older men, those who are usually in their 20s and 30s. It has made me uncomfortable and fearful to think that I, whether I’m wearing my school uniform or out at a party, am a target demographic for a majority of Japanese men.

Japan isn’t the only country in which minors are victims of older men, but its legal age of consent at only 13 years old and the constant normalization of pedophilia throughout media have made my experience as a female minor a common one.

My personal teen experience has warped my perception of older men and my relationships with them. I’ve spent my whole adolescence protecting myself from being a target, although I already was. I know better now, but I couldn’t have known better then, and I can’t say that I haven’t been a victim of this harmful pedophilic system.

Written by Kokoha

Translated by Kana Miyazawa

Edited by Emiru Okada

Graphics by Ren Ono

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