When I went to Japan to teach English as a foreign language almost twenty years ago, I never expected to end up being homeless. After escaping an abusive family, I experienced homeless as a teenager. It affected me badly, and I never wanted to return to that situation again.
When I met my husband, I was struck by how sweet and stable he was. Educated in the United States, he was part American, part Japanese, and highly ambitious. There were no red flags – He didn’t drink too much, went to work wearing a suit and tie, and was attentive and kind – absolutely normal. I craved the opportunity to make a stable family. I wanted to get married, have children, and form the kind of family I did not have as a child.
The abuse started suddenly as soon as I became pregnant with a child we had planned together. I was still working as a teacher. We had a nice apartment that he purchased via a mortgage, and everything was going well for us both. We had gone out to a fast-food restaurant, and he had tripped and dropped his food on the floor. I giggled and offered to buy him another burger or share mine. We had enough money that this was an inconvenience, not a disaster. Instead of getting another meal, he hit me hard around the face and pushed me over.
When his hand contacted my face, I didn’t register what was happening. My mind could not comprehend that my sweet husband had just hit me and done so in public. My sweet husband became a monster. While I was on the floor, he grabbed my handbag, which held my wallet, phone, and keys, and ran off, leaving me crying on the floor.
It was then that I first heard the dreadful words, “why did he do that?”
There is never any reason to explain or excuse domestic violence, but people often try and make sense of it, perhaps to make themselves feel better. People ask if he was stressed, drunk, or if I had said or done something wrong. If people on the outside looking in can find a reason to explain it, then it becomes the fault of the people involved, mainly the victim’s fault. Explainable things are less scary.
When he first hit me, I had to beg money from strangers in order to get a train back to the apartment. It was a hot Tokyo summer, and he refused to let me back inside. He had my keys.
The violence didn’t stop there. He never said sorry, nor did he promise not to hurt me again. He just ignored me and the issue. In retrospect, I should have gone back to my home country but could not face the idea of being homeless and pregnant. I had no family that would take me in. Frozen, scared, and hopeful, I thought perhaps it was a one-off, that it would be ok.
Unfortunately, it just got worse and worse.
He made me quit my job. He raped me the same day I got home from the hospital with a newborn baby born prematurely because he beat me up so badly. After splitting my stitches, he spat on me as I cried and pushed me over while I was holding our fragile child.
He screamed at me to shut the baby up and told me he would kill me, and nobody would care. He struck me in the face so hard that I became deaf on one side and split my cornea in my eye.
Occasionally I was allowed to see a doctor. But not one of them wanted to know how I had become so severely hurt.
Back then, it was legal in Japan to hit your wife. Eventually, it became a civil matter, but at least illegal. My experience with the police was that they didn’t care. In fact, when they came to the apartment, they apologized to him and told me to be quieter.
To prevent him from becoming even angrier, I avoided loud yelling or crying while experiencing daily beatings and rapes.
My shoulder got dislocated, my legs stomped on. This man threatened me with knives and eventually cut me up all the time with a blank look on his face. He refused to let me access bank accounts and left me having to do anything he demanded in exchange for diapers and baby formula, as he would not allow me to breastfeed the baby.
The abuse was never-ending. When I asked about leaving Japan, officials told me that I would be charged with parental child abduction if I took the child without his permission. When I tried to get a divorce, I was told the baby was habitually resident in Japan. If I went ahead, they said I would lose my Visa and my child. If a Japanese citizen and the family want the child in Japan, they will not let it go with the foreign parent, especially a mother with no support. I was trapped.
As the years went on, the abuse escalated. It felt like torturing me became his hobby. I became a different person, no longer the bright and vibrant young woman I once had been. He didn’t provide enough food or money for me to live on, so I had only one change of clothes and often went days without food. Despite all of this, I devoted myself to my child and being a good mother.
After thirteen years of abuse, I got lucky. We got word his company was moving him to the US. I saw my chance to run.
Click here for Part 2 in this series.