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A Savior in the Night City
Reaching Out to Young Women with Nowhere Else to Go

Tachibana Jun [Profile]


Young women forced to run away from home to escape abuse, bullying, poverty, and a host of other problems now drift through the nighttime entertainment districts of Japan’s capital. What is most needed to rescue these vulnerable girls, who have fallen through the safety net of Japan’s social welfare system?

Resetting a Life

In 2009 I founded the nonprofit organization Bond Project, dedicated to helping girls in their teens and twenties already burdened with “the pain of living” put their lives back on track. We listen to these young women’s stories, share them with the larger world, and put the girls in touch with the appropriate support systems. Now we have begun providing a space where we can offer them shelter from their desperate circumstances and support them as they try to establish independent lives.

The defining moment that led me to my life commitment came when I met a solitary young woman wandering the night streets of Tokyo’s Shibuya district. At that time it was my practice to walk through the city at night carrying copies of Voices, the free magazine that we had launched in 2006, reaching out and speaking to girls who seemed to be in need.

“My name’s Tachibana Jun,” I told the girl. “I put out this magazine. If it’s all right with you, could you tell me your own story?”

Her face had a vacant look, but she took a copy of the magazine, flipped through it, and said, “Sure.” She told me that she was “Ayumi” (not her real name), that she was 17 years old, and that she had run away from home in Japan’s northeastern Tōhoku region only three days before. She had posted a message on an internet hookup site reading: “17-year-old runaway. Looking for someone to buy me dinner in Shibuya.” She was waiting for a man who had offered her a meal to show up. When I asked her why she had run away from home, she replied: “I wanted to reset my whole life here in Tokyo.”

What dire circumstance could make a girl of only 17 already want to “reset” her entire life? In Ayumi’s case, her parents had divorced when she was a young child. She had been bullied in school. Unable to get along with her stepfather after her mother remarried, she ran away from home and lived by selling her body in so-called enjo kōsai (dating older men for money) and Japan’s fūzoku sex industry. Dropping out of high school at 16, she gave birth, got married but could not make it work, was thrown out of the house . . .

All these terrible things had happened to her. Yet Ayumi was still generous enough to share them with me, a complete stranger.

“I thought I’d start my life over again in a new town,” she told me. “But now that I’ve made it to Tokyo I don’t know anybody here. I don’t have a job, I don’t have any money, I don’t even have a place to live. What am I going to do?”

The girl shared all her fears with me that night, and my encounter with this desperate young woman at her wits end and with nowhere left to turn proved to have a profound impact upon me as well, and on the future course of my life.

Conveying More Than Words

I first decided to become a writer when I was 18.

I decided that after I had been interviewed myself by a magazine reporter. It is now 28 years since that day, and I can remember only a little of the interview itself. What I do remember, however, is how easy the middle-aged reporter was to talk to. No matter what outrageous things I told him, he never tried to lecture me but simply laughed. He peppered me relentlessly with questions and truly listened to all that I had to say.

For a rebellious young woman, the very existence of a grown-up like this reporter was a revelation. Until then I had perceived all adults as the enemy, and I had never once thought about what kind of adult I wanted to grow up to be myself. Looking back today, I see that I, too, was one of those impulsive 18-year-olds, living only for the day without a thought for the future or where I was headed in my life.

It was thanks to that meeting, coming at that time, with an adult who I would not have minded growing up to be like, that I myself changed. I became interested in adults, listened to the stories that all kinds of people had to tell, and realized that—in order to transmit their voices to others—I also wanted to write words of my own.

In time, that interview led me to a meeting with a magazine editor in chief. It was decided that I would go all around Japan and write up interviews with young women living different kinds of lives. That led next to work as a video reporter, covering topics like so-called ladies’ teams—all-female groups driving souped-up cars and motorcycles—all across Japan. I got married when I was 25, gave birth to our daughter, and in 2006 I and my husband, the professional cameraman Ken, launched our magazine Voices—Kimi no koe o tsutaeru (Voices: Sharing Your Words) at our own expense. To date we have put out 21 editions in all, including special editions, covering everything from pregnancy, abortion, abuse, and runaways to wrist-cutting, enjo kōsai, the sex industry, and drug overdoses from the perspective of young people who have experienced them.

But as I reported from places like the popular Sentā-gai (Center Street) shopping and entertainment zone in Tokyo’s Shibuya district or Shinjuku’s Kabukichō red-light district, I became convinced that simply listening to and sharing the heartfelt stories of these young women with nowhere to go was not going to be enough. What they really needed was a place of safety and security where they could prepare themselves to live self-supporting lives.

  • [2017.11.02]

Feature writer and editor in chief of the free magazine Voices. Born in 1971, she was living what she describes as an “outlaw” life when she was interviewed for a magazine article in her teens, an experience that triggered a desire to try writing herself. In 2006 she launched Voices to tell the stories of runaway girls. She went on to found the NPO Bond Project in 2009. Today Tachibana continues to reach out to young runaways and other women facing abuse and desperate poverty. Author of Hyōryū shōjo: Yoru no machi ni ibasho o motomete (Young Women Adrift: Seeking a Home in the Night City) and Saikasō joshi kōsei: Mukanshin shakai no tsumi (Lower Class High School Girls: The Crimes of an Uncaring Society.

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