THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
March 17, 2019 at 08:30 JST
Unsolicited packages of women’s underwear, cosmetics and other items are being sent to anti-discrimination activists, and experts suspect one sexist man in western Japan may be responsible for many of the deliveries.
The targets of the harassment are 14 lawyers, local assembly members and others who are tackling social issues, such as human rights and sexism. Only one of the victims is male.
On Feb. 7, seven of the victims held a news conference in Tokyo to “make the damage visible and to stand up to the offenders.”
They said the cash-on-delivery items ranging in price from 1,000 yen to 30,000 yen ($9 to $268) arrived at their homes or offices on 30 occasions from 2017 to February this year.
Although the victims work in different areas, such as the Kanto region, the Kyushu region and the United States, they realized last autumn through social networking sites that they were being harassed in a similar manner and started sharing information.
By the time they decided to disclose what they have endured, 10 victims had been identified.
Following the news conference, The Asahi Shimbun found four other people who have received unwanted items.
Cash-on-delivery cosmetics and home electronics arrived at the office in Osaka Prefecture of Kanako Otsuji, a Lower House lawmaker who has come out as lesbian, in mid-February.
On Feb. 10, a college professor in Tokyo studying the “comfort women” issue received beauty products.
Cosmetics addressed to the chair of the Kyoto chapter of the New Japan Women’s Association were sent in January.
A male human rights activist in the Kanto region also received health food in December.
The cash-on-delivery articles were bought using postcard order forms that come with advertising inserts in newspapers.
All of the identified postcards were postmarked from “Yamaguchi.”
Satoko Murakami, 53, a member of the Kita-Kyushu municipal assembly, said unpurchased products began arriving in June last year. Sixteen bras of the same size and costing a total of 30,000 yen, as well as a health drink and a chopping board were sent to her.
Murakami, who has been promoting an increase in the number of female politicians, said the brassieres were likely sent because comments ridiculing her breasts had been posted on an Internet bulletin board.
“I am slandered based on my appearance although it has no link to my political activities,” she said. “I feel that sexism is the underlying factor of the act.”
Lawyer Keiko Ota said she has received health drinks, cosmetics and anti-tick sheets.
“I receive more criticism when I mention discrimination against women than when I denounce the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Twitter,” Ota said. “The products were sent to me around the time I came under fire.”
Yuka Ogata, 43, who was censured for bringing her baby to the Kumamoto city assembly and sucking on a lozenge during a plenary session, said she also received cosmetics that she did not order.
Her family paid for the products, believing that she had ordered them.
Sumire Hamada, 34, a staff member of the Asia-Japan Women’s Resource Center, was sent stretch pants. She said it was “a perverted choice constituting sexual harassment.”
With the victims’ consent, The Asahi Shimbun obtained copies of 15 order postcards addressed to six individuals, and sent the copies for examination by Ans-Well Co., a private company in Fukuoka’s Hakata Ward that analyzes handwriting.
Takatoshi Tetsui, 68, a former police official who examined the postcards, said a rigorous analysis could not be done because of the limited number of characters written.
But he found that the 15 postcards “have a lot in common.”
For example, the kanji characters for Tokyo and “ko” (child) repeatedly emerged on postcards addressed to three people.
Tetsui noticed that the central vertical line of “to” did not go beyond the first horizontal line, while oblique lines on both right and left sides were written in a similar style.
The horizontal line in “ko” was written in the same position at a similar angle, and the way the writer stopped at the end of the line was also common among the different postcards, according to Tetsui.
The numbers 4, 7 and 8 were all written in a peculiar way as well.
After estimating how fast the characters were written based on the way the strokes were drawn, Tetsui ruled out the possibility that the postcards were intentionally written poorly with the opposite hand.
“It would be safe to say that the 15 postcards were written by the same person,” he said.
All 15 postcards are dedicated ones that come with mail-order catalogues or fliers. Although the postmark on one of them is blurred, the other cards are clearly marked “Yamaguchi.”
According to Japan Post Co.’s Chugoku regional branch, all mail in Yamaguchi Prefecture is sent to the Yamaguchi Post Office for sorting. The post office does not offer customer services.
All mail in the prefecture is postmarked “Yamaguchi,” making it difficult to locate where exactly the postcards were sent from.
Makoto Nakayama is a psychology professor at the Kansai University of International Studies who researches how to profile criminals based on their methods, evidence and past data.
He said the sender of the unwanted items “resorted to that measure likely because the guy lacks effectiveness or impact on social networking sites and elsewhere, and, therefore, cannot verbally discuss issues with the victims.”
Given that the troublesome “gifts” were sent irregularly and sporadically, Nakayama said the culprit likely “does that without due consideration to relieve stress and thus has little sense of guilt.”
Nakayama also said the sender may be older because the use of postcards as a means of communication was especially popular in the Showa Era (1926-1989).
Asked why the offender would send underwear and cosmetics, Nakayama said the choices “reflect the person’s sexism and his insistence that ‘you are women and should not speak out.’”
Murakami filed a criminal complaint in summer last year over the issue.
A senior official of the Fukuoka prefectural police’s Yahata-Nishi Police Station, which is looking into the case on suspicion of business interference, said they are still “in the basic investigation phase.”
(This article was written by Nanako Shibata and Daisuke Ono.)
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