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Transformative Travel: A Falling Out

Twenty-four years ago I was halfway through a year working in Japan. I had been teaching English, traveling the country, and working out some issues by leaving my falling-apart life behind for a bit.

Phase 1 of the year was Wonder. Everything in the first half of 1989 was new and fascinating: the food, the people, the culture, the freedom. This period of growth and opening was exactly what I’d come for.

Summer brought Phase 2, which was Settling In. I felt confident enough in my language and getting-around skills to host my parents and sister for a visit in July and my boyfriend in August.

Things fell apart for Phase 3. Let’s call it Ick. I had no more visits to look forward to, I became very homesick (especially for Boyfriend), and I was bored to tears with my job. Speaking simplified English and covering the same topics over and over allowed me to practice and perfect the art of the clandestine yawn to the point where I thought my cranium would explode.

The heat and humidity were stifling to this dry-heat girl raised in the semi-arid Rocky Mountains. By the end of the summer, I was sick of sopping though my clothes ALL THE TIME. It was only after midnight that it was tolerable to go outside. Conveniently, this is also when I would gather several hundred yen and head to the international phone on the street corner to call Boyfriend, who would be available then due to the time difference.

One suffocating night, around 1 am on my way home from the phone booth, I noticed a man with a flannel jacket (??) hanging over his forearm. Odd. He began to follow me along a deserted street, and I saw that his OTHER arm was moving up and down. Rapidly. With a grin, he flapped open his first arm to show me what he was pumping.

I freaked out, even though I knew I wasn’t in any physical danger. He was a swine, but a harmless swine.

Still, I felt violated. The next day at work, I insisted that my coworker, a bilingual Japanese woman, help me make a police report.

She explained to me that reporting such a “crime” was just not done. Men will be men. Even if police DID look for the perv, even if they DID find him, nothing would happen to him. Shikata ga nai.

I insisted, and she accompanied to me to the local police station. In my mind I was quite powerful, bringing healthy feminine boundaries from America to my host country. I would save other women from this preying public crank wanker.

While my colleague stated my case in Japanese with the unamused officer, I puffed myself up with over-the-top dignity and  self-importance. When she turned back to me, however, the translation deflation hit.

Know what the police officer said, as relayed to me by my coworker?

It probably fell out by itself.


I may have fallen off my chair. All by myself.


This is a former Show & Tell post repurposed for the Generation Fabulous bloghop around July’s theme of Transformative Travel.

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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31 Responses

  1. Is that why they have/had such a low crime rate? Such a funny after-the-fact story Lori :).

    My oldest daughter,Tracy also went Japan and took 4 years of Japanese in high school. We had a number of Japanese students as their host family while my girls were growing up. What I learned is Root beer tastes like their tooth paste, so no Root beer floats. And if they don’t like your food, don’t worry, they will have their mother send fresh meat in the mail, for Customs to just confiscate it. The funniest story has to be how my daughter and her friends got lost and ended up in strip bar as teenagers and nobody was asking them to leave :).

  2. I had my boob grabbed while traveling in Greece (it was a 25 year old boob then). I was told it’s just a think men did. I ran screaming and cursing after him. I think I scared him, I doubt he did it again.

  3. Oh my GOD! I am confident I would have done the same. My time abroad has also yielded some frustrating cultural differences, but this takes the cake. Yuck!

  4. Doggone it! Just when we think we can take care of ourselves a pig comes wandering down the street. You know I don’t imagine that things have changed that much in the last 24 years. But who knows.


  5. I have a friend whose 17 yo daughter is just gearing up for a year of travel study in India (160 miles from Calcutta). I can’t decide whether or not to send her the link. Her experience will be amazing, and I will just cross my fingers that she has very few experiences such as this. Well, how about none. At least you were a bit older and better able to compose yourself in response. Ugh.

  6. I’m sure I would have reacted the same way, Lori. What an ass! I have heard similar stories from Japan, and I think I’d hesitate to go there, even at my age. Then again, at 5’10”, I’d probably scare the living poop out of any dude who got overly frisky.

  7. ” It probably fell out by itself”. Yeah. Like right.
    Lucky for him you didn’t have some caustic soda on hand.

    Sometime these things feel so hopeless, but good on you for trying 🙂

  8. My sister and I got flashed in Rome. I missed it entirely.

    I would have been so irate if my righteous indignation had been met with that reaction. But, what do you do? Soooo frustrating.

  9. I lived in Japan for 3 years and never encountered this, thankfully. I found it infuriating though that most service people, electrician, plumber, etc, wouldn’t speak to me. They always insisted on speaking to my husband who was at work invariably. Arghhhh!!

  10. Ick. Men’s penii are so revered in Japan. I attended an artsy porn film showing of Nagisa Oshima’s “In the Realm of the Senses” about the real story of a woman who walked around with her lover’s “man parts” in her purse. She was some sort of folkloric heroine. Weird.

    Just another misogynist culture. I have an idea, let’s change everything, and not tell the guys until it is too late for them to do anything about it.

  11. I know you didn’t feel like you were taken seriously, but I give you big kudos for reporting this. Even when we don’t think we’re heard, it’s important that we say what needs to be said. Often, we’re not the only ones saying it. Love it! Virginia- FirstClassWoman

  12. O. M. G.! I really think of Japan as a very civilized country, not fraught with “crank wankers” (ha!) assaulting women on the street. And the “It probably fell out all by itself” takes the cake! Wow. That’s so horrible that you have to laugh.

  13. Hi Lori,
    I did teaching in Taiwan for a year and a half. The first six months were the worst (bad paying situation) but the last year was the best. I went with a friend and that did help.
    I also used to go to the internet to chat with my boyfriend, and late at night at times too. One time I did see a guy following me but I just moved quickly.
    What a horrible experience but at least you have a sense of humour about it.

  14. OMG. You just never know what some people are going to do. Also, it’s interesting how it was handled – or not handled – by the police. Pun intended LOL.

  15. Oh. My. God. Lori! What a horrifying experience at the time and what an amazingly funny and awesome way to write about it today. Seriously. Wow.
    Once, on a road-trip (1987), my friend and I were driving across the country on spring break. A van pulled up next to us and was holding a sign out of his window (it was pouring rain on the highway so we had to slow down, thinking maybe something was wrong with our POS car). Nope, it was a photo of his junk that must’ve fallen out by itself and accidentally gotten photographed…
    great (!) story.

  16. What a wanker! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

    It does sound like a transformative year, and look at all you got to learn about other cultures! It probably fell out by itself, lol. And at least you had the beginning full of Wonder.

  17. That’s just wrong, wrong wrong. Another commenter made a good point – is that why they have low crime rates? Because there’s no reporting of a lot of it?

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