Shiori Ito talks about Akemi Tanaka

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Extract from Shiori Ito’s second book about her “English Mum” Akemi Tanaka

Journalist Shiori Ito rose to prominence in Japanese society after she went public with her rape case against a high-profile man. Shiori Ito has been called the face of the #MeToo Movement in Japan, but the negative effects of the media coverage were hard for her to overcome.

This is an extract from her second published book 裸で泳ぐ (Hadaka De Oyogu meaning Swimming Naked) by 伊藤 詩織 (by Ito Shiori); Japanese edition available here. The book contains published diary entries from the journalist, where she speaks fondly of Akemi Tanaka, who assisted her in a time of need. Akemi was a human rights campaigner and feminist who supported Shiori through tough times and they became like family.

Date 2021.6.28

Chapter: Akemi

On the morning of my thirty-second birthday, Kana was with me and I said, ‘Good morning’.

Kana is the first person I wish to show my gratitude to because she has helped me survive to this day. Whenever I felt insecure, I retreated to Kana’s place. She shares a similar outlook on life as me, I believe.

No matter how dysfunctional I get, she remains functional. She has always given me peace of mind just to be around her. When I need to talk to someone, I speak to Kana and it is like talking directly to my heart.

After breakfast I got on with my least favourite work-task: writing e-mails. One of the e-mails was from Akemi.

Akemi is my English mum.

Already four years have passed since I met her for the first time. In May 2017, when I went to the press about my rape and sexual assault case, Akemi was the first person to reach-out and offer me support from London, where she lived.

After my press conference I received abuse, slander, threats and praise; I suffered from isolation. I could no longer carry on with my normal life. Akemi had the empathy to imagine the situation I was in and directly contacted my lawyer, Ms. Nishihiro.

Akemi said, ‘Please tell Shiori to come to England’.

A complete stranger from a far away country invited me to stay under the same roof as them. Honestly, I was alarmed at first. I couldn’t understand her goodwill. Still, after several conversations with her over Skype, I jumped on a flight to England. It was as if I blinked, it happened so quickly.

I had a layover at Hong Kong International Airport for about ten hours. I headed directly to a bar counter and downed a pint of beer in one go without worrying about other people’s prying eyes. I had stopped drinking alcohol anywhere in public, like in Tokyo, but I still loved the taste of a cold draught beer.

I had thought I had been doing alright in Japan, but I realised then that I had been desperate to escape from there. During my long flight from Hong Kong to London there were countless thoughts and emotions rushing round my head, so that I couldn’t sleep at all.

Akemi welcomed me at London Gatwick Airport. As soon as we arrived in leafy Richmond in the suburbs of London, I felt every pore in my body open up ecstatically. When I exited from the station I inhaled a deep breath and stretched out my arms spontaneously.

At last, I could breathe.

There was a footpath where overhanging plants created a green tunnel along the River Thames, which threads its way through Richmond. My mobile phone had no signal yet.

As soon as I arrived at Akemi’s house, I dropped my luggage and then dashed off along this footpath. Without realising it, I had run about 6 miles. Two months ago I couldn’t even run a mile…

After the press conference I couldn’t go back to my own place or my parental home out of fear. I hid myself in Kana’s place. During this bleak period of my life where I was in “hide-out”, Kana’s partner gave me running lessons; a method to exhaust myself, so that I could sleep at night.

That first day in England, I felt like I could keep running forever. But I had just arrived and didn’t wish to make Akemi worried, so I turned back and ran home.

Akemi provided me a home from home to restore myself.
This is why Akemi is my English Mum.

Akemi worked as a Japanese private teacher from home and founded a charity to support the orphans of the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami called Aid For Japan. She was a dedicated person who had so much passion for many activities.

When I visited her she was living alone and enjoying her life. In the mornings she would start with strawberry muesli for breakfast (full of nuts and dried fruit) and a cup of milky Earl Grey tea. For other meals, she would eat defrosted natto (fermented soy beans, a Japanese standard) which she would buy in bulk from a Japanese food store in London.

She also loved to eat sesame konbu tsukudani (sweetened kelp with sesame seeds). This sesame konbu was the only thing Akemi asked me to bring from Japan; initially I had no idea what she wanted and I wanted to get her the right thing. I remember our repeated conversations confirming that she wanted this exact sesame konbu tsukudani. In the end, I bought her the most popular brand of tsukudani in Japan (the Fujicco one).

Akemi was a Japanese language teacher and had many loyal students, she was always very busy. While I stayed in her home my tasks were to clean the room after Akemi’s lessons and to prepare dinners for us two, whenever we could eat together.

I felt guilty about eating her precious natto from London – but Akemi shared it happily with me. In return, I cooked hearty miso soup broths to boost her energy. She always praised everything I cooked.

In the evenings we would perform a little ritual. She would get the “box wine” from the fridge and pour us both a glass of chilled white wine. This box wine in fact has become an essential part of my life. The advantage of box wine is that there is no need to open a new bottle each time and it holds three litres of wine – the equivalent of four bottles – always on stand-by. As the box is vacuum-packed, the wine inside won’t oxidise easily, so it’s easy to keep. Of course, the taste of box wine is inferior to the bottled stuff but it is still satisfactory when chilled.

I loved that time when I drank wine with Akemi.

“Thank you Akemi for throwing me a life-line. Thanks to you I was able to celebrate another birthday.”

“I will surely come and see you this summer!”








私に呼吸する場所を与えてくれた明美さんは、それから私の「イギリスのお母さん」になった。自宅で日本語教室を開いていたほか、東日本大震災で親を失った子供たちを支援する「Aid for Japan」という団体も立ち上げ、エネルギッシュに活動をしていた。当時一人暮らしだった明美さんは、朝ごはんには、いちごとミューズリー(ナッツやドライフルーツの入ったシリアル)、そしてミルクたっぷりのアールグレイを、夜はロンドンの日本食ストアで買いだめした、冷凍の納豆とごま昆布を食べるのを楽しみにしていた。このごま昆布は日本からロンドンに行くときに唯一買ってきてと言われたものだった。パッとイメージすることができず、間違えたくなくて何度か確認をしたのを覚えている。フジッコのを買った。


Translated by Yuka Harada-Parr of HABaLook.