Some clips of Flight of the Conchords. "Business Time" and "Jenny" are partcularly great. Two very talented and funny Kiwis!

Thursday, March 29, 2007


I've posted this article from the BBC, in memory of Lindsay Ann Hawker, the English teacher from Coventry, England, murdered in Japan this week. Her family must be going through absolute hell and I'm sure that I speak for all EFL teachers around the world in offering them my sincerest condolences. May this tragedy serve as a warning to us all to be extra vigilant when far from home and our loved ones.

Are foreign women safe in Japan?

Lucy Rodgers
BBC News

I, like many before and after me, have travelled the thousands of miles to the Japanese archipelago to experience its rich and vastly different culture by teaching English.

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The challenges of language, the chance to expand cultural knowledge, the friendliness of the population and the perceived safety of the country where violent crime still makes the national news were all big draws.

Before arriving in the little-known prefecture of Kochi, on the southern island of Shikoku, I had been informed that Japanese people did not lock their doors, left their cars running with the keys in the ignition and would never rip you off.

But just two weeks after my arrival, I and my fellow recruits were jolted out of our complacency.

A fellow female teacher had been attacked in her own home by a man in her mountain village. He had climbed in through a window, beaten her and attempted to rape her.

He left the scene only to return to beat her some more.

Fears raised

The incident was an early warning to all of us that Japan may not be as safe as it first appeared.

The case of Lindsay Ann Hawker, 22, whose body was found this week in a bathtub buried in sand, and that of British bar hostess Lucie Blackman, 21, who disappeared from a Tokyo nightclub in 2000 and whose remains were found in February 2001, have also done much to raise fears about women's safety in the country.

Everyone is so generous and friendly, you forget about safety issues. You don't have the radar for it anymore
Moira Healy

So is Japan safe for women?

Moira Healy, 33, an actor and director from London, spent two years working in schools in Shimizu-cho in central Hokkaido.

Although she said she encountered some "inappropriate behaviour", she never felt threatened or in danger.

"It was just basically misconceptions and cultural difference," she said.

Forgetting the dangers

She felt "times 100" safer in Japan than Britain, but admitted that this feeling of safety may have allowed her to forget about the possible dangers.

"I would have gone anywhere and done anything," she said.

"Especially where I was in rural Japan, but also in the big cities, everyone is so generous and friendly, you forget about safety issues. You don't have the radar for it anymore.

"There are always exceptions to the rule, and you need to remember that."

A Japanese classroom
Foreign teachers stand out in Japan (Picture: Stuart Coles)

Foreign or "gaijin" women stand out, and are known to many people. In smaller towns and villages most residents will even know exactly where they live.

And this can lead to both welcome and unwelcome attention.

Another former teacher who also worked in Hokkaido, who did not want to be named, witnessed a man snooping around outside her apartment, and on another occasion had an intruder enter when she was not there.

"As a foreigner you are an object of intrigue and interest and that comes with a certain responsibility - you have to be careful about certain people's motivations," she said.

"There is a certain fascination - which may have something to do with how foreigners are portrayed on the TV - and you are probably the closest thing some people have to meeting such people, particularly in more rural areas."

She felt safe walking around in the day or night and was warmly accepted by her Japanese community.

People should remember they are in Japan and maybe be aware that their behaviour may be misread
Sarah Ono

But she said it was important foreigners did not forget about taking the same precautions they would in any other country.

"You attract people, but it is how you deal with that. If you use the same degree of savvy you do in Britain, you will be okay."

Sarah Ono, 30, who runs her own English school in Kochi and has a Japanese husband and two children, said foreign women are often unaware that they will attract unwanted attention by the way they act.

"Japanese women are reserved. In a bar it doesn't take much for a Western woman to start talking to a man in a bar, but Japanese women would not do that.

"It is normal for foreign women to chat with men they don't know on a friendly basis. But in Japan, if you did that, the man may assume they wanted something else."

Avoiding risks

Being aware of these differences would help to prevent women entering risky situations, she said.

"The crime rate is low here, but things do happen. People should remember they are in Japan and maybe be aware that their behaviour may be misread."

During my own two years in Japan I never felt under threat - and I often left the door open and the car running with the keys in the ignition and was never ripped off. A taxi driver once ran down the street to give me my 10p change.

But although crime rates are comparatively low and most people are courteous and welcoming, this is not the whole picture of Japan either.

As is true of any country, you need to be aware of where you are, who you are with, and what the unspoken rules of behaviour are.