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A Questionable Sighting

Although I try to record any event of significance in this journal, there are quite a few instances of hanging out with other people that I’ve neglected to mention because they seem too routine or normal. I’ve hung out with Trey at his place in the evening about every other week for the past few months, gone out to dinner with Jack and Lily a few times, cooked dinner at my place with my neighbor Kim from Interac, and spent a weekend afternoon with a Josai student named Tracy on two occasions. While I enjoy and appreciate all these experiences, I never feel compelled to write entries about them. There’s usually just not that much to say. “I hung out with soandso. We did suchandsuch. We chatted about thisandthat. I enjoyed their company and had a good time.” End of story.

The same lack of something interesting to say would apply to this past Saturday, when a group of five Interac ALTs including myself went to the beach in the middle of the day for a picnic, but there was something that happened right at the beginning that did strike me as something noteworthy. The picnic itself was a great time—about four hours of sitting on the beach drinking and eating tons of delicious food—but there’s not much I can say beyond that. Kim and Enam, the two ALTs I hung out with the first time at the hanami festival, were there, as well as two Interac ALTs I haven’t met before, an Indian-American named Laura-Anne and a Jamaican guy named Ravi. All splendid people with enough similar interests to keep the conversation lively and interesting.

But the noteworthy thing happened when Kim, Enam and I were waiting for Laura-Anne and Ravi to pick us up in her car in a parking lot in Togane a few blocks from the apartments where Kim and I live. There were a few people coming and going to the convenience store there, and one young girl who looked familiar standing and waiting for someone, dressed in an outfit like a call-girl might wear. I didn’t pay her much attention and was just chatting with Kim when I suddenly realized that I did know who she was—she’s a student at my school but she almost never comes to class. She was a second-grader last year and I saw her so rarely that for awhile I thought she might have transferred to another school. She’s an attractive girl but she always seemed depressed or pissed off at life, so when I stopped seeing her in class for months I was a little worried about her, thinking maybe she had a rough home-life or was maybe the victim of abuse. This year I’ve seen her more often, never in class but frequently in the hallways or during Sports Day when she was sitting on the side and not participating with the rest of the students.

So there she is waiting in this parking lot of a convenience store dressed like a prostitute, and just a minute after I recognize her and mention it to Kim, some older guy comes to meet her and she leaves with him in his car. This strikes us both as very shady, as the guy is too young to be her father but way too old to be a sibling (he was probably just a little over 30). When Enam comes out of the store we mention it to him, and he says she might be doing something called “compensated dating”. Apparently in Japan some guys pay big money for the company of young girls, and apparently this isn’t illegal. I didn’t know this but apparently there’s no age of consent in Japan—it’s decided on a case-by-case basis whether or not a sexual encounter between an adult and a minor constitutes rape.

As for the law itself, I see the rationality behind it. In America there are 18-year-olds who wind up convicted of rape and permanently labeled a sex-offender for sleeping with their 16-year-old girlfriends, which is just insane. And there could conceivably be non-coercive, genuine loving relationships between older men and younger girls (that was pretty normal for most of human history), so deciding each case based on its own individual circumstances makes sense to me.

But witnessing this made me feel a little sick. Assuming I wasn’t just completely misinterpreting what I saw, this was just a cold business transaction with nothing even close to “love” involved. The girl is probably depressed just as I assumed, and she doesn’t have enough sense of self-worth to refuse to be used in that way. She probably figures she can make a lot of money so why not? Who knows what kinds of rationalizations and justifications go on in the minds of girls who choose to do that?

But what really disturbs me is that idea that it might not be her choice. Maybe she does have an abusive home. Maybe her father is the one who got her into that so he could take the money.

That possibility enrages me and almost makes me think I should say something to someone, but I know it’s none of my business and I should just keep it to myself. I’m not even sure I saw what I think I saw. For all I know that guy was her uncle and she was only dressed like that because that’s how she likes to dress, and her whole permanently-depressed demeanor is just a coincidence. And even if I did say something there’s almost certainly nothing that could be done about it anyway, and all I’d be doing is spreading gossip about this girl to other faculty members and making them judge her based on what could very well be a mistaken impression on my part.

All I know is that I’m going to feel sick every time I see her now. I saw her this morning and it brought the feeling right back, but I’m just going to have to deal with it.

On the bright side, she’s probably the only student in the school who’s involved in that sort of thing. Almost all of the other girls seem completely innocent—even moreso than the girls I went to middle school with—and I can’t even picture them with a boyfriend let alone an older guy paying them for favors. Luckily, Togane seems like a good town for kids to grow up in, and the vast majority of them manage to get this far with their honor intact. I guess you just can’t expect everyone to be as fortunate.

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