October 04, 2010

Sometimes I wish hindsight were blind

In 1992 I worked for Berlitz Schools of Languages in Japan. During the seven or eight years I worked for Berlitz I met English teachers from dozens of countries. One woman I worked with was named Samantha Nicole Ridgway. Over time she and I become very good friends. We often had lunch together, and once or twice we went drinking together. Everyone else called her "Sam", but I called her "Nicole" because I just could not bring myself to calling someone so feminine, so vibrant, and so alive "Sam". She was quite thrilled that I chose to call her by her middle name. She told me on several occasions that when she was young she hated being called "Sam" but no one wanted to call her Nicole. I remember she explained the reason to me, but now, all these years later, I cannot recall what it was about "Nicole" that she liked so much but everyone she knew disliked.

One day she called me in a bit of a panic. She needed someone to talk to who was neutral. Her sister Carita, who was also in Tokyo, had disappeared and no one seemed to know where she was. We talked for awhile, and I tried to encourage her, reminding her that Tokyo was one of the safest cities in the world, at least officially. What people who live here know intimately, what the press likes to ignore, and what never makes it into the official figures, is that the vast majority of crime in Tokyo does not get reported. On those rare occasions when someone does report it, the police insert themselves as negotiators, some form of compensation is arrived at, and the crime itself goes unrecorded. This can even occur in violent crimes such as rape or murder, although it is rare (at least officially). One thing I learned early on in Japan is to never, ever trust any kind of "official" statistics the government publishes. The numbers are always massaged to present whatever agenda is being put forward by either the government itself or the person doing the presenting. Truth is a rare commodity in modern Japan, so rare that even those who have access to it will often pretend it does not exist at all.

Nicole's sister reappeared on Monday. Someone named "Nishida" had checked her into a Kichijoji hospital. Her sister died later that night. The official prognosis at the time was that "Nishida" had given her a "muscle relaxant" after she had been heavily drinking wine without realizing that the wine in her system would react with the muscle relaxant, causing permanent liver failure. Nicole was despondent. Over the next few days I met her mother and spent time with both women trying to offer them my condolences in any way possible. Nicole had a Japanese boyfriend and he helped them through most of the paperwork and procedures to arrange for the cremation of Carita's body and the release that would allow them to take her ashes back to Australia. It is one of my darkest memories of Japan and will forever taint my perspective on the people and culture.

Over time, Nicole and I both moved from place to place and we eventually lost touch. The very last I heard she was marrying an American and trying to become a stewardess. I don't know if she ever succeeded, but I have always wished her well and I think of her often. From time to time, I plug her name into various internet search engines trying to see if she has shown up somewhere in cyberspace. After all, to one extent or another, everyone is in here somewhere!

This time I was horrified to discover these:

Japan Times: Trail to Obara Overlooked in '92 Death
The Age: A Tale of Rape, Murder, and a Japanese Playboy
Brisbane Times: Evil Behind Tokyo's Lights
Sydney Morning Herald: Father May Accept $1 Million from Daughter's Killer

I just spent this morning looking into the grotesque 10:10 commercial on global warming. A commercial so revolting I will not even link to it. Now I discover that Nicole's sister Carita, whom I never met, was raped and murdered by the same man who killed Lucie Blackman! The "muscle relaxant" was not a pill at all! It was chloroform and he overdosed her, leading to her death.

You know, if God Almighty were to ask my opinion of humanity here and now...but he won't.

There are many good, beautiful spirits in people in this world. Samantha Nicole Ridgway was, and no doubt remains, one of them. I never met her sister Carita, but knowing Nicole and having met her mother, I imagine she was just as vibrant and deserving of life as the two of them. Why her father would ever consider accepting blood money is beyond my comprehension, especially since here in Japan accepting that money would probably get Joji Obara's sentence cut in half because the money would be seen as clear recompense for the loss of his daughter. There are at least two, and probably dozens of families who lost daughters to the depravity of Joji Obara. To my mind, he deserves the death penalty, but Japan no longer has a death sentence, in no small part because of its barbaric application to political enemies in the not so distant past.

Nicole, wherever you are, if you stumble across this blog I want you to know that I still think of you often and fondly. I wish I could have been there to help you through the painful period where the events surrounding your sister's death were dragged out and paraded before an incredulous and disbelieving public. I cannot begin to imagine the pain that must have caused. I am so sorry that Japan took so much from you. I don't know if it is any condolence, but the death of your sister still darkens my own memory of life in Japan, even though I never met her. I'm sorry I wasn't there when you needed me to be there. I hope someone was. I hope beyond hope that somehow, despite all this pain, you still look out on each new day with optimism and joy.