- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2007

OSAKA, Japan — Her 40-year career as a telephone operator was a “valuable run-up” to what she has been doing these past 11 years, Mie Ueda said in retrospect.

As a crusader against domestic violence, Mrs. Ueda said she is busier than ever but fulfilled with her work. She is so committed to this issue that she has spent her retirement money and pension harboring and supporting abused women.

Her post-retirement life was filled at first with gym workouts, luncheons and teas with her friends, and occasional trips to hot springs or overseas with her husband. But she found most of these activities boring, preferring to help other women, though she had never before heard the term “domestic violence.”

After learning about spousal abuse, Mrs. Ueda set up a civic group called Space Enjo (Assistance) in 1996 and spent some of her retirement money to rent apartment rooms as an emergency shelter for battered women. Japan had no publicly funded shelters and only about 30 privately funded sites to serve victims throughout the country.

Though domestic violence seemed to be widespread, most people considered it a “family matter.” Mrs. Ueda was soon swamped with calls for help from women desperate to flee cycles of violence. She was appalled when some women came to her with black eyes and deep bruises. The extent of the problem was beyond her imagination, she said.

“Some women suffered what I call a full course of domestic violence. The husband assaults the wife physically, psychologically and economically,” she said.

Many battered women are reluctant to report their suffering, hoping to keep their marriage “stable,” and some blame themselves for their sufferings, activists report.

“I tell them, ‘It’s not you who are wrong,’ ” Mrs. Ueda said.

In 2001, Mrs. Ueda borrowed about $200,000 from her husband, her daughter and the Government Housing Loan Corp. to buy a four-room condominium with a state-of-the-art security system for use as a shelter. Users pay about $13 a day.

“I want them to feel comfortable,” Mrs. Ueda said.

Since its start, Space Enjo has sheltered more than 400 women and children, including some from other Asian countries who married Japanese men. The ages of the victims range from 17 to 78.

Government studies in 2005 showed that 33.2 percent of women and 17.4 percent of men experienced some form of spousal abuse. That year, 120 women were killed by their spouses, according to the National Police Agency.

Mrs. Ueda said that many batterers are in their 30s to early 40s, the same generation as her daughter and two sons. “We need to reflect on our generation’s child-rearing practices and values,” she said. “Didn’t we think that children were just fine as long as they had good school grades or got a job at a so-called ‘good company?’ ”

She also regrets that she and her husband, like many other parents, were too busy working to spare much time for their children, and pointed out that many Japanese fail to understand the importance of developing a child’s self-esteem.

“If you don’t respect yourself, you are less likely to treat your partner well,” she said.

Mrs. Ueda and other activists have prodded politicians to adopt laws that protect victims of domestic violence. In April 2001, the Diet passed a measure, effective six months later, allowing courts to impose restraining orders against batterers.

It was a significant event for Japanese women, Mrs. Ueda said, adding that it wouldn’t have become law without the efforts of victims of domestic abuse. “They taught me a lot about their world that I did not know.”

Most private shelters still struggle financially and usually are run by a cadre of committed volunteers. They got an unexpected boost from American companies such as Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Philip Morris. Microsoft is a major financial supporter, but Japan’s cosmetic firm Shiseido and the Nippon Foundation also help.

Asako Miyata, a public relations official at Microsoft in Japan, said the company, with the help of Hewlett-Packard and professionals, has helped victims of domestic violence since 2002 become self-reliant by learning information technology skills.

“That is wonderful. We are thrilled,” Mrs. Ueda said.

More public money is being injected into the effort. Yoshihiro Katayama, the popular governor of Tottori prefecture, working with crusaders against domestic violence, has become committed to addressing the issue.

In the 2006 fiscal year, the Tottori government allocated $545,792 to fight domestic violence, an unprecedented sum, activists say.

Hisako Yasuda, a Tottori resident who began harboring abused women 10 years ago by turning her children’s rooms into shelters, sees significant progress.

“I’m lucky and grateful for the support we received,” said Mrs. Yasuda. “A group of husbands also pitch in and help us.”

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