Out of Japan: Newly-wed overcomes fear of Big Bad World

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The Independent Online
TOKYO - Emiko Fujieda probably did not realise she was about to become a media celebrity in Japan when she walked out on her husband during their honeymoon in Australia last week. But a combination of her mysterious behaviour, her husband's embarrassed reluctance to admit their early marital problems to the Australian police and the hyper- sensitivity of the Japanese media to the risks facing Japanese people abroad suddenly put her on the front pages of newspapers and at the top of televsion news programmes. For four days, Emiko became another victim of the 'Big Bad World' syndrome.

Japanese only began travelling overseas in large numbers in the 1980s, as their new-found affluence and a large revaluation of the yen made world travel cheap and attractive. With an average of two weeks holiday a year, much of their travelling became whistle- stop tours of well-known attractions - similar to the oft-parodied American tourist who 'did' Europe in seven days.

In fact, Japanese tourists have neatly stepped into the stereotype formerly associated with the Americans - big-spenders who are none the less nave to the point of cultural insensitivity. And predictably they became targets of crime.

But while Americans quickly became street-wise on their foreign ventures, Japanese are uniquely unsuited to dealing with crime, since their own society is so safe, with crime levels a mere fraction of those in the West. Every year the Foreign Ministry releases figures of the increasing number of Japanese who have been robbed while abroad, and the travel industry conducts publicity campaigns warning tourists to watch their wallets and luggage and to be wary of confidence tricksters while overseas.

The media are quick to exploit the deep-seated ambivalence felt by many Japanese about foreigners in general, and the dangers of venturing out into the Big Bad World. Until the case was resolved last Friday, Emiko became the latest cause celebre.

Emiko, aged 25, went missing in Sydney while shopping with her husband, Yoshihiro, 29. It was the last day of their 10-day honeymoon, and they had agreed to spend a couple of hours shopping separately before meeting at a duty-free shop. Emiko did not turn up, and after waiting for several hours her husband went back to the hotel. That night she telephoned him and, as he told the police, she said she was in another hotel, had been helped by a 'friendly Australian', and that her husband should not come looking for her.

Yoshihiro contacted the police, whose first fear was that she had been kidnapped. On Wednesday her husband made an emotional plea on television asking anyone who had seen Emiko to come forward. By this stage Emiko had become famous back in Japan. Newspapers carried the last photograph of her, taken by her husband, showing Emiko crouching down and patting a kangaroo. The television networks showed haunting pictures of the shop entrance where they last saw each other. Her parents made plans to fly to Sydney, steeling themselves for a ransom demand or worse. However, she called her husband again on Thursday, and on Friday morning Sydney police tracked her down to a motel in a quiet suburb beside the beach, where she had been staying all the time, apparently of her own free will.

According to Andy Holland, a police superintendent, she had been going through some personal problems. 'She wanted to gather her thoughts and think about her future,' he said.

All the dark speculation in the media had to be jettisoned, and the incident was put down to another case of post-nuptial blues. Second thoughts immediately after marriage have given rise in Japan to the phrase Narita rikon, or Narita divorce, referring to decisions made by newly-weds to break up in Tokyo's airport after an unsuccessful honeymoon overseas. Emiko and Yoshihiro, it seems, have a lot to talk about.

But the Big Bad World is still out there. Last month the media gave extensive coverage to the unfortunate 16-year-old Japanese youth shot dead in Louisiana when he knocked on the door of the wrong house looking for a Hallowe'en party.

The fact that the majority of 10 million Japanese who travel overseas each year return home safely after having a good time is not a news story.