We tend to think of it as safe, yet recent murders in Japan including that of Lindsay Ann Hawker, have cast a shadow on the country. Women's Editor Sarah Foster meets a woman who was attacked there and feels we souldn't underestimate its dangers.

THE picture painted was quite lurid: a body lying stiff and cold in a bath filled with sand. It caused an outrage here in Britain - the thought that this had been the fate of one young woman from these shores inspired much sadness and regret. It also prompted this stark question: if this could happen to Lindsay Ann Hawker, who'd been a teacher in Japan, then maybe living in the country wasn't altogether safe.

Of course, this wasn't the only case of a young woman being killed there. In 2000, again in Tokyo, Lucie Blackman disappeared. The 21-year-old from Kent had been a hostess in a bar and some months after she went missing, her body was discovered in a cave. This year, a man was tried for murder but eventually walked free.

What both these incidents made clear is that Japan does pose a risk. We may assume that it's a nation where politeness is the rule, but as in any other country, there is a criminal component. This is a fact that, to her cost, one North-East graduate came to learn.

Annette Langstone, now 25, had gone to Japan to join a teaching scheme in schools when she was badly beaten by a man. She knows she might well have been killed, and it is only down to luck that she was rescued. The latest case of Lindsay Ann brought painful memories flooding back.

"It wasn't exactly my situation, obviously, but it did make me think that I was lucky," says Annette, who lives in Birtley with her parents. "It really hit my mum and dad as well. They said 'that really could have been you all over the news'."

Her big adventure had been planned for some time. She'd started learning Japanese while still at Birmingham University and, having just got her degree, in July 2004, she caught a flight out to Japan. The government scheme she had joined soon found her living in the country.

"I went to the south of Japan, to the Kochi prefecture," explains Annette. "It was just absolutely untouched - really beautiful. The people were fantastic. Any foreigner was an instant celebrity."

She soon made several friends and had an active social life. It was while out for a few drinks, around a week into her stay, that she encountered her attacker. "His name was Takuya Morino and he was a bit quieter than all the others, but I didn't take that to be strange because Japanese people aren't very good with their English, so a lot really struggle to talk to foreigners," says Annette. "He was very much listening to the conversation."

The evening ended and one of the group - a man called Ken - said he would walk her home. Takuya offered to go too, and so the three set off together. Yet after Ken had said goodbye, a puzzling incident occurred. "I'd got a car and I thought 'I don't know if I locked my door', so I checked both my doors and, down by one of the sides of the car, Takuya was crouching down," says Annette. "I was obviously really surprised and said 'what are you doing?' and he said 'I just wanted to say goodnight', so I was like 'right, OK then. Thank you.' I watched him walk down the driveway and walk away."

But he was shortly to come back. Annette had locked up for the night and was just drifting off to sleep when she was startled by a noise. She rose and walked towards the kitchen and was shocked by what she saw. "It was weird because we just looked at each other for a few seconds," she says of stumbling on Takuya. "A lot of things went through my mind. I was almost thinking I was hallucinating."

As she attempted to cry out, Takuya gagged her with his hand. He then proceeded to attack her with a frenzied, brutal force. "He put his fingers down the back of my throat so I was kicking and trying to struggle, and then I felt him kicking me," recalls Annette. "I blacked out quite soon - I remember being hit a couple of times and especially my nose because I'm pretty sure I remember that breaking, then I fell unconscious fairly quickly after that."

When she eventually came round, she found her face a swollen mess and that her lower half was naked (it is believed that she was raped, although the evidence was unclear). Her first reaction was to flee, so she escaped into the road, but as she tried to call for help Takuya pounced on her again. Annette believes that his intention was to kill her.

"He was just punching and kicking me," she says. "He got me on the ground and was kicking me in the head and then again, I fell unconscious. The next thing I knew I was waking up in the ambulance."

Luckily, Annette had been heard, which had resulted in her rescue. She spent the next four weeks in hospital, where as her body slowly healed - she almost lost one of her eyelids - she had the chance to think things through. That she decided to remain and not return to the UK may seem to some a funny choice, but she is happy that she did.

'My mum says that's my stubborn bit coming through, but part of it was like 'I want to see this through. I want them to catch him', and I didn't feel I could do that back in England," says Annette. "I'm not saying I'm happy that it happened, but there are certain people that I wouldn't know, certain things that I wouldn't have done if it hadn't."

The outcome, thankfully, was good. Takuya ended up in jail - he has been sentenced to ten years - and for the time that she remained, Annette loved being in Japan. What she would like to say to others is not to feel they shouldn't go, but to be mindful of the risks.

"I remembered the Lucie Blackman thing clearly and I remember thinking 'it's not really safe'," she says. "I never went to Japan thinking 'I can leave my door open'. I really was careful. I try and say to people 'have a good time - I'm not saying don't leave the house - but it's as dangerous as anywhere'."

Annette believes that our perception of Japan, not helped by Japanese resistance to reporting general crime, can give a false sense of the truth. Above all else, she urges vigilance. "I think Japan is made out as this mystical, magical place and a lot of it is fascinating, but really it's just like any other country," she says. "There's crime, there's terrorism and a lot of seedy things like the porn industry. I think people think 'it won't happen to me', but it might."