You’re a woman in Tokyo, just another one of the hundreds of commuters that take the train to get where you need to go, whether it is work, school, or the mall. You get into the train car and crowd in with the other passengers and a few minutes into your trip, you feel an unwanted hand gracing your backside or another part of your body where foreign hands are most unwelcome.
This is an all-too common problem that occurs on trains in Japan. Because there are so many people that ride the trains, platform attendants often have to shove commuters into train cars during peak hours, cramming people in very tightly. It is during the morning and evening rush where a hidden predator lurks, taking advantage of the close-quarters situation and victimizing travelers.
Who is this unseen predator? The Japanese have a name for them: they are chikan, a man who gropes people (or chijo, if the perpetrator is female). Crowded trains are a favorite locale for chikan to strike because of the ease of accessibility for the victimizer to prey on their victims. Bicycle parking lots are also favorable locations for chikan since people must bend over to unlock their bikes, leaving them open to attack.
More often than not, chikan get away with their crimes of public groping because of culturally-engrained gender roles where women have traditionally been viewed as both the weaker and submissive sex and males are the dominant ones in society. Despite the shift to modernity and the concept of a ‘modern woman’, women in Japan are still soft-spoken and don’t speak out about being victimized on trains. Some women just come to accept it as a part of daily life. A survey was conducted in 2001 asking students of two of Tokyo’s high schools whether or not they had been groped on the train. An overwhelming 70% of students reported that they had been victimized.
In an effort to protect women from becoming targets of chikan, many railway companies, such as Japan Railways, have introduced “women-only passenger cars” that run during the morning and evening rush hours for commuters going to and from work. Signs have also been posted inside non-female-only train cars and bicycle parking areas warning people to “Beware of Perverts.” But the ultimate deterrent is speaking out.
Because Japan is a country founded on the values of honor and pride and the tenets of the bushido code, which places emphasis on similar values, it is considered a great disgrace to an individual’s family if they are shamed or lose their honor. If a woman speaks out when she feels herself being groped by a chikan, she will publicly humiliate him and thus, shame him and potentially keep him from preying on others. Women are being encouraged to be more aggressive and actually reach for her molester’s wrist and raise his arm in the air and shout “Chikan!” This will not only attract a lot of attention to the pervert, but could prompt a defensive action from the rest of the train passengers, such as someone calling the police and having the offending chikan arrested for sexual harassment and be made to pay for his crimes.
So remember to be wary when traveling in Japan. Targets of chikan aren’t reserved only to native Japanese women. Sometimes female tourists can be victimized, as well as Japanese pop icons, like the singer Gackt, who described an incident where he was molested by a female fan while riding on a crowded train on a talk show.
In any event, stay vigilant and be aware of the wandering hands of the chikan.