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'Chikan' used in UK government’s official online foreign travel advice for Japan

By Casey Baseel, SoraNews24

Generally, Japan is happy when a Japanese word starts to gain a higher level of understanding and usage around the globe. A recent discussion about foreigners appreciating the convenience and conversational tone of natsukashii (“nostalgic”) had Japanese Twitter users beaming with linguistic pride, and Japanese organizations have tried to promote international usage of the terms omotenashi (“hospitality”) and mottainai (“wasteful,” often used with the added implication of “don’t be“) as well.

But right now, another Japanese term is entering the international vernacular: chikan. Referring to men who grope women on crowed trains, chikan can also be used to indicate the act itself, and has been part of the vocabulary of informed Japanophiles and Japan-based expats for some time. However, the word is now part of the UK government’s official online foreign travel advice for Japan, as listed in the “safety and security” section of the country’s entry on government website Gov.uk, which contains the passage: “Reports of inappropriate touching or 'chikan’ of female passengers on commuter trains are fairly common.”

A number of Japanese internet users were saddened to see that not only was the phenomenon deemed worth cautioning travelers about, but that chikan was used as-is, highlighting how the crime is seen as a characteristically Japanese one.

Japanese online reactions included:

“Ugh…Japan should be embarrassed.”

“This is so shameful.”

“Japan: the great nation of perverts.”

“Chikan are such a problem that it’s become and English vocabulary word.”

“It’s true. You can even search for ‘chikan’ on English-language porn sites.”

Others expressed surprise that chikan are apparently so rare overseas that there’s no preexisting English name for them

“Wait, there aren’t any chikan overseas?”

“Maybe it’s because the trains aren’t as crowded in Japan, so chikan are less common?”

“I’m pretty sure there’s an English word for ‘chikan.’ ‘Molest,’ right?”

“Molest,” however, often carries the nuance of outright rape, whereas most chikan, heinous as their actions may be, limit their violations to over-the-clothes touching. “Grope/groper” is a closer fit, but chikan, even in Japanese, carries a strong connotation that the crime took place on a train, or at least some other crowded form of public transportation. “Train groper” helps convey that meaning, but could also be taken as referring to someone who’s sexually attracted to trains, and thus fondling the carriage itself.

“Men who grope women on trains” covers pretty much all the bases (as chikan incidents are predominantly male-on-female crimes), but that’s a much lengthier, clunkier term than chikan. And so, much like how Japanophiles/expats will often say natsukashii rather than one of its English equivalents, chikan is more succinct and easier to parse than its alternatives, and thus the Japanese word is becoming used in English.

There’s one more point worth considering as well. The UK government website’s chikan warning advises “The police advise that you shout at the perpetrator to attract attention and ask a fellow passenger to call the train staff,” and if you’re going to do that, the easiest way to make yourself understood and draw the attention of good Samaritans or the authorities in Japan is to use the Japanese word, which may also be part of the reason the website went with “chikan.”

And so it seems likely that chikan is here to stay in English-language discussions of Japanese society, at least for as long as chikan themselves exist. True, it’s not the proudest linguistic contribution Japan has made to the international community, but, as one online commenter pointed out, it’s something that only Japan deals with frequently enough to have developed its own word for.

Source: Livedoor News/The Page/The Capital Tribune Japan via Hachima Kiko, Gov.uk

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

-- “Women who attract chikan, and women who don’t”: The illustrated guide that’s provoking debate

-- Japanese company offers insurance plan to protect against false train groping accusations

-- Anime-style art encourages young women to report Japanese train gropers in new posters

© SoraNews24

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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To the people of Japan - don't be ashamed. Unfortunately, this happens everywhere. However, make sure you read the guides for travel to the US and read the section on firearms.

-7 ( +8 / -15 )

Reports of inappropriate touching or 'chikan’ of female passengers on commuter trains are fairly common.

They are using it wrong. It's not a verb, it's a noun to describe the man who does the groping (female gropers are called chijo 痴女).

7 ( +12 / -5 )

chikan, even in Japanese, carries a strong connotation that the crime took place on a train, or at least some other crowded form of public transportation

No it doesn't. There are oodles of chikan chui signs all over Japan, but especially near parks or on children's walking routes to school.

I can't stand these blanket statements by fake know-it-alls. Same as the "there's no equivalent to natukashii in other languages" BS.

12 ( +12 / -0 )

Over here in "sunny UK" we call gropers; lots of them lurking about the tube.

And flashers too.

So, nah, Japan is not alone. Actually they should include this on their advice for UK travel; just to level the playing field, me thinks.

1 ( +9 / -8 )

It happens in the UK too and in your country without a shadow.

And if the UK has got the guts to include the world chikan in their advisory travel, Japan is more than entitled to do the same.

There are PLENTY of chikans over here; we just call them differently. I'm sure they're called something else wherever you come from.

-6 ( +2 / -8 )

word, not world

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Ha ha! Interesting to read all defensive comments claiming it happens all over the world. This is a travel advisory for Japan and about using the word ‘chikan’. It happens often in Japan and should be in travel advisories. Get over it!

10 ( +13 / -3 )

What if Japan was to use government’s official online foreign travel advice for the UK advising Japanese women about the perils of gropers in this country?

Would that be ok? No?

Follow owns advise and get over it.

-9 ( +3 / -12 )

Flashing is a bigger problem in the UK, as people are not so crammed together.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )


I will actually get this printed on a t-shirt.


-6 ( +2 / -8 )

I see the defend Japan at all expenses club is hard at work attempting to do what Japanese the world over are prone to doing when something bad about the country is spread....deflect, obfuscate, and change the subject by comparing to somewhere or something else.

FACT: Chikan is a problem in this country, no getting around it!

15 ( +18 / -3 )

Ask any 18 year old girl about this problem and she won’t stop talking for an hour....

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Might be better to just say "train groper" in English. Using "chikan," could end up making it sound cool. That's what happened with "hentai" and "otaku." "Masher" is the word that preceded "groper," but it never became a thing because the negative connotations were clear to English speakers.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Right, so groping on trains is a problem in Japan then. I thought so.

Glad we got that sorted.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

"Right, so groping on trains is a problem in Japan then"

It's also a HUGE problem in the UK; the same UK now warning their travelers about Japanese visits.

The same Government that would be up in arms if the shoe was on the other foot.

I would be glad if that was sorted out too.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Might be better to just say "train groper" in English. Using "chikan," could end up making it sound cool. That's what happened with "hentai" and "otaku." "Masher" is the word that preceded "groper," but it never became a thing because the negative connotations were clear to English speakers.

The only people that are going to think "chikan" is cool are the folks who choose not to accept the fact that the English language adapts and adds words as necessary. Why use two words when one will do?

Chikan wouldnt just be "British" English either, like "masher", it will become universal. Doesnt happen often in the states, because someone would likely shoot their arse!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Never heard the word “masher” before. Thanks posters.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

While I’m sure it happens in Britain (and every other country around the world) to say it is likely on the same level of incidence as Japan seems a little bit ridiculous...

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Sexual assault (it's not groping or flashing) happens on UK transport too, only they have started to take it seriously there. You can report any crime immediately to the British Transport Police via text or Twitter and they will start to look for the assailant straight away using CCTV. It also allows them to build up a profile of serial perverts, so if they do catch them they can use it as evidence in court.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I think the main reason it happens so often in Japan is that Japanese perverts know that their chances of getting beat up by bystanders is basically nil.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I wish foreign countries would advise more real dangers visitors and residents may encounter in Japan including - if a female tries to report being raped police will browbeat her many hours to dissuade her from filing charges, if a female enters a room willingly with a male and he rapes her chances are nothing will happen to the rapist, police often ignore due process of victims, lie in reports, destroy evidence and are basically unaccountable, Japanese men are accustomed to ladies resisting to an extent when men attempt sex, then they give in, too many foreign ladies don't know this 'custom' resist too much and end up strangled to death.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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