Japan is a unique country. Isolated on a string of islands, its culture developed in part independently from mainland Asia. Although at times intriguing, such eccentricity has a dark side: a long history of permissive attitudes towards sexual assault.
According to expert Sachiko Nakajima, "The concept of consent in Japan is far from understood." Victims are often seen as "asking for it" and are blamed for incidences they are involved in. As we’ve pointed out before, rape crisis centers and other support services are noticeably lacking throughout the country. As such, many cases of sexual assault and abuse sadly go unreported.
Shiori Ito's recent struggle underlines Nakajima's point. In 2015, Ito, a young journalist, accused Noriyuki Yamaguchi, a prominent journalist and her mentor, of sexual assault. The writer claimed she was taken to Yamaguchi's hotel room while intoxicated and forced to have intercourse. While Ito mounted a case against Yamaguchi, his political connections initially allowed the charges to be dismissed.
Ito began a #MeToo campaign in 2018 only to receive scathing criticism. Prominent female LDP members claimed it was the young journalist's fault for being drunk while others openly mocked her. Other online reactions were harsh, claiming Ito was a prostitute or that "she should have been strangled and killed." Nevertheless, Ito was eventually awarded 3.3 million yen in damages.
Chikan, pervert, is a term akin to “sexual deviant” in the West. It is related to a swath of lewd acts such as groping, voyeurism, indecent exposure, and so on. In Japan, trains are commonly associated with such debauched behavior.
While historically resigned, female victims are beginning to push back. Despite Shiori Ito’s troubling experience, the #MeToo and related #KuToo furthered the women’s rights agenda in Japan. More recently, the I AM demonstrations at Shinjuku station demanded an end to male chauvinism.
Products are also helping make a difference. Anti-groping badges are warning deviants that female commuters are hands-off. Furthermore, passengers are using an anti-groper device to mark chikans discreetly. The stamp-like device applies special ink visible under UV light.
Cautious women are also downloading the "Digi Police" smartphone app to protect themselves. The mobile application, developed by the police, can be activated to repel gropers in the case of an attack. Victims push an alert button, and the app sounds an alarm while repeatedly saying, "please stop."
These are notable advancements, but chikans still aren't getting the hint. Many view their unwanted advances as a mild nuisance for their victims and persist despite a growing risk to themselves and others. And the problem is far from limited to Japanese business people.
According to mental health and welfare professional Akiyoshi Saito, who treats those who committed sex crimes, the number of foreigners who have come to him for help with chikan behavior has increased in recent years. Saito says these are mostly expats transferred from a major company or IT technicians without any prior crime record and no prior experience riding packed trains who acquire the behavior after accidentally touching a woman's body.
Despite supposed innocuous beginnings, it’s clear such unpalatable behavior is finally being reigned in by Japanese society. Although the writing is on the wall, perverts are still lashing out. Indeed, the lengths some will go is astounding. Here are some of the more surprising examples.
Like a scene from the movie 'It'
In 2015, A Kobe man was arrested for the second time in three years after hiding in a sewer. The man entered the gutter in early in the morning and reportedly hid there for five hours. He used his smartphone to film up women's dresses in the meantime.
To the shock of pedestrians, a woman noticed the man's hair sticking out of the drain. She notified the authorities, and the man was apprehended. He had previously been arrested for hiding in a drain outside of a female university in 2013.
In December 2019, a suspected groper escaped authorities at a Tokyo train station by running away along the railroad tracks. Officers searched the scene after arriving but were unable to find the man. The incident caused train delays of 15 minutes.
Sadly, this is becoming the standard MO of suspected gropers. In 2017, the Mainichi Shinbun reported on the growing incidence of such cases. During one month, there were reportedly five cases throughout the Tokyo area. On such occasions, trains are delayed, and, in many cases, suspects successfully escape.
Others, however, are not so lucky. In 2001, an accused groper escaped along train tracks only to fall into a nearby river and die. In a similar incident in 2003, a man ran onto the tracks where he was fatally struck by an oncoming train.
In February 2018, a squinting customer in a department store approached a female cosmetics employee. After claiming to be blind, the man asked the saleswoman to guide in him to the restroom. The man tumbled to the floor near the washroom. When the woman bent down to help him, he grabbed her chest and quickly ran away.
Security footage later revealed that the man had wandered through the store with ease. After some searching, police eventually arrested a 33-year-old male suspect they believed responsible for a string of similar attacks throughout Tokyo and Kanagawa.
Dressing the part
Police arrested a man in October 2019 on suspicion of voyeurism. The man had dressed in drag and entered the ladies' room. There, he filmed unsuspecting women.
Police arrested the part-time high school teacher after a female staff member notified a male colleague of his suspicious behavior. The male employee waited by the bathroom and grabbed the chikan as he left the ladies' room.
In the age of smartphones, chikans are updating their tactics. Cyber chikans are using Apple's AirDrop function to send lewd pictures to female commuters. If a victim has their phone set to accept airdrops from "everyone," there is little that can stop the attack.
After a few arrests following related incidences, Japanese media began reporting on this novel means of cyber harassment. Most anchors expressed disbelief while recommending commuters change their airdrop settings to accept images from contacts only.
As public molestations gain media coverage, one insurance company is offering protection against "false groping accusations." The policy began after the previously mentioned 2017 explosion of men escaping along train tracks after being accused of groping.
For a mere 6,400 yen, the policy protects holders against damages in the case of wrongful accusations of molestation. With over 1,800 public nuisance arrests per year in Japan, that could be a lot of fraudulent coverage to ward off.
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