“An epidemic in Japan,” is Britain’s BBC News’ diagnosis following a year-long investigation. The virus is moral rather than biologic. “Chikan,” the BBC explains in a report published in early June, “is a Japanese term describing sexual assault in public, especially on public transport. It also describes the offenders themselves.”
“Women who are groped on trains in East Asia,” the report says, “face the further threat of their assault being filmed and uploaded for sale online” – a prime attraction being the shock, disgust and helplessness they register in facial expressions and body movements, duly captured on film for viewers’ amusement and stimulation.
“Chikan,” says the BBC, “has been normalized by its prominence in Japan’s adult entertainment industry. One of the most popular types of pornography in the country – the chikan genre – has spread to other Asian countries.”
All too true, says Shukan Post (July 14). It’s “Japan’s shame,” a blot on a country otherwise known, respected and envied worldwide for its safety, kindness and civility. Safe, yes, and yet the UK government website warns Britons traveling to Japan: “Reports of inappropriate touching of female passengers on commuter trains are fairly common.” Canada’s government issues a similar warning.
Shukan Post, following up on the BBC report, makes contact with a Japanese producer and purveyor of chikan videos. Many work in organized groups; this particular operator, a man in his 50s, works solo. There’s big money involved: he claims to have sold 30-second clips to Japanese and foreign websites specializing in that kind of thing for 50,000 yen.
He displays an entrepreneur’s pride as he lays out his modus operandi.
“I didn’t only work crowded trains,” he says, though most of his colleagues do, taking advantage of the crush to grope unidentified and as though unintentionally. He speaks in the past tense, perhaps having moved on to other endeavors. “I targeted young women passed out drunk on last trains or asleep on first trains. I filmed them all over – face, bust, crotch – and if they didn’t wake up I’d go inside their bras too. There are cameras so small you can do that. I worked mostly (Tokyo’s) Yamanote Line. Distances between stations are short, so if you’re caught it’s easier to get away.”
Train cars lately are often equipped with surveillance cameras, raising the risks but also – the law of unintended consequences never sleeps – the profits to be earned by those bold enough to defy them.
Does the “epidemic” rage only in Japan? British journalist Gavin Blair suggests to Shukan Post one fact of Japanese life that favors it. In the West, he says, the Me Too movement has been instrumental in shifting the moral degradation from victim to perpetrator. That’s major progress – yet to be registered here. Japan too has a Me Too movement. A recent survey it conducted highlights the challenge it faces: it found only 10 percent of victims report the crime; 90 percent shrink from coming forward.
Blair once found himself personally involved in a pertinent incident. On a Tokyo train he saw a chikan in progress and collared the man (he’s a karate expert), intending to march him to the station office at the next stop. Don’t, pleaded the woman, unable to face the ordeal she foresaw. The matter ended there. We can imagine the offender’s relief.
What all this says about human nature, the degradation it can sink too, the Internet’s tendency to cater to and stoke our lowest instincts, is a vast subject, far beyond the scope of this story. The perpetrators are the tip of the iceberg. Its mass below the surface is the demand they cater to, the people who buy the stuff – for the most part no doubt ordinary people leading ordinary lives, innocently indulging, so to speak, their secret little vices, probably without it ever occurring to them to spare a thought for the victims, or even that there are victims.
“On a quiet back street in the red-light district of Yokohama,” says the BBC report, “a storefront decorated like a metro station catches your eyes. A sign spells out its concept: ‘legal chikan trains.’”
It’s a sex club called, appropriately enough, Rush Hour. Once inside, you might as well be on a train. Train smells, train announcements, train sounds weave the illusion. Here you can grope to your heart’s content. The “victims’” squirming is part of the act. Enjoy.
“I think it’s important for men to be able to pay to vent in a place like this, so they don’t commit rape and other forms of sexual assault,” manager Shuhei Hasuda tells the BBC.
Clever people can justify anything. Ten days after its chikan report the BBC published another: “Global network of sadistic monkey torture exposed by BBC.” People pay to see that too. No doubt it, too has apologists defending it as a social service.
Michael Hoffman is the author of “Arimasen.”© Japan Today