April, wrote Geoffrey Chaucer, author of the "Canterbury Tales," was a time for people to go on pilgrimages.
In Japan, observes Yukan Fuji (Apr 6), it's a month for beginning a new job, changing employers or getting transferred to a different section. It's a time to enter the next academic year of school. And, it's also a time when the risks for being nabbed for groping aboard a packed commuter train may be the highest in the year.
According to one authority on this problem, "It's even possible for a man to be arrested and charged just for sniffing a woman."
On a late-night variety program on TV Tokyo broadcast on March 23, a former female division head of the Saitama Prefectural Railway Police made an appearance. (She was probably invited because the JR Saikyo line, which connects Saitama with Tokyo, has the highest occurrences of groping in the Kanto area.) In the course of the program, she remarked that "In recent years, non-touching chikan (gropers) have clearly become a problem."
Reactions to the former cop's comments on computer bulletin boards were swift and unsympathetic. "If you say that, you might as well accuse every man alive of being a chikan from the moment he's born" proclaimed one poster. Another wrote cynically "Watch out -- whatever you do, don't let them catch you breathing!"
From a legal standpoint, is non-contact groping even possible? Apparently it is, in certain cases.
"Walking or standing persistently behind a woman, or acts such as sniffing in a noisy manner resembling a dog may violate local statutes or ordinances," explains attorney Hisashi Sonoda, a professor of law at Konan University in Yamanashi. "People who do this can be arrested and charged with indecent speech or acts."
Sonoda notes that Japan's Supreme Court has already handed down judgments on what would constitute such non-contact groping.
"There have been numerous cases where courts determined that if such activity is habitual, a person can be sentenced to up to one year of imprisonment and/or a fine of up to 500,000 yen," he said.
Such behavior may be more annoying to nearby bystanders than to the alleged victim herself.
"A man followed a woman around on the train for some five minutes, and took photographs of her posterior above the waistline," Sonoda related. "This was judged to constitute obscene speech or acts. It was not his taking of photographs per se that was regarded as a problem, but rather that the woman was targeted. The persistence of the plaintiff was the main factor in the court's decision."
So how does law enforcement draw the line in such situations?
"I don't suppose if a man were just to think, 'The fragrance wafting from a nearby woman smelled nice, so I sniffed her,' it would constitute grounds for an arrest," Sonoda was quoted as saying, adding, "The danger of a false accusation leading to a miscarriage of justice is roughly the same as for cases of actual groping."
Yukan Fuji concludes by asking rhetorically, how does one prove kusai de wa nai -- meaning there's no "smell," i.e., there's nothing fishy or suspicious going on? If you're worried that your public sniffing of another passenger might get you in trouble, perhaps nasal plugs offer the sole solution.© Japan Today