In light of the #metoo movement making traction in Japan, we reached out to seven women who shared their first-hand accounts of dealing with assaults and harassment on Japan's rail system. They shared their stories hoping that it will help destigmatize the issue and bring it to the forefront of public discourse.
In early April, a video of a foreign man groping a woman on a Tokyo train was shared around various online Japan communities and networks, inciting outrage and disbelief. Although the angered responses and open discussions were a positive sign of the public attitude to sexual assault, in reality, this is an occurrence that’s still all too common.
Known as chikan (痴漢) in Japanese, gropers typically take advantage of their surroundings, knowing that the victims’ fear of causing a scene, and the anonymous nature packed public transport (where personal space perimeters are challenged) makes it difficult for victims to call out or report the incidents.
Over the years, Japan has continued to try and find ways to fight the issue. Some solutions have included the introduction of women-only train carriages, and signs encouraging commuters to speak up if they witness an assault take place, playing on the group mentality that often keeps people quiet; ‘together we can stop chikan.’ In 2010, the Saikyo Line, a line notorious for groping, had cameras installed in an attempt to deter future assaults. More recently, a number of other anti-chikan initiatives have been put into place, including pervert branding stickers put into place by the Saitama Prefecture Police department, and popular warning badges, which were created by a 17-year-old high school student.
But chikan eradication is still a work in progress. As the Metropolitan Police Department’s recent reports shows, 2017 saw 1,750 cases of groping or molestation reported, 30 percent of which occurred during the peak rush hour times of 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. The report also states that 51.3 percent of all chikan cases occurred on trains, while another 20 percent happened in train stations. Given the insidiousness nature of the behavior and the difficulty in prosecuting cases, chances are that statistic is far higher.
We spoke to seven women, both foreign and Japanese, who were eager to share their stories in hope that speaking out about the issue would help others find some solidarity in their collective experiences. In the name of full transparency, all the women in this article are personal acquaintances and these experiences have been shared as a response to social media call outs and conversations we’ve had in person. Here are their stories.
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