Is Subway Groping Really A Big Deal In Japan?

by Justin Sevakis,

Strongman Lin asks:

In a fair number of anime (e.g. Scum's Wish, Ore Monogatari!!), female characters get molested by creepers on the subway. Is this really such a prevalent problem in Japan? And if it is, in the instances of it that I've seen in anime, the girls tend to keep quiet about it instead of turning around and slapping the guy doing it to them. Is there some kinda stigma towards the women that are being molested that makes them not want to tell everyone that the guy's groping them?

Unfortunately groping on public transit is indeed a problem in Japan, specifically in major cities like Tokyo. The trains and busses get so crowded at rush hour that, simply, nobody can move while the train is in motion. The giant mass of people, I guess, makes gross dudes think they're anonymous, because it would be very difficult for their victim to turn around and see them, let alone kick them in the junk or do anything else to defend themselves.

As with many cases of sexual assault, most victims are too mortified to say anything, especially in the moment it's happening. It's not my place to describe the anguish of assault victims -- there are plenty of stories of abuse victims explaining why they kept quiet that you can find with a quick Google search (and I do recommend you read some). But I mean, if you're being attacked by a dog, is your focus on trying to find its owner, or on running away from the dog?

Anyway, the problem first came to prominence in the mid-90s, and was so widespread that police had to launch a massive crackdown, including placement of plain-clothes cops on trains, and massive public ad campaigns encouraging women to hold up their hand and yell "chikan!!" if they get attacked. Indeed, 4,000 people are arrested for mass transit groping ("chikan") every year -- and that's just the ones that get caught! The problem is so bad that now women-only cars are often offered, with train personnel to enforce the rule.

The chikan problem is horrifyingly widespread. The surveys conducted on the subject are all too small and localized to be very useful datapoints, but a high school survey in 2001 suggested that over 70% of their female students had been groped on the train. A more recent study of women in two different companies had at least 17% had been groped in public. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many, many women have experienced this kind of harassment in Japan, including many foreigners. Signs in public places everywhere read "Beware of Chikan." Other forms of public sexual harassment include trying to discreetly take up-skirt photos, and in extreme cases, outright sexual assault.

The very idea of subway groping has, bizarrely, became an organized fetish in Japan, with groups of "elite" subway molesters meeting up online and in real life to swap stories, share tips, and compete with others. Porn and hentai often depict the practice for titlation. "Image clubs" (basically role-playing brothels) often have train groping scenarios as something a customer can re-enact. Many molesters (who come from all walks of life) admit to enjoying the look of discomfort that they're causing their victims.

Nowadays the crime is taken very seriously, and is punishable by fines and up to 10 years of jail time. Those networks of molesters also share tips about police crackdowns. There are stories of men being accused of chikan and extorted for hush-money. There are also stories of men being wrongly accused, and all the nightmares that brings.

So yes, it's a huge problem in Japan, and one of the very real downsides to an otherwise incredibly safe country.

Thank you for reading Answerman!

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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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