In an age when phrases like “Time’s Up” and “#MeToo” resonates across social media platforms, podiums and intimate conversations, women, not only in the U.S. but around the world, have been stepping forward to lend a voice to the fact that they are tired of being taken advantage of by men.
In Italy, the phrase #QuellaVoltaChe, which translates to “That time when,” has been used by some. Women in Spanish-speaking countries across the world use #YoTambien to highlight their experiences. Arabic speakers in the Middle East and Africa echoed a direct translation of the words “Me Too.” And in France, #BalanceTonPorc, which roughly translates to “snitch out your pig,” became a rallying cry against sexual harassment.
It was while living in France that Kumi Sasaki decided to chronicle her ordeal of being continuously groped over the span of six years while riding trains in Japan. This form of harassment, which started when she was just 12 years old, is not an uncommon practice in Japan. In fact, several strategies have been put in place in order to try and restrict such abhorrent behavior.
Railway companies have created women-only cars on their trains, anti-groping posters are placed in some stations, lectures have been held at schools to inform pupils what to do to protect themselves from being groped, and anti-groping paraphernalia such as stickers and badges have been circulating. There is even an anti-groping function in the Metropolitan Police’s crime-prevention app, “Digi Police.” With the app, the words “Grope – please help me” appear when it’s opened, and when it’s tapped on, a voice saying “Please stop!” is repeatedly played.
Nonetheless, despite the efforts to curb chikan (a Japanese term for both men who grope women and the act of touching someone without their consent on crowded trains), it is still quite prevalent.
Sasaki, who currently lives in Paris, published her book, titled “Tchikan,” last November. In it, she recounted her arduous experience of dealing with chikan from middle school to high school on an almost daily basis on her commute from home to school and back.
Recalling her first chikan experience while on Tokyo’s JR Yamanote Line, Sasaki recounts feeling a man’s hand rub against her – a hand that she thought would have stopped touching her when the train stopped jerking, but it remained.
“The fingers of this unfamiliar hand went inside the collar of my blouse. Then he touched my back, he touched my legs, my waist, even my butt. He placed his hand directly under the cheeks, quietly raising up my skirt by just moving his fingers, and he touched my left thigh under my skirt.” she wrote.
The vile intrusion sent Sasaki into shock, as at such a young age, she had no idea what was happening.
Unfortunately, that was just the beginning, and for the next six years, she continued to be preyed upon by men ranging in age from late teens to older men in their 70s. Sasaki also recalled an incident of being followed home by one of the gropers – a married man in his 50s who apparently wanted her to have his children.
Under the strain of these continuous attacks, Sasaki’s psyche became fragile and she turned to self-harm and tried to end her life. Thankfully, however, she was eventually saved by a supportive friend.
Japan’s chikan epidemic
Groping on trains has been an issue in Japan for decades. In a survey by Tokyo Metropolitan Police and the JR Railway Company which was conducted in the early 2000s, it was found that two-thirds of women aged 20-40 reported having had some experience of chikan. It was this survey that prompted some railway companies to establish ladies’ cars at certain rush hour periods and others to offer “women only” cars all day long.
The problem with chikan, however, proves quite difficult to overcome. Because even though there are such strategies, fines, and even imprisonment for the offense, it still persists.
Recently, social media users began boasting of plans to grope high school girls who would be commuting to take the annual Center Test. This test is a major exam in Japan and a high score is required for students to gain admission into many Japanese colleges. Unfortunately for the examinees, the Center Test can only be taken at a regional test venue on specified days, which means there are usually a lot of young train commuters on those days. And using the importance of the test and its strict policy on punctuality, these sexual predators see the exam as an opportunity to commit chikan without fear of being reported by the victims.
Sasaki’s goal for writing “Tchikan” was to bring awareness to how dangerous chikan really is and how it can rob girls and women of their sense of well-being and even worse. She states that many people in Japan think it’s not a big deal, and this almost nonchalant treatment of chikan had left her feeling isolated and unable to seek the necessary help that she needed.
An essential first step to a much wider issue, chikan is one woman’s way of adding voice to the ever-growing conversation about the different forms of abuse that countless women have to endure on a daily basis. And for each voice that is added, we can only hope that better faculties will be put into place to tackle these issues.