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‘Chikan,’ the Japanese term for groping, is increasingly being recognized abroad

by Yukari Tanaka

Contributing Writer

Over the past six months, media organizations at home and abroad have published articles that have examined whether or not Japan has embraced the Me Too movement.

The social media campaign, which encouraged victims of sexual assault and harassment to speak up about their experiences, initially failed to gain much traction in Japan, and it wasn’t until journalist Shiori Ito made certain allegations in public against a former bureau chief for TBS Television that it caught the general public’s attention.

The Mainichi Shimbun, however, recently wondered whether Japan could actually have pushed this agenda a little earlier, taking advantage of the fact that the Japanese term for groping — chikan — has become something of an internationally recognized term.

According to the Mainichi report, there’s even a possibility that the Japanese word for groping could follow in the footsteps of “karōshi,” a term that Oxford Dictionary now defines as meaning “death caused by overwork or job-related exhaustion.”

Figures from the Metropolitan Police Department show that 1,750 cases of groping or molestation were reported in 2017, of which 30 percent occurred between 7 and 9 a.m. during the morning rush hour.

More than 50 percent of sexual harassment cases occurred on trains, the report says, with a further 20 percent occuring in train stations.

The age of groping victims included in the Metropolitan Police Department report ranges from less than 10 years old to more than 50. Precisely, 0.4 percent of victims in the report were younger than 10 years old, followed by 28.3 percent of teenagers, 42.6 percent of victims in their 20s, 11.3 percent in their 30s, 3.3 percent in their 40s, 1 percent in their 50s and 13.1 percent unknown.

Both British and Canadian government websites have used the term “chikan” in their warnings to visitors of sexual harassment on public transportation for a number of years.

In its website’s “Safety and Security” section, the British government warns visitors that “reports of inappropriate touching or ‘chikan’ of female passengers on commuter trains are fairly common.”

If ever confronted with an experience of “inappropriate touching,” the U.K. government advises travelers to follow the police’s recommendation and “shout at the perpetrator to attract attention and ask a fellow passenger to call the train staff.”

Twitter user @koichi_kawakami appeared to be astonished by this fact.

“I searched the British government’s website to check if it was really true,” he wrote. “The term ‘chikan’ was really there.”

Meanwhile, a novel about a Japanese woman who was a victim of groping was published last October in France.

The novel by French author Emmanuel Arnaud and the protagonist of the novel, Kumi Sasaki, outline the woman’s experiences as a victim of groping on Tokyo’s JR Yamanote Line at the age of 12.

Twitter user @hyodo_masatoshi posted a despondent response to news that the term “chikan” was being recognized internationally.

“Japan has been recognized as a nation of groping,” he posted. “And the reason is due to working men’s desire for domination and stress. I can see that karōshi can often be related to sex crimes. I’ve read somewhere that some overseas people see Japan as a perverted nation — it’s a notion that’s hard to deny.”

Although the terms “chikan” and “karōshi” have started to be recognized internationally, it’s worth noting that they follow in the footsteps of terms that have also conveyed numerous positive influences. Take terms such as karaoke, haiku, ukiyo-e and manga, for example, to name just a few.

Twitter user @haraxmaki takes a practical view of the news.

“It’s important to note that chikan is now an international word,” @haraxmaki writes, adding a hashtag that called on followers to “avoid allowing discrimination on trains and to protect safety.”

Twitter user @okeinan1 asks the question many of us wonder.

“Our society makes it easy for gropers,” @okeinan1 writes. “We say that groping is a crime and yet despite the measures taken against this issue — for example, by establishing women-only carriages — the number of groping victims does not seem to be decreasing. Instead, the word has become recognized worldwide. Will it ever be possible to eradicate groping from society?”

We can only hope for an answer to the affirmative — the morning commute is difficult enough without having to worry about whether or not you’re going to be violated.