National / Media | Japan Pulse

Smartphones leading charge to shame troublemakers online

by Patrick ST. Michel

Contributing Writer

Everyone in Tokyo has a commuting horror story, but sometimes you need to see an example of some really rough behavior on the trains with your own eyes to understand just how bad some people have it.

An act of violence recorded on a smartphone in Shinjuku Station attracted plenty of attention online recently. Viewers were shocked to see a man specifically targeting women — although it didn’t take long before some commenters spoke up to say that such behavior wasn’t altogether out of the ordinary.

On the evening of May 25, Twitter user @____s__7_ uploaded a video that showed footage of a man from behind as he walked through Shinjuku Station wearing a backpack.

Within the first 10 seconds of the video, the man appears to change tack and head toward a pair of women walking in the opposite direction, putting his shoulder into the woman closest to him as he passes by. He appears to repeat this action on another woman in similar circumstances seconds later. The user who shared the video said he’d seen him do the same thing to 10 other women before filming.

From there, the man brushes the shoulders of a few other women as he walks through the station. He appears to avoid other male commuters during his walk and, as several commentators have noted, women who were accompanied by men.

The 44-second clip spread quickly online. The original Twitter upload was viewed several million times before being taken down by the uploader, while a YouTube version has attracted more than 250,000 views.

Websites aggregated both the video and its reaction before the issue was eventually picked up by more trusted online-focused outlets. A TV program even tried reaching out to the person who originally shared it for additional information.

Initially, netizens responded with anger and disgust. Online viewers quickly picked up on the fact the person in the video was targeting women, an action that fueled the initial discussion and helped it spread across the platform. According to J-Cast, a number of Twitter users argued that his actions could be especially dangerous to commuters who are pregnant. Internet discourse in 2018 can often be contentious, but this issue found the majority of people united in outrage over the man’s apparent intentions.

The discussion also encouraged other women to share similar experiences. This, they argued, wasn’t an isolated incident, but something they put up with frequently.

A report on TV Asahi’s May 29 episode of “Morning Show” that focused on the footage found that 21 of the 50 women interviewed for the show had experienced something similar. In the week after the clip went viral, more articles emerged that echoed those findings.

Yet a similar airing of grievances happened at the start of last month, too. Twitter user @ohnuki_tsuyoshi wrote on May 7 that female relatives and friends had told him about the increased number of incidents in which men had intentionally crashed into them. That post also went viral and yet it didn’t quite create the same outcry as the Shinjuku Station incident, which took it to the next level.

It’s safe to say that the latter incident garnered more attention because it was accompanied by a video that had been shot on a smartphone. This, it seems, is where the real power lies online in Japan these days.

Almost everyone agreed that it was wrong to shoulder-barge women, but some responders to the original tweet noted that filming people in public was also questionable. It’s a longstanding issue that pops up frequently — remember the conveyor belt sushi video? — and which attorney Kyoko Hijikata summed up in a 2015 Japan Times contribution as being “acceptable, but only if it can be justified in the circumstances.”

However, recent times have seen an uptick in videos on social media that have been uploaded explicitly to shame disgusting and dangerous behavior. Specific examples include a clip of a bus driver playing “Pokemon Go” on his smartphone while operating the vehicle and an older gentlemen throwing liquid on another man aboard a train before dashing away.

Footage of fights between gang members have circulated in the past, but an increasing number of videos capture bad behavior on trains and in stations (including popular compilations resembling “what not to do on public transit” tutorials).

While these uploads sometimes feel like comedy ripped from everyday life, they’re increasingly showing how common bad behavior can be and serving as a way to warn others from doing the same, lest they get captured on camera and shamed online.

This is particularly true for actions aimed at women. Around the same time as the Shinjuku Station video went viral, another clip of a man touching women inappropriately on the street emerged on Twitter as well.

More importantly, sharing such videos is having real-world consequences. JR East, for example, says it plans to increase security at its stations in the wake of the video. It’s a nice reminder that people can indeed bring about change in society by supporting various grass-roots campaigns on social media, or using their own footage to steer people away from copying their questionable behavior.