Japan’s ‘chikan’: An illustrated look at how sexual harassers grope women on trains

Examples of various sexual harassers on the Japanese subway, by the Osaka-based illustrator Nago, who tweets under the handle @ikng_0.
Examples of various sexual harassers on the Japanese subway, by the Osaka-based illustrator Nago, who tweets under the handle @ikng_0.

An illustration of the various types of sexual harassers preying on women on public transportation in Japan went viral last month, shortly after a video and a string of stories highlighted the pervasive groping and molesting that female passengers are forced to endure on a daily basis.

Nago, an Osaka-based freelance illustrator who tweets under the handle @ikng_0, depicted the “chikan,” or perverts, who assault women on crowded trains and platforms. They are those who sit next to a woman in an empty car, grind up behind them, or place their hand over a woman’s on a handrail.

The drawing, posted on Twitter on May 29, has been retweeted 43,000 times and prompted online users to share their stories of sexual harassment.

"Most victims remain silent"

Nago told the France 24 Observers in a written statement that people in Japan were not sufficiently aware about the rampant harassment.

Sex crimes happen every day, but public awareness is low. People do not understand the problem because they simply do not know about these things, so I made the illustrations to help them understand.

The harassers touch your face, chest, thighs or behind. Some lick you their tongue and eat your hair. Others push their crotch against your body or masturbate in front of you. Sometimes the police notice it, but sometimes there is no evidence and the police don’t do anything.

I have experienced some of this. The illustrations are real-life stories of what I, my family and my friends have gone through.

Victims’ voices are never heard.  Even when they do speak out, people tend to dismiss their claims as lies or tell them they are over-reacting. People say, ‘The victim was dressed badly,’ or, ‘Her makeup was bad,’ or, ‘The perpetrator has a family and a job. If the victim goes to the police, the perpetrator will lose them.’ They say the victim is lying or is delusional.

So most victims remain silent and perpetrators are protected.  It’s difficult for them to report this kind of crime, because when they do, they are often subjected to a ‘second rape’ through victim-shaming. I think Japan has very little respect for victims of sex crimes.

Nago later posted a second illustration featuring harassers unbuttoning women’s bras, showing women obscene images on their phones and putting used condoms in their bags based on the response she received from other users on Twitter.

Train operators began introducing women-only cars in 2000 in an effort to reduce sexual misconduct, but harassment remains rampant. More than two-thirds of the 1,750 reports of groping or molestation in Tokyo in 2017 took place on trains or in stations, according to the Japan Times.

Nago added that transit officials needed to increase the number of security cameras on trains as well as the number of women-only subway cars.

An app to ward off sexual harassers

Nago’s post came just a day after a video of a group of young schoolgirls chasing down a man who molested one of them on a train in Tokyo went viral.

In the video, originally posted by Twitter user @influencer_com_ on May 28 (it has since been deleted) and later on YouTube, a man in a business suit is seen running away from a girl shouting “Nigeru na!” or “Don’t run away!” and along a train platform. He is then tripped by a male commuter in a gray suit and falls down on his face as the girls catch up.

Tokyo police have charged the man, who is in his 30s, with indecent assault against a minor, according to SoraNews24, a local news site. He has since admitted to groping the girl.

Female commuters have also turned to a police app to ward off molesters. Digi Police, originally designed to alert elderly people about scams, sends out a loud shout of “Stop it!” or a fullscreen message saying, “There is a molester. Please help,” that users can show to passengers nearby.

The app has been downloaded more than 237,000 times since its launch three years ago, and officials said the number of downloads is increasing by around 10,000 every month, according to Agence France-Presse.

This story was written by Jenny Che.