A Chikan Story: My Run in with Perverts in Japan

Honestly, I debated on whether or not I would post about this, but after some thought, I figured it was worth talking about. It doesn’t have any graphic content, but does touch on a serious matter – perverts in Japan.

In my Japanese language classes back at my home university, we learned about the word “chikan”, which refers to public, unwanted molestation. In general, it’s often used to refer to perverted Japanese men. I’d heard stories about Japan having problems with men that would grope women, usually while on trains. Yet, it was never anything I took seriously, because I’d also heard that, according to my Japanese instructor, these types of men usually avoided foreigners. Foreigners usually weren’t afraid to retaliate, while Japanese women, especially the young girls, were less likely to speak up. Since arriving in Japan I’ve seen some women only trains, but other than that, I hadn’t thought much about it.

You know, I’ve gotten used to the stares. When I walk down the street in a crowded city, people blatantly stare at me without even trying to hide it. A lot of the foreigners in my dorm say they experience that too. At this point, I don’t even think about it anymore. Recently though, I’ve had some encounters with some pretty creepy guys. In comparison to other stories I’ve read online, my encounters weren’t bad at all, but they were definitely still enough to unsettle me.

My First Uncomfortable Encounter with a Japanese Man

About a week ago, I was on my way home from the local grocery store. I had gone at like 11:30PM, which might not have been the smartest idea, but I didn’t think much about it because I’ve always felt safe in Japan. I could leave my purse sitting on a table and come back an hour later, and I would be confident that it would still be in the exact spot I had left it with everything still inside. In my home country I doubt I would go out late at night by myself for fear that something would happen to me, but I’ve never felt that here in Japan.

When I had been standing in line at the grocery store and was looking around while I waited for my turn to check out, I accidentally made eye contact with a guy a few lines over, like you sometimes awkwardly do when you have nothing else to occupy yourself, but then it was my turn to check out. I couldn’t have looked at him for more than a second or two. I paid for my groceries and then headed out the door.

I’d gotten a little ways from the store before I was stopped by the guy I had awkwardly made eye contact with. Of course the first question he asked was if I spoke Japanese. I replied, “A little.” That was my first mistake. I should have just ignored him. However, when somebody suddenly comes up and starts talking to you, it catches you by surprise. Then he started saying something I couldn’t understand, but I did catch the word, 遊ぼう(Asobou), which more or less means “Let’s hang out.” I told him I was returning to my home country the next morning, so I couldn’t. He replied, “Aw, that’s too bad,” and then brushed his finger against my hair. After that I quickly made my way home, making sure I wasn’t followed. Like, it really wasn’t that bad until he decided to touch my hair, but what made him think that was okay?

My Run in with a Chikan (Pervert) on the Train

Then, on Tuesday I was on my way to the new Pokemon center that just recently opened. It was pretty hot that day so I had worn shorts and a tank top. I was sitting on the train with a friend on my left side and a guy I didn’t know on my right. To save space on the train, I kept bookbag on my lap. I felt something tickle my leg, and at first I thought maybe it was one of the straps from my bookbag, so I adjusted my bookbag. When I felt it again, I looked down and noticed the guy next to me had his hand flat on the bench next to me. That’s when it occurred to me that the tickle I had felt was probably from the guy next to me using his finger to touch my leg. The first time might have been an accident. Seats on the train aren’t exactly spacious. However, happening a second time is no accident, especially with the unnatural way his hand was resting on the seat. Yet, part of me still felt like I was jumping to conclusions.

I whispered to my friend what I had thought had happened, so when it was time to get off the train, my friend looked at his clothing. He looked like he might be high school age, so she wanted to see if maybe there was a school logo or something on his clothing. That was when she noticed the bulge in his pants. She whispered to me, “please tell me that’s just his phone.” Unfortunately it wasn’t, because I could see his phone in his other pocket, and the bulge was way to big to just be air. I’m sorry but that’s just gross. Touching a stranger’s leg to get sexual pleasure is not okay. Even after we got off the train he kept looking at me and even went in the same direction as us for a little while. Thankfully though we soon parted ways.

Looking back, I’d wish I’d been faster to realize what was happening. If the shock had passed sooner so that the anger could sink in, I probably would have called him out on it. I’m not afraid to be the foreigner who makes a scene, if only so that he doesn’t dare try to pull something like that on anyone else.

Looking Back…

As I mentioned before, my experiences aren’t nearly as bad as some of the experiences other woman have had, but it’s enough to make me feel more apprehensive of strangers. I understand that walking around at night by myself probably hadn’t been the best idea, but for the second incident, I wasn’t by myself and it was the middle of the day. Worst of all, it was a high school student. I definitely hadn’t expected that. Overall, I’m determined not to let it impact my thoughts on my experience in Japan, but it is definitely something that I’ll be keeping in the back of my mind.

I don’t want this to sway anybody’s decision about whether or not to visit Japan, because Japan is a very safe place, but it’s something to keep in mind of all women planning on visiting Japan.

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