What to do if you are targeted by a Chikan (pervert) on a Japanese train

Dealing with Chikan in Japan

Chikan (noun, Japanese): A person who commits continual public acts of molestation, such as groping on a crowded Japanese train.

This is a real problem in Japan. So what should you do if you find yourself in contact with a groper on a crowded train?

1. Take 3 seconds to verify it is actually a chikan

Trains coming in and out of Tokyo are crowded, especially during the morning and evening rushes. I’ve mistaken a soft man-purse for a hand once or twice. Each time I was hit by a wave of panic – I had to close my eyes, take a deep breath, and turn around to confirm what was actually happening.

And both times it was just a small purse or arm pushed up against my butt – but the “offender” had no idea what they were doing.

[Note: I have met one man – and heard of another – who were wrongly accused of being a chikan from a terrified woman. That is not fair to them. The man I spoke to expressed his frustration at being labeled a pervert by a woman who mistook his bag for his hand – and talked about his shame and harassment at the hands of the station attendant and police. There are two sides to every story – but it is absolutely IMPERATIVE that you be sure you are being targeted by a chikan before you speak out. A wrong accusation can seriously hurt someone.]

If you’re interested in reading more on Chikan, I recommend Mico Keplar’s book, Chikan: Bizarre true accounts of train and street groping in Tokyo, Japan

sexist sexim Anti harassment (chikan) poster on a Tokyo train

2. Take a deep breath and work through the shock.

Here’s the thing about shock – no one knows how they will react. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a “fight or flight” reaction. Most people freeze. There’s nothing to be ashamed of – that’s the “normal” reaction.

While I have never been inappropriately touched by a chikan on a Japanese train, I have run into similar circumstances in both Texas and Ghana.

Somewhere during my teenage years, I learned how to work through the shock when this kind of thing happens. I recommend closing your eyes, taking a deep breath, and allowing yourself to get angry.

3. Get angry. Don’t be apologetic.

If it really is a chikan, this isn’t a first-time thing because they think you’re “cute.” Rapists, sexual predators, and chikan are creatures of habit. They scan for targets (typically women who they think they can get away with – though sometimes they have other “preferences”). Chikan are known to identify, partially stalk, and take advantage of a specific type of woman.

[For more, check out: Things I don’t Understand about Japan – Chikan]

So get angry. You deserve to be angry. This is a person who is violating your freedom – and speaking up to punish them is scary. Channeling your anger can give you courage.

chikan pervert japan japanese ちかん beware of chikan sign playground

4. Say something.

This is the hardest step. And if you can’t say anything, just skip to step 5.

The easiest way to catch and punish a chikan is to, well, catch them in the act. The socially acceptable way to draw attention to a chikan on Japanese trains is to tightly grab their arm (typically the arm attached to the offending or groping hand mid-grope), raise your own hand, and yell “chikan!”

If you can speak some Japanese, the correct thing to say is “Sumimasen, chikan desu!” If not, you can just say “chikan!” while grabbing the offender’s hand. People will get the picture.

[Note: Once again, please be sure it is actually a chikan and not a confused passenger pressed up against your in the evening rush.]

Once a chikan has been identified, the barrier of “shame”/”mind your own business” (or whatever you want to call it) breaks. The people around you will take over.

I’m relying on the words of two friends – both of which who have seen this happen before.

Typically a young boy or older man will latch onto the chikan, take them off the train, and transfer custody to a station attendant. It is rare that you will have to give a statement (but I’ve heard that it can happen).

Still, be proud of yourself. You have done something good. Confronting a chikan is  scary, difficult, and rather nerve-wracking. Chikan get away with groping because no standing up to them is difficult.

I have so many friends who have been groped, but who have frozen in shock or been unable to say anything, It’s… sad. But that is also a normal reaction – so if it happens to you, don’t feel ashamed.

4.5 Stab them with a tiny safety pin.

This advice came from someone who has dealt with chikan in Japan before. She recommends carrying a small safety pin in your pocket – for those times when you get groped but feel too embarrassed/shocked to call out and draw attention to yourself.

She says “I personally feel it’s empowering to feel like you taught them a lesson, even if it’s a relatively harmless stab from a safety pin.” And it might somewhat deter future behavior. So if you deal with chikan a lot and aren’t quite sure what to do, consider carrying a small safety pin in your pocket for “protection.”

5. If you can’t say anything, get away. Fast.

If you find yourself unable to say anything (shame, shock, you’re unsure about what is happening, you don’t think people will believe you, etc), then step away. You’re not the only one who has been unable to confront a chikan. Don’t worry about it.

Your first concern “you” – so remove yourself from the situation as quickly as possible. It can be as simple as walking to a different cart or as thorough as physically exiting the train and walking around the train station for a while to clear your head.

6. Talk to friends and loved ones (and consider therapy).

Why? Because being assaulted by a chikan is a form of sexual assault and everyone reactions to sexual assault differently. Some people will be perfectly fine and never give it a second thought (except when everyone is sharing their “only in Japan” moments). Some people will think they are fine, but have odd night terrors and a fear of public transportation. Really, everyone reacts differently.

You may be tempted to blow if off, “it was just one groper. They didn’t hurt me.” Perhaps that is true. However, the reaction to trauma is broken into two stages: immediate and long-term.

The immediate reaction is typically anger. Or sadness. Or frustration at the system. Or a feeling of helplessness. Or a feeling like everything is ok.

The long-term reaction is a bit more complicated. It might be an aversion toward physical contact with Japanese men. It could be a sense of paranoia while on the train. It could be a sense of helplessness, like you are not longer as safe as you used to be roaming the streets of Tokyo.

Trauma is incredibly difficult to explain to someone who has never gone through it. The basic takeaway is that being groped by a chikan is more than touching. It can mess you up.

Your perceptions of the country and the people inside of it might change… and that’s ok. That is normal.

chikan pervert japan japanese ちかん beware of chikan sign playground

7. Understand that you will probably never get closure.

Regardless of what you do now, the past cannot be changed. If you were unable to speak out against the chikan, they are probably still out there.And you might never get closure. That chikan might never be caught.

You might feel unsafe being out alone at night for the next couple months. You might start riding in the women only train cars. You cannot change that.

But you can use this experience to make you stronger. You should never label yourself as a “victim” of sexual assault – you’re a survivor. So keep on surviving.

And keep a vigil watch out for chikan.

[Note: In closing, if you are not sure if someone is a chikan or is accidentally touching your butt, walk away. Don’t even think, just walk away.]

 

 

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About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

38 Comments on What to do if you are targeted by a Chikan (pervert) on a Japanese train

  1. Thanks for sharing this! I rode the train during rush hour for the first time yesterday and I was worried about chikan. Luckily I’m traveling in a group of all women so I made a point of angling myself so that they and other women were the only ones behind me. But I’d like to come back to Japan someday, maybe even live here, so I wouldn’t always be with my group.

    I worry more though about like… For example, we stay out after dark sometimes, which is something I never do in the US. There was one night where I was sitting and a guy came and stood, and I realized that if he wanted to he would be able to trap me quite effectively and I wasn’t sure my travelmates would be able to do anything about it. Isn’t Japan somewhere where people rarely intervene when crimes do occur, too?
    Actually, I think my weird feeling about him may have been right. I made a point of speaking to my friend in Japanese (I’m visibly foreign, and I figured showing I speak the language makes me seem less likely to be helpless?) and then he did move in a way that I was suddenly not so trapped. That creeped me out enough that, now that I would no longer have to brush up against him to do so if he hadn’t wanted to move, I quickly got up and stood by her, partly facing toward him so that my rear was entirely out of reach.
    But ever since then I do think more about times and places where I could be trapped or assaulted. Do you know if sexual assault further than chikan (i.e., rape) is common in Japan? I suppose the instinctive fear is partly being from America, and a big city at that.

  2. Anonymous // 28 April, 2016 at 9:26 am //

    I’m going to Japan for the first time in a few weeks, and I am slightly worried about this, since I will be traveling with just my mother (no men). I’d rather not yell chikan unless I absolutely have to – – I worry that I may not realize what is chikan-ing and what is simply an accident, especially since I never use public transport. Is there a polite way to say “Please move your hand” in Japanese? Thanks~

    • I feel like one would probably be able to tell the difference between groping and an accident (having had bags and arms and butts touching my butt accidentally — but I always look and they’re usually not even facing me, in fact more often they’re staring at their phones). But for your request, or rather in case anyone else wants to know since I imagine you’ve already gone, something like “sawanaide kudasai” (please don’t touch me). Though they say meeker women are more likely to be targeted so personally I would probably opt for a bit stronger wording: “sawanaide yo!” (don’t touch me!!) If it really was an accident I imagine they’d be offended, but in that case at least you wouldn’t be publicly embarrassing them.

  3. Jason Brown // 26 January, 2016 at 11:11 pm //

    I will be going to Japan soon and this was going to be one of my worries. Now I am a 6 foot male so I doubt a chikan would be interested in me. But I do have that American violent distaste for perverts. I was greatly worried that once I see a chikan on a train I would immediately act violently towards them. Thankfully now I know there is a more peaceful way of removing a chikan without showing the Japanese people how Americans deal with perverts.

  4. Tall-in-Tokyo // 16 December, 2015 at 12:20 am //

    I never thought to have a chikan experience. I’m 5’9″ and have pixie-cut purple hair… And although I’ve done alternative-style modeling, I am absolutely not the picture of the ideal women (from a Japanese male perspective) and happen to look very intimidating.

    … So imagine my shock when my chest was groped in broad daylight in Shimokitazawa (a very hipster district of Tokyo with sky-high apartment costs.) I had a foreign friend with me when we were approached by three young men in the middle of the street. When we ignored their obnoxious flirting, one reached out and felt up my chest. I smacked his hand away, told him (in Japanese) to leave me alone, and boogie-ed out of there, but looking back, I wish I would have socked him one. That got me curious- would I be the one getting in trouble if I had done so? I speak Japanese at a nearly native level so I could defend myself, but would the law be biased against me?

    • OMG. I WENT TO SHIMOKITAZAWA SEITOKU SENIOR HIGH LAST YEAR AND DID HOMESTAY WITH A HOST FAMILY IN MACHIDA. I used to think Shimokitazawa was a really safe place and the trains too. It’s such a beautiful place… I’m shocked but at the same time I’m like “Weeelcome to Japaaaan.”
      My biggest fear in Japan was getting groped on a public train, especially during peak hour. On my 2nd day in Japan, my host sister and I took a female only train and that made me sigh in relief and relax, but afterwards, we switched trains and went on a train with men in it… It was SO SO SO crowded. I was like always checking on where my host sister was and I would ask her where we stopped.
      The most crowded train I would have gone on was DEFINITELY the Tokyo Disneyland train. I took 3 trains with my host sis to get to Tokyo Disneyland and it was also a public holiday, so the trains were too crowded.

  5. I think that if it happened to me I wouldnt give it much importance, I d just move away.

  6. Hi Grace,

    Thank you for the blog!

    My friend is going to be in tokyo for next two years. Although she is very strong, but this groping things makes me worried.

    So chikans are still there? Why they are there? why police is incapable to stop this crime?

    Keeping sign boards will not work they should be active enough to stop this disgusting act.

    Also, fellow passangers or side walkers would not come to rescue if chikans chase you?

    Do they openly grab you while walking on roads?

    Please answer me in your free time, would appreciate your effort.

    Thank you

  7. I have a question:If I get angry,but in English-will that drive them away as well because I’m a foreigner?

  8. But I wonder, what should you do if you grab their hand and yell “sumimasen, chikan desu!” but no one does anything? :I

  9. As a male, I for sure have a slightly different experience of being assaulted by a Chikan. Only happened to me twice, once by a man, once by a woman. I’d agree that safety pins and punching as a means of self defense are dangerous to all. However, I did very proudly get the male chikan big time – the train jerked freeing me up for a moment, and at that moment got him with a serious elbow strike! Bang with a very satisfying “oof” as I connected with his ribs. The good news about the elbow strike is, well, nobody knows I did it right?

  10. I don’t think it’s a good idea to tell people to go around stabbing people with safety pins.
    It’s assault, and Japanese commuter trains are so crowded that there’s a good chance you’ll end up stabbing the wrong person.

    As a man I’m scared of being falsely accused of groping somebody. It’s impossible to avoid physical contact during the rush hour, so it’s easy to see how false accusations can happen. I think that if I were falsely accused, I’d probably “freeze” in much the same manner that groping victims do, and would be unable to defend myself.

    In Japan, the law seems to be weighted against the accused in these cases. Your article contains an implicit acknowledgement of this fact — you write that the police rarely take statements from the victims, apparently they aren’t necessary to convict someone.

    • While I think that yes, it is technically possible for you to be falsely accused of being a chikan, the number of actual chikan who are caught, well, chikan-ing is SO LOW that I seriously, seriously doubt it would ever happen.
      Of all of my female friends in Tokyo, all of us (except one foreign girl) has been chikaned in the last year. None of us were able to “catch” the guy. So right now, we’re talking about 10-15 cases on women who are highly educated, know the correct response, and are STILL not able to act.

      If carrying around a safety pin makes a woman (or man – since school-aged boys often get chikaned too) feel safer, they should do it. The chance of them actually being able to pull out a pin and stab someone in time is pretty darn low. But it’s a sort of mental relief. The illusion of safety.

  11. This is something I have experienced often in my home country. When I first heard about men groping women on trains in Japan I wasn’t surprised because it’s such a norm in my own life – since I was 15 and started going out alone with friends, older boys or men seemed to think it was OK to touch me (this is obviously something many women have experienced here from what my friends tell me, but I can only really speak of my own experiences).

    You are totally right to say that it can be a scary thing, and very often when it happens you just don’t know what to do. I have spent years dealing with this and being told that I shouldn’t make a fuss because “hey, these things happen, so just move on”. That mentality though is what allows people like this to do what they do. It’s when I finally snapped (after about 13 years of “dealing with it”) that I realized most of these perverts are just cowards, who are terrified when a woman stands up for herself and calls him out on his behaviour (NOTE: I would never suggest a woman try to take on a man by herself however, because cowards can still act tough when they think they are physically stronger than someone else, and there’s nobody around to help).

    When I DID snap though, I saw red, turned around and hit the guy on the back… hard. He almost fell on his face, turned to face me, and a shouting match ensued, until my then boyfriend now husband intervened by sending him flying to the other side of the road (he is a pretty big guy, while this other guy was pretty short and thin in comparison). Looking back I’m glad my husband and our friends were there because that could have turned ugly. But it also gave me a sense of empowerment – knowing I had the choice and I could stand up for myself.

    The point is, there is no shame in doing nothing because this really is a traumatic experience, but it is also important to know that you can do something if you choose to do so. Talking about it also helps… to this day I’m still angry at the boys who first did this when I was 15, and every other guy after that, because my body is nobody else’s property, and the fact we even have to talk about this is pretty sad.

  12. I love your blog! I have been spending two weeks in Japan (I am from LA) and your blog has been very useful :) Question – are the chikan also the foreign men on the streets that call out to women .. a have been grabbed by the arm a few times but them in Roppongi and Shinjuku and It makes me so angry…. my last few days in Tokyo I am alone so when I go out at night in a very touristy public place it makes me a little nervous. Strangely enough it is only with these other Foreign men that stand on the street.. I have never felt scared or threatened by a Japanese man..

    • Hi Denise,

      Thanks! I’m glad you found my blog helpful!
      No, what you’re experiencing are “catchers.” Their job is to try to “catch” or “trick” or “encourage” people to come into certain bars/clubs/etc. It’s their job (and they are employed by the bar/club). They occasionally will grab at you – something that is really common in Africa/South America (and sometimes the US). But they’re usually just grabbing your arm or trying to block your way, so you go into that club.

      Chikan will usually go for the butt/boobs on crowded trains, etc, like a soft grope.

      • Thanks Grace!

        They are still creepy to me. I had one follow me for two blocks in Ueno (at night) and I had another follow me in Shinjuku to the JR station, right until the ticket gate. It was very uncomfortable. Can I ask you another Q? While I was in Tokyo there was a delay on the Yamanote line for “Person Relief” I wasn’t quite sure what it meant…

  13. Oh, one more thought. A few times recently on one of the police programs my bf watches (we’re in the States, he’s from Chiba) they showed long segments of chikan sting operations the police were doing in Tokyo trains sometimes with an undercover women cop, but mostly just a group of male undercover cops standing in a wide circle in the trains waiting for it to happen to someone. They were able to catch a ton of chikan on camera. I think this kind of televising encourages standerbys to help and it shows that Japan is being more proactive than just poster campaigns which is so great.

    • I’ve never heard of that – but that is really wonderful. And a smart idea.
      But kind of crazy that they are actually able to catch people with a sting. Like, it happens often enough that they can really facilitate and catch someone doing it if they wanted to.

  14. Great post. I really appreciate your additional advice and validation on trauma associated with these incidents. I was targeted many times in commuter train rush hour in Tokyo when I worked there even though it was only for three months, and had other scarier experiences in Japan with lurking chikans. However I was never able to catch one because I always froze or waited too long and they would move on. One time I saw the guy who was poking his erection into my side (I tried stepping on his foot and elbowing him away) move on to a high schooler. When we got to the last stop I tried to chase him down but only go close enough to kick him in the back of the knees, and he disappeared in the crowd (super crowded, Shibuya station). I was just so angry to see him go after a child that I wanted to make him hurt.

    A trick my Japanese girlfriends taught me about is to carry a safety pin for quiet retaliation when you are angry/want to confront but don’t want to raise your voice and draw attention to yourself on the train. I don’t know if that’s good advice, but I think it’s better for the people who appreciate a more retaliatory type response and don’t want to get in trouble with the law. I have residual trauma from this type of things that happen to me over the years, to the point where I cringe at male touch unless it’s from my long term boyfriend or a very, very trusted friend. Anyway, I personally feel it’s empowering to feel like you taught them a lesson, even if it’s a relatively harmless stab from a safety pin.

    • That’s actually a really good idea. I’m going to add this to the article.

      I’m so sorry to hear you have had so many run-ins with chikans in Japan. At this point, I can’t believe I’ve been in Japan for nearly 3 years and HAVEN’T had any interactions. But then again, I rarely use the train, I mostly bike wherever I want to go. And if I’m on the train, it’s usually with my husband.
      But it makes me sad and sick that you got “attacked” so often – and that the person went on to do it to other people.
      It’s good that you are still able to maintain intimacy with your long-term boyfriend.

      • Thank you, I appreciate your reply! Yes, touching is OK for me if it’s within my circle of trust. But there was a time after an almost kidnapping incident (no lie) that I would have a mild panic attack when any men got near me that weren’t my age or much older because of the residual trauma. It just goes to show how much that kind of assault or attempted assault, groping can affect us, and I think it’s good to talk about it so people know that it’s OK to feel that way and we aren’t alone. I’m a pretty well balanced person, and pride myself on being strong but unfortunately you can’t always control how trauma will manifest short term, long term.

        I think it’s really the sardine packed morning commuter trains where the offenders lurk so maybe that’s why you haven’t had to experience it (thank god). There are certain lines that are famous for it, especially ones that go to Shibuya, and if you ask your local OL friends I bet they can enlighten you. The one I rode everyday was the Tokyu Toyoko line. That info might be a good thing to add to this too!

        • Gotcha.
          I mostly used the Chuo line (back when I lived in Mitaka) – but I heard that one was also infamous for chikan (and suicide jumpers), so I mostly stuck to the first two cars, the women only cars.

          Back in America, I volunteered as a rape counsellor, so I think you’re spot on when you said “It just goes to show how much that kind of assault or attempted assault, groping can affect us, and I think it’s good to talk about it so people know that it’s OK to feel that way and we aren’t alone. I’m a pretty well balanced person, and pride myself on being strong but unfortunately you can’t always control how trauma will manifest short term, long term.”

          I guess time can heal some wounds (not all).

          • Thank you so much for including the safety pin advice in your blog! I hope it makes someone feel more empowered & fills many chikan with tiny holes! Haha ^^

          • Me too :(
            Since the last time I replied, I got touched by a Chikan after the World Cup in Shibuya. It was SO crowded.
            I managed to elbow him in the stomach (just a glancing blow) and then he was gone. Ugh. I was SO ANGRY. Stupid jerk.

            Apparently that happened to a TON of girls after the game in Shibuya.

  15. ElizabethB // 31 January, 2014 at 11:59 am //

    This is a great article that I think all students planning to travel abroad should read. Personally I’ve never come in contact with a Chikan while in Japan. However my boyfriend did when he was in junior high and a young exchange student who was on a program with me back in 2011.

    I think this article is very critical for foreigners who are traveling or studying in Japan for the first time. Having a step by step guide not only will protect the foreigner but also potential daily commuters who can be misinterpreted as you stated.

    The girl who i studied with in 2011, we were both 15 and 16 at the time, handled the situation as best she could. However, it was not the best manner it could have been. As I was saying, foreigners should be well informed before traveling to any country, she had no idea that chikans were so common in Japan. Shocked, she did the non Japanese accepted form of retaliation and punched the guy before running off the train screaming. She was fortunate in the sense that no one charged her for “attacking” the individual (MF tells me punching in Japan is illegal and you can be fined if caught). I feel if she could have read this type of article before hand her first week would not have been so turbulent and interruptive to her whole program.

    I am giving a orientation to this years delegates traveling to Japan and hope to use this article as reference for some orientation material. Thank you so much for the great topic! I love your blog and how we can relate on so many topics (My SO is from Akita)
    Keep up the great work and I look forward to your next post.

    • Thank you very much for your comment. This post was inspired by another reader’s comment on another post I wrote about Chikan – she also had a friend who was hauled down to the police station for punching a chikan. When I read her comment, I thought “well, that’s not fair” and began interviewing Japanese friends who had been targeted by Chikan for the correct response.

      Yes, please use this article as a reference in your orientation. Hopefully, it can smooth over the transition to Japan.

      (also, what part of Akita is your SO from?)

      • ElizabethB // 31 January, 2014 at 8:16 pm //

        He is originally from Yuzawa, but currently is in Nagoya. Ryosuke is in Akita also?
        I really wish to go visit for Inuko matsuri or some time in summer.

        • Ryosuke’s actually from Tokyo, but he went to college in Akita at AIU. We met during his one year mandatory study abroad session – he was my next door neighbor in America.

          I’ve only spent about 2-3 months in Akita (mostly during the summer) but I loved it there. I’m going to ask him about Inuko Matsuri, it sounds fun. We went to the large lantern festival last summer in Akita and had a fantastic time!

          • ElizabethB // 5 February, 2014 at 2:23 pm //

            Oh I really wish to go to the lantern festival in the future also. MF and I were visiting Osaka during that time. But maybe next year :)

          • You should go next year. It really is an amazing festival – one of my favorite in Japan!

      • Perhaps you should mention punching not being acceptable up in your article. Honestly, I have a feeling that would be my first instinctive reaction, too. To start yelling at them and smacking them repeatedly with my bag. Interesting how cultural is so ingrained in us in all sorts of scenarios.

        • The thing is when it happens the train is usually so packed, you wouldn’t have space to get backwards leverage for a punch or a bag whipping. You’re usually stuck in one direction and can’t turn left or right, let alone turn all the way around to slap someone. They like to get you from behind, so you can’t identify them easily from the 5 plus men you are sharing space immediate with… That was my experience, anyway. :(

          • Yeah. And sometimes it’s just a once or twice touch, so by the time you realize “Yes, I am def getting touched by a chikan” the hand is gone. You have NO idea who it is. And so it’s difficult to speak out/retaliate.

        • I probably should add that. Punching can get you in huge trouble (sadly).
          Also, a lot of the time it’s REALLY quick, so you barely have time to react and they’re already walking off. So you have that dilemma, should I follow after them and cause a scene? But I can’t PROVE anything… So maybe I should just stay here…

3 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Things I hate about Japan: Chikan (Perverts) | Texan in Tokyo
  2. How to deal with a chikan (pervert) on the bus or train | Kyoto Student Guide
  3. Things I don’t understand about Japan: Women Only Cars on Trains in Tokyo | Texan in Tokyo

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