According to a recent survey, 90% of train groper victims in Japan don’t bother reporting their experiences to the police. Train groping is an extremely common crime here – although admittedly until a few years ago most citizens weren’t aware of the fact that it was a crime at all, hence the prevalence of posters and announcements informing passengers that “groping is a crime, and punishable by law!” in almost all train stations – and most women in big cities have been victims of it, especially during rush hour. Many train and subway lines have attempted to alleviate the situation by introducing woman-only carriages, and I always try and ride on these not so much to avoid groping, but because they are less crowded (men still make up the bulk of rush-hour commuters), and smell a whole lot nicer than the regular carriages.
To date, here are my worst experiences – amongst dozens – so far on commuter trains and buses:
1. On the bus, on my way home from high school in NZ, a bespectacled young man mashed up to me, and tried to put his hand on my knee. I later found out from schoolfriends that he was renowned for targeting young women in school uniforms, and was advised to give him a swift kick in the shins the next time it happened. I guess the uniform fetish isn’t an exclusively Japanese thing after all.
2. In Kobe, a man grabbed me between the legs and attempted to rub my crotch while I was standing on a crowded commuter train … with my young son at my side. I was too embarrassed to make a scene, but on the walk home from the station I told Sonbeam what had happened. He was really angry, and said “Mum, you should’ve told me! I would’ve done something.” Like what? He was 9 years old at the time.
3. When I complained about train gropers to a Japanese boyfriend, he insisted that “women like being touched by strange men, you should relax and enjoy it.” To be fair to him, he was really astonished to learn from me that women do not appreciate that kind of attention, and was swift to inform his friends about it (I think a few of them even gave up groping as a result). It’s all about conditioning. And communication.
4. The most disgusting incident of all: a respectable looking salaryman sat down next to me, took a used sanitary pad out of his briefcase, and commenced to sniff it while masturbating under his coat. I was so shocked that I burst into tears, and begged the other passengers – including several brawny young men – to help me. Everybody looked the other way; nobody did a thing. Fortunately that creepy man was genuinely shocked by my tears, and got off at the next station. (He actually bowed and apologised for making me cry. How Japanese is that?)
Japan has made huge strides in gender equality in a relatively short time. I’m proud of that, and I think Japan as a nation should be commended for that. Many Westerners seem happy to forget that the progress that Japan has made in the last decade or so, took more than a hundred years in their own countries. They also seem happy to ignore the fact that violent street crime, especially directed against women, is relatively uncommon in Japan even in big cities. To wit, I feel safer walking around my inner-city neighborhood at 10PM than I do riding the train at 10PM. How many Western women out there can say that?