I Learned A New Game
This morning, I had to go to a meeting in Kakogawa some two hours away from my town. While at a stop along the way, one of my co-workers got on the train and we began talking about how our vacation had gone. His parents visited a couple weeks before mine.
Anywho, we got on the topic of a red light district in Tokyo in the Shinjuku ward because his family had stayed in a hotel near the area without knowing what part of town they were in when the hotel was booked. This conversation brought up an interesting and quite frankly, illegal and degrading game that Japanese men like to play. The game is called, Chikan. The word "chikan" means "molester" in Japanese, so this should give you an idea of what kind of game this is.
The rules of the game are very simple, you get on a crowded train, you find an attractive woman, and you try to grope her without her being able to tell who touched her. The game can also be played in clubs and anywhere else where the possibility of anonymity is high for the perpetrator. Going against that logic, bike parking lots are also a hotbed for chikan because of the amount of women in skirts bending over to unlock their bikes.
Now, if that sounds revolting to you, this next tidbit will blow your mind. There are clubs and organizations that support chikan and even promote tournaments to see who can grope the most women. I knew men here had a tendancy to have wandering hands, but I had no clue how widespread and organized it was. This is just messed up. I think the thing that bothers me the most about this is that the men insist that it is a game and some will come right out and tell you its a hobby. My co-worker mentioned that he had read somewhere that a poll was conducted to see what hobbies men were most interested in and chikan actually had enough votes to make the poll. There are even fetish cartoons and movies that involve chikan. There is even a Wiki on the topic and that is where I learned some of the info that I have posted here.
This has become such a problem that the Japanese railways have started "women only" cars on their busier routes, especially in Tokyo. I have seen these cars in Osaka and I knew that they were being used to cut down on groping but I had no idea that the groping was THAT prevalent. The train cars themselves are kind of cute, the exterior is usually painted pink or has a pink stripe that runs down the side and the women really do enforce the "no men" policy in these cars. I have seen guys that have had to pass through them to get from one car to the next and they get death stares from every woman in that carriage, even if you can see the guy means no harm. I am reasonably sure that if a guy were to sit in those cars, they would be beaten by the female patrons that inhabit them. For the longest time, most of these guys that were doing this got away with it because the women were too embarrassed to admit they had been touched while riding the train but that is starting to change. The implementation of these train cars and harsher punishment for offenders is evidence of that, as is the more aggressive attitude held by many of the female riders.
Anywho, that is the "game" of chikan. If I ever saw a guy do that, I am reasonably certain I would punch him. I've had to stand in front of some women that I know on the trains because the guys were giving them creepy stares but I have never seen a woman get groped. To have it happen in such a common, public place, would just violate a woman's sense of safety and privacy. I can see how it may become hard to use the trains after something like that. I think that is the part that drives me nuts, it alters the way people conduct their everyday lives.
Oh, on a sidenote, I guess it is now a rule of thumb for chikan practitioners that if you grope a woman and she invites you anywhere and promises certain things, you never go with her. She may want to screw you but the way she intends on doing it involves the police and one of their abundant "kobans" or police boxes. Imagine a police station the size of your bedroom and that is a koban. They have these in all of the big train stations and about every two or three blocks in the cities.
As I wrote a while ago, I want to do a post or series of posts on the trains here and the culture that surrounds them. I did not particularly want to start that series this way because really, the train system here is awesome and most of the people involved with it are very nice and helpful, it just happens that I learned about this whole chikan thing today and wanted to share it. For the most part, the rest of my posts on the trains are going to be about good things. This just happens to be probably the worst thing about them and you got to learn about it first.
In closing, I know that this post will probably anger a few that read this and it rightly should. In terms of sexism, Japan has a ways to go before I would say that women are treated well or fairly here. But keep in mind, this is their culture and this is centuries of practices and ideas that are being changed in order for that equality to come about. That kind of change does not happen overnight and while I can say women are treated better in Japan now than they ever have been, there is still a lot more that can be done. As long as quirks like chikan are about, they still have a lot of work to do.