Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

While there are tons of decorations in Tokyo, Christmas isn't actually a holiday in Japan. As such, I had to work on Christmas. While I wasn't able to spend Christmas with my real family, I did spend some quality time with the people who, over the course of the past year, I've come to be pretty close to.

Yep, I'm hijacking a light-hearted Christmas post to talk about trains in Tokyo.

I didn't actually take this picture, but it is pretty representative of how I spend 2 and half hours of my day, five days a week (Christmas included). Occasionally, especially in the evenings, it is so crowded I can't move or, worse, can't even stand over my own center-of-balance (meaning I'm just propped up by the surrounding crowd).

While I'm getting used to it, this was quite the contrast to the comfort of CalTrain, where I could almost always get a seat even when it was crowded. I've always been a big proponent of mass transit, but I now have I new appreciation for the comfort of one's own car. Even if you are stuck in traffic, at least you still have some personal space to call your own.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Gay Chikan

Japan has a particular problem with gropers on trains. So bad, in fact, that 2/3 of all women in their 20s and 30s report having been molested or groped on the train. Considering that most women pass through their 20s and 30s at some point in their life, I imagine it is safe to assume that almost every women has been groped at one point or another.

To alleviate the problem of gropers, or chikan as they are known in Japanese, many train operators in Japan have implemented women-only cars to segregate the perpetrators from their potential victims. The chikan are still there, but now they have no choice but to keep their hands to themselves. In theory. In practice, the women-only cars are overcrowded (perhaps a further testament to how pervasive the groping problem is) and the pervert-to-woman ratio in the normal cars is inflated.

I don't know what the solution is, but I can sympathize with the plight of Japanese women.

'Cause I'll be damned if I haven't been felt-up by the same (male) chikan three times now. This morning was the third incident and he was about to receive the brunt of a year of pent-up stress in the form of all the beating this scraggly nerd could muster. But reason got the better of me and a gruff throat-clear and repositioning of my bag was enough to get him to back off. You see, the reality of the situation is:
  1. I've never fought anyone in my life. I'm a wuss. At 5'10 and 140lbs I've probably got 6 inches of height and 30lbs in my favor, but still, I've never kicked anyone's ass in my life. Frankly, I don't really know where to start. I'd be flailing there in my nerd rage kicking and screaming like an idiot.
  2. He has good plausible deniability. The trains are crowded; he was reading a book with one hand while feeling around for my package with the other. Now I know there was enough room that he didn't need to stand awkwardly close to me and position himself so his free arm was a close as possible, and I know that his free hand was not simply resting by his side but rather working its way my direction. But once I confront him, all that goes out the window. The train moves on and there I am, in my broken Japanese, trying to explain that this sicko was purposefully grabbing my crotch. It is just his word against mine. Gay chikans don't seem to get much coverage here...surely I'll just be seen as a confused foreigner.
  3. Had I beaten the shi*t out of him, I'd be the criminal. Honestly, this is probably true in the U.S. too. After all, feeling a guy up on a train may be a crime, but so is assaulting someone. It doesn't help that the popular image going around Japan the past few years is that most criminals are foreigners. Let's play pretend and say that I somehow managed to inflict severe injury on that pervert. If you are the police officer confronted with a bloodied and beaten Japanese man and an incomprehensible foreigner, who would you handcuff and haul off to jail? Yeah. I don't want to go to prison in Japan.
So all I could do was try to deter the guy. Luckily, he got the message but I don't really know what I can do if the pervert persists.

As a bit of history, I mentioned this was the 3rd time this guy has groped me. The first time, the train was really pretty full and, frankly, I was in denial at the time. It is pretty common for your hands to get pinned in awkward positions on a full train and he was being just subtle enough that it took me a while to figure out that it wasn't accidental. I was pissed, but thoroughly at a loss of what to do about it. That was almost a year ago.

The 2nd time, it was really obvious what he was up to. The train wasn't particularly crowded, but when he got on he positioned himself awkwardly close to me and turned such that his hand was next to my crotch. Within seconds he was feeling around while feigning reading a book. I turned to avoid him but he kept at it until I gave him a stern look and a gruff grunt. At which point he actually walked away and stood somewhere else in the train. That was about 8 months ago.

And then there was today. I had actually forgotten about this creep, but as soon as I saw him positioned awkwardly in front of me I knew what he was up to. I was channelling all of my pent-up frustration and anger to serve him up the best beating I could, but I knew I shouldn't. Luckily, clearing my throat was enough to tell him to go away and, like the previous time, he walked away and rode the rest of the way to Shinjuku at a safe distance from me. But god damn I was pissed. Pissed at this guy for repeatedly targeting me and pissed at the system for making it so hard to stop this jerk once and for all.

And this is exactly what almost every woman in Japan is forced to put up with.

At least a woman can grab his hand and call out "chikan" and have people believe her (at least in theory, this translation of a guide for woman on how to deal with chikans speaks volumes on the Japanese attitude toward the problem). But, seriously, I don't think I'm going to get the same support when I try to drag that gay chikan off the train. And, for some reason, I don't foresee the women-only car concept being extended to solve the gay chikan problem too.