Last week I played the part of a confused and then horrified observer. I was on my way to work, riding the always overcrowded Saikyo line, when a nervous and (frankly) gross looking man got on the train. He seemed to be with his girlfriend, a man-ish looking woman dressed all in white with a knee-length frilly skirt. During the train ride I was sure some funny business was going on, but I wasn’t sure what to make of it. At first they seemed to be together, but I had a nagging feeling they were not. As a foreigner I was also hesitant to step into a situation I knew nothing about. As we all left the train the pieces fell into place, though. The woman seemed slightly disturbed, the man’s hand left from her side and they parted in opposite directions without so much as a look. Clearly, this man was a Chikan! A chikan is a man who rides (usually crowded) trains and gropes women. The word chikan translates to “molester” or “pervert.” At that time I still didn’t know what I could or should do. I was shocked. After a few moments the shock wore off and was replaced by a nauseating wave of disgust. I was sicken by this sleazy looking man’s actions, but (almost more so) I was also sickened by my useless inaction. I felt like an accomplice and a victim at the same time.
Today on the crowded, crowded train I found my chance for a minor redemption. To my surprise I found myself looking across the train at the same black hat with gold waves, the same scruffy face and beady eyes, the same nervous look of arousal and guilt. The Saikyo is almost always packed so full that people literally can’t move, sometimes moving even an arm is impossible. At first he was surrounded by men, but then after the next stop he managed to get next to a young girl as people shuffled off and on the train. I was separated from him by ten feet. In the packed train it might as well have been a mile. I glared at him as hard as I could and managed to catch his eye. At the next stop he moved from the girl. I saw in her face the same look of disgust and shame that I felt just a week before. I walked towards him.
As I approached I had no plan. He half looked at me and in the moment everything became action. I didn’t think, I moved. I yelled in English, “get off this fucking train!” and I pushed him hard. I am not by any means a large man, but to my surprise he flew off the train like he’d been shoved by Andrea the Giant. Having gotten him off the train my senses began to return and I yelled, “fucking chikan!” to make the situation clear to him and everyone who’d witnessed my actions.
Once I arrived at work I told the staff about what had happened and filed a report with the police.
The shame of having done nothing the first time is still a cinder burning in my gut, but today’s action has dulled that ache a bit. I hope that the people who were around me tell their coworkers and friends about the strange occurrence they observed. I hope that my small action plants a seed that allows people to do something if they see this kind of thing happening. But most of all I hope that this girl he attacked felt some small piece of what he’d stolen from her return.