Once my American (female) friend told me that she read somewhere that Japan is the country with the greatest number of rape incidents in the world.
I don’t recall if it was the absolute numbers of reported rape incidents, or if it was incidents per capita, that she was talking about. But that’s not important. Living in Japan as a male for my first twenty years, I never heard of any rape incidents among people I remotely acquainted, not even a secondhand story. No victims, no perpetrators.
And I lived in Sapporo, a city with 1.7 million people. It’s not that I grew up in a tranquil countryside.
Besides, it’s a pride of the Japanese that Japan is known as one of the safest countries on the planet. Take my hometown Sapporo. I’m confident any of my friends, whether Japanese or non-Japanese, man or woman, can walk on any streets of Sapporo at any time, alone, with a negligible risk of getting into a major trouble (unless oneself is drunk.) And Sapporo is one of the maga-cities in Japan.
Meanwhile, since I came to USA, I have heard incidents of rape frequently in local news and email alerts. And I lived in a college town in Virginia, a fraction of the size of Sapporo.
As a preparation for writing this, I Googled some but I could not find any mention of Japan being the country with the greatest number of rape incidents.
My friend was not able to cite the source of that incredible information. But knowing her, I cannot simply dismiss it as an unfounded slander against Japanese men. She must have misunderstood what she read.
Then, it occurred to me.
Maybe she was not careful with the difference between what in Japanese are called chikan (痴漢 chi-kan) and gokan (強姦 goh-kan). Or if not she, the author of the article she read, or the translator of the article to English.
Even though the English word “rape” is most commonly translated as reipu (レイプ re-i-pu), which is a Japanglish term, the more traditional and technical word for it in Japanese is 強(go)姦(kan).
The character 強 means “force”. A very commonly used character.
The character 姦 is used much less. If it is used alone, it roughly means “noisy (with chaos and absurdity implied)”. Here in this context, it means “sexual intercourse” (!)
(Incidentally, note that the character 姦 is made up of three identical characters 女, which itself means “woman” . So, in Japan, when three women gather, the ensuing chaos is assumed (^_^;) )
So, together gokan 強姦 is literally “forceful intercourse”, hence “rape”. (But I advise that you use the word reipu instead, if you ever need to use the word in a daily conversation in Japanese. Especially, my experience is that women don’t seem to use the word gokan 強姦.)
On the other hand, chikan 痴漢 is technically a person, even though it is also sometimes used for the act a chikan does.
The character 痴 means “dementia”. The part “疒” means “sickness”, and the part “知”, which could stand alone as another character, means “knowledge”. Hence ”sickness of knowledge” = “dementia”.
The character 漢 could mean many things depending on how it is combined with other characters. But here it means roughly “a person with an extravagant character.”
Altogether, chikan 痴漢 means very loosely translated in English as “molester”. But importantly, chikan incidents do not involve sexual intercourse. So chikan does not commit gokan.
As a matter of fact, the translation of chikan to “molester” is fairly misleading.
In the English word “molester”, as it is used in USA, I would imagine a sick man cajoling his victim to some secluded place to be molested. In other words, it’s a pretty technical business.
On the other hand, most of the chikan activities are in crowded Japanese commuting trains. Taking advantage of the chaos in a crowded train – we have an onomatopoeic expression “どさくさ紛れに(do-sa-ku-sa-ma-gi-re-ni)” or “mixed in dosa-kusa” – a chikan will grope a woman next to him. If his act was exposed, typically he would blame the train swaying right and left and that he had nowhere else to hold!
Because of this, some seem to translate chikan as “groper“. I will continue to use the word chikan.
In any case, a typical chikan, though he is committing a crime, is no way near as sophisticated as I imagine a typical molester is.
I’m afraid unreported chikan incidents in Japan appear plenty. I have heard multiple incidents from my acquaintances. Even my mother told me about how disgusting it was, when she was a student commuting to school by train.
I also heard that, in Tokyo, nowadays some commuting trains designate a women-only car for prevention during the rush hours in the morning. (I have not heard any men-only car so far, however.)
So I thought, given the sheer amount of commuters in Japan, and the number of crowded commuting trains, could it be possible that the number of chikan incidents in Japan per capita could be the greatest in the world?
So every woman out there. When you visit Japan, avoid crowded trains. That only means avoid specific lines during specific hours in the morning. Most of the time, it’s fairly comfortable riding a train in Japan, even in Tokyo.
But mixing up the number of chikan incidents and incidents of gokan (rape) would misrepresent the generally exceptionally safe environment on the streets of Japan.
Come to think of it, though I don’t hear a lot of news about rape in Japan, I have to admit I do hear news of chikan incidents often. In contrast, in USA, while I do hear news of rape incidents, I rarely hear of American chikan! I suppose it’s a cultural difference…
As an example, below, I translated a typical chikan incident reported in a newspaper. Note that, though the act itself is no doubt despicable, it’s a far cry from what one typically imagines when one thinks of a molester, let alone a rapist.
Also note that this seems to be considered in Japan news worthy in a nation-wide article (not a local news, nor a piece from a tabloid). The source is
which was posted on August 19, 2013.
The site “asahi.com” is the online version of a Japanese newspaper, Asahi Shinbun (朝日新聞), which is one of the three most major newspapers in Japan. The incident itself is not worth reporting to the world. I just wanted to show you what kind of news Japanese are reading daily in the domestic news section.
By the way, the term お化け屋敷 (o-ba-ke ya-shi-ki), directly translated, is a “haunted house”. But it is almost never meant to be a really haunted house. Almost always, it means a recreational facility where customers walk through a designated almost completely dark route inside the “house” and numerous staff members inside, hidden and disguised as “ghosts”, harass the customers. Usually it is an entertainment meant for children and young adults.
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“Suspected of touching female high school students in a “haunted house” (お化け屋敷), a private high school principal arrested”
Tokushima Prefecture Police (徳島県警) announced that Suspect Yasuaki Yamaoka(山岡泰明容疑者) (59), the principal of Private-run Koran High School (私立香蘭高) of Tokushima City (徳島市), was arrested on a suspicion of violating the Prefecture Harassment Prevention Ordinance (県迷惑行為防止条例) for allegedly touching the bodies of female high school students inside a haunted house (お化け屋敷) (a recreational facility). The suspect is said to deny the charge by claiming “in the crowd pushing and being pushed, I might have bumped into them, but it’s not intentional.”
According to East Tokushima Police Station (徳島東署), a little past 7pm on July 22, Suspect Yamaoka, while itinerating the route inside the haunted house, is suspected of having touched the hips and waists of two female first-year students of an inner-prefecture high school. Suspect Yamaoka was visiting the site with four female acquaintances, and entered the haunted house with the two victims coincidentally. Immediately after the entrance, once he was spoken to by the staff “please do not touch (the high school students)”. But since the female students consulted the staff reporting that they suffered additional damage, the management called 110 (police).
According to the homepage of Koran High School, on 1991 Suspect Yamaoka became the board chairman of the incorporated educational institution that runs the school. He has been acting as the principal at the same time since ’99.
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I suppose this is news only because the perpetrator is a school principal. Otherwise this would be just another chikan incident in Japan.
Well, I started out trying to defend the Japanese men against the false accusation.
I’m not sure if I succeeded in the way many Japanese men would prefer, however.