I don’t know how many of you have been to Tokyo and ridden in one of the commuter trains during the morning rush hour. Let me tell you that it is a trip and a half. There are white gloved train employees hired to do nothing more than thrust with all their might as many people as they can into one train car as possible. The trains take on a sometime amusing, but mostly exasperating hue on one’s pysche, as you think of yourself as a sardine being slammed shut into a tin can.
I mentioned the Blank Noise Blog-A-Thon here and I had hoped to pen something substantiative on March 7, but it just didn’t happen. So here is my attempt at redemption.
Boing Boing picked up the Blank Noise blog-a-thon and reading the post in my news aggregator today brought back a specific memory that may seem appropriate to narrate.
About 10 years ago, when I was a student in Tokyo, one of my classmates [name withheld] often mentioned being sexually harassed in the crowded trains. The culprits were almost always older men. As the trains swayed, so did the men into her. While usually an apology is offered and almost expected in Japanese culture for bumping into someone, she said the offending “ojiisan” [literally “grandfather”] acted as if nothing really had happened. It was a near daily ritual. She had had her butt pinched and palmed, and her breasts groped.
When the rains came she felt an umbrella handle being wedged between her legs. At that point, she had had enough. I remember her telling us that as a station approached, she turned around and stuck a safety pin in the guy [yep, she was armed and ready this time]. As he shrieked in pain and exited the train, she followed him out onto the station platform and let loose a series of Japanese epithets that are simply unprintable here. Aghast and mostly ashamed, the man did little more than turn and run away.
Listening to my friend describe her experiences were a mixed group of students from the US and Europe. It’s not that sexual harassment doesn’t exist in the West, but we were honestly stunned to hear about the old man’s lecherous actions given all that we had heard about the extremely ethical Japanese culture. A few rotten apples always seem to sully a good experience, but we secretly agreed that the best course of action was to punish the man with pain and then public humiliation.
The question, though, is if the actions of a dirty old man is pervasive in that particular society. Does it happen enough number of times in a day to enough number of women to make it an epidemic? According to Blank Noise even one woman or girl being harassed is one too many. I have to agree. Be a real man. Support the site, support the project. Learn about this very complex issue. Now.