When it happened, I was wearing my middle school uniform. A thigh-length plaid, almost houndstooth, skirt and a cream-colored button-up shirt with a blue, orange and green ribbon tied around my collar. The ribbon was weird, but it was part of the uniform.

I stood among the throng on my morning commute through Tokyo, one hand gripping the handrail. Unlike most days, I hadn’t been lucky enough to find a seat.

Then, I felt it. A finger brushed against my skirt-covered hips.

I froze.

This couldn’t be happening. It had to be a mistake. These mistakes happen all the time. 

But then one finger became five. An entire hand. The hand was warm in an unsettling way, slick with sweat that felt like a layer of filth. The heat of its touch seeped into my skin and left behind residue of its presence. Each finger was clammy and insistent, the grip firm yet slimy. 

The hand inched toward the hem of my skirt, then carefully slipped beneath it, grabbing my hips over my underwear.

My blood ran cold.

Whenever I had seen reports of people staying silent because they didn’t want to cause a scene or were too scared to, I would scoff. Not me, I’d think. I’d never let that happen. I’d raise hell. I’d make a scene. The thought of staying quiet seemed absurd, laughable even. I was so sure of myself. 

Reality came as a cold shower. I craned my neck in frantic circles, trying to find the hand’s owner, but the sea of bodies provided the perfect cover. It felt demeaning, humiliating. Each failed attempt to locate the perpetrator felt like a blow to my dignity. I could almost hear the silent mockery of my unseen assailant, knowing they were watching me struggle in vain.

I couldn’t say a single word. What if I was mistaken? What if I accused the wrong person? 

The groping continued. The hand tugged lightly at my underwear, and I tried to squirm away. Anything but that.

I imagined myself in towering stilettos, their sharp heels an extension of my fury, stabbing into the feet of those around me. I envisioned the satisfying crunch of bone and the gasp of pain as the assailant recoiled.

But reality was far less dramatic. I looked down at my plain, scuffed middle school loafers. I was just 15.

I went to school as usual that day. Once the train became less crowded, I ran off to another compartment and sat down. At school, I told a few of my female friends about it. We just laughed it off. “I’ve had that happen to me, too!” “Yeah, that train is really yabai [risky] in the mornings.” What else were we supposed to do?

The Cabinet Office published the results of the first-ever online survey on chikan, or groping incidents, among the younger generation on July 4. 

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Survey Results

This follows a similar survey by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in August 2023, which included 8,284 people aged 16 to 69 in Tokyo and nearby prefectures. That survey revealed that 2,156 out of 4,750 women (45%) and 298 out of 3,474 men (9%) had experienced groping. 

However, the Cabinet Office survey was the first to focus exclusively on the younger generation.

Conducted online in February, the survey targeted individuals aged 16 to 29 across the country, receiving responses from over 36,000 people. The results showed that 3,804 respondents, or 10.5%, reported having experienced groping — that’s one in ten people. Just picture the number of young people jam-packed in subway cars. It’s a paradise for predators.

Among these victims, 88% were women and 10.6% were men.

The most common age at first incident was 16 to 19 years old (46.4%). Disturbingly, a staggering 35.4% were 15 or younger.

Despite these numbers, 80% of victims did not report the incidents to the police. The main reasons were “not wanting to make a big deal out of it” and “not thinking it was serious enough to report,” each accounting for 40%.

Recognizing the seriousness of groping incidents, the Cabinet Office plans to strengthen the support system for victims. 

Already, Japan has implemented measures such as women-only train compartments during rush hour and increased public awareness through campaigns, posters and public announcements on trains and in stations. 

However, these findings make it clear that much more must be done to ensure victims feel safe and supported in coming forward — especially those younger than the age of consent.

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