A strange thing happened on the way to Yokohama…

This morning I was on the train checking my emails when we pulled into the station. It was packed to the teeth and about to get more so judging from the lines on the platform before the door near me. I turned around and braced for the surge. And it came.

As usual  the surge swirled around me as much as it could, avoiding making contact with me as if I were a tree in the path of a stampede, but soon all the available space outside of the Gaijin bubble around me was filled and the surge- that is, those who hadn’t decided to go to another door- began to brush against me and eventually one man turned completely around and jolted me from my position with an almost vicious shove.

All par for the course, until…

A high school girl, in the mix, was shoved against me, backed away a bit and apologized. She was dressed in the standard fare: sailor uniform with the skirt hiked up pretty high on her thighs. She wore a mask like many people, probably to avoid spreading germs or catching the flu that’s going around. Her eyes looked a bit frazzled, though.

She was aggressively jostling herself and I realized it had nothing to do with me. Not this time anyway. People often, upon realizing they’ve been shoved into my vicinity, make strenuous efforts to remove themselves, but this girl’s efforts I discerned were not to evade me but to escape from the man behind her.

Chikan…yappari (Pervert, no surprise there…)

He was a short salaryman, shifty eyed and aggressive himself. The girl slid in front of me, perhaps thinking my gaijin-ness might dissuade her assailant.

It didn’t.

At least not much. I mean, he looked at me and reacted appropriately, for Japanese, like a deer caught in the headlights. But then he too tried to slide in front of me, between  the girl and me. I closed the gap between us by allowing myself to be swept with  the surge closer to the girl.

He didn’t like that. Maybe he thought I was trying to move in on his action or something. But, my gaijin-ness wasn’t much of a deterrent for he too tried to use the continuing surge and his briefcase to wedge himself in front of me. This behavior was very noticeable not only to me but to everyone in the vicinity, but instead of focusing on him and his oddly aggressive endeavors to get behind the high school girl, they kept their indirect and suspicious (fish-eyed) focus on me: the conspicuous threat.

Shit like this tempts me to say fuck it and let whatever will be just be. And, taking advantage of  my moment of indecision, he wedged his arm between the girl and I.

As the train left the station I could feel his arm between us adjusting with the movements of the train, only with determination. He was re-positioning it and in doing so was angling his briefcase into my groin to make space.

Fuck it. Here we go again…

He was on my right side. I was holding a metal strap with my left hand. I switched to a strap on my right side and as I did my right elbow caught his squarely in the forehead. It didn’t so much hurt him as it surprised him.

“Gomen nasai,” I whispered and nod/bowed. He ignored my apology probably sensing that my assault was done intentionally. A perceptive perv.

But his hand didn’t budge.

My elbow was now above his head. Switching hands had actually made his access to the girl easier. I had anticipated he’d back off after I’d shown him my intention to intervene. He hadn’t and, as a result, now had an almost unfettered and well-concealed entree to her.

The train swerved a bit and everyone was tossed to the left. Myself included. He apparently had been anticipating the swerve and used it to slide closer to his prey. He wasn’t going to use his hands, though, I realized. He’d wanted to get directly behind her for some reason. And now he was, as I had been shoved further to her left by the swerve.

I couldn’t see what was going on below but I could tell by his face- he was trying to look nonchalant- that something was up. The girl had ceased all struggling and jostling and had accepted her fate, whatever it was. She was looking at her cellphone, eyes frozen to it. His eyes kept looking down. The eyes of some of the other passengers would occasionally check him out but most kept re-confirming their proximity to me, or feeding their curiosities to satiety, or relieving their suspicions as to what my motives might have been for riding the train among them.

The train pulled into Yokohama station and as the doors opened I saw something but I’m still not sure what.

It looked like the man suddenly snatched something from the girl. They tussled a bit to separate like their headphone wires had gotten tangled. He tore away, however, making it appear like a classic NY-style purse snatching, but all the girl had was a school book bag and she was still holding that. He did something wrong, that’s for sure…and bolted away, shoving  through the swarm of commuters for the escalator. The girl realized he’d done whatever he did immediately and took off after him. He had been so close to me that I instinctively patted my back pocket to make sure my wallet was still there. It was. When I reached the escalator the guy was nearly at the top running full speed and the girl was hot on his heels. She must run track.

By the time I reached the top of the escalator I saw a few heads turned in the direction they had run but the man and the high school girl were gone.

I wish I had had time to learn more but I had to get to work.


30 Responses to “A strange thing happened on the way to Yokohama…”

  1. November 19, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    You do seem to run into these interesting situations. For some reason I rarely see stuff like this going on, but it’s probably because I’m watching stuff on my ipod and doing my best to pretend I’m somewhere else instead of the crowded train…

  2. November 19, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    Well written.

    I remember once in Osaka (Umeda) a girl looked for help from us (the Gaijin’s dudes) because a crazy man was trying to hit her. Actually we are not always the villains in the eyes of the Japanese.


  3. November 19, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    I never see this stuff and I am very observant and have lived here many years. So many chikan incidents happen to you. I don’t know, you seem to interpret every glance at you as some discriminatory statement. Sometimes, a glance is just a glance. I urge you to consider a different perspective. Or, perhaps Japan is just not for you. It seems to eat away at you. Is it worth it to stay here?

    • November 19, 2009 at 10:42 pm

      Well Mark…Actually in the end of that post I didn’t know whether he was chikan or not. I never saw him actually touch her and I tried to make that clear. He did something, or took something from her. It was just a strange event I wanted to share with my readers…
      I’m not sure why you don’t see Chikan, considering you’re observant and all. I was christened on the notorious saikyo line when I lived in saitama for three years, where it was a regular occurrence. And by regular I mean 2-3 times a week. I even knew the culprits by face so I guess that’s how I learned what to look for. And the line I ride now has a women only car…that should tell you right there that just because you are observant doesn’t mean it’s not epidemic. If you don’t believe me you can ask ANY Japanese woman has it ever happened to her or rather how many times it has. They’ll tell you how accurate your observations are. EVERY girl I have dealt with over the past 6 years has had the experience a number of times when they were in JRHS and HS. Maybe you only see what you want to see, and maybe I do, too…I don’t know. But the evidence is leaning my way dude. Just look at the stats…it’s one of the biggest crimes in this country.

      As for your other point…well, I’m led to believe that either you haven’t read my posts or merely ..ahem.. glanced at them, or you choose to ignore what you’ve read or discard it as malarkey because you haven’t experienced it. I mean, first of all, to reduce all the behaviors I’ve painstakingly described to mere glances is almost offensive. Sometimes a glance is just a glance…wtf…That tone is offensive and I must attribute it to an effort to belittle or reduce my experience to the rants of a paranoid delusional person. I think not (but if I were paranoid delusional I probably wouldn’t know it right? lol)
      But, for the record, glances do not bother me. If glances were all that was thrown at me I wouldn’t be going Loco. And I’d just have one less thing to write about. Glances are to be expected. Glances are normal, in any country.
      And discrimination is something I rarely if ever mention or describe because I really don’t experience much here. I haven’t come across too many “No gaijin allowed” signs and I haven’t been denied a job or healthcare and I’ve yet to have significant trouble obtaining housing, etc… serach my blog, dude, you’ll see no mention of discrimination of any kind.

      What I describe is the behavior of xenophobes of which Japan has plenty, and how their behavior impacts the quality of my life and, as you say, eats away at me. I stay because because I happen to love it here otherwise. I love my job, my kids make my day, I’m crazy about my girl and the friends I have made are the salt of the earth (I believe I’ve mentioned all of this before too…) Perhaps i could talk about these things more often but I think if you want to read about how wonderful Japan is you have a variety of blogs to choose from…Some of them are really great! Mine isn’t one of them. I don’t know why you feel you need to urge me to see a different perspective. It sounds like you want me to keep my eyes wide shut so that I don’t see the chikans and xenophobes, but that’s just not how I get down.
      I appreciate the shout though and apologize for the long winded response but this IS how I get down. (-;
      PS: I do read LetsJapan from time to time and I like what you’re doing over there…Keep up the good work (-:

  4. November 19, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    I don’t read a lot of your stuff. The stories of yours that attract my attention are about the groping you say you observe, and your commentary on xenophobes and discrimination. Of course groping goes on. But again, I use a lot of the lines across the city, very often and don’t see it. I have looked for gropers! I want to see a chikan in action! Everyone else has, I guess. Maybe I’m just not on the trains at the right times. (I have seen the “Beware of chikan” signs on streets and wrote about that on my blog.)

    You also often make assumptions about a person without that person having said a word. Has anyone made offensive remarks to you? Did I miss those articles? How can you ever be sure of your conclusion if no one speaks?

    You also seem to have a grudge about other Japan-oriented “I’m living in paradise” blogs. Maybe those bloggers have issues about Japan, like you do, but live with it. The are infinite explanations for their favorable posts.

    How are the xenophobes impacting your quality of life? If someone has done more than make a face at you, and you’ve written about it, please point us to the link(s). And why would you empower strangers to impact your thoughts? Why waste that mental energy?

    • November 19, 2009 at 11:30 pm

      That’s an excellent question, Mark. It is hard to be sure of my conclusions.
      By your argument though behavior can never be offensive, only words can. I don’t agree.
      I’ve yet to have a Japanese person say anything knowingly offensive to me.
      As far as the happy go lucky/living in paradise blogs, I don’t have a grudge about them. I said some of them were great. Mine is just not one of them. If they choose to live in silence about it that’s their prerogative is it not? Just as it is mine to speak out. I mean, someone has to say something…we can’t all be ostriches. There is a certain nobility, I guess, to living with it in silence. It just isn’t my way. I’m more of a Malcolm X type, make it plain, you know?
      Off the top of my head you can check out these posts: https://goinglocoinyokohama.wordpress.com/2009/05/19/on-fear-and-being-feared-part-1/
      Also check part 2 of that post…
      Also: https://goinglocoinyokohama.wordpress.com/2009/03/06/lighten-up-loco/
      Strangers impact everyone’s thoughts don’t they? Strangers make life interesting. Am I unique in this? And I don’t think anything that inspires creativity is a waste of energy. I love to write and my experiences here keep me writing…my writing is not for everyone, and I accept that reality, but what I write is real for me and I feel blessed that I can express myself and my feelings, just as what you do is real to you. Sorry if my reality makes you feel sorry…that’s not my intent. But I do want you to feel it so if you’re feeling something then I’ve reached you…and inspired you to respond, and you’re a stranger too.

  5. November 19, 2009 at 11:34 pm

    How are the xenophobes impacting your quality of life?

  6. 10 T.Holms
    November 20, 2009 at 8:33 am

    another great read loco. I love how often your “comments” section turns into a “heated debate” section… it is entertaining to say the least. I can tell you are from the city like me cause you have that edge to you, that NEED to prove yourself. Keep it up man!

  7. 11 sola
    November 20, 2009 at 9:03 am

    “Fuck it. Here we go again…” That part made me laugh out loud, nice writing Loco. It immediately reminded me about your previous train story.

    Thanks for the laugh and keep up your great work !


  8. November 20, 2009 at 10:57 am

    I guess I agree to some extent with what Mark says, but wouldn’t want to be drawn into an argument about it as it is sort of an unanswerable argument. Loco sees things his way, I (perhaps Mark similarly) see them another way.

    I often wonder when reading Loco’s stuff why he ‘lets’ himself get so steamed up by what might seem to others (to me, maybe) as minor stuff. But again that’s subjective, so little point arguing over it. Loco sees this stuff and takes it seriously. I’ve been here for 7 years and have never seen anything like he has seen, and I ride trains around the city every day. Shoganai.

    Ah well. Interesting story. I’m glad you gave the guy a rap on the head- but next time- chase him down and find out what the hell is going on! Protect the girl, be the hero! That’s what I want to read.

    • November 20, 2009 at 11:30 am

      MJG, hisashiburi dane.
      yeah, you said it. It’s subjective. Also, I think many white people here want to believe that Japanese see all foreigners the same…and so because they don’t see what I describe it must not be real or has been exxagerated. I can’t seem to penetrate that blind spot with my writing…I mean their behavior used to surprise me too. The J-people I know are so wonderful. But, I understand how it works now. Until J-people know you the leper rule is in effect…nothing personal; you’re just a leper…at least that’s been my experience…can’t speak for others.
      And my cigar smoking ass aint about to chase nobody (unless they have a basketball or football in their hand) lol…protecting school girls aint nothing I want to risk a heart attack over…I’ll elbow, interfere, intervene and cockblock chikan but I draw the line at chasing them around stations and shit.
      But if you and Mark really wanna see some Chikan action, in your spare time, ride the Saikyo line or Yamanote line around Ikebukuro in the morning or evening rush hours. And bring your sneakers if you’re feeling heroic…(-:
      Thanks for the shout dude.

  9. November 20, 2009 at 11:43 am

    I vote for the Chikan Hero approach. What are you worried about? That by intervening and saving the damsel in distress, the ensuing events around the capture would somehow get convoluted and soon *you* would be the accused? Then you’d be interrogated by police for 3 days without a lawyer present? Then they’d renew your custody for 2 more weeks? You’d be released without charges but lose your job because of only the allegation? (How would your employer even know about the arrest?) Then you could not pursue your career and have to go back to school to study nursing?

    Nah, could never happen in Japan. 😉

  10. November 20, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    Coincidentally, JR East just announced the aptly named “Annihilate Train Gropers” campaign to start on November 24. The fact they choose to pre-announce these things illustrates perhaps how endemic the problem is, as well as how the need to be seen as “doing something” is perhaps more important than actually solving the problem. Chikan have been here since I came as a student back in the early 1980s.

    If you’ll allow a little self-promotion, I wrote a piece early this year on the subject:


  11. 21 Sunniswagger
    November 20, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    I understand well where your coming from when you write Loco, and even tho Ive never been to Nihon I have no problem recalling situations when Ive encountered someone who was not Black(I’m black), and have had, what feels like too many experience just like the ones you mention…dont have time to go into detail so those “more fortunate” could understand more clearly, but Im right there with you and have no problem acknowledging this reality. Nice post as always bro.

  12. 22 XO
    November 23, 2009 at 3:55 am

    Ah, denialism. Mark, if you actually live in Japan, and you are not aware of the daily assaults on you, then you must be pretty obtuse. Do old ladies not guard the purse in fear when you walk by? Do people not grab their children and say abunai when you walk by? Do the people on the train with you NOT have a skin-crawling disgust for you? Ever try go to undo-kai with your children, and see their embarrassment to have a foreign parent? You honesty do not see that? Honestly? Because I have had this conversation with so many deniers, and eventually they always say, “Yes, there is a lot of intense contempt for foreigners in Japan based on fear of crime etc”.

    Loco is the best writer on Japan because he sees the truth. I am white, and I see exactly what he sees, and I experience it every day for many years. It is not little shit, it is soul-crushing. And I cannot leave due to family commitments, nor should I have to.

    • November 23, 2009 at 10:19 am

      More than 15 years in Tokyo, XO. Well, how should I know whether old ladies guard their purses or commuters despise me due to my presence unless they say so to me? No one has said anything. I’ve never heard an abunai when I pass by. Don’t have kids so don’t know about undo-kai. I believe you when you say your kids are embarrassed. It must hurt to see that. Still, taunting and bullying happens in schools everywhere over all topics. The Japanese schoolmates doing the teasing fundamentally don’t know yet it is wrong to make those comments.

      If you are perceiving the affronts describe, perhaps you are projecting your own conscious or unconscious biases onto others.

  13. November 23, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    “Still, tauting and bullying happens in schools everywhere over all topics”.
    Mark, that is a minimalisation of XO’s experience. The claim that he may be projecting his biases onto others is also pretty jarring for me, as it dovetails nicely with a strategy of denial employed against people who highlight discrimination.

    I understand that people ought to be open to the possibility that what they are experiencing is not congruent with their suspicions. I think however you should know that people in minorities face micro-assaults on their person on an almost daily basis, and in my experience many have to deal with the psychic strain of a) working out whether or not something was an assault based on their identity i.e.”they probably didn’t mean it like that”, “maybe she treats everyone like that”, “no one else has a problem with it, maybe it’s me” and b) what, if anything to do about it. Mainly because in most cases it’s a fight that will extract a toll. The support of others is unlikely to be a given and negative consequences of confrontations are almost always borne by the person from the lower status group. This ish is maddening.

    Could you perhaps understand why it might be offensive to have someone come in and appear to give the very stuff of your life such short shrift, and impute your conclusions to a defect on your part?

    This doesn’t mean perceptions are always perfect. However I’m weary of counterarguments that use one’s own experiences as definitive counter evidence. What you seem to have is a premise that states “I never see this stuff, therefore I can reliably call your experience into doubt” in the post above replying to XO my understanding of your argument is “I’ve never heard ‘abunais’ in my experience so they don’t happen” but you take him at face value on undoukai because you believe you’ve no authority on that aspect of life in Japan.

    The thing that bothers me about using one’s experiences to counter other experience-based narratives, are issues inherent in assuming such authority. To illustrate let’s imagine that a young woman tells me that she doesn’t like to walk along a particular street because she gets cat-calls from men that make her feel uncomfortable. As a man (outside of gay clubs, and drunk “Western” girls) I’ve never experienced cat-calls while walking down a street, and I’ve certainly never felt uncomfortable because of ostensible compliments on my physical appearance. I doubt that I am in a good position to make judgements about the veracity of her experience. My experience alone does not give me the authority to do so. It is unfortunate then, that many men, and many members of other majority groups assume this authority without question.

    Again, this is not to say that the perceptions of members of minority groups are always perfect (anyone remember the kerfuffle over the use of “niggardly”?). I’ve not experienced anything like the daily insults that Loco or XO have endured. Yet I recognise that the reasons for this disparity are likely not entirely due to cognition, but also class, accent, appearance, and workplace factors. Therefore I think when disagreeing you could do more with your responses to value the lives and identities of your interlocutors.

    I beg you will not see it as facetious if I proffer a few tips:

    Try to avoid sounding as though you are imputing a difference in opinion to a personal defect e.g.
    “you seem to interpret every glance at you as some discriminatory statement. Sometimes, a glance is just a glance.”

    “If you are perceiving the affronts describe (sic), perhaps you are projecting your own conscious or unconscious biases onto others.”

    “why would you empower strangers to impact your thoughts? Why waste that mental energy?”

    “perhaps Japan is just not for you. It seems to eat away at you.”

    Try to avoid minimalising others’ experiences, e.g.

    “If someone has done more than make a face at you…”

    Listen for understanding, and NOT to refute.

    This isn’t to say that you cannot disagree, but you could do so as in the following example:

    “Saying Japanese ‘despise’ black people is a strong assertion, I understand that’s how you feel personally, but I’m not sure the studies I’ve seen would support that.”

    In this way you may be able to open a dialogue, exchange books and papers. You might not change someone’s mind, but I think you’ll be much less likely to cause offense.

    • November 23, 2009 at 7:07 pm

      My blog is blessed by your presence and contributions…
      Thank you soooo much for taking out the time to write such a grandiloquent comment…
      You’re making me want to make a greatest hits post with my blog’s greatest comments (good and bad of course)
      In fact that’s my next project (-;
      Thanks for the inspiration!
      And thanks again for adding your poignant and incisive voice to my blog

  14. November 23, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    Ha! No sweat. I said it all with love. My current system is posting on my blog, and replying to responses on yours. 😉

  15. November 24, 2009 at 2:20 am

    almost sounds like a scene out of an action movie. Now if only there were gunshots

  16. 29 gaijinass
    November 25, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    Loco man…Im enjoying it all. Some of it I agree with, other bits I do not but its always entertaining to read.
    Ive been around for about 6 years, all of it in Central Tokyo, if I wast abroad for this or that and although I go out of my way to stay off the packed trains (I leave really early and I go to the gym every evening during the week so I come home just after rush hour) I have seen a few chikans, even seen 2 get caught and virtually ever woman I know has at one time or another been forced to deal with this (i know because I ask…everyone…and I pant and breath progressively harder while they tell me about it) and I myself have experienced the phenomenon thanks to a big, strapping, well groomed homo on the Marunouchi line, I even wrote about it.


    I have even moved the wrong way when I was on a crowded train and I almost certainly terrified this woman that thought, mistakenly, that I was groping her.

    It happens. Good on you to try and do something, however useless the attempt might be.

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