We're not all gropers, say Japan's male commuters

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The Independent Online

For years they have been the silent terror of the Japanese underground - groping male hands whose owners make use of almost impossibly crowded conditions in carriages to fondle women commuters beside them.

Or have they? Smarting under the announcement that underground chiefs are to introduce more women-only carriages in 2006, Japan's male commuters are up in arms over attacks on their allegedly roving hands.

Their beef is that the new system is blatantly sexist and offers women commuters an easier ride - literally, in this case - on account of crimes many men say they never commit.

"Other carriages get so crowded now. It feels like we have been punished for something we didn't do," Hisashi Yoshizawa, one impugned male commuter, complained. "It's not right to introduce women-only carriages."

For all the anger of Japan's male commuters, underground bosses in cities such as Tokyo and Osaka are unlikely to reverse the trend towards subway sex segregation.

Too many women say they have had enough of men's insinuating digits making their already stressful travel arrangements hell. Recent surveys showed 64 per cent of women commuters said they had been groped, and a record 2,201 cases were reported on Tokyo commuter trains last year.

Japan's police take the phenomenon ever more seriously, too, patrolling carriages and brandishing fines of up to 50,000 yen (£240). In a radical, or perhaps just desperate, attempt to nab what they believe are around 150 hard-core gropers, the police are even turning to forensic analysis.

Thanks to a new system perfected in Osaka, western Japan, they can match tiny fabric fibres extracted by sticky film from the palms of known suspects with the clothes of women victims. It sounds almost impossibly complex, but the Osaka police say it helped them to convict 16 of the city's worst subway gropers last year. According to Michiaki Tatsuno, of the Osaka police crime laboratory: "This step will help deter the molesters from striking."