Upskirts Cases Skyrocket in Japan

Upskirts Cases Skyrocket in Japan

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Nonconsenual photography
Picture: Graphs / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
Nonconsensual photography is becoming a big problem in Japan. Who are the perps - and what can be done to curtail it?

When it comes to the safety of women in Japan, a lot of attention has been paid to groping (痴漢, chikan) – a frequent crime on Japan’s crowded trains. But a new danger has emerged – and experts say the perpetrator is likely the dude next door.

Content Warning: This article discusses sexual assault in a factual, nonexplicit manner.

The Tousatsu Spike

We’ve written extensively about chikan and the threat it poses to women’s safety in Japan. Even when incidents are reported, police in Japan often dissuade victims from filing an official report. As a result, many cases go unreported. The dire situation has even led to the development of apps meant to fill the gap left by inadequate policing. Local governments and even private businesses have also responded with anti-groping campaigns. (Sadly, such campaigns are sometimes hit or miss.)

According to Enomoto's data, there were 1,741 arrests over nonconsensual photography in Japan in 2010. By 2019, that number had risen to 3,953. Click To Tweet

But according to Japanese magazine Weekly Woman Prime [1], another crime has swiftly taken second place behind chikan. Nonconsensual photography (盗撮; tousatsu) – primarily in the form of upskirt shots – has exploded in the past decade.

The article cites data compiled by the Oofune Enomoto Clinic in Kamakura, which specializes in treating patients with sexual addictions. According to Enomoto’s data, there were 1,741 arrests over tousatsu in 2010. By 2019, that number had risen to 3,953.

Who are the perpetrators? Based on its treatment of some 521 perpetrators, the Enomoto Clinic says the offenders are typically “ordinary” citizens: some 50% are office workers. Another 25% are specialists or public employees.

A poster in a train station warns of Tousatsu - nonconsensual upskirt photography.
A poster in a train station warns of Tousatsu. (Source: Reddit.)

The Salaryman Next Door

Weely Woman Prime cites several examples of Japanese men who are “regular guys” by day and sex offenders by night. The article leads with the case of Misaki (pseudonym), a woman in her 30s who discovered her 40-something husband’s “pastime” by accident.


About a year ago, he started acting strange. He was on his phone 24/7, and always taking it into the bathroom and the bath. He was usually mild-mannered. But one time when he was sorta playing with our kid and I grabbed his cell phone. He flew into a rage; it was like he was a different person.

Misaki eventually found a trove of hundreds of upskirt photos on her husband’s phone. “He happily did housework and helped out with the kids. If it hadn’t been for this, I’d have said he was a good husband….”

Because groping gets the most media attention, cases of nonconsensual photography tend not to get as much airplay. But there have been a few high-profile incidents. Perhaps the most notable in recent memory is the case of the Wakayama Prefecture police sergeant who assaulted a woman in Tokyo while investigating a high-profile case [2].

What’s more striking perhaps, is the method employed. According to Enomoto, the majority of perps don’t bother with sophisticated setups, such as hiding a camera in their suitcases or bags. The majority – 69% of offenders treated at Enomoto – simply snap the pics with their smartphones.

In other words, they don’t bother to hide what they’re doing. Which is particularly ballsy, given that Japanese phones by default prevent users from turning off the shutter sounds on their cameras [3].

A Problem Rooted Deep in Society

A 2021 book on the subject of the increase in tousatsu, “The Men Who Couldn’t Stop Taking Upskirts.”
"This viewpoint among some men that you can treat women as objects is no different, fundamentally, from the sexual harassment and power harassment that runs rampant through society." Click To Tweet

Enomoto Clinic social worker Saitou Akiyoshi (斉藤章佳) goes into detail about what compels men to engage in such behavior. For those who’ve studied the subject, of course, it’s nothing new. Most men express initially engaging in nonconsensual photography as a form of “stress relief.” After getting away with it once, they become addicted to the thrill and the danger. Saitou says the perpetrators earn a “sense of superiority” that they don’t get to feel in their workaday lives.

In another article on the subject that they wrote for the magazine President, Saitou details the excuses they hear from the men their clinic has interviewed [4]:

  1. “They didn’t notice so I didn’t hurt them so it’s fine.”
  2. “There are a bunch of such shots circulating on the Internet – it looked easy.”
  3. “Compared to groping, there’s no touching involved, so it’s not that big a deal.”
  4. “They were wearing a skirt so it’s okay.”
  5. “Someone who’s wearing something that shows their underwear secretly wants their picture taken.”

Marveling at this type of reasoning, Saitou laments: “Perpetrators of nonconsensual photography and their victims live in different worlds.”

Many people who hear about such incidents assume the perps are in the grip of some sort of “sexual perversion.” But Saitou argues that the root of the issue goes much deeper:


This viewpoint among some men that you can treat women as objects is no different, fundamentally, from the sexual harassment and power harassment that runs rampant through society.

Indeed, Saitou sees little difference between this attitude and that of the man who in August attacked 10 passengers on the Odakyu line in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward[5] because he “felt the urge to kill” upon seeing “happy-looking women.”

Second Victimization and a Lack of Tousatsu Laws

Nationally, Japan has no law on the books that makes nonconsensual photography a crime. Click To Tweet

Sadly, says Saitou, victims of nonconsensual photography find they run into the same attitudes as other victims of sexual assault. Women who seek help are often blamed for wearing short skirts, or told that what they endured wasn’t a “crime” because the perp didn’t touch them. The treatment amounts to a “second victimization” that is all too familiar to female sexual assault victims worldwide.

The other problem, argues Weekly Woman Prime, is the lack of relevant laws. Nationally, Japan has no law on the books that makes nonconsensual photography a crime. The only laws governing such behavior are local nuisance ordinances. And the punishments for those are pretty light, with the max penalty being 30 days in jail and a 10,000 yen (around USD $100) fine.

There are currently debates within Japan’s Justice Ministry over establishing a national law against non-consensual photography. Until then, Saitou urges everyone in Japan to become aware of the danger and the impact that nonconsensual photography has on its victims.

Sexual Assault for Japanese Women: Cell Phones or Safety Pins?


[1] 激増する盗撮「犯人は普通の会社員」が多数の衝撃.

[2] 「ドン・ファン事件」捜査で上京中、女性をスマホ盗撮…警官に停職処分.

[3] 【役に立たない自主規制】なぜ日本のスマホだけシャッター音が出るのか.

[4] 「スカートをはいた人は盗撮されたい人だ」盗撮の常習犯があきれた言い訳をする本当の理由.

[5] (link now offline)

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Jay Allen

Jay manages the technical writing practice for ercule, an SEO, content strategy and analytics firm. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT).

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