TOKYO—The Japanese police have gotten the drop on a new breed of creep in Japan, called “AirDrop Chikan” (Airdrop Pervs)—men who use the photo and movie sharing function in many Apple products to send unwanted obscene photos to people close by.
On Tuesday, the police in Fukokoka, in southern Japan, announced they had made their first arrest for misuse of this function, and suddenly, everyone in Japan with an iPhone is trying to figure out how to avoid becoming a victim—or, perversely, how to get away with this new form of virtual exhibitionism and sexual harassment.
The Fukuoka Police announced that they had filed charges against a 37-year old white collar worker for violating the prefectural ordinance “forbidding annoying and troublesome behavior,” specifically the ban on obscene acts.
According to the police and media reports, on July 5 this year the suspect sent obscene images including naked women to another 34-year-old man who was riding the Fukuoka City subway, believing that he was sending them to a woman riding the train with him. (It should be noted that molesters on trains and subways in Japan are so common that during the morning rush hour, there are women-only-cars on the trains, and the term chikan has become a synonym for men who grope other people on public transportation.)
Japanese sports newspapers, sold on train platforms, often contain highly sexual content and nudity, and some men probably would not have minded the dirty pictures.
However, in this case, the male victim was not delighted to get obscene images. He was outraged. He looked around the subway car for any man holding a smart-phone. He spotted the suspect, who appeared to be scanning the area around him looking to see if any women on the train appeared upset.
The victim followed him off the train at Nishijin Station and called the police. When they came and held the suspect for questioning, the accused allegedly admitted to sending the photos saying, “I wanted to see the reaction of the woman that got them.”
The Fukuoka Police have two other cases of reported unwanted AirDrops of obscene photos that they are now investigating. In an interview with a local paper, the division chief of the Lifestyle Crimes Section, said, “People may think that lightheartedly sending [random people] obscene photos is no big deal but it’s a serious crime.”
In other words, depending on where you are in Japan, sending unsolicited dick pics is a crime. If you care to stay out of jail, you had best avoid sexting the wrong person. Although, in Japan, even sexting the right person might still get you in trouble for violating the country’s nebulous obscenity laws. There is still a higher probability that sending a photo of a vagina than male genitalia would run afoul of the law, because of deep-rooted sexism, but only time will tell.
Japan: You can drop anything on AirDrop except your pants
The AirDrop function is embedded in iPhones, iPads and many other Apple products. Depending on the phone setting, it is possible to share photos and movies with anyone in a 30-foot radius–and multiple people at the same time. If you set the phone to “Contacts Only”—well surprise surprise—only people you have registered as contacts will see you’re on Airdrop and be able to share with you and vice-versa.
If you select “Everyone,” any person with an Apple device in range can see your device and offer to share photos and media with you. When someone sends you something, you can refuse it or accept it—most people tend to accept the photos automatically. The use of it among young people in Japan and elsewhere in Asia is high.
In Hong Kong, AirDrop has been used as a political tool by participants in the mass demonstrations there. As The Daily Beast reported earlier this month, “In public spaces, especially on subway trains, information about actions and rallies is not just shared on social media but AirDropped from phone to phone, keeping the citizenry abreast of the latest developments.
In Japan, as noted, it’s more pervs than protesters, and dark corners of the Japanese web are now having discussions as to how to maximize this function on the phones without getting caught.
After the news was reported, social media in Japan were filled with shared stories of similar distress, and advice on how to avoid unwanted images. One man suggested changing the name of your iPhone to “Okazaki Police Station1043” or something similar. The Mainichi newwspaper ran a detailed article about “AirDrop Chikan” and the story of one 33-year old woman from Saitama Prefecture who was repeatedly sent photos of a man’s penis while riding a completely packed train to work last June. The experience left her feeling traumatized and paranoid.
It should be noted that cellphones in Japan have been misused from the start to further the fantasies of so-called chikan. Japan was one of the first countries to make a commercially successful camera phone and it was immediately put to bad use taking up-skirt photos, snapping shots in women’s toilets, and otherwise invading privacy.
The arrest of television entertainer Masashi Tashiro in the summer of 2000 for using a camcorder on the train to film up a woman’s skirt set off the alarm bells. He was later fined 50,000 yen ($430 USD) for violating the Tokyo “Ordinance Forbidding Annoying and Troublesome Behavior.”
Around the same period, major telecommunications companies decided that as a safety feature to prevent sneak photography, cellphones should have to make shutter sounds, like an old-school camera, whenever a picture is taken. Some Japanese phones even make the sound when taking a screen-shot.
In Japan, there are, of course, apps that allow users to silence their phones when taking a picture and it is possible to use a phone from overseas that doesn’t have the annoying shutter sound. But if you’re planning on visiting Japan, perhaps to experience heatstroke and the Olympics next year, remember that while you may be able to bring your silent smart-phone, the laws here still apply to you. Whether you’re on Tinder (yes, it has also invaded Nippon) or on the train, remember in Japan, sending unwanted dick pics can be a crime; so before you share, best beware.