Police in Japan have uncovered a voyeurism ring of men who secretly photographed and filmed at least 10,000 women bathing in hot springs across the country over the past 30 years.
On Feb. 1, the Shizuoka Prefectural Police Life Security Division announced that the voyeurs had been taken into custody in connection with the uncovered case.
The ringleader was identified to be Karin Saito, 50.
He was arrested in December 2021 in Japan’s Hyogo prefecture and was charged for violating a nuisance prevention ordinance, a local law against illicit photography.
Saito reportedly admitted to secretly filming more than 10,000 women in more than 100 locations for over three decades.
He told investigators that he started participating in voyeurism at the age of 20 and that he has communicated with around 100 other voyeurs over the years.
While Saito’s case is still being heard in the courts, police have reportedly rounded up a total of 16 men in 11 prefectures whom he shared explicit images and videos with.
A doctor from Tokyo, senior company executives and local government officials were among those arrested in relation to the case.
Saito’s voyeurism ring mainly targeted women in open-air baths. The men would reportedly hide in the mountains and secretly film and photograph the bathing women with a camera through a telephoto lens.
The men would also photograph or film the same women while clothed to compare their naked photos to their dressed images.
Police said the men would then edit the footage with obscene subtitles and host get-togethers to screen them.
Additionally, the men held parties where they committed lewd acts and filmed their female acquaintances after drugging them with sleeping pills, according to police.
Yutaka Seki, an executive director at the Japan Hot Springs Association, told the South China Morning Post that new technology has made it difficult to fully prevent illicit and unauthorized photography.
This is shocking and I have to say that voyeurism for the purpose of obtaining naked images of someone of the opposite sex simply has to be severely punished. Illicit and unauthorized photography and filming is, of course, prohibited in all onsen and similar establishments. But new technology, such as miniaturization of cameras, makes it quite difficult to eradicate entirely.
Seki expressed fear that the recent investigation would scare women from visiting hot springs across Japan. This is especially a concern given that the industry has already been struggling to attract customers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Authorities are continuing to investigate the case to round up more men involved in Saito’s voyeurism ring.