What is it? A women only car is exactly what it sounds like, a car where only women (and young boys and old men) can ride. They exist for safety and comfort reasons. Every morning, people commute into Tokyo for work. Those are the picture you see – where station attendants are shoving people onto trains.
As expected, being shoved up against and surrounded by a bunch of men (who are normal, working men, not like strippers or famous actors) isn’t fun for women.
Why I don’t understand it: these cars only operate as women-only cars on certain hours of certain days. It’s not all the time. The women-only cars are typically “women only” for cars arriving in Tokyo station between 7am and 9am – but it changes depending on the line. Each car and corresponding spot on the pavement for being waiting in line for the train designates it as a women only car. However, that’s what really confuses me.
The signs are all permanent – but the fact that it is a women only car is not permanent. As I said before, it is a women usually only car during specific hours of the day. For the rest of the time the signs still exist designating it as women only, but anyone can ride the car.
It took me nearly two months of living in Japan before I figured out that the “Women Only” cars weren’t, well, women-only ALL the time, just SOME of the time. To me, that doesn’t make sense.
I understand the need for a women-only car. When someone’s job is to push as many people as physically possible onto a train, all thoughts of personal space go away. Everyone is packed so tightly they can’t even move their arms. And when you can’t move your arms, they are stuck at their natural resting position – near your hips. Unfortunately, near your hips also means near everyone else hips.
And that’s how inappropriate touching can accidentally happen.
I’ve never had anything close to an accidental (or purposeful) accidental touching incident – even though I take the last train pretty often. And I still feel uncomfortable on crowded trains.
If they’re going to go to all the trouble to make a women-only car on a train, it should be women only ALL the time. I know several friends who have had run-ins with chikan (gropers on Japanese trains) who do not feel comfortable riding in mixed trains when it is crowded.
Especially since chikan incidents are so common in Japan, the women-only cars should be 24/7.
[For more, check out: Things I don’t Understand about Japan – Chikan]
Why I kind of DO understand it: The “awkwardly getting squished up against a stranger” problem really only applies during the morning rush and last trains. The women only car usually only operates as women-only during the morning rush.
A day-long women-only car would be nice, but it is not necessary. Even on the Yamanote and Chuo line, the trains are rarely crowded enough to cause problems.
And if they did a women-only car at night, it would probably just cause problems. The last couple trains are always havoc, no one wants to be stuck at the station overnight. Adding an extra factor (only women can ride this car), just complicates things. Simple is better. I think. And I can’t imagine how much it would suck for that one man, too drunk to realize he got in the wrong line and was stranded overnight at some random station.
Final thoughts: If they’re going to go into all the trouble of making a women-only car, it should be women only all the time. I don’t care if that makes life more complicated for some people, to me it is necessary.
For information on what to do if you are molested by a chikan on a train in Japan, click here.
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