Things I don’t understand about Japan: Women Only Cars on Trains in Tokyo

Womens Only car in Tokyo Japan

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.

The Harajuku Station in Japan

The Harajuku Station in Japan

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.

Womens Only car in Tokyo Japan

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.

Station attendant pushing people into crowded train, Tokyo Japan

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]

Crowded train in Tokyo, Japan Chuo Line

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.

Anti harassment (chikan) poster on a Tokyo train

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.

Womens Only car in Tokyo Japan

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About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

19 Comments on Things I don’t understand about Japan: Women Only Cars on Trains in Tokyo

  1. You are very lucky for not having this problem. With me it happens at least twice a week. Also, sometimes they “Hit” us women on purpose. Today I cried because I asked a guy to stop hitting me with his arm (it’s not necessary to hit someone, I take the same train as him and I don’t hit anyone) and he argues with me and NOBODY helped me.
    Lot’s of people tell me: when that happens, scream or fight, but here besides of this abuse we have to deal with, they also think women are not worth to have dignity. Guys take advantage of the car being crowded to do such things NOT NECESSARY, because I’m in the same train and I am not doing it, and also… they don’t do this with other guys, it’s just a matter of looking around and see that with guys they find a way to not touch with their parts or press them in a way that hurts them. They throw their bodies over women on purpose, they get slice with their parts on purpose, and women are just used to that here, because they can’t really say anything. If they do, they will end up stressed like me because nothing changes.
    Either you are very lucky or me am very unlucky, I am so tired I wish I had a flying carpet to come to work.
    I just feel very frustrated I have to go through this just because I actually work.

  2. Hey there.. Yeah im supporting for this one. Is shud b for all the time instead of specific amount of time. For safety purpose not for privacy. In malaysia we also have fixed carrier only for women and im very comfortable and feel more safe when riding in women cars.

  3. the problem is that the women only cars depend on the cooperation of men, as there is no law, that they cant ride it. its just like the dont talk on your phone on a train rule. people generaly respect it, but even if you wouldnt (and there are some odd cases, when they just ignore it, more ofthen in Kansai…) you wouldnt get any punishment, for ignoring the rule. Also, even with the women only trains being used only in certain hours, there are still men that claim that its actualy a form of sexual discrimination agains men and the number but certainly rise, if they prolonged it for the whole day…

    • I haven’t really found any instances of people breaking the law in an obvious way (or a way they could get called out for) in Japan. So I really don’t think that would be a problem.

      About a year ago, when one of my friends was visiting me in Tokyo, he accidentally got on the women only car during rush hour. He barely had a foot in the car before everyone turned to him and told him to get off.

  4. I lived in Japan for almost 10 years and believe the men are all closet perverts. Stationed with U.S. Navy there at 19 yrs old a d from a small town I was shocked the first time I rode a train and saw a middle aged man running his hand up the leg of a school girl. The girl stood there stone face trying not to acknowledge it. I began scolding him, making a scene. He ran off to another car. The two girls standing together began bowing and thanking me with tears. The older lady next to me padded me on shoulder saying “good good”. This was in the 70’s and had this happen many times. I’m glad there is a movement to deal with it but I don’t believe the men will change

    • I don’t think all Japanese men are perverts or chikan. I’ve met lots of men who have helped women attacked by chikan (kind of like you).
      I just think the way that perverts in Japan act out is completely different than the way they act out in other countries, especially Western countries. The whole groping women on trains thing is one of the ways that perverts in Japan act.

      • Kobayashi Taro // 12 November, 2015 at 10:11 pm //

        Hi, Its not just girls who become victimizes of groping. I am a boy but I have experienced groping three times in my lifetimes. Being 20 cm shorter then others with underdeveloped body, it seems that I am a target for pervert woman. During my first year in junior high, a lady who seems to be in her 60s was standing right next to me on the morning crowded Tokyu Ooimachi Line. I notice someone was cautiously grabbing my pants. Then, she started unzipping my pants and started garbing my genitals. I couldn’t understand what was going on and when I looked up to her face, she stared at me and said “Gakincyo, say thanks to your mom and dad!” I couldn’t understand at that time but after two years or so, I realized that it was a sexual harassment. when I hear these kind of groping stories, and woman only cars, I always feel isolated because not only girls get groped. Yet people only care about girls being victimized and never boys. I think we need a Man only car too. Boys cant scream. They cant talk about the issue, more bullying awaiting for those courageous people who did. I painfully understand how terrifying groping is since i have experienced it during junior high. but in case of woman, they at least have someone to tell. There are people like the police and railway companies willing to help these people. For boys, no one, even school counselor would just say “your too unmanly, yous should feel lucky you had a first encounter!” The sex culture of Japan needs to change, and people need to realize not only woman are potential victims. Im sorry for my long post.

  5. Anonymous // 4 March, 2014 at 4:33 pm //

    I don’t understand the general indifference towards harassment, if I caught a guy feeling up a girl, or worse, on a bus here he would be getting off the bus with broken fingers. Most everyone I know feels pretty strongly about things like that. At the very least if I were a girl I would be getting on the train with a stun gun in my hand… I have a small one that clips in my front pocket and is about the size of a large pack of gum. Convent enough to take care of questionable/non-life threatening situations. Obviously mace eould be bad juju on a train/bus (lol) but a stun device would work great. The dude would never put his hands on a girls curves on the train again! Heh. Are they legal for self defense in Japan?

  6. I understand the need for Women Only cars and am glad my wife can ride then when necessary. But having a women only car because someone is in a bad mood and wants to avoid being annoyed does not classify as necessary. Sexual assault yes, not wanting to be disturbed, no.Its public transport, not private.
    Having said that, I like your blog

  7. Women-only cars were introduced about 5-10 year ago to fight the increasing incidence of (reported) groping on trains. It isn’t just for fun and comfort, but to ensure that men could not use the context of overcrowded train cars to anonymously grope women.

    Consequently, they only exist at peak hour (essentially 1-2h in the morning) when said train cars are likely to be overcrowded. There is not good reason for having such cars on half-empty trains in the middle of the day.

    The idea is debatable (some consider it an admission of defeat in the face of widespread sexual harassment issues) but in practice, it makes sense.

    • Interesting. I didn’t realize the women only cars were that recent.
      I think it is an excellent solution to the problem of sexual harassment – especially since it is difficult to prove or catch in such crowded circumstances.

      Do you know of any women only cars that also operate in the evening, (like after midnight) to deal with the crowded trains (especially filled with drunkards)?

    • “Consequently, they only exist at peak hour (essentially 1-2h in the morning) when said train cars are likely to be overcrowded. There is not good reason for having such cars on half-empty trains in the middle of the day.”

      Because sexual assaults only occurs during peak hours? The hell is wrong with you?

  8. It’s quite simple: as Osaka’s governor Hashimoto has stated earlier this week: men sometimes have to let off steam. Japanese do so by assaulting or groping women. That is why there is a need for these cars ;-)

  9. It’s probably for the same reasons they have women only cars on trains in India- to keep from groping and sexual assault in a crowded area. Though it’s a bit weird they don’t run it all day. That seems a little counterproductive, but what do I know?

    • I wish they ran it all day. That would make me feel much better…

      • I think we should start administrating white only trains as well so that we don’t have to feel threaten by potential black muggers.

        To me this idea of a women only car is incredibly sexist and bigoted. It defines 50% of the population as potential rapist and harassers when in reality it’s a very tiny segment of people responsible for harassment.

        • You should watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59thGuP5L2U

          I agree that is it is a very small percentage, but it is a small percentage that is rarely caught and causes a lot of problems. If this makes women feel more safe (which is what Prime Minister Abe is going for, so that more women will have traditional jobs), then I am all for it. I understand that it is unfair to define 50% of the population as a potential rapist, but I know enough women who have quit their jobs because they have been sexually harassed or groped on the train during their morning commute.

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