TV & Radio
Women only: Are train carriages for females an effective solution oreffective PR?
Paul Jackson / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
Yukari, a high school girl, is taking an express train to school during the morning commuter rush hour on one of Tokyo's famously overcrowded rail lines. The carriage doors have yet to close as station staff wearing white gloves push yet more passengers inside, filling the car to twice its official capacity. No one utters a word.
This is the stereotypical commuter hell that Japanese workers, especially men, have been putting up with for decades. But for Yukari, as a female, there is worse to come. A groper, or chikan, is behind her. Unable to turn around due to the sheer number of passengers, she is subjected to unwanted sexual contact. Scared and unsure of what to do or whether anyone will help her, she decides to stay quiet until she can turn around. But when she finally does, she is confused by what she sees--three perfectly respectable looking salarymen. Who is the groper?
Yukari is not a real person, but this is a scenario reflecting the reality of a typical chikan case in the nation's capital, based partly on information provided by the Metropolitan Police Department and the Tokyo metropolitan government emergency public safety section, formed in 2003. And it is the regular occurrence of such incidents that led to the introduction of women-only carriages by several train lines in Tokyo exactly two months ago.
Data available on the MPD's official Web site shows that since 1996 the number of reported cases of chikan in the capital has tripled, to 2,201 last year. Of these cases, 62.3 percent took place between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. and 33.6 percent involved girls aged 16-18, who are seen as least likely to know how to react or resist.
Moving beyond the euphemistic language of groping, this means there were 2,201 cases involving behavior such as grabbing a buttock, forcing a hand between the legs or ejaculation on a woman.
Shocking, isn't it?
And many believe this figure is just the tip of the iceberg as many cases go unreported.
A survey in November of 632 female train passengers in their 20s and 30s by Tokyo's emergency public safety section showed that 63.8 percent of respondents said they had been subjected to the groping of a chikan, but only 2.5 percent said they had reported it to the police or a station official.
Given these alarming figures, it's no wonder action has been taken to protect women from chikan. But are women-only train carriages an effective solution or just a well-intentioned gesture? And will the public accept the concept and the inconveniences involved?
Currently, up to 9:30 a.m. and with some exceptions, the last carriage on each train run by 11 train and subway operators in Tokyo is reserved for the use of women. Women-only carriages do not run on all the lines operated by these companies.
But it seems too early to say whether the measure has been successful in reducing the number of offenses. Masao Fujimoto, a senior official in charge of public safety measures at the MPD, says data collected over the first six or 12 months will be required before any conclusions can be drawn. His point is echoed by Masahito Komamura, a senior official of Tokyo's emergency public safety section. But Fujimoto points out that the introduction of women-only carriages in Osaka and Kobe did lead to a significant drop in reported cases there.
As for public reaction, train companies in Tokyo say that the initial flurry of responses has already started to die down, although none of the five companies contacted would give figures for the number of responses in favor and against.
But the tailing off of responses suggests that a large section of the public is starting to get used to the idea of the special cars, as borne out in conversations with commuters in the city (see box).
However, Takahito Yamao of Josei Senyo Sharyo Hantai no Kai (Group Against Women-only Carriages) is one of those who opposes the carriages. The group he belongs to was founded in Osaka in July 2002 to oppose the introduction of the carriages there, but now also has 23 members in the Kanto region.
"We are completely against chikan and their unacceptable behavior," Yamao said. "But women-only carriages are a form of discrimination against men. It's like all men are accused of being bad."
Yamao notes that women-only carriages cause greater crowding in nearby carriages, causing inconvenience and increasing opportunities for gropers, thieves and even enzai hoaxers--women who claim to have been groped by someone innocent.
According to Yamao, instead of women-only carriages, other measures should be taken to reduce crowding, such as the introduction of off-peak ticketing. Safety for women should also be improved, he said, using security cameras, emergency phones or buzzers. Uniformed security personnel should be visible both on the trains and on station platforms, he said.
While difficulties with some of these suggestions spring to mind--for example, how much evidence would a security camera capture in the rush-hour crowds?--just about everyone from the police to train operators to passengers agrees that a reduction of overcrowding is the most effective measure for reducing the problem of chikan.
But train operators claim they are running out of options for reducing overcrowding.
"We still have potential to slightly increase the number of [Toei subway line] trains," said Kazunori Sakai, an official from the Tokyo metropolitan government's Transportation Bureau. "But as long as private train companies in Kanto say they can no longer increase the number or length of trains, it seems widespread relief of overcrowding will be pretty difficult."
"The crowding rate on the Saikyo Line was 211 percent in 2003, but after the timetable was revised in December with the number of trains increased on the Shonan Shinjuku Line, which serves a similar route, I think crowding has been reduced," said Jun Kubota of East Japan Railway Co.'s PR section. The JR Saikyo and Chuo lines are the worst lines for chikan offenses, according to the MPD.
But operators are lukewarm about introducing an off-peak ticketing system that would offer savings for companies buying commuter passes for staff traveling after 9 a.m. Some operators claim such a change would still not be enough to encourage companies in Tokyo to change their working hours or introduce flextime.
There is also the obvious factor of money. Not only would the introduction of such a system incur equipment costs, the lower prices would also lead to a fall in revenue (at least in the short term).
"I don't think you'd see any great impact if [Tokyo Metro] introduced an off-peak system by itself. That kind of system would require a concerted effort coordinated by the metropolitan government," said Munemasa Imaizumi, head of Tokyo Metro's public relations section.
Eiko Ishibashi, founder of the Chikan Hanzai No! Tetsudo Riyosha no Kai (No to Chikan Crime! Railway Users Group), is highly critical of train companies' efforts to reduce overcrowding and insists the central government has a major responsibility to do something about the rush hour--and she, too, mentions flextime.
"Train companies are protected by a law dating right back to the Meiji era [1868-1912] whose interpretation removes their responsibility for what happens to passengers who are seen to be riding the train out of choice," Ishibashi said. "Imagine if a department store had numerous cases of chikan, and it said it had no plans to do anything about it--it would be out of business in no time."
Women strike back
Strange as it seems, though, the tripling of reported chikan cases in Tokyo may also offer a glimmer of hope for the future.
Many believe the rise in reported cases reflects more women having the confidence to step forward, not an actual threefold increase in cases themselves.
The MPD's Fujimoto is among those who subscribe to this view, although he points out that most incidents still go unreported. The increase, he says, is partly a result of poster campaigns emphasizing the criminal nature of chikan and the message that women should not suffer in silence.
"More women are summoning up the courage to grab the guy's hand and accuse him of being a chikan," Fujimoto said, adding that other passengers should be more aware of the need to help women. Grabbing the wrist or hand of the chikan, he said, ensures that the woman can identify the groper when she turns around. This will help her case in court, and is one of several pieces of advice available for women on the MPD's Web site.
Penalties for molestation (kyosei waisetsu) were strengthened on Jan. 1 up to a maximum of 10 years in prison for a repeat offender, while the local bylaw on indecent behavior (hiwai koi) was significantly tightened up in 2001 to give a maximum fine of 1 million yen and prison sentence of one year, also for a repeat offender. Some observers believe the beefed-up fines have made police take the problem of chikan more seriously, although many still feel police need to be more helpful.
Sanae Tanaka, a lawyer and one-time campaigner against pornography on trains, is another person who believes the increase in reported cases partly reflects a change not in the extent of the problem but in the action women are taking.
"I don't think Japanese men have suddenly become three times crazier," she said. "One factor [helping to explain the increase] is that it has become far more normal to hear people talking about sex and sexual harassment. People have started to realize that it's right to take a tough line on sexual crime."
Tanaka says the high number of "sexless marriages" in Japan is a factor in creating the kind of sexual frustration that might lead to chikan behavior. Communication between the sexes needs improving, she argues, noting that sex itself is an intimate form of communication.
Meanwhile, the idea of creating a porn-free environment on trains might help draw clearer lines around what is unacceptable conduct on trains, although train companies say that they receive hardly any complaints about men looking at pornography on trains or about advertisements for soft porn magazines, which they say are all screened for suitability.
Ishibashi, who also thinks there is a communication gap between the sexes (she will lecture on the theme on July 27 at Josai International University), sees part of the explanation for chikan behavior in Japan's paternalistic society, in that the anonymity of a crowded train is one of the few situations in which men are freed of the rigid, traditional roles they play in the office and at home.
Like many people, she doesn't see women-only carriages as the definitive solution to the problem of chikan assaults.
"If women-only carriages are seen as an emergency countermeasure then I'm in favor of them, but if the Construction and Transport Ministry thinks this is a solution, it's wrong," Ishibashi said. "Thinking that the problem is now solved and that we can relax, is a dangerous feeling that will be taken advantage of."
(Jul. 9, 2005)