TV & Radio
From the Los Angeles Times
Train Operators Fight Groping by Creating Women-Only Cars
Female passengers on Tokyo's subway say molestation is common. Many have requested separate compartments, companies report.
By Mariko Sanchanta
January 2, 2006
TOKYO — The 23-year-old university student had just alighted from her Tokyo subway train at the peak of Japan's infamous morning rush hour. As usual, men and women were pressed up against each other on a sweltering July day.
She felt something brush up against her bottom, but thought nothing of it. Then it happened again, this time an unmistakable squeeze. She grabbed the hand of the perpetrator and dragged him out of the train at the next station, where she reported the incident to station staff and the police.
The man was found guilty and forced to pay a 300,000-yen fine (about $2,580), but the young woman, who asked that her name not be used, still feels a sense of indignation over the incident: "After I yelled on the train that I had been molested, no one came to my help and I was ignored. In Japan, molesters are not seen as criminals because these cases happen every day."
The prevalence of chikan, as molesters are known in Japanese, has become a problem endemic to Tokyo. The number of molestation cases on Tokyo's trains has almost tripled since 1996, to 2,201 cases in 2004, according to the Tokyo metropolitan police.
In response to the growing problem, several Tokyo train operators have introduced women-only train cars, which are seen as a refuge from the chikan.
"We've received numerous requests from women who would like us to establish women-only cars on our other train lines," said a spokesman for East Japan Railway, the country's largest train operator. "The overwhelming response from women has been positive."
Segregated cars for women and children are not new. The Japan National Railroad used them from 1947 to 1973 because women and children were having trouble even getting on the packed trains; the cars were abolished in favor of seats designated for the elderly and disabled. In December 2000 the Keio Teito Electric Railway Co. temporarily set up female-only cars as a refuge from drunken holiday revelers.
Tokyo's overcrowded train lines make it relatively easy for molesters to operate. The population of Tokyo, one of the world's biggest cities, swells from 12 million to 15 million on weekdays, as commuters pour in from the suburbs. It is estimated that at peak hours, some trains on Tokyo's main lines carry double their official capacity.
Experts say the number of chikan has swelled simply because many do not view their actions as a crime.
"There has been a lack of education in Japan regarding molestation and Japan has been relatively slow in labeling it as a crime," said Yuko Kawanishi, a sociologist at Tokyo Gakugei University. "More fundamentally, it shows a distinct lack of respect for Japanese women."
Women are routinely objectified on many of the advertisements that dangle in train cars, which depict nearly-naked swimsuit models.
Kawanishi believes that Japanese women have become more assertive over the years and are more likely to report an incident. In fact, some men have become afraid to stand next to women on trains for fear of being mistakenly accused of being a chikan.
"If I'm surrounded by women on a crowded train, I become nervous," said Satoru Aoyama, a credit analyst in Tokyo. "I think they should make more women's cars on trains."
Other men grasp the dangling straps with both hands so they have an alibi if anything happens.
According to a survey taken by Tokyo police in 2004, of 632 women who traveled on rush-hour trains, roughly 60% said they had been molested. Only 10 of those, however, had been able to report the incident to the police by bringing the perpetrator along with them.
The women-only cars in Tokyo are at the rear of the train, which some women have complained is inconvenient, and are well demarcated by pink flowers and other symbols.
There are also large stickers on the cars' windows that say "Women Only Car," should a member of the opposite sex mistakenly hop on board. The investment needed to create the carriages is minimal, says East Japan Railway.
But the reasons women seek out these carriages are not always straightforward. "I don't go out of my way to ride on them," said Akane Kojima, a 30-year-old Tokyo office worker. "If I were to do so, it wouldn't necessarily be to escape the perverts but to escape the various bodily odors that men emanate, particularly during the summer months."
We're not all gropers, say Japan's male commuters