Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

A carriage too far

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What are the odds, but on the morning after a few Seibu shareholders asked the transport firm to offer male-only rail cars to avoid the stress of possible train groping allegations, I mistakenly walked into the women-only car in Shibuya during the crowded rush hour.

Whoops, I suddenly realized - no blue suits and ties, discarded racing newspapers and pornographic manga, or slumped-over passengers letting neighbours support their weight, and it smelled decidedly better. Something was dreadfully wrong.

In that millisecond it takes to sense your toe in boiling bath water, I implemented immediate retreat operations, trying to moonwalk out of the carriage without creating an international incident.

I had seen Masayuki Suo’s movie “I Just Didn’t Do It” and interviewed the director, who researched cases of false groping accusations, and I knew Japan’s legal system wasn’t where I wanted to take my chances with “innocent until proven guilty”, particularly in a car where I was already persona non grata.

Whose hand was that anyway?

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Unless being crushed in carriage full of strangers is your idea of fun, Tokyo’s train lines are best avoided at rush hour. But what is a stressful and unpleasant experience for all commuters can be positively frightening for young women, who face the threat of being targeted by gropers.

After many years of keeping quiet about the loutish or sometimes downright vindictive behaviour of some male passengers, Japanese women have finally begun to conquer their shame and speak out.  Rail operators are also taking the issue seriously — in some cases providing the welcome haven of women-only carriages during the most crowded hours, while police are now less inclined to laugh off alleged molestation.

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