女性専用車両 josei senyou sharyou—train carriage for women only

In an earlier blog post, I wrote about a nearby sacred mountain where women are not allowed to go. Well, here’s a place where men are not allowed: the women-only carriages on the subway.

These carriages were introduced on several lines around Japan over the last 10 years in response to the problem of groping (chikan). Apparently this kind of sexual harrassment is a serious and widespread problem in crowded trains.

The train always stops at exactly the same point in the station, and the places where the train doors will open are marked on the platform, so people can stand in 2 neat lines at the exact point where the doors will open. There are markings on the ground for blind people too.

The boarding points for the doors of the women-only carriage are marked in pink, in Japanese and English. The small print tells us that children up to 6th grade, physically disabled people and their helpers are also allowed to ride in this carriage.

It’s sad that the only way women can feel safe and comfortable travelling to work is to be segregated. It doesn’t really seem like a proper solution to the problem.

Having said that, I don’t want to give the impression that this is a constant problem. Lots of women travel in the mixed carriages, and I have never noticed a single incident of someone being deliberately touched by another passenger. In my experience (and I’ve been travelling on this subway line morning and evening for 4 months) Japanese people are as polite and respectful of each other’s private space as it’s possible to be in a sometimes crowded train.

Note on the word of the day:

車両 sharyou is a funny word. It means “railway carriage” and is pronounced the same as the French word chariot meaning “cart”. A  coincidence? Or a 19th-century ateji? I’m really not sure.

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