Japan Society of Fairfield County

Culture Watch, Society Watch (20)
by Dr. Ikuko Anjo Jassey

     Finally, for the first time, I saw the "exclusively female train car"[josei senyosha] on a railway system in Tokyo. Or it might have been there in Tokyo for several years, but I simply did not notice it. When I first saw the sign in Japan with my own eyes, it was on the platform of a station near Lake Biwa in Shiga prefecture two years ago though I had known the existence of the special train car. The "exclusively female train car" is the one that allows only woman or girl passengers to use with the purpose of protecting themselves from sexual abuse.
     For women, especially for those who experienced or who witnessed sexual harassment on a train, this "women only" car is a crusade for dignity. It is not rare for Japanese women who could neither move nor voice themselves to avoid an on-going abuse due to fear or shock or embarrassment or the amalgam of these feelings, resulting in encouraging further the abuse. However, I often hear that all women do not suffer from the humiliation silently today. They confront men: some verbally with a voice that can be heard by all the passengers around the predator; or some physically in grasping and raising the man's arm high, inquiring, "Whose hand is this?" I myself once witnessed a delightful scene. The incident occurred on a subway train in Tokyo in the late evening. There were just three or four passengers on the train car. A middle-aged Japanese man, who was drunk, approached a middle-aged Caucasian woman and touched her body. Almost simultaneously, the woman slapped the man's face with all her might. The man was, as a result, literally flown away to the other end of the car. Thus with the appearance of a "female only" car, women and girls regain the right to commute in an abuse-free environment.
     Nonetheless, when we think of the fact that Japanese railway companies had to come up with the idea of separating men from women, we experience mixed feelings: Bitter and sweet. It is because that we all know that the necessity of the "female only" car indicates that the number of women victimized is not small. Otherwise, we would not have needed the "female only" car. (You can say the same thing about the "priority seats"[yusenseki] on the train. Usually, these special seats are color coordinated with five pictures--an elderly person, a pregnant woman, a woman holding a baby, a person with a pace maker, and an injured person--on the windows above the seats. These seats would not have been designated for a special use, either, if a seat had been offered to them whenever they got on a train. Then, aren't there any people who are gracious to offer a seat to needy others in Japan nowadays? Of course, there are. During the last trip to Tokyo in May, my husband was offered it twice and I once, each time by a young man.)
     An outrageous sexual action on the train is, needless to say, not monopolized solely by Japan, and it can happen in any part of the world. And yet, aah, according to today's Asahi newspaper (June 6), two men were arrested, each one in a different situation, violating Tokyo's municipal ordinance by touching a woman on a train. Perhaps, the "women only" car might be the wisest and only solution for the time being.
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