October 4, 1997 in Nation/World

Train Cars For Females Only Sought Japanese Police Seek Way To Protect Women From Molesters

Mary Jordan Washington Post
 

Are women-only subway cars the future in Tokyo?

Tokyo police are asking train companies to help crack down on the alarming number of men who grope women on the subway by setting aside cars for women during rush hour, a police spokesman said Friday.

Japanese women have complained for years that they are subject to frequent groping by men on Tokyo’s subway, which is so crowded that white-gloved “pushers” help squeeze people onto cars during rush hour.

At times the subway is so crowded that commuters cannot even reach a hanging strap or handrail; the crowd literally holds itself up. In such close quarters, Japan’s chikan, or molesters, find considerable opportunity.

Male gropers on the subway are such a well-known phenomenon that many stations have posters warning women to beware, and to report molesters immediately to station employees. Announcements in stations and on cars also warn women, and let molesters know they are being watched.

The notion that police would ask companies to consider cars where women could ride alone shows the seriousness of the problem and underscores that police are taking women’s complaints more seriously.

“It’s a good idea. I have had friends harassed,” said Minori Kataoka, 23, at the Omotesando subway station Thursday night. Kataoka, a clerk for a manufacturing company, said some train lines are notorious for gropers and that women-only cars should be added at least in the places with the highest number of complaints.

Police at Ueno station, one of the busiest in Tokyo, said they had arrested 34 molesters so far this year, nearly double the number arrested last year. It is sometimes difficult, they note, to identify and catch the offender because of the swarms of people.

But recently women have been more aggressive at pressing their complaints, or just shouting out on the subway car to embarrass the grabber. Buoyed by high-profile sexual harassment cases and a recent focus in influential women’s magazines and television shows about the dangers of stalkers and men with strange sexual predilections, more women are complaining publicly about how they cannot get to work or school without some strange man touching them.

“We cannot prevent “chikan” crimes unless we get cooperation from train companies,” a police spokesman said Friday.

The Tokyo subway can be an eyeopening experience for newcomers to Japan. Many men openly read pornography, with no apparent embarrassment. Men will ogle photographs of naked women as they ride, even with young women and children close by. Others read Japanese manga,or serialized comics, many of which depict graphic sex or rape scenes. These magazines are widely accepted here and are not considered unusual subway reading.

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