Butterflyblue

火曜日, 7月 06, 2004

Trains

      My commute this morning on the Kobe city subway was a little worse than usual but typical; after the train car was already packed with people, about 5 more squeezed themselves in the door, pushing everybody into weird contortions. My straw handbag, while attached to my shoulder by the shoulder straps, was wrenched away from my body and wound up squeezed in between two other girls near their faces, since there was no space for the bag in between our bodies. I managed to extract it and put it up by my own chin, no doubt leaving a mark on my sweaty neck from the wicker pattern. When the train started moving, we tumbled around as if in a barrel full of marbles. I grabbed at a handhold to prevent myself from falling sideways, while others shrieked and fell sideways over me.
      The indignity of my commute is my least favorite part of every day. After I get to work, my job is easy.
      Since I ride the Women Only car of the subway train, the people falling on me every morning are the girl students from my school, schoolgirls from neighboring schools,and some women presumably commuting to work. Initially shocked by the gender segregation on the subway, I nevertheless started to conform to it. I heard that on the other trains the segregation is not so absolute. On JR the Women Only rule is only in effect between certain hours, and even during those hours the occasional man has been known to wander in. The Women Only cars were created to prevent "chikan," a word that refers to both the act of groping women on trains and the men who do so. On the subway, at least, it seems to be effective, as I don't see any men on the subway women-only cars and the women don't grope each other. I have never been a chikan victim, but all of my female friends have; the phenomenon seems to be commonplace on the trains with no women's cars in effect.
     Incidentally there is an "Anti-Women Only Train Car Association" in Kobe. This group has posted flyers around the city protesting the women-only cars on the grounds that they are an inconvenience to men and not effective in eradicating the root of the problem. "We should experiment with different means of addressing the chikan problem, like they do in Osaka," the flyer states. "We should try security cameras and reminder announcements, and the city should pay to have more station attendants available at the platforms so that women can report chikan incidents when they occur." The flyer invites people in the community "who oppose the women-only cars" to come to a community meeting to discuss the problem. I noticed that people in the community who might want to defend the women's cars were excluded from the wording of this invitation.
     Indeed, yesterday when I went to Osaka to apply for a Chinese travel visa there was an announcement in the trains saying "Chikan is a crime." I guess this is an example of the more effective measures they are proposing.
     I came to Japan with the idea that it is wrong to treat women any differently from men, and seeing the Women Only cars made me think at first of separate but equal laws and segregated drinking fountains in the American South. But it didn't take long for my perspective to change. This isn't an American civil rights issue. It's an entirely different cultural situation. It does seem unfair to men to treat them as if they are all potential criminals and bar them from entering the women's car. But they have all of the other cars on the train, and the trains are just too anonymous and crowded for other security measures to be as effective. For that matter, the other security measures also assume that men are potential criminals. Security cameras undermine privacy, while the extra station attendants create the possibility of false reporting. The women's cars eliminate not only opportunities for chikan, but also the possiblity of men being falsely accused of chikan. I think if you look at it that way, both sexes gain something in security.
     But there was another thing that bothered me about my trip to Osaka. I was on the JR platform in Sannomiya. There was an announcement for two trains to Osaka on the board: the express and the super-express. I hesitated to get on the express, which came first, thinking that I would rather take the super-express, which has 2 fewer stops between Kobe and Osaka. A train station employee saw me hesitate and walked up to me after the express train to Osaka had passed. "Where are you going?" he asked me (in Japanese).
      "Osaka."
      "The train that just passed was to Osaka."
      "I'm waiting for the super-express."
      "The other one would have been faster." He smiled mockingly.
      "Oh, really?"
      "Yes."
     His criticism delivered, he walked off. I pondered the meaning of this conversation for the rest of the day. It was surely six of one or half a dozen of the other which train I took to Osaka. The super express arrived only a couple minutes later, and got me to Osaka very speedily with only 2 stops. The other train would have made 4 stops. Why did he care? I never asked his advice. It would have been one thing if he offered his advice while I still had the chance to get on the first train; but he waited until that one was pulling away, and then took it upon himself to criticize my choice. I could understand his superior attitude if I had passed up a super-express to take an express, for instance. But that wasn't even what happened. My only conclusion was that it must have been because I was a foreigner and looked like I was thinking about getting onto the first train. Still, his action was not so much helpful as rude, no matter how you look at it. Such incidents of rudeness are rare, but when they occur I can't help but feel a little insulted. More train station attendants on the platform would mean more people like this guy with nothing better to do than offer superfluous advice.

1 Comments:

  • At 6:34 午後, Blogger aznman007 said…

    hey what's up, i go to osaka keizai and im making a project about female only trains. i'd like more insight from ya.

     

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