Sitting on the train one morning, I felt an unusual amount of eyes trained on me. Now, as a gaijin, I’m used to the odd look or two, but in this case, it felt like every person in the car was staring at me. And after looking around, I realised the reason why: I was sitting in a women-only train car.
Women-only train cars are pretty self-explanatory – they are cars where only women (and some elementary school boys and disabled men) are allowed during certain hours. This service was started in the early 2000s as a way to curb lewd behaviour on crowded trains during rush hour. You see, the trains get so full, that groping (chikan) can be difficult to track and the gropers can easily escape justice. Therefore, these female-only train cars were introduced.
Unfortunately for me, I was off to work earlier than expected and, in my groggy state, I had accidentally stumbled into one of these male-forbidden cars during its time of operation. Needless to say, all of the eyes skiffing me out belonged to women. So, like any self-respecting gaijin would, I changed cars as quickly as possible before I got into any trouble – all the while avoiding as much eye-contact as I could.
These women-only cars operate on the majority of lines in Tokyo. However, the stations, car numbers, times, and days of operation are all different depending on the line. For example, the line above operates it’s female-only car from 07h15 – 09h00 on weekdays, from Motoyawata Station to Shinjuku Station. So if you’re traveling in Tokyo, then always keep an eye out for the pink signs and read them carefully.
Interestingly enough, Japan was actually one of the first countries to introduce women only cars way back in the early 1900s. Known back then as ‘Flower Trains‘, these cars were used up until WW2 when they were discontinued.
Fun Fact: A law from this time is still in effect in Japan where men can be fined 10 yen (10c) for entering a women-only car.
In general, the women-only cars have been well-received in Japan. Not only do they make women feel safer from sexual harassment, but many men feel that they’re less likely to be falsely accused with this system in place.
So learn from my mistakes and double check the car you enter… keep an eye out for those bright pink signs and don’t be distracted by lack of sleep.