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Group requests Tokyo Metro enforce women-only cars amid escalating male pushback

In this 2007 file photo, women board a women-only train car in Tokyo. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Amidst cases of men riding in designated women-only train cars, decrying discrimination and arguing with female passengers in videos posted online, a citizens group on April 24 submitted a request to Tokyo Metro Co. to clearly prohibit men from riding in the cars.

It's just past 8 a.m. on Feb. 16, 2018, at Tokyo Metro's Nezu Station in the capital's Bunkyo Ward, and a station attendant receives a report from a female passenger: "There are men riding in the women-only car."

When the attendant rushed to the scene, they saw three men and several women in a heated argument on the train platform. One of the men claims, "Even though women-only cars should be a voluntary action, the women told me to get off the train." The train was delayed some 15 minutes due to the disturbance.

Roughly around the same period in February, several men rode a women-only car on Hankyu Railway Co.'s Kyoto Line, shouting that "anyone can ride in a women-only car." The railway called the police, and officers boarded the train at Katsura Station in Kyoto. While the police officers tried to persuade the men to get off the train, they resisted, and the train was delayed roughly 10 minutes.

"Even if a man boards a (women-only train car), we don't force them to get off the train, but we ask for everyone's cooperation in creating a space where all passengers can feel comfortable," said a public relations official from Tokyo Metro. A representative from the corresponding department at Hankyu Railway worried, "We have always had men who would board the women-only train cars, but it's escalating to actions like complaining in loud voices."

Women-only train cars were mainly introduced on train lines in big cities to prevent molestation cases against women during the crush of rush hour commutes, starting with the lines of the Keio Corp. in 2001. Japan Railway Co.'s Saikyo Line followed suit in 2002 and the movement expanded from there. As of April 2018, there are women-only cars on 87 lines belonging to 32 railway operators. Many are in force during the busiest rush hour time periods in the morning and become regular cars outside of designated time periods, while others are in place for the entire day.

According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, the establishment of the practice has been accomplished by independent efforts by each individual railway company, but it has no legal basis, so there is no punishment for men who disregard the railway's requests for cooperation. On the other hand, the opinions that women-only cars "are odd because someone can't ride because they are male" and "discriminatory toward men" are deeply rooted. There is even a call online stressing "men's right to ride" in the cars.

The group that submitted the recent request to Tokyo Metro is called "Anti Racism Information Center." The group asked the railway company to make a rule prohibiting men from deliberately riding on women-only cars, and collected some 6,800 signatures online in favor of the proposal. Representative Ryang Yongsong said, "Actions that create anxiousness in train cars are heinous. I would like steps to be taken so that everyone can ride the train with peace of mind."

"Separating men and women in order to prevent groping isn't the ideal solution to the problem, but considering the reality that molestation cases are not simply going to disappear, women-only train cars are necessary," said Osaka University Graduate School of Human Sciences professor Ryoko Kimura.

"Forcing yourself into a place where there are many women who do not want contact with men is clearly strange," gender studies professor at Chuo University Masahiro Yamada criticized. "Perhaps it is some performance manifested by their perception that 'women receive preferential treatment.'"

(Japanese original by Tamami Kawakami, City News Department)

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