Thursday, October 19, 2006

Japan (III) -- Women only

This is it. I’m on my way to the airport, My week in Japan is over. I am looking forward to sleeping into my own bed “tonight” (after a 20 hours travel).
My suitcase is loaded with Japanese "stuff" ranging from food to small souvenirs. The train from Machida to Shinjuku is crowded with commuters. I see one express train come and the rush to get in it that follows. It is impossible to fathom. I see a blond woman filming the scene. There is no way I am getting on a train as crowded as this and I use an old Parisian trick: going to the end of a train to avoid all the people who cram into the middle cars to be nearest to their exit. As I arrive at the end of the track, the announced train is a semi-express, another safe bet to avoid crowding. Sure enough when the train arrives, there is enough room and I board. It is only after two or three stops that I realize that something is strange: I am surrounded by women. There is no one man in sight. Not a single one. I immediately start formulating hypothesis on why it should be so. My first guess is that most of the women in this train have come to the same conclusion as I did: it’s better to board a semi-express than an express, losing a bit of time in the process but wining space and peace of mind. Knowing the sexism of the Japanese society, I also suspect that this way, the woman are trying to avoid being “pinched” in the anonymity of a crowded train. I’ve experienced this and know first hand how disturbing this can be.
I’m there formulating all these hypothesis when I notice a large green sign on one of the window of the train car. The sign says “Woman Only” and explain that between the hour of 7:30 to 9:30 in the morning the first (or last) car of each train en-route to downtown Tokyo is reserved for women. This is true for express and semi-express trains.
A woman only car! This is such a brilliant idea. No problem of rush hour “encounters”, no hassle. If only they could implement this in Paris! So there is some good in some imposed rules after all. The imposed rest at the swimming pool bothered me but it is coming from the same philosophy of the society that triggers this rule about women-only cars that I find so appealing.


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