Women Only In Kyoto, Japan


Kyoto is filled with magnificent sights, ancient temples, bustling city life and hushed city side streets.

This was my second visit and I stayed with my son and his Japanese family in their small apartment off of Karasuma.  Each day I lived as the Japanese do. Slept on a futon on the tatami mats and woke up to the city din. We ate breakfast prepared by my daughter in law consisting of homemade yogurt and honey, small bowls of various vegetables, and nori.

My flight departed San Francisco and twelve hours later landed in Kansai Airport where I took a train ride to Kyoto. Feeling the smallness of my being, I stood silently, eyes wide open. My internal camera viewed frame by frame this enormous geometrical structure, the exposed glass and steel grid as I entered Kyoto Station.

“Wowed” by the cleanliness, I noted there is no litter, gum or black stains dotting the platforms and escalators. Colorful trains, purples and yellows, entered and exited the station kindred to shiny cars entering an auto show.  Rails, trains all free of soot.  Even though this futuristic building was initially built in the 1800s it was rebuilt in 1997. It is a testament to humans taking pride in their creation. It is also the entry way to an equally beautifully clean city, Kyoto.

The scanning stops as a train pulls into the station bearing a sign “Women’s Only Car”. I am immediately reminded of the couches women used to have in the ladies room to lie down when we were tired or when we had the “vapors”. This was a special area provided to women in the US – a place to rest during our monthly cycle.  It was a luxury and was removed when women’s liberation began winning the battle.

Quite surprised, I asked my Japanese daughter in law, “Why a women’s only car”?  She explained many women complained about being groped when riding the trains. This was a way to solve the problem.

This macho culture “listened” and acted on the complaints of women. Countless numbers of women traveling in any major city have complained about being groped on a crowded subway. Some men (not all) feel they have the right to “cop a feel” without consequences.  Since it is so difficult to determine and almost impossible to identify who the culprit is, the guilty party continues to commit the crime.

60% of female passengers in their 20s and 30s report they have been groped on the train. Awareness campaigns and tougher sentences proved ineffective.  Other countries, such as India, Egypt and Iran have also established women’s only cars.

While some say this has not lowered the number of groping incidents, I say more women are complaining because they are being listened to.  It has made it less aggravating and fearful for the women who choose to use it.

While some men claim sexism and stigmatization because of the women’s only car, other men appreciate because they do not have to worry about being falsely accused. This victim could be their daughter, wife, mother, sister or friend.

I say:  “Hooray to the Japanese men and women for listening and attempting to solve the problem”.  It is also the reason I felt completely safe in Kyoto versus other cities visited around the world.  Women can be seen using public transportation at all hours and walking in the parks and along the rivers.

Having visited Japan before, I was able to revisit some of my favorites and spend more time observing cultural nuances and simply enjoying the daily Japanese lifestyle.  This was one of the nuances I observed within an hour upon arriving in Kyoto.  Stayed tuned – more to follow.

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1 Comment

  1. WordsFallFromMyEyes

     /  November 10, 2012

    I’d love to go to Japan. This was just wonderful to read. Thanks.


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