Manner mode: Defusing tension on the train

Rail companies and private entities are working hard to reduce the growing friction between commuters and people in need of assistance

by

Staff Writer

Commuting to and from work during peak hours in Tokyo can be an utterly soul-destroying experience.

With passengers jammed in like sardines in a can, the suffocating conditions on many trains can elevate stress levels and cause tempers to fray. Given the sheer number of people who use trains to get to and from work each day, there’s literally no place to hide.

Imagine, then, how much more difficult such peak-time train journeys can be for pregnant women, parents with children and people with disabilities.

Commuters are generally as accommodating as possible as far as mothers using strollers on trains are concerned, and yet the friction between the two camps appears to be on the rise.

According to a 2014 survey conducted by Kobe Women’s University research associate Yukiko Nishimoto, 73 percent of stroller users felt they were annoying other passengers when traveling inside crowded trains. In 2009, about 66 percent of stroller users canvassed in a similar survey expressed the same opinion.

In some cases, confrontations can really get out of hand.

On Sept. 28, 2015, an unemployed 64-year-old man was arrested for allegedly punching a 1-year-old child in a baby stroller in an underground passageway at Tokyo Metro’s Yurakucho Station.

“I was upset because the stroller was blocking my path,” the man said reportedly told police. “I feel that I did something awful.”

Strollers have regularly appeared in a list of things people who commute by train generally find annoying that is compiled by The Association of Japanese Private Railways each year.

Founded in 2012 and incorporating 72 separate railway entities, the association is tasked with improving safety and helping train services to operate as efficiently as possible.

The annual survey, which is conducted via the association’s website, asks commuters to select behaviors that irritate them during their journey. Choices include such things as using mobile phones, loud conversations and improper seating.

While these three complaints typically top the list each year, strollers were ranked as the 10th most annoying item among 16 irritations in 2009, the first year it was added to the list. In 2014, strollers were ranked seventh.

The association did not include strollers in its latest survey, which was conducted in December 2015.

“It’s not bad manners to bring a stroller into a train carriage, it’s an essential part of raising a child,” says Masashi Nakano, a spokesman for the association. “We decided not to include it in last year’s survey for this reason.”

Nakano says the decision also falls in line with a change in policy at the transport ministry in relation to using strollers on trains.

In 2013, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism set up a committee to examine the use of strollers on public transport.

The committee created a logo to identify areas that catered specifically to strollers, amending regulations to give priority to stroller users.

“An increasing number of passengers were using strollers (on public transport) and so the panel was set up to facilitate understanding between parents and commuters,” says Nishimoto, a founding member of the committee.

Nishimoto is an expert on the use of strollers on public transport and has spent the past 10 years studying the issue. She says the experience of having had a child herself was invaluable.

“I soon realized that the situation is very different if you’re traveling on a train with a stroller instead of being by yourself,” Nishimoto says. “I had to pay greater attention to the passengers around me because my stroller was taking up more space than I was used to.”

Nishimoto recalls several heart-warming experiences, when complete strangers offered to help her carry her stroller onto the train.

“At the same time,” she says, “there were always some cold, icy stares.”

According to statistics compiled by the Foundation for Promoting Personal Mobility and Ecological Transportation between December 2012 and March 2013, an average of 1-2 percent of all passengers at three stations used strollers on public transport, up to 30 times more than wheelchair users.

Figures from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism show that roughly 700,000 to 800,000 strollers are sold nationwide each year. About 1.1 million babies are born each year.

“About 90 percent of passengers with infants use strollers and this figure has been increasing in recent years,” Nishimoto says. “Japanese parents historically used to carry infants on their backs in public but we need to revise this habit to ensure children’s safety.”

Utsunomiya University professor Nobuaki Omori, who is also on the transport ministry panel, says Japan can be ranked alongside Western nations in terms of barrier-free public facilities.

However, Omori says, the general public has been slow to embrace people with special needs on public transport.

“Elementary schools have included lectures on barrier-free facilities in their curriculum for the past 10 to 20 years,” Omori says. “No one knew about the term about 30 years ago.”

Changing attitudes

In 2000, the government passed legislation on barrier-free transport to promote accessibility in stations, as well as on trains and buses.

“After barrier-free legislation was enacted, facilities such as train stations and shopping malls have been redesigned and equipped with elevators,” Omori says. “Although the steps were primarily taken to assist wheelchair users, the changes have also made it easier for parents with strollers to use trains.”

Since 2000, a number of rail companies have modified their facilities in line with the legislation, adding elevators and multipurpose restrooms to assist passengers with disabilities.

The legislation also requires each train to set aside at least two areas for wheelchairs. Parents with strollers are now encouraged to utilize these areas as well.

In 2014, East Japan Railway Co. unveiled a new commuter train to replace the current E231 series that is used on Tokyo’s central Yamanote Line. The new E235 series is expected to replace all trains operating on the Yamanote Line by around 2020.

In addition to its cutting-edge technology and sleek design, the new series features a space that has been set aside for wheelchairs and strollers on every car.

“Our biggest mission is adjusting the environment to establish a rail network that is safe for all passengers,” says Ryosuke Watanabe, a JR East spokesman. “We have tried to increase commuter awareness of strollers when using trains, ensuring that they understand the issue.”

Although Watanabe is unable to provide specifics, he acknowledges that incidents similar in nature to the alleged assault at Tokyo Metro’s Yurakucho Station do occur. He says JR East plans to improve barrier-free access for people who need assistance and educate staff to be more aware of passengers who require extra assistance.

“We ask our staff to proactively approach the elderly, people with disabilities and other passengers who might require additional help,” he says. “Given that Japan has a society that is aging, it’s important to give everyone equal opportunities and, as a result, we will endeavor to find ways to improve our services.”

Other rail companies are also getting in on the act. The Yokohama municipal subway has extended the stoppage time of its trains to assist commuters with strollers or people with disabilities since summer 2015.

Saitama-based Seibu Railway Co. has also announced that it is developing a new commuter train series that provides more space for people in need. Scheduled to commence operations from spring 2017, the new train is expected to include carriages with “partner zones” that are dedicated to passengers in wheelchairs and people with strollers. The extra space will be created by reducing the number of seats that are available.

Omori believes that many rail companies in Japan have made an effort to improve facilities for parents with strollers. The next step, he says, is to change attitudes among commuters.

“Only about half of all train stations in London and Paris have elevators, but it’s common to see passengers helping out by carrying strollers up and down flights of stairs,” Omori says, adding that domestic rail companies aren’t incorporating renovations into their stations that would help people in need of assistance, despite launching campaigns to raise public awareness about the need for extra space.

Public awareness of areas devoted to strollers is still quite low.

According to a government survey of 1,653 people in December 2015, 45.9 percent of respondents said they either had not seen or did not know about the stroller logo. Just 24.9 percent of respondents reported that they had seen and understood the logo’s intended purpose. The government wants to increase public awareness of the logo to 50 percent by 2020.

Silent alert

Parents with strollers aren’t the only group of train users to experience difficulties on public transport. Pregnant women can also get a raw deal during peak travel times.

In 2006, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare unveiled a maternity badge that alerts other commuters to a passenger’s pregnancy. Upon seeing such a badge, passengers sitting in priority seats are encouraged to give up their seat for the expecting mom.

The badge is given to women by local ward offices as part of their pregnancy kit. In addition, seasonal magazine Hajimete no Tamago Club, which is published by Benesse Corp., includes the badge in each edition.

More recently, many rail companies, including JR East, have included the logo on the window near priority seats in an attempt to remind passengers to give up their seats for pregnant women.

“The maternity badge suits the reserved nature of many Japanese,” Omori says. “It allows people to help others in need without engaging in conversation.”

Going one step further, insurance agency Happy Planners and design outfit Yorozuya created a badge that can be used by ordinary passengers to indicate they are willing to give up their seats to those in need.

The badge can be clipped on shirt pockets and bag straps and comes in the striking colors of yellow or pink.

Tokyo has also promoted the use of a help badge (officially called a “help mark”) since 2012, encouraging people with medical conditions to wear them if they require a seat.

“In 2011, the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly came up with a way of helping passengers with invisible disabilities,” says Kazuko Shino of Tokyo’s Bureau of Social Welfare and Public Health.

The badge, which features a white cross and heart on a red background, is used by passengers with imperceptible medical conditions such as prosthetic legs and women at early stages of pregnancy.

Users of the badge can also add a sticker to the side of the tag that lists details of their medical condition and a contact number in the event of an emergency.

“For example, people who have difficulty hearing can simply flip over the tag to request that a conversation takes place in writing,” Shino says.

“In that sense,” she says, “I believe the tag could prove useful in other contexts. Maternity badges make it immediately obvious that a woman is pregnant, and a number of women find wearing this badge to be too intimidating. This is why some expecting mothers prefer to use a help badge.”

The tag is currently distributed by Tokyo Metro, Toei Bus, Toden Arakawa Line, Nippori-Toneri Liner, Yurikamome and Tama Monorail, which also display stickers inside their cars. It is also distributed by Bureau of Social Welfare and Public Health offices.

“According to a survey we conducted last October,” Shino says, “nearly 50 percent of people with a medical condition knew the help badge existed. However, it needs to be promoted more aggresively if the general public is to become familiar with it.”

Shino called on JR East to feature promotional material for the badge inside train carriages. However, JR East spokesman Watanabe says the company is not planning on introducing the badge, explaining that the rail giant is constantly striving to provide high-quality services to passengers with medical conditions.

Nevertheless, the help tag is starting to get recognition nationwide. It is scheduled to be distributed in Aomori and Kyoto prefectures from April.

“As of July 2015, we have distributed more than 85,000 help tags. We have also received orders outside of Tokyo, which suggests people are beginning to be familiar with something that only started a couple of years ago,” Shino says.

“Some people with medical conditions prefer to commute without assistance,” she says. “On the other hand, a help tag can help identify those who, in fact, appreciate and require assistance.”

  • doninjapan

    “Utsunomiya University professor Nobuaki Omori, who is also on the transport ministry panel, says Japan can be ranked alongside Western nations in terms of barrier-free public facilities.”

    Erm… what?

    • blondein_tokyo

      Japan has nothing to brag about on this issue. Friends of mine who have had surgeries and needed to use crutches have had real difficulties navigating public transportation. Sometimes there are no elevators or escalators at all, particualrly in local stations. That wasn’t something I hadn nver noticed until I had to help my friend get up stairs on her crutches.
      And don’t get me started on bathrooms. There aren’t any wheelchair acessible bathrooms in coffee shops, restaurants, movie theaters, and such, like there are in the US. It’s little wonder disabled people here don’t get out much. How can they?? It’s terribly trying for them.

    • blondein_tokyo

      Japan has nothing to brag about on this issue. Friends of mine who have had surgeries and needed to use crutches have had real difficulties navigating public transportation. Sometimes there are no elevators or escalators at all, particualrly in local stations. That wasn’t something I hadn nver noticed until I had to help my friend get up stairs on her crutches.
      And don’t get me started on bathrooms. There aren’t any wheelchair acessible bathrooms in coffee shops, restaurants, movie theaters, and such, like there are in the US. It’s little wonder disabled people here don’t get out much. How can they?? It’s terribly trying for them.

    • blondein_tokyo

      Japan has nothing to brag about on this issue. Friends of mine who have had surgeries and needed to use crutches have had real difficulties navigating public transportation. Sometimes there are no elevators or escalators at all, particualrly in local stations. That wasn’t something I hadn nver noticed until I had to help my friend get up stairs on her crutches.
      And don’t get me started on bathrooms. There aren’t any wheelchair acessible bathrooms in coffee shops, restaurants, movie theaters, and such, like there are in the US. It’s little wonder disabled people here don’t get out much. How can they?? It’s terribly trying for them.

    • blondein_tokyo

      Japan has nothing to brag about on this issue. Friends of mine who have had surgeries and needed to use crutches have had real difficulties navigating public transportation. Sometimes there are no elevators or escalators at all, particualrly in local stations. That wasn’t something I hadn nver noticed until I had to help my friend get up stairs on her crutches.
      And don’t get me started on bathrooms. There aren’t any wheelchair acessible bathrooms in coffee shops, restaurants, movie theaters, and such, like there are in the US. It’s little wonder disabled people here don’t get out much. How can they?? It’s terribly trying for them.

  • http://www.an-chan.net/ Antoine B.

    Too bad that the usage of strollers is increasing instead of the much more practical baby carrier (front side). It’s important to make efforts, but it has to be done on both sides.
    For wheelchairs though, it’s indeed terribly difficult and if there is a solution, it should be implemented quickly.

    Then there is the responsibility of train companies: I take the Tokyu Megoru line every day and it went from “very crowded during a 30 minutes peak time” to “completely packed during a 60+ minutes peak time”. The insufficient number of trains (or number of cars per train) and the very impractical variation of Express and Local trains is making things worse every year.

    There should be a much larger and deeper work done by the municipalities to better organize the resources, move some business centers (especially ministries) farther from the city center to bring some air to Tokyo.

  • GBR48

    I’m astonished that anyone could be so vile as to punch a one year old child. I hope he did time in prison for that.

    Pushchairs may be ill-suited to Japan’s more crowded environment, but kids are heavy, baby carriers come with free back pain, and after 9 months of that during pregnancy, you can understand the desire not to spin it out any longer in a country where decent painkillers are illegal.

    From personal experience, animosity towards train passengers in Tokyo doesn’t relate to their personal circumstances as women or parents but to the square footage that they take up (and sometimes to personal odour issues). It is generally much diluted when they have small children, who tend to behave very well in Japan.

    The priority seating areas, usually (surprisingly) full of non-priority passengers aren’t much help for passengers with luggage/pushchairs, as they really require floor space. Having seats that lift up or fold back to create ‘priority space’ may be a solution. Removing the seats near doors may help.

    The few fixes that spring to mind for Tokyo’s rail network, aside from reducing the temperature (you could poach an egg on the N’Ex in January), would be to shut the doors after a certain period when a train has been delayed and is in a station, to stop an endless stream of people wedging themselves into an ever-decreasing amount of space, and to give the driver or guard a selection of digital recordings in foreign languages (or access to an external announcer), so that emergency announcements can be delivered in more than one language. When these involve the need for passengers to suddenly change trains, life can become complicated.

    In general people seem to behave better on Japanese trains than folklore suggests. I’ve never seen a ‘chikan’ groping anyone (although the stats don’t lie – they are out there) and the few people I’ve seen make calls on trains do try to do it discreetly. I have seen lots of women doing their make-up, which seems to disproportionately irritate some folk. I just worry they will blind themselves when the train bumps around a corner.

    • Paul Johnny Lynn

      Even as a man I’ve been “chikkaned”, several years ago on a not especially crowded train. Two female friends have also had to endure the slimy groping, so yes, it does happen.

  • tisho

    What Japanese call ”Manners” is not ”manners” at all, its ”rules”. They call ”rules” ”manners”. They think if you don’t obey their trillions of bureaucratic or privately imposed absolutely meaningless, old-century ridiculously stupid rules, then you don’t have manners. What we call ”manners” is not-existent in Japan. Japanese have no manners by American or European definition of the word.

    • Pink Floyd

      Couldnt have said better myself, time and again i am amazed by the sheer lack of manners in Japan, cars not stopping at zebra crossings, cyclists on pavements with no consideration, the staring at foreigners, calling me gaijin to my face etc etc

      • tisho

        not holding the door for people behind you, not letting ladies first, not caring for others, not asking if they are ok or not, not offering help. Manners as we know it does not exist in Japan. Unless they are specifically told by a bureaucrat or instructed by an authority to hold the door open for the people behind him, they are simply not going to do it. Japanese society is all about control. Their life is and every aspect of it is controlled by others, by bureaucrats, rules, and self-censored. There really is no such thing as freedom of the individual, for them individual liberty is as a foreign concept as it is to the people of North Korea.

      • Pink Floyd

        Yes some good examples there, they need to be told how to act and think by authority… manners as we know it dont really exist in Japan…just rules on top of rules.

      • Philosopher

        Etiquette is cultural, so what is considered good manners in one country would not be in another. For example, if you have a runny nose in public in western countries, discretely blowing it instead of sniffling is thought to be polite whereas in Japan, the opposite is true. Doorway use gives another illustration: A man in the company of a woman in Japan, is being chivalrous if he goes through a doorway first as he can then protect her from any danger that lies on the other side. It’s no more ridiculous than the western etiquette of the woman having the door held open for her by a man. The opposite action but still based on the idea that women are weaker than men.

        I often see people being kind to each other in Tokyo and being polite within the context of Japanese culture. Which country do you live in?

    • Paul Johnny Lynn

      In my observation, manners in Japan are reserved for situations where the relative positions are understood; for example staff to customer, employee to boss. In cases where that is unknown, manners are often dispensed with unless they are pointedly demanded.

    • Paul Johnny Lynn

      In my observation, manners in Japan are reserved for situations where the relative positions are understood; for example staff to customer, employee to boss. In cases where that is unknown, manners are often dispensed with unless they are pointedly demanded.

  • Paul Johnny Lynn

    One of the problems, to my mind, is that modern strollers seem to be bigger than the old-fashioned ones. Those 3 wheeler types with the big tyres take up an inordinate amount of space with the front wheel jutting out.

  • Bernadette Soubirous

    The Japanese have the best manners. People are being slashed on other subway systems. Please respect the Japanese people. They are much too kind to the non Japanese. I saw an African man with his Chinese girlfriend. The couple was lost but the Japanese people gave them great directions. Too much racism in other Asian countries. Many African men in Korea and China who are with their Korean and Chinese girlfriends are treated very rudely by the locals.

    • illnino4545

      I concur, the Japanese are very polite and respectful.

  • Matthew Riegler

    Japanese manner did you say? Japanese manner is only at the 玄関 or entrance of houses, restaurants, etc and their little 土足禁止, “take off your shoes”. Why is it that I have to take off my shoes, when the building I am entering is dirty in the first place? Very over rated custom. Japanese manner: it is OK to smoke and walk, it is OK to park in handicapped spaces even if I am not handicapped, it is OK to urinate on the street, it is OK to sit in priority seating on buses and trains. Very disappointing manner I see every day. Thank you for reading.

  • Kenichi Shibata

    It is one of the reason why the population of Japan is growing older and not having more babies… Inconvenience…

  • Bernadette Soubirous

    When the tourist visit Japan due to the Olympics you Japan bashers will realize how rude other cultures are as it relates to public transportation.

    Thierry Gillier, the founder of French fashion house Zadig & Voltaire, announced to the world that its new boutique hotel, due to open in Paris in 2014, would not welcome Chinese tourists. This shocked and angered many Chinese on the mainland and overseas and Gillier was labelled a racist.

    There were, however, a few divergent voices criticising the Chinese tourists themselves as being tasteless, noisy, rude and pushy. Happy Snail, a blogger on the mainland, pointed out that his countrymen often ignore warnings and try to take photos in art galleries, and talk loudly in restaurants. He warned his compatriots to change their “bad habits”.

    Now I am no self-hating Chinese, but I can understand the unhappiness with loud and rude Chinese tourists. Two weeks ago, I was catching a public bus in Sichuan province. After having spent 20 years in Britain practising how to queue, I naturally stood patiently waiting for the bus to turn up. When the bus pulled into the stop, the waiting crowds rioted.

    It was like a contact sport. Two men nearly knocked me down as they pushed forward to get on the bus. Others followed them. Hopelessly I cried: “You are not civilised, you are so rude.” No one paid the least bit of notice. By then the bus was completely full and the door closed on me.

    • blondein_tokyo

      Sounds like trying to ride the express train on just about any line during the morning rush.:) I’ve been pushed, shoved, and kicked during my morning commute, and don’t even get me started on the gropers. I can’t count how many times that has happened.
      Japanese people can be just as rude as any other nationality. I have experienced both incredible kindness, as well as incredible rudeness. We are all human, with the same failings.
      One good thing I can say about Japan is the relative safety. We may complain about rudeness, but we don’t have to worry overmuch about pickpockets, muggings, and the like.

    • blondein_tokyo

      Sounds like trying to ride the express train on just about any line during the morning rush.:) I’ve been pushed, shoved, and kicked during my morning commute, and don’t even get me started on the gropers. I can’t count how many times that has happened.
      Japanese people can be just as rude as any other nationality. I have experienced both incredible kindness, as well as incredible rudeness. We are all human, with the same failings.
      One good thing I can say about Japan is the relative safety. We may complain about rudeness, but we don’t have to worry overmuch about pickpockets, muggings, and the like.

    • blondein_tokyo

      Sounds like trying to ride the express train on just about any line during the morning rush.:) I’ve been pushed, shoved, and kicked during my morning commute, and don’t even get me started on the gropers. I can’t count how many times that has happened.
      Japanese people can be just as rude as any other nationality. I have experienced both incredible kindness, as well as incredible rudeness. We are all human, with the same failings.
      One good thing I can say about Japan is the relative safety. We may complain about rudeness, but we don’t have to worry overmuch about pickpockets, muggings, and the like.

    • blondein_tokyo

      Sounds like trying to ride the express train on just about any line during the morning rush.:) I’ve been pushed, shoved, and kicked during my morning commute, and don’t even get me started on the gropers. I can’t count how many times that has happened.
      Japanese people can be just as rude as any other nationality. I have experienced both incredible kindness, as well as incredible rudeness. We are all human, with the same failings.
      One good thing I can say about Japan is the relative safety. We may complain about rudeness, but we don’t have to worry overmuch about pickpockets, muggings, and the like.

    • blondein_tokyo

      Sounds like trying to ride the express train on just about any line during the morning rush.:) I’ve been pushed, shoved, and kicked during my morning commute, and don’t even get me started on the gropers. I can’t count how many times that has happened.
      Japanese people can be just as rude as any other nationality. I have experienced both incredible kindness, as well as incredible rudeness. We are all human, with the same failings.
      One good thing I can say about Japan is the relative safety. We may complain about rudeness, but we don’t have to worry overmuch about pickpockets, muggings, and the like.

    • blondein_tokyo

      Sounds like trying to ride the express train on just about any line during the morning rush.:) I’ve been pushed, shoved, and kicked during my morning commute, and don’t even get me started on the gropers. I can’t count how many times that has happened.
      Japanese people can be just as rude as any other nationality. I have experienced both incredible kindness, as well as incredible rudeness. We are all human, with the same failings.
      One good thing I can say about Japan is the relative safety. We may complain about rudeness, but we don’t have to worry overmuch about pickpockets, muggings, and the like.