We are about to enter a new era: that of the super priority seat. The Yokohama municipal subway has just announced their ¥4 million mission to add these seats. What are “super priority seats?” No one has said. Perhaps they’re for VIP elderly? The 100-and-over crowd? The only thing that has been revealed is that the start date is undecided and that the new seats will be in cars where cell phones use is prohibited. Um, isn’t that all cars?

Makes you wonder if they’re not going to use those carriages for something special, like karaoke. The super priority seats are front-row seats with microphones.

Keep in mind that this is the same subway operator that designated all its seats “priority seats.” Having failed to make a dent in the mentality of subway riders, however, they are now going to hit them with super priority seats. Whatever they are.

In order to delve into the super priority seat concept, let’s first look at regular priority seats. You have probably noticed these special seats on trains, called “yusen seki” in Japanese. They are usually located right next to the carriage doors for easy on and off access. There is usually a sign indicating the types of people to be given this preferential seating. Anyone may sit in these seats as long as they are not preventing one of these people from sitting down in that seat.

Those to receive precedence are: pregnant women, women holding infants, the elderly or infirmed. If one of these people suddenly boards the train, you should stand up and give them your priority seat.

The original priority seats were called “silver seats,” and were first introduced on Respect for the Aged day in 1973. The name was later changed to “priority seat,” possibly because there weren’t many silver colored people.

But one thing is for sure: extremely high heeled, knock-kneed women are not included in the priority seat figures, nor are students studying for exams, over-worked salarymen, or those lost in their own iPod worlds. Yet it still seems the average person cannot distinguish himself from the elderly or infirmed, as is demonstrated in the tendency for these people to not relinquish their seats, and instead give themselves priority.

It’s a wonder the trains and subways don’t enforce the priority seat rule. The conductors, who often come around to do a visual ticket inspection anyway, could make sure that selfish people are not hogging the priority seats (heck, they’re train staff, they should start training people). If not the conductors, surely they could get special staff to come around and scrape people off the seats the way they scrape gum off the station floors.

Makes you wonder how the new super priority seats are going to make things better. Perhaps to get a super priority seat, you’ll have to get a priority ticket which you’d get for free when you buy your train ticket. Just having to consciously request the ticket would be enough of a deterrent for most people. You can’t park in “disabled parking” if you don’t have a special sticker on your car. So if you don’t have a priority ticket on the train, you shouldn’t be able to park your butt there.

You may balk at the empty seats at rush hour when most elderly people know better than to ride the trains, but this is easily corrected too. Just like in the U.S. we have rules such as “left turn on red during designated hours,” for cars, priority seats would only be off-limits outside of rush-hour.

A priority ticket would open the seats to anyone who requested one, such as someone who was feeling sick that day, who had a bad back, or who had been working in super high heels and was so crippled she was now on her way to the podiatrist. All these people would qualify.

Personally, I hope the new super priority seats double as escape seats that can be used when you are trying to flee the person sitting next to you who is eating smelly fish, using a battery-powered shaver or who is just plain drunk and not sharing his beer with you.

In some cases, however, it’s difficult for even a train conductor to enforce the priority seating rule since not all elderly people want a seat on the train. We have all had the experience of volunteering our seat to an elderly person who has just boarded the train, only to have him or her politely turn it down.

So perhaps the super priority seats will be based on a different Japanese concept, the same one that requires the elderly to have “aged” stickers on their cars. But instead of stickers, the elderly will be given arm bands that they wear when riding the subway to designate themselves as someone who wants a priority seat. Yes, that is my best guess as to what a super priority seat will be.

The only other possibility is that the super priority seats will be designated areas where the elderly can just drive their cars onto the subway trains. That way they’ll already have their seats.

What do you think?

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