A drunken man gets up from his train seat and suddenly decks a railway employee, whose only offense was to wake him up at the end of the line.
Another passenger, sober this time, wallops a station worker talking on the phone after being asked to wait a few seconds for a schedule inquiry.
Railway employees across Japan are taking passenger anger on the chin. Hundreds of injury reports were again logged in the year to March — a reflection, some say, of social unrest during the long recession and high unemployment.
Some staff have sustained serious injuries, including broken noses and ribs, when they tried to stop fights between passengers or reprimand people who try to board with expired rail passes.
Japan Railway group officials are decrying the senseless violence.
Six JR companies operating passenger trains throughout Japan have separately compiled data on injuries sustained by workers and recorded a combined 448 cases for fiscal 2002, up nearly 10 percent from a year earlier.
The highest number was on lines run by East Japan Railway Co. in Tokyo, at 350 cases, followed by Osaka-based West Japan Railway Co., at 48, and Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai), with 45.
The increasingly violent passengers have forced the carriers to toughen their policies and bring offenders to police more often.
“A decade ago, we never knew such violence. Something has changed, and we must, too,” said Masabumi Sakakibara, a spokesman for JR East’s Tokyo unit.
In the last few years, the unit has brought 60 percent to 80 percent of its annual assault cases to police — the highest ratio among all JR firms. Some of the passengers were arrested.
According to data gathered by the Tokyo unit, about 70 percent of the assailants were drunken men, 22 percent were passengers in their 20s, while those in their 50s accounted for some 21 percent of the 146 cases in fiscal 2002. According to some, people in their 20s face bleak futures amid the economic slump, while those in their 50s are under corporate downsizing pressure.
An annual report by the Cabinet Office drew attention to the rising unemployment rate among people in their 20s, numbering 1.09 million in 2002.
The criminal complaints are an example for the increasing fear felt by railway employees.
Railway workers are also feeling a sense of crisis amid the economic slump, high unemployment rate and increasing number of suicides involving seniors jumping in front of trains, apparently out of feelings that their future is hopeless.
In 2001, 7,883 people in their 50s killed themselves in an apparent response to problems including debts and unemployment, accounting for roughly 25 percent of the 31,042 suicides nationwide, according to a National Police Agency study.
Japan’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate remained high at 5.4 percent, or 3.75 million workers, in May, just below the postwar high of 5.5 percent set last August.
As part of efforts to combat passenger violence, some JR units have introduced manuals on the topic. They give guidance on how to deal with drunken passengers and advise staff to immediately contact police when there is a threat of violence.
“Of course, they are still our precious customers,” JR West official Kazuhiro Nakahashi said. “But we need to totally oppose senseless violence.”