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A glimpse into Japan: Saving face with foreigners ahead of the Olympics

A glimpse into Japan: Saving face with foreigners ahead of the Olympics

Individual Japanese are hesitant to share their own opinions or talk about personal issues.  This is part of their group oriented culture.  It doesn’t mean that they don’t have opinions or think about these things however.

In this recurring segment we try to understand the Japanese better by looking at translations of Japanese forum posts.  Behind the anonymity of on-line forums Japanese feel more free and safe to share their true feelings (called 本音 hon-ne) rather than putting up their stoic public face (called 建前 tatemae.)

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Japanese women-only train car
Japanese women-only train car

This post is from a Japanese person who is worried about how foreigners flooding into Japan for the 2020 Olympics will perceive Japan if they see the women-only train cars that Japan has.

There are 80-some train routes that feature these and they were started based on the idea of giving women a place where they don’t need to worry about misbehaving men groping them, getting too close, or harassing them.

There has been a little controversy over them however with some believing that the perception of the problem of harassment of women has been vastly exaggerated by media and TV shows and that the idea of train cars that exclude any class of people might not technically be legal (and isn’t practical in situations where there isn’t enough room on trains for all of the riders.)

You’ll note that the main concern of the author isn’t the practicality, need, or purpose of the women-only train cars but concern for how Japan will look in the eyes of foreigners and avoiding criticism.  In the west we tend to focus more on the issue, but in Japan perceptions factor very highly into how people address issues.  This is one of the things that can make living and working in Japan challenging for westerners who have trouble fully grasping and working with such a mentality.

Original post from Yahoo! Japan 知恵袋 (Chiebukuro) here. (link opens in new tab)

Yahoo! Chiebukuro Article on women-only train cars

Translation

Title:  We should abolish women-only train cars until the Olympics

We should abolish women-only train cars until the Olympics!

Foreigners view discrimination as a number one problem.  A lot of those foreigners will be coming to Japan from now until the Olympics.  We should create men-only train cars or abolish the women-only cars because the chance of foreigners being critical of it is high, isn’t it?

Doesn’t the Japanese government make this a country that is concerned about saving face?  Don’t the train companies want to avoid criticism?

Wouldn’t it be best to either end the women-only train cars or add men-only cars!?

On top of that women-only train cars don’t exist legally.

In the past if a train employee unjustifiably tried to force a man off of a women-only train car the employee was the one accused of wrongdoing by way of unjust coercion.  Employees have been required to apologize to men a great number of times.

Furthermore the Transportation Minister and courts have said men getting on women-only train cars is an ambiguous gray area!

(The following translation of the the only reply to this post isn’t important to understanding it, but is included for completeness.)
Reply from keitokuroda23-san

Men-only cars would be empty with the exception of morning and evening rush hours so it’s fine not to make them.

If you look at it the only real option is to shut down the women-only cars.  But if that is opposed then it would be OK to make men-only cars.

Either way there is a lack of appreciation from the people who ride the trains.