One of my blog bunnies suggested that my recent reference to briefcases on a crowded train was a euphemism. It wasn’t. While groping and other misdemeanors are common enough, I have never been groped. Not once.
One of my Japanese friends said that it doesn’t happen to me because I’m scary. I just laughed, but then realized she wasn’t joking. “Fair enough,” I said. “I guess I am kind of scary, but you can’t know that just by looking at me, can you?” And she said, “Yes. You have an air about you. You’re not the kind of woman who would put up with that.” Again, fair enough.
I’ve seen it happen, though, and am always astonished to see the poor women just stand there and take it. Maybe that’s what my friend meant; it wouldn’t occur to me not to fight back. I’ve always had a strong sense of personal space and don’t hesitate to use my elbows if someone gets too close. I have had greasy salarymen try to nap on my shoulder, but that is easily sidestepped by suddenly leaning forward or a quick elbow jab to the ribs.
It’s hard to imagine just how crowded a Tokyo commuter train can be if you’ve never experienced one. The laid-back American might say, “Why not just wait for the next train?” Well, the next one isn’t going to be any better. Nor the one after that. And I have to get to work.
It’s dehumanizing, being crammed up against the bodies of strangers, smelling their breaths, feeling their body heat. These are intimacies I would not otherwise take except with the closest of friends. And this is not a culture of touch. Japanese people on the whole do not know how to hug; even handshakes can be awkward.
So I remind myself that as hard as it is for me, it must be twice as hard for everyone else. But even so, if I have to take a morning train, I will stick with the women only car. And gropers beware.