China v. Japan: the packed-train factor

Superficially Japan and China are similar; in nuance and operating details they're generally opposites, as illustrated previously here. Kathy Kriger, whom I knew in Tokyo twenty years ago and who now lives in Casablanca (where she runs, no joke, Rick's Cafe), reminds me about an important difference: What happens inside a packed train.

Japan's subways are flat-out more intensely crowded than anything I've seen in China. In Tokyo, uniformed and white-gloved "packers" are normal. The Beijing and Shanghai subways are merely "self-packed," with people crowding their way in but without that extra ratchet-up of density that only trained, professional packers can provide. In Tokyo I lived through the scene below more often than I want to recall. (Photo from Encarta.)


Clearest sign that the photo was taken in Japan rather than China: Not the packers but the next car-load of passengers, waiting punctiliously in line!

As I recently mentioned, a very-crowded Beijing subway provides the opportunity for petty theft. In Japan, it's more like petty... petting.  Kriger says:

That brought back a flood of memories from Tokyo's train and subway commutes.  My most vivid were from when I lived a year in Yokohama and commuted into Tokyo first on the JNR Negishi-sen, the blue train.  The worst was the morning, crammed in and unable to move - invariably forced  to look over the shoulder of a guy immersed in a porno comic book.  When it got too much I got out and boarded the next train.  But robbery was never a problem, ever. 

My favorite story was forgetting my purse on the upper rack exiting in Yokohama from the Yokosuka line enroute to Yokosuka - the end of the line - and going there the next morning to retrieve my handbag and sign a form verifying that everything was still there. 

We women didn't fear the pick pocketers so much as those who rode the trains to take advantage of the crowded conditions to let their hands wander.  I think it might have been Jean Pearce [a local writer] who recounted a story when an outraged American woman, accosted on a crowded subway, grabbed the offending hand, raised it and said in Japanese, "Whose hand is this?
The porno-comic factor was such an omnipresent aspect of Japanese public life that it drove my wife from a slow boil into outright constant rage against adult males in general, including the one who happened to be living in the same house. As for the "whose hand is this?" factor, that was so common that there is a standard term for it in Japanese (chikan, or in hiragana ちかん) and signs outside crowded stations warning "beware of subway gropers." I don't think I ever saw a sign in Japan warning against pickpockets. More here.