Notes from the Obstacle Course
Dr. Michael Peckitt

In December of last year, on my way to visit Tokyo, I noticed something about disability access on train services in Japan, something I had not noticed before, but appear to be common to many train lines, both Japan Railways (JR) and private subway lines, in the Kansai and Kanto areas at least.  The phenomenon I noticed was this – that many train stations put few or no carriages with ‘priority seats’ near the elevator or escalator – instead near the elevator is often a number of ‘women only’ carriages, with only, if you are lucky – one carriage with ‘priority seats’ near the elevator or escalator.  That is what I noticed as I boarded the train at my local JR station in Kobe on my way to Shin-Osaka and the Shinkansen or ‘bullet train,’ one lone carriage with ‘priority seats’. The next carriages to the right of that carriage were at least three ‘women only’ carriages.

It want to make it clear here that I am not opposed to ‘women only’ carriages in principle.  In a country where ‘chikan’ occurs –  ‘chikan’ is the phenomenon of men who use the excuse of a crowded train to sexually assault women –  ‘women only’ carriages may be a sad necessity.  ‘Chikan’ coincidentally, is the reason cameras on smartphones in Japan by law, have to make a ‘camera shutter’ sound when you take a photo, as the chance of someone taking an ‘upskirt’ photo on a train is apparently too great. So yes, ‘women only’ carriages maybe a necessity for the time being, however I just don’t quite understand one thing: why are ‘women only’ carriages so often placed nearly the elevator and escalator? When I was in Tokyo and using the Metro and Toei Line – the subway – I noticed at Roppongi Station that at the end of the escalator there were two ‘women only’ carriages, you had to walk quite far for a carriage that had been assigned ‘priority seats’.

Whilst there are of course, women in Japan that have disabilities, women are not physically disabled. Women can walk and disabled or pregnant women can use the priority seats, and at my local JR station in Kobe, there is a ‘women only carriage’ with ‘priority seats’.  Those with disabilities sometimes can’t walk, so why place so many ‘priority seat’ in carriages so far away from the elevator, making those with mild disabilities walk further or those in wheelchairs exert more unnecessary effort?

JR West (Kobe Line) Access Issues from Dr. Michael Gillan Peckitt’s YouTube channel

Dr. Michael Gillan Peckitt is an academic who lives in Nada-Ku, Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. He runs the Japan and disability related website ‘The Limping Philosopher’ ( and you can find him on Twitter @Peckitt. Check out his ebooks on Amazon.

Image of a phone displaying a person with a prosthetic leg hiking, with text promoting a community for travelers with disabilities on tabifolk.

Skip to content