"When two or three moms who are friends board the train together, it's tragic," complains a man in his 50s. "They occupy the silver seats and sit there tapping out mails on their smartphones, or they pull out their compacts and apply makeup, ignoring everyone around them, who have got to stumble past them to get off.
"The priority seats show a mark indicating a mother with child, but that clearly illustrates a woman holding a child in her arms. Just thinking of the sort of things that will happen once this mark is officially endorsed is terrible to think about."
Around the end of March, it seems that the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism clarified its rule regarding the use of "baby cars" -- which is what Japanese call prams or baby buggies -- aboard passenger trains. To wit, they are no longer obliged to fold them up while on board.
The symbol shows a child seated in a pram that's being pushed by an adult. Stickers bearing the design will henceforth be posted in spaces aboard trains, such as those designated for people in wheelchairs, and also at elevators set aside for their use in department stores and so on.
Posters aimed at eliciting the public's understanding and cooperation read, "Baby cars carry an important life. There's a slight anxiety as they are gently protected."
(That rasping sound you hear is the gnashing of commuters' teeth, as the competition heats up for space aboard public conveyances.)
Meanwhile, an official at the ministry tries to explain, "Up to now, people were not obliged to fold up prams on trains or buses, but the rule wasn't made clear. So we decided on a symbol to make it understandable to the general public."
Actually, points out Shukan Post (April 18), nine private commuter railways and Tokyo's Toei subway lines had already agreed upon similar guidelines back in 1999, to the effect that they would not insist that the prams to be folded up while on board.
However there are cases in which the railway may request women to collapse the prams, such as during peak hours, although the need for compromise and cooperation may not be well understood.
"I guess it would be all right if they avoid boarding at the doors closest to the station entrance, which are usually the most crowded part of the train," remarks a man in his 40s. "But that's where they usually go because it's easier for them. Any number of times I've seen people dashing to hop on the train and nearly collide with a pram. I'm sorry to have to put it like this, but I'd like to see these mothers give more consideration to preventing accidents from happening."
Interestingly, among the biggest critics of the new guidelines are middle-aged and elderly women.
"Most of the complaints we get are from older females, who complain that young women have it easy," says a bureaucrat in the department that sets safety policies. "They always point out how rough it was for them back in the old days."
In the older generation's view, today's fashion-oriented young moms find the idea of carrying an infant around on their back, or in a front sling, to clash with their desire to project a modern appearance.
But a young mother sees things from a different perspective.
"While Japan is so riled up over its declining birthrate, once a child is born, it's become harder to raise it," says a woman in her 30s employed by a temp-help dispatch firm. "The women who complain about how rough things were in the old days, and how much 'fun' moms today are having don't have any idea of what they're talking about. I've got no one to assist me, and sometimes I feel like I've had it up to here," she says, moving her hand to her throat for emphasis.
With the ongoing trend toward later marriages and child births, the age gaps between a family's first, second and sometimes the third child has become shorter, and it's become common to see expectant mothers visiting their physician in the company of a toddler. In such situations, a pram has become a necessity.
Yet another problem appears to be that imported prams, which make up about 20% of the market in Japan, tend to be bulkier than domestic models, designed as they were for being pushed over European streets with cobblestones.© Japan Today