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Are there really “pushers” on Tokyo subways?

Dear Cecil:

While maintaining a tenuous foothold on a space in the vestibule of a commuter train during yesterday's afternoon rush hour stampede, I struggled to recollect what I had once read or heard about the Japanese solution to commuter congestion. Cecil, can you give me the straight dope on (forgive me) "pushers" on the Tokyo subway platforms? Also, what is the meaning of life.?

Les E., Chicago

Cecil replies:

Dear Les:

No need to apologize for “pushers”–that’s the literal translation of “oshiya,” the Japanese term for the guys who make their living cramming commuters into Tokyo’s overcrowded subways and trains. As a rule, two oshiya are assigned to every downtown station, each man covering half of each two-car subway train. Since there are two doors per car, the oshiya have to be fast on their feet to stuff as many bodies as possible. They also have to be, shall we say, fairly intimidating fellows: it’s said that many oshiya are recruited from the ranks of unemployed sumo wrestlers.

But they’re nice guys, too–during slack hours, they remain on duty to help little old ladies and other frail types on and off the trains. The Japanese have been putting up with pushers since the early 30s and seem perfectly content to go on doing so.

As for the meaning of life, Luigi Pirandello once wrote: “Life is little more than a loan shark: it exacts a very high rate of interest for the few pleasures it concedes.” But he was probably drunk at the time.

Cecil Adams

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