The obvious answer would seem to be “No,” but our Japanese-language reporter has a unique alternate perspective.
In the corners of Japanese train cars you’ll find what are commonly called the “priority seats,” which signs and announcements remind passengers are reserved for senior citizens, expectant mothers, the physically handicapped, or those travelling with small children. People outside those demographics are asked to give the seats up should someone in greater need of them come along, but many the seats aren’t designated for instead choose to simply not sit in them at all.
So we were a little surprised to learn that P.K. Sanjun, one of our male RocketNews24 Japanese-language reporters, has recently starting making a beeline for the priority seats and plopping himself down on one when taking the train. While P.K. may sometimes make us think he might not be entirely right in the head, he’s physically healthy, so why has he taken to grabbing one of the seats that aren’t designed for him?
The answer is actually pretty complicated. Like we mentioned above, people outside the priority seats’ target groups can still sit in them if there are plenty of seats to go around. But as the train fills up, some of them fail to relinquish their seats, leaving the people the priority seats are supposed to be reserved for standing on their exhausted feet.
Over the last few years, a number of P.K.’s female relatives and acquaintances have become pregnant and had babies. But while becoming expectant mothers should have meant at least a few months’ reprieve from having to stand on the train, they told P.K. that rarely did someone give up his or her seat for them, even if their pregnancy was obvious from the size of their stomachs and/or they placed expectant mother straps on their bags.
▼ “There’s a baby in my tummy.”
When someone did give up a seat to them, the majority of the kind strangers were other women who had recently had a baby and could relate to the exhaustion that often comes with raising another life inside of yourself. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a few of P.K.’s friends said they’d even had uncooperative priority seat squatters call them stuck up for acting as though they deserved a seat just because they were pregnant.
P.K. couldn’t believe that some people would be so inconsiderate, especially when their actions were in such stark contrast to his own. “I always give my seat up for pregnant women,” he told his acquaintances, who then told him “People like you should sit in the priority seats, to keep them safe for the people who really do need them.”
Since then, P.K. has made a point of snagging a priority seat whenever one is available, then relinquishing it for the sake of people who really need it once they get on the train. “I’ve noticed a lot of people who don’t need a priority seat, but sit in one anyway, napping or playing with their smartphone, and so they don’t notice when someone the seat is really supposed to be for is standing right by them.”
While P.K.’s show of protective chivalry is admirable in and of itself, we feel compelled to also point out a few potential pitfalls to this plan. First, certain people the priority seats are reserved for can be hard to identify by appearance alone, such as women in the early stages of pregnancy or young people nursing lower body injuries. Should these people enter the train and see all of the priority seats are full already, they may decide to take their chances waiting for one of the more numerous general-use seats to open up and not even make their way over to the priority seat area, thus negating your ability to offer his seat to them in the first place.
There’s also a bit of a gray area regarding what exactly constitutes membership in one of the priority seat target groups. Are you a senior at 53? Does having a half-healed sprained ankle qualify as physically impaired? Is your four-year-old kid such a “young child” that you need a special seat? It’s conceivable that people in such borderline situations might assume anyone already sitting in the priority seat needs it even more than they do, and thus not approach the priority seats so as not to make their occupants feel self-conscious or pressured to give them up.
In other words, there’s no cut-and-dried answer for whether or not able-bodied, non-pregnant youths should or shouldn’t sit in the priority seats. What is an easy conclusion to come to, though, is that it’s always kind to be aware of your fellow passengers, and to give up your seat, regardless of whether or not it’s a priority one, to those in need.