The Passenger Pushers of Japan

In Tokyo, Japan, nearly 40 million passengers ride the rail every day, heavily outweighing other modes of transportation like buses and private cars. Of these, 22% — or 8.7 million — take the subway. The Tokyo subway network is a transportation marvel. On most lines, trains come every 5 minutes, and during peak times they tend to run every 2-3 minutes. That’s about 24 trains an hour going in one direction. Despite so many trains, the subway is extremely overcrowded, especially during rush hour. In order to fit twice the number of passengers into a subway carriage, the stations employ uniformed staff known as oshiya (“pusher”), whose goal is to cram as many people as possible into the train. These white-glove-wearing personnel actually push people into the train so the doors can be shut. When pushers were first brought in at Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station, they were called “passenger arrangement staff” and were largely made up of students working part-time. Now, there are dedicated “pushers” who work full-time. Of course, passengers refer to them as “sardine packers” because of the aggressiveness of their aim to squash people together like sardines in order to get the doors closed and trains on their way.