Several of the Japanese capital’s railway companies introduced the single-sex carriages Monday as part of a city effort to tackle the problem of men who take advantage of overcrowding to grope female passengers.

In a Tokyo survey last year, almost two thirds of women aged between 20 and 40 said they had been groped on a train.

“We can’t do all that much about the crowding and this kind of crime is hard to prevent, even in cooperation with the police,” said a spokesman for Odakyu Electric Railway.

“Passengers have also been asking for women-only carriages.”

Some men support the restrictions, which apply mostly during rush hour, but others have complained that reserving one carriage for women worsens overcrowding in the rest of the train.

“Women-only carriages are a form of discrimination against men,” one opponent told the Asahi Shimbun daily.

“I cannot agree to their introduction.”

The number of reported incidents of groping and sexual assault leaped to 2,201 in 2004, the worst figure on record and three times the number in 1996.

“On the one hand it could be the number of men engaging in such acts is increasing, but it could also be that women who once felt they had to suffer in silence now have to courage to speak out and complain,” said a Tokyo city government official.

Some women had other reasons for preferring to travel separately from men.

“I didn’t like the smell of alcohol and cigarettes on the men,” one satisfied female passenger told the Asahi Shimbun.

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