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People Pushers
An oshiya (pusher) is needed to cram passengers into a commuter train during rush hour in crowded Tokyo, as seen in this 1987 photo. Andrew Stawicki/Toronto Star via Getty Images
An oshiya (pusher) is needed to cram passengers into a commuter train during rush hour in crowded Tokyo, as seen in this 1987 photo. Andrew Stawicki/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The subway and commuter rail system in Tokyo is a study in mass transit-induced claustrophobia. Legendary for its fierce efficiency, the Tokyo rail system packs in rush-hour commuters like sardines, where it's not an uncommon site to see passengers so compressed that their feet don't touch the ground.

The job of cramming human beings into subways cars has been performed by white-gloved oshiya, or "pushers," since the 1950s [source: Said-Moorhouse]. Watching the oshiya at work — as in this amateur video posted on YouTube — is like watching a hippo trying to squeeze into a pair of skinny jeans. The passengers are forcefully, if politely, shoved into the cars, careful not to catch any loose clothing or pinky fingers in the closing doors.

In addition to their people-pushing duties, the Oshiya look out for passenger safety and help people safely board and exit the cars. In response to a rash of groping incidents, Tokyo rail trains now include one or more women-only cars.