September 13, 2002

Story Time, Children. Gather 'Round

Story Time, Children. Gather 'Round

During the year I lived in Tokyo, I saw myself as something of an adventurous soul. On any given weekend, I would just start randomly boarding trains just to see where I would end up. I viewed it as a test of my problem solving acumen to find my way back through the city to my little apartment on the fifth floor. I got lost plenty of times, but so long as I had a large wad of yen in my pocket, not to be confused with having a yen for a large wad, I could pretty much afford a taxi cab home from anywhere, so long as I didn't accidently stray to China, which was highly unlikely given the body of water and China's strict immigration laws.

The fun thing about train rides in Japan is that no two rides are the same. One train could be crammed to the doors with people, and the next train could be so sparsely populated, you have an entire car to yourself, free to sit down and enjoy the smooth rocking journey in complete solitude. Still, crowded trains are by far better, mainly because it's fun to watch an entire trainload of people gently swaying to every turn in the track, as if everyone is dancing to a silent song. And the people watching is the best, because riding the train is so much a part of a daily Japanese life, you get a window into people's routines. Some catch up on their reading, paging through worthless little comic book stories that frequently get left on trains or can be seen piled high in trash cans immediately outside the trains. And the Japanese can sleep standing up, which is just hysterical to witness, particularly to a young man from the American midwest who was only familiar with cow tipping. Occasionally, the concept of Jap tipping (can I be any more un-PC?) almost had me in conniptions. I could also go into the rampant groping that transpires late at night, but that's a story for a different day.

One train ride in particular stands out in my mind. It was a bright winter afternoon, and I was lost as hell. As far as I could tell, I was either two stops from home or a hundred stops away. I had stopped at several different stations and ambled around the area, taking in the occasional local delicacy and dabbling in a little Pachinko or slot machine gambling. One thing about Tokyo, you're never far away from something to do.

I eventually boarded an express train, which more or less meant it only stopped at major stations, skipping the smaller ones as if to say "you're not worthy little one." As I stood in the middle of the train, gripping a pole for support, I became aware that a young Japanese woman was staring intently at me. Normally, I would take it as flirtation, but there was something flashing in her eyes that made me feel uncomfortable. So, I relinquished my grasp on the pole and sauntered further down the car and took up hand residence on another stabilizing pole.

I turned around, and was startled to see the little woman standing two feet from me, with pure hatred written on every feature of her face. Suddenly, she held up a picture of an infant, an infant with decidedly western characteristics mixed with Japanese. Uh oh. Just as the train hit a curve, sending me lurching toward the mad young woman, she exploded into a diatribe of venomous Japanese that had every head in the train focused in our direction.

Now, my grasp of the Japanese language at that point was barely enough to get me through stores and restaurants, and somehow saying "Icura desu ka?" (how much is this?) just didn't seem appropriate to the situation. Still, the little fireball in front of me continued with her verbal assault, and an occasional bead of spit would strike me in the face. When I finally raised my hand to wipe the dew from my cheek, the woman punched me in the stomach. Hard. Somehow, the fact that I managed to stay standing despite her abdominal attack seemed to piss her off even more, so she elevated the volume of her tirade, and all I could do was look around helplessly at a sea of wide eyes obviously enjoying the drama tremendously.

Finally, a middle-aged Japanese man stood up and grabbed the woman from behind. She twirled around, and the two began a verbal sparring match that reminded me of watching a movie in fast-forward. The only break in the conversation came when the woman turned around and punched me in the stomach again, an act that prompted the man to grab her arms and restrain her from very likely breaking one of my ribs. Once she was satisfactorily within his control, he explained the situation to me in very broken English.

"She think you father of child," he yelled, trying to outhowl the restrained woman in his arms. "But, she not okay here (releasing grip long enough to point at her head). She ride this train lots. Says everyone is father of child. You get off train at next stop. I hold her until doors shut."

I nodded enthusiastically. At that moment, I would rather have been in front of the train than on board. The woman proved to be quite a dynamo, much more than the nice Japanese man had bargained for. She managed to elbow him in the stomach, free herself, and come charging at me with her fingernails aimed at my face, intent on raking the corneas free from my eyes.

"But wait," I thought. "I need my eyes." I was able to cover my face in the nick of time, so she focused her rage, instead, on my exposed ears, and I think she very nearly succeeded in pulling them free from the side of my head, but she was stopped just prior to that when three men, including the nice Japanese man who explained the situation, wrestled her off me and dragged her to a seat where they. . . wait for it. . . sat on her. Yep, three grown Japanese men were sitting in a line atop a squirming and enraged young Japanese woman, and they remained sitting on her for about five minutes before the train finally came to a stop.

I couldn't disembark from that horror ride fast enough. I practically sprinted from the train, and I remember whispering to the doors "close, damn you, close!" They did, and the train began to pull away. The last thing I saw was the three men stand up, freeing the woman, who promptly ran up and slammed her face against the window, yelling at me and spraying saliva against the glass.

I took a cab home after that. fuck the train.

Posted by Ryan at September 13, 2002 11:47 AM
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