Jun 11, 2014

Day 12: The Wrath of Local Trains

The commute back and forth from Waseda University was the highlight of my day. Despite taking the same route to Waseda everyday, I somehow ended up in the train going in the opposite direction. I realized that soon enough and got on the right train. Then, while changing trains at the next station, I was feeling adventurous and tried getting off at an unfamiliar looking exit. But the doors of the exit machine where you tap your card slammed on me and the guard nearby redirected me to my usual exit.

But what made the train commute a highlight was my return journey. I left Waseda at 5 pm. By 5:20 pm I was at Ikebukoro where I had to take my third and last train. I took my seat in the train which was already there and started playing tetrus on my phone. At 6 pm, the train still hadn't moved. There were frequent announcements being made in Japanese and after each one, some people would get out of the train and leave the platform. At this point, I was tired of Tetrus and left my comfortable seat in the train to go find an english speaking officer at the station. As I walked around the platform, I found that the doors for entering the platform for this particular train line had been locked and a police officer was making an announcement using a mic. There were huge crowds all around and officers were hanging out little tickets to people, presumably for different routes that they could take instead of taking their usual route home. I finally found an english speaking officer who said that there had been an accident somewhere along this train line and I would have to take another route home, one that took double the time. I was upset at already having wasted so much time sitting and playing tetrus on the train and now I had to spend another 40 minutes on the train. In any case I took my free ticket and tried to convince myself that it would be fun to take a different route home and see a new scenery through the window of the train. But when I got to the platform I realized that it was peak rush hour and there was going to be no scenery for me in a train stuffed with people. I was right. Two trains passed me by and they were so full that I didn't have the courage to get on them. There were police officers employed to push people into the train and ensure that the doors shut. I didn't feel like I was among human beings when I saw the way people were pushing themselves into the train. I got on the third train and sure enough, it was stuffed. I couldn't turn even to look at the screen which displayed the name of the next station. The only way for me to know which station we were stopping at was to keep my ears open and wait for the announcement.

People were clearly tired and frustrated and I admired their resilience in doing this day after day. It also occurred to me that I was experiencing one of Japan's rare train breakdowns and seeing the way the Japanese dealt with it was interesting. They immediately informed people and started redirecting them. Infact, when I was taking the longer route home, there was another brief delay and it came up on the screen of the train. The trains run by Japan Railways (JR) have a screen which shows any and all delays that are occurring on their trains. Today, there seemed to be three delays on the JR Line, reasons being passenger injury, door inspection and cable problem. I should know, considering how long I spent in the train today.

While I was in the train being crushed by people around me, I thought about how easily people in the train could steal my wallet or my phone from my bag without me noticing. But they don't. And I'm grateful for that. Japan is one of the few countries where I can stand out as a foreigner and still be relatively unworried about being pick pocketed.

By the time on the last train, my frustration turned into a sort of empathy for the millions who ride trains like this everyday. It was 8 pm by the time I got home. My 75 minute commute had turned into a 180 minute commute. I later learnt that the train breakdown had made the news on TV. Although I am thoroughly exhausted right now, this was definitely a worthwhile adventure.

Apart from the train adventures, I watched the Japanese Movie called "The Neighbor's Wife and Mine", which happens to be Japan's first sound film. It was interesting to see how expression and action was used far more in the movie than sound and dialogue. But the sound affects of the film played a big role in the film and were used in turning points, unlike movies today in which music and sound is perpetually present. The movie showed life in the suburbs of a writer in the 1930s. Although life wasn't nearly as fast paced as it is now, westernization and modernization had started to occur already.

For dinner, I ate natto, which foreigners generally hate and what the Japanese consider soul food. Its fermented soy bean eaten with rice. Although I'm not particularly fond of the smell, I'm indifferent to the taste. To be honest, I don't taste anything when I eat natto. Kaori-san made it with Japanese mustard and mixed it with soy sauce, as its traditionally done. We then ate it with rice. The challenging part was trying not get the slime (yes, natto is VERY slimy) everywhere. After putting natto and rice in your mouth, you are required to wave your chopsticks in circular motion in an attempt to cut the slime. We also ate daikon radish and pork in a kind of soy sauce, which tasted amazing. Kaori-san told me that Japanese dinners are meant to traditionally hold a bowl of miso soup, rice and three other vegetables or meat dishes.
The infamous natto

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