Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Broken Record

Beautiful Japan--anywhere but the trains

After this morning’s commute, I just have to write about the Tokyo trains (again, I know). They and dogs that are treated like children—or even better than—are my two major pet peeves about life in Japan’s capital city. Nevertheless, at the risk of sounding like a broken record . . . .

The train from Jiyugaoka to Shibuya was definitely the most packed one I’ve ever ridden, and I’ve endured some amazingly crowded trains up to now, when I honestly wasn’t sure I could get on. But I was at the front of the line this morning, and there was no way I could have changed my mind about riding because of the surge that came from behind me.

When my glasses cleared from the steam engendered by all the people breathing in such a small space inside that first car, I discovered I’d been pushed right up to the back of a man in a gray pinstriped suit. I was so close to him that there couldn’t possibly have been anything or anyone between us. Only there was. I don’t know how she survived suffocation.

My umbrella was hanging on my arm. (Adding insult to injury, it rained all day today.) I couldn’t see it, but I knew it was there because I could feel it, like a ball and chain, anchoring me to the floor. Every time the train lurched, the wooden crook dug deeper into my flesh, like an iron vice determined to break through my arm. Finally, at the only station where there was any significant movement of people either in or out of the train, I was able to pull it up and hold it above my head like a lightening rod. My arm survived, but is sore to the touch this evening.

Then there was my backpack. I always wear it on my front when I get on a crowded train in order to preserve a small sheath of privacy for myself. Although the train was moving and I was swaying with it, my feet were locked into a permanent encasing between what seemed like hundreds of other feet, so I had no way to right myself. I felt like the Yogi Bear punching bag my brother had when we were young—those life size inflatable figures that are weighted at the bottom so that they move back and forth as they are pummeled, but always from the same place on the floor. Which is to say, I found myself swaying several people to the right or left, depending upon the train’s movement, but my feet never moved a quarter of an inch. Somehow, my backpack got left three people away from me on one of the lurches. Nevertheless, it was still strapped to my arms. Figure that one out!

Good thing I was using this morning’s commute to memorize Psalm 73:26: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Indeed, I was experiencing what the psalmist was talking about, although he never rode a train in Tokyo (or anywhere else, for that matter).

I haven’t solved the problem of overcrowded trains since I can’t avoid them as long as I live in Japan. Nor has my question been answered—which is, how is it that a train can always take on more passengers, no matter how packed it already is? But I feel better having written this blog today. And, I must say, the Toyoko Line employees were kind enough to apologize profusely for arriving 12 minutes late into Shibuya Station. The only problem was that, as the doors slowly inched open, it was too crowded to get off!

P.S. I learned later that a fire had been discovered near the electric relay station of the Chuo Line. That entire system was shut down for seven hours, funneling everyone to other train lines in a ripple effect. It helps knowing the reason riding my morning train had been nearly as dangerous a proposition as jumping off a cliff and hoping for the best. But what about next time?