Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Commuter Chan Travels: Konnichiwa, Kommuters
When I lived in Japan I was constantly amazed at the speed and efficiency with which the whole country seemed to operate. Everything was always precisely on time. Never early, never late. Especially the trains. People had told me about this, but to see it in person… you could literally set your watch by the trains in Japan. Every day at the train or subway station people would get to the platform and line up in neat rows at the spot where the doors were going to open (marked with cheerful pink squares on the ground) and wait silently. Then the train would pull up to the exact right spot – to the centimeter! Everyone would walk onto the immaculate train cars in their straight lines, and the trains would whisk everyone away in a speedy (but not too speedy – there’s a schedule here, people!) and orderly fashion.
When I first started I was always incredibly nervous about being late. Japan is a society of On Time People and I’ve been a Thirty Minutes Late Person my entire life. In the beginning I would leave 20 minutes early to make the 4 minute bike ride and 3 minute walk into the subway station. This might not seem like a big deal to you. You’re probably saying, “Well duh – of course you’d leave in a few minutes more than it actually takes to get to a place.” But for a Thirty Minutes Late Person, this is pretty much the most difficult thing on the planet.
So every Friday I’d leave my apartment at 3:00. I’d ride my bike to Dobutsuen-Mae station to jump on the Midosuji line to Nakamozu where I taught. I’d wave and say “Konnichiwa!” to the trannys on my block, and maybe even stop at AM/PM for a delicious rice ball filled with… what is that? I thought this was tuna! And I’d ride the long escalator down into the train station. I’d buy my little ticket and stroll onto the platform to stand in a straight line like those little French girls in the Madeline stories. And at exactly 3:19, just like it was supposed to, the train would show up and we’d all file on as I tried to look as inconspicuous as possible even though I was a head taller than every other woman there.
That lasted for about a month. And slowly my 30 Minutes Lateness began to creep up. I started leaving the house at 3:03. And then 3:07. And then 3:11. And finally I wasn’t riding my bike through town waving to the trannys anymore. I was flying like a banshee, pushing that creaky little bike with the basket to speeds approaching the sound barrier. Mowing down oba-sans and narrowly avoiding getting smashed by cars as I looked the wrong way AGAIN when I crossed the street. I would run down the long escalator, taking the stairs two at a time, crash into the ticket machine and shout at it impatiently as I paid my 290 yen. I would run frantically to the platform flailing and cursing as I heard the train pull up at 3:19 like it did every day and leap spectacularly through the doors just as they were closing only to collapse in a very un-Japanese heap, wheezing, spluttering, but safe! I call that year my Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Lateness.