Train Tidbits, Tokyo

by tjmHolden

12 March 2007


I’m in a hotel where a full-length mirrored closet gives me a view of the bed. Do I need to think about the uses of that? Not really. Not, at least on this trip. I’m alone and the Internet cable that enables me to access the server doesn’t seem to work. Since I’m alone, it is the first thing I check, even before checking the fridge, washing my face, or using the toilet. My bladder works better than this cable (and at this stage of my life, that isn’t the condition you want your Internet in), so I have to call down to the front desk to get it fixed. Down there it’s called the “Front” (or “furonto” in Japanese). The concierge (or maybe she’s just the staff – “sutafo” in Japanese) comes upstairs to troubleshoot. She’s fast. I just barely have my jeans zipped and buttoned when her knock comes on the door.

Once inside, she does everything that I did: unplugs all the plugs, reconnects them, moves the table away from the wall, wiggles the connection in back. And, when she wiggles it,


wiggles. But we don’t have to get into that. Except that after the wiggling, the connection mysteriously works. She’s definitely a pro. Her wiggles work.

She also did everything I wouldn’t have done – I mean, if I were her. Or “a her”. Namely, she entered the room – a male guest’s private chamber – and allowed the door to close. The last time this all happened—at an airport at Narita a couple of months back—the male staff (sutafo) made sure he left the door open. I think that was intended as a courtesy to me, although I could have had that wrong. Maybe he just had an inflated view of himself. But, back here in the moment, with this female sutafo with the wiggles,  her potential problems are compounded when she moves farther within the room’s recesses, enabling the male guest to become interposed between her and the door. Then (even more egregious—this ought to be a deposit account at the rate that she is compounding) she turns her back on her guest. Finally (and most egregious of all), she bends over at the waist – and, yes, proceeds to wiggle.

Wasn’t there a story like this involving Kobe Bryant a few years back? Fortunately (or not) I’m not that guy, and she (my wiggler) isn’t that girl. And so the result is all very different – for all hands (and other bodily parts) involved.


Well, after all that, I’m now on the train – heading toward some food with a friend. As the doors pull aside I spy a vacant seat on a crowded train—how fortunate! Actually, there is an entire row of seats—all in a line—Fortune compounded . . . hey! Maybe I should have one of those deposit accounts, too! Anyway, now I can spread out . . . But . . . what is that smell? Not quite smell exactly. Stench, actually. And then it hits me—realization slowed by godawful pee-yuuu—even before I actually locate the origin. Now it dawns on me why all these seats have been vacated. No, it isn’t as bad as what you are thinking. It’s not that someone threw up on these seats, or that a dog was disembowled here, but almost as bad. Only then do I spy the origin of the odor.  A homeless guy slumped against a rail, legs sprawled left, right, front and center, out into the train cavity. His ratty silver-streaked hair and unkempt beard make him look like a caricature of the guy chained in the dungeon for 38 years with nothing but bread crumbs and very little light. Finally, he has gained release.

And what freedom he now has. Literally the run of the train. Because his fellow passengers have given him a wide berth—standing meters away. And then I realize: it isn’t that this train is crowded. It is that, with everyone clumped in one group—as far removed from the smell as possible—the semblence of a crowd, the aura of congestion, has been manufactured. There’s power in numbers.

At some point during the trip my nose becomes acclimated, but judging from the reaction of each new entrant, the stench has actually not abated. The shock to the senses is less than that to the heart. This is Japan. This is a society where no one is supposed to get left behind. But here in Tokyo this guy stands—well actually sits, nay slumps—as evidence that this really is not so. There is something wrong in the heart of this consumer-collectivist paradise. And the only consideration that this guy receives comes in the form of folks leaving him unmolested, to recline and slumber inside this warm public transit car. At least for the four hours or so before the transit authority ushers him out for the night. Into the cold, dark Tokyo night.

Now it is later in the evening, closer to that witching hour, on my way back to tonight’s temporary home. People are either overly-wired or overly-withdrawn, depending on who they are and how their day went. Some are drunk—you can easily tell because, for those who are, there is a toxic cloud seeping from their mouths and forming around their heads. (More stench!) A group of 6 or 8 college kids have come back from an outing: tennis rackets at their feet. Save for the one frail boy with Harry Potter glasses who is doubled over on a seat and keeps threatening to void his stomach, the others are high on a day well played. The girls are mostly robust—chunky, athletic. They have all gravitated toward and have managed to slowly, stealthily surround one strapping lad; a youth who is all shoulders and orangish hair that he has allowed to move in every direction at once—as is the current style. You can tell that they all think he is da bomb—no one is doing much to disguise it—and, for his part, he is enjoying the attention. To sustain it, he takes extra care to apportion his responses to each lass, in turn.

In their midst, two lovers enter. A year or two older, a bracket up in style. The guy is bedecked in full black. Some stainless zippers on the coat. Playing up contrast, the gal is in white head to toe. Literally. Shirt, skirt, coat, bag, shoes, nails. Opposites attract.

She clasps her beau’s wrist with her fingers—repeatedly wringing his ample bone as if she might lose him if she releases contact. Her clutches are rhythmic: tightening and releasing, then tightening again. I don’t know what it feels like, but it looks a lot like a simulation of something. Neither of them acknowledge what she’s doing, but it is there for the entire car to see. To ponder. There are any number of eyes drawn to that wrist, that hand, those desperate fingers; the two sets of eyes locked one on another all the while. Well, she may just be getting the sense of her man’s pulse, but anyone who’s watching can’t help but imagine that methodical, systematic clutching otherwise.

At some point the young woman relocates her hand to her beau’s waist and he finally breaks. Cracks a smile, moves in closer to her, pecks the top of her head with his lips. He blushes, looks around the car to see who might have spied him relent.

We all did, bud. He looks to the ground in embarrassment.

It is hard to be stoic with a lady clutching at your waist. Especially on a train in Tokyo. On the way home.


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