Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Here it is the height of the rainy season, and the combination of heat, damp, and press of bodies made this morning's train car reek of humanity*. Having left my ipod at home, I was forced to partake in not only the sight and scent of my fellow travellers, but their sounds as well. You could actually hear people sweltering. The earthiness of it was very grounding; I was almost moved to embrace the stern looking business man sitting next to me, reading a porn manga and attempting to clear what sounded like a small animal from his throat. It was all quite primal. Even the puddle of vomit slowly trickling its way down the platform steps in Osaka Station did not seem out of place. Ah, the brotherhood of man!

(They smell your fear.)

The key to negotiating a large japanese train station is three fold: keep constant speed, constant bearing, and never make eye contact. On my way home yesterday, I was a bit flustered (a strange japanese man had followed me for a block shouting, "Jodi Fahstah, shiteiru? shiteiru?" Apparently he felt Ms. Foster and I shared more than a passing resemblance...**), and I accidently broke rule number three. Being American, my natural tendency when I meet someone's gaze is to smile. This was my second mistake; in a train station, this is like making someone look into the face of a basilisk. The poor girl I'd inadvertently alerted to my presence missed a step and tripped into the man next to her, setting off a chain reaction that rippled through the station. I pressed myself up against the side of a pillar until the commotion passed, then cautiously proceeded on to my gate, gaze fixed on some indeterminate point off in the distance. You can never be too careful.

Yesterday was also the one year anniversary of my swearing into the State Department. While I had imagined I might be in Japan a year on, I can't say I thought I'd be waxing poetic about the train station vomit there. Such are the vagaries of life. Happy anniversary!


Spring rain --
not incense
not a fart

by 小林一茶 Kobayashi Issa, 1821

*For those unaware, humanity's stench falls somewhere between that of a nursing home and a stale diaper pail.

**Previously, I'd only ever been compared to Jay Leno. Oh, and sometimes Lucy Lawless' sidekick on 'Xena'.


Anonymous said...

Gee, thanks for sharing! 8^)

What swearing in? I thought we went to that in August???


Anonymous said...

No, that one was for show - the earlier was for the money. You can't get paid unless you are sworn in - much more important than the pomp of the thing with appetizers.