Hidemi’s Rambling by Hidemi Woods

Singer, Songwriter and Author from Kyoto, Japan.

A Train Ride in Japan hr585

My main means of transportation is the train. As manners and common sense vary in countries, I introduce here what a train ride in Japan is like. In the Tokyo metropolitan area, it’s just atrocious especially during the rush hours. I had had a lot of trouble when I lived in the area. It’s almost impossible to get a ride since both the train and the platform are packed with people. The train is full, which means in Japan’s case that you can’t move as you’re pressed firmly against other passengers’ bodies around you. Because I’m short and feel claustrophobia only in a few minutes, I have to pass several trains to wait for a less crowded one. That results in a long, inefficient travel although the trains run every ten minutes or less. As the night deepens, the smell of alcohol fills the train car that has more drunken businessmen, some of whom are befuddled. It used to be common that men openly spread and read porn magazines and tabloids in the car, but thankfully they are replaced by smartphones now. There are women-only cars that men aren’t allowed to get in during the rush hours. Too many cases of being groped or molested in a crowded train car made railroad companies invent this crazy sexism solution. I myself can’t count how many times I was touched or saw a man expose himself in the train. When I once squeezed myself into a packed car on my way to school, I barely got my body inside the car but my bag couldn’t. The door closed on the handles of my bag and left the bag outside. I rode for three minutes with my bag dangling outside the train, swinging violently. In daytime, the murderous congestion subsides. Instead, enters a group of housewives with large strollers that block aisles. They ignore their children who are crying and shrieking. Some passengers eat snacks, rice balls or sandwiches in the train. Some eat cup noodles or lunch in a box called bento. Even drinking alcoholic beverages is okay. But, people dart an angry look at someone who is putting on makeup. One of major complains to railroad companies is making up in the train. I don’t have the slightest idea what that means. It’s acceptable no matter how drunken or how loud you are inside the train, but not that you’re putting up makeup. I heard on the radio show that an elderly woman complained about a young lady who was putting on mascara in the train. Her point was she couldn’t allow a woman to turn up the whites of her eyes in public. It doesn’t make sense and to me, it sounds clear sexism. I almost always put on makeup on the train for time efficiency and wage a quiet battle against other passengers’ angry glances. With good or bad manners aside, trains in Japan are generally safe and a murder or a robbery hardly happens. A pickpocket steals a wallet from a drunken passenger who has fallen asleep, or a drunk beats a conductor, that’s the maximum. If you have carelessly left your belongings in the train, they’re found and delivered to a station in most cases. It may be too extravagant to complain of Japan’s trains that are well maintained, so clean, and graffiti-free. While it’s sometimes uncomfortable to share a ride with people whose likes and dislikes are pretty different from mine, it’d be better to relish the difference and be surprised by it. That may help me grow leniency. Besides, there’s no such thing as the world going round solely by my own rules after all…

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Gold Dust hr584

“Would you believe it if I said gold dust could fall on you?” I was asked out of nowhere by Kuri-chan who sat behind me in the classroom when I was a senior in high school. I had known her since junior high and we had chatted casually all the time. Although we had never belonged to the same group to hang around, the last year of high school made us closer as we were in the same class sitting next to each other. She abruptly asked this question with strange solemnity, looking set on confiding her big secret. I had never seen her like this. While I had no idea what she was implying with the question, I answered I would. I thought someone who was seeing the meteor shower was so excited that she or he felt that gold dust was showering on her or him. Or, someone having the happiest moment in the snow might feel the snow gold. Or, gold dust was simply an analogy to an inconceivable happening that made someone very happy. Those thoughts led my answer to yes, on which Kuri-chan hesitantly began to explain her question. She had visited frequently a certain shrine where gold dust fell on a person who believed. And she wanted me to come. I promptly asked her if it had ever fallen on her. She said it hadn’t because she hadn’t believed enough. Then I asked if she had ever seen it fall on anyone. Her reply was no and she added, “But there are people who have seen it.” My head got filled with doubt and questions. How often does it happen? How much does gold fall when it happens? By what size? How is it collected when it is sprinkled all over her or him? Are a broom and a dustpan provided near at hand? Don’t other people scramble for the fallen dust to steal it? How do you declare it as yours? And when you collect it safely, where should it be brought? Can it be cashed out? Does it fall at a time with an enough amount to make a living? I couldn’t subdue my curiosity, greed, and weird self-confidence. What if it fell on me today? Actual gold dust, not an analogy, could be possible when it comes to me. I followed Kuri-chan to the shrine after school, feeling as if I was going to a casino, although I sensed it was some sort of cult. The shrine was in the vast, luxurious premises. There were many people in the main hall, mostly middle-aged and elderly. They were intently praying, which seemed waiting for gold dust to me. A large framed portrait of the founder of the religious sect was hung on the front wall of the hall. Kuri-chan told me that gold dust fell on him first. I somehow refrained from asking her if he built this cult with the money from that gold dust. In my mind, though, I was thinking it would fall quite an amount. I sat face to face with Kuri-chan inside the hall and she put her hand above my forehead. She was going to pray for me and gold dust would fall on me if I believed. I was told to keep my eyes closed until the praying was over. It lasted for about five minutes and I believed hard that gold dust was falling on me now. “It’s done,” She said. I opened my eyes and looked for the dust around me. None. I asked her, “Didn’t only a bit fall?” She smiled wanly and said no, looking surprised that I thought it would happen to me on the first try. I was led to a small room for a new comer. A group of ten new comers was greeted by an unnaturally friendly middle-aged woman. She told the story about gold dust falling on the founder but didn’t explain how to cash it out to the end. When we were leaving, a woman who was an acquaintance of Kuri-chan ran toward us and said hello. She offered a ride to the bus stop. She casually asked where I lived. She said she knew the area well and would drive me home. I began to feel uncomfortable. I declined repeatedly, but she insisted strongly. The car finally stopped near my house and I said goodbye. To my surprise, she told me to let her meet my parents. I asked why and she said she wanted to tell the story about the gold dust to my parents. She gave me a ride to recruit. I was too stupid to know earlier. I said my parents were out for work, but she said she would wait. I said they would come home late because they were farmers, but she was adamant about waiting. I asked her to leave, but she wouldn’t let me out of the car. I felt scared as if I was kidnapped. Kuri-chan joined me and asked the woman to let me go home. With repeated angry begging from two of us, she finally gave in and released me. Next day at school, Kuri-chan apologized to me about how it had gone. “It should never be that way. Trust me. I didn’t know that woman was wicked”, she said regretfully. A few days later, she asked me to go to the shrine together again. I rejected. She asked, “Why? You said you believed gold dust would fall.” I still believed it but wasn’t interested in the cult. I thought if gold dust fell on me, it would happen anyway, with or without a cult. I’ve never joined a cult. But the fact remains that I believe in miracles…

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