Hidemi’s Rambling by Hidemi Woods

Singer, Songwriter and Author from Kyoto, Japan.

The Beginning of A Winter Trip hr587

The mountainous region where I live is in the depth of winter and it snows day after day. Now that the snow covering the ground has accumulated over my own height, I was having a sense of claustrophobia. That’s a cue for my annual three-day trip to the Tokyo metropolitan area that doesn’t have much snow. I set about arranging this year’s trip online. I successfully booked the room in a hotel of the Japanese luxury chain at a greatly economical rate by making the best use of coupons and their off-season promotion. The stay would come with preferential treatment at no extra cost as part of the promotion. To get to the Tokyo metropolitan area, I need to ride the bullet train that is expensive. But I got a 35% discount for the ticket by reserving early in advance. I was all set to get out of snow. Although it had snowed every day, it rained on that particular day when I set off on a trip in the morning. Rain is more troublesome than snow. I would take a local bus to the bullet train station. The bus stop is near my apartment but it has neither a cubicle nor a roof. When it snows, I can pat off the snow that comes onto my clothes while I’m walking to the bus stop and waiting there. But in the rain, my one hand is occupied with an umbrella as I carry all the bags, which would cause awkward walking that inevitably wets me. I would freeze while I’m waiting for the bus. I bore an unexpected expense and called a cab. The dispatcher told me it would take long to come to pick me up due to high demand. Since I had the bullet train to catch, I gave in to my umbrella and walked toward the bus stop in the rain. I felt miserable while I was waiting for the bus with many bags around me drenching. Out of the bus window, I saw snow plains beneath which were parks, rice paddies and sidewalks. The road was plowed, but the snow was pushed off to a long, tall snow wall alongside. The lengthy massive white wall was taller than the bus and it looked almost like a snow-made tunnel. I started to feel claustrophobia again. I cheered myself up by thinking I was soon in the snow-free city. I made a wish for a nice trip upon the closest mountain that had turned completely white. On the platform for the bullet train at the station, I found many Chinese families and tourists. That suddenly reminded me about the Lunar New Year during which Chinese people took vacation and traveled. The hotel I was staying at might be crowded with Chinese tourists as well. I couldn’t believe why I was so careless that I’d forgotten about Chinese New Year. Among the gleeful Chinese tourists, I stood waiting for the train with a long face. Rain and the Lunar New Year seems more like a bad omen, and now I became unsure as to whether or not this trip was the right move…

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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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