Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Another Kind of Day

Leaving home at 7:30 headed for the station and a train to Shibuya, there is a chill in the morning air of Tokyo. A light jacket is enough in early December but the overcast sky shows signs of rain as I cross the bicycle parking lot, pass along the riverbank and join the crowd entering the station. On the escalator I become one in a sandwich of businessmen, students, shop girls and part-time office ladies, all plugged into iPods or cell phones, the electronic security blanket that will enfold them for the time between home and wherever.

The ride from Kugayama to Shibuya has me wedged against a schoolboy on one side, his lumpy backpack pressed hard against my right arm, a businessman’s oily head with barcode strips of hair against my chest and two inches under my chin, and somewhere behind me an umbrella handle presses into my back while muted sounds of J-Pop leak from nearby headphones. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Twenty minutes later people pour out of the train’s doors at Shibuya Station galloping for the exits and transfer points, a kinetic burst of pandemonium that hides purpose and direction beneath an almost frenzied scatter and dash of bodies. I navigate the shoulder to shoulder traffic under Tarô Okamoto’s giant Myth of Tomorrow mural, down a short flight of steps and onto the Yamanote Line, but not before a bustling grandmother jostles the Kindle out of my grip, which I save with a lucky catch.

Another twenty minutes, a less crowded train and I’m let out near the end of my commute, but still two subway stops away. Climbing out of the station I turn away from the thick stream of students following the main road and cut through narrow lanes leading eventually to the university campus. Always a quiet pleasure to pass through that oasis of calm green, the precincts of Hakusan Shrine where tailless cats lounge under wisteria trees and lone supplicants sound a bell to announce their presence to a dozing god. My path leads through an alley of giant hydrangea bushes and under a low bridge that necessitates ducking the head. Something this time distracts me and failing to duck properly I crack my head on the overhead cypress beam.

Slightly dazed I reach the campus with a trickle of blood from hairline to cheek, my handkerchief red with sopping at the small cut. It’s nothing serious and a nurse in the clinic patches me up, suggesting I come back if the headache is still there after my first class. In the few minutes before the class chime, when cell phones are still out and in the grip of addicted fingers, I imagine students clicking off a fast text to friends, reporting that their teacher arrived bloody and bandaged.

Done with classes and on the way home, the afternoon sky has kept its cloudiness and people around me hold onto furled umbrellas. I pause at a greengrocer’s to admire a box of fat and beautiful shiitake mushrooms. Along with onion and green pepper, I buy a large handful of the shiitake, imagining it all drizzled with olive oil and miso.

A minute’s chat with Nakajima-san in the secondhand shop on the corner. I am looking for an original train conductor’s silver pocket watch and he has promised to hunt one down for me. Knowing that Nakajima-san will find the watch either soon or later, patience is easy.

A quick change of clothes, the gym bag, and off from home again. Tipness in Kichijôji is within walking distance and it’s my day for a workout on the machines and treadmills. Lucky, I arrive just as heavy clouds let go with a sudden gush of rain.

Sweating under sixty pounds of clanking iron I wonder if a size 32 is forever in my past. When Takehara-kun, one of the Tipness trainers reminds me that hot dogs and beer might have something to do with it, I laugh, knowing he hit the nail on the head.

The rain has washed a part of the soot and grime from the face of Kichijôji, just coming awake in its nighttime neon facelift as I walk through a light drizzle and orange-haired club touts scouting for hostess material in the flow of passing girls. Before getting on a train I stop in the station office to renew my train pass for another month, passing over a stack of bills amounting to almost $80, comfortable that the full amount will be reimbursed by my employer.

Kugayama’s streets are wet and dark, reflections of headlights sparking patterns of gold on my road home. Tired now and thinking about a plate of stir fried shiitake, onion and green pepper. And yeah, maybe that bottle of beer Takehara-kun has me worrying about.


  1. Really really fine and evocative, the reader with you every step of the way. Excellent portrait of the simple things that can make a day and what so many writers overlook in trying for a big picture. If not the devil, at least the telling aspects of everyday adventures are in the details.

  2. I imagined you all the way through this walk through the day. I'm sure the memories evoke good times that sometimes more often than not find a place in your musings. Really good story.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America