I have met dozens of interesting people on train rides around the world. On a train ride to Howth, a seaside town northeast of Dublin, an American couple told me I was crazy for moving to the Emerald Isle alone. I laughed and clutched my copy of Nuala O’Faolain’s My Dream of You and told them about a few pubs they should visit.
On an overnight train ride from Sarajevo to Budapest, I was accompanied in my cart by a young man from Boston. We talked a bit about travels and plans for the future. He worked in a Boston bar but hoped to travel a good deal more. As it got late into the night, he moved to a sleeping area nearby. “Just scream if you need help,” he said before he left.
“Hah, thanks,” I said nervously, hoping noone would bother me and I wouldn’t have to scream. I made it back to Dublin just fine.
In Japan last year, on Christmas Eve, I met a woman in her 60s from Osaka who was traveling to Toyama for a funeral. She asked that I read her English essay on the tea ceremony and told me to call her when I visit Osaka.
I will most likely never see these people again, but they still made an impression on me, so I would like to keep track of these stories starting now. An encounter on Monday reminded me that there’s a story in every train conversation.
Every Monday, I travel to Uozu for my Japanese lesson, normally talking to very few people on my way to and from the Uozu City Hall. After my lesson this week, I walked to the platform, put in my iPod earplugs and waited for the train. It was a fairly nice evening, and I was feeling a little better than I had these past few weeks, so I wanted to listen to music with a different beat. I put on Lupe Fiasco’s “Hop Hop Saved My Life.” I am probably the whitest of white girls when it comes to my music taste, and I don’t listen to a lot of rap, but I like Fiasco. In between the refrain “Stack that cheese!” a Japanese man probably in his early 30s came up to me. He seemed stunned to see a foreigner in Toyama (there are some of us, but not many).
“Is this your first time here?”
He wore thick glasses, had a slight overbite and a friendly smile.
“I live in Japan,” I replied. “I came here in July. I live in Namerikawa. Where are you from?”
“I am from Chiba,” he said. “But I am back in Toyama to visit my family. I was in Tohoku for the earthquake.”
My eyes widened.
“But I was in the prefecture that was least affected, Yamagata-ken. The earthquake was maybe a 6 or 7 there. But we were without power for several days and there are still blackouts.”
Yamagata-ken, in the western Tohoku region, was one of my random placement choices on my JET application and I count myself very lucky that I was not placed there.
He continued, “I want to go back there and help, but I think they need specialists now.”
I nodded just as the train came. We walked to a seat together.
“So what do you do?” I asked.
“I am a math teacher in Chiba, but I used to work in IT.”
We talked a bit more about life in Toyama and the fresh seafood. He told me that he loves Toyama, but he thinks more needs to be done with the industry here.
I was unsure of what he meant. “What do you mean?”
“For example, the students are smart here, maybe smarter than other prefectures, but there’s not a lot of opportunity for them here.”
I nodded and said I understood. The train came to Namerikawa, so I stood up to get off the train. I told him it was nice chatting with him.
“Goodbye,” he said. “I hope to see you again sometime.”
He waved from the window as I walked to the platform stairs.