Train Stories # 6: The Fallen Glove

Japanese people are some of the most courteous people I have ever met. Customer service here is a way life and the standard compares to no other country I have visited. This ideal extends beyond stores, too. Rarely have I met a Japanese person who won’t go out of his or her way to help me. If I need help finding a bus, there are dozens of trustworthy people I know I can ask on the street.

With that said, however, being on trains and in crowded train stations isn’t where their courtesy shines. I went to Tokyo for a meeting recently and was reminded what it’s like to be packed in a train like a sardine. In train stations people brushed so quickly behind me that I felt dizzy. Everyone is in their own world, listening to music and clutching their newly-purchased designer items like a mother does her baby.  In Chiba, I witnessed a mad rush to the train where two young women slammed their bodies into the train like popsicle sticks. It’s likely that they had to make the train or would have been late for work.

Even in the countryside, where you’re much less likely to encounter packed train stations anything like those in Tokyo, people tend to walk without much regard to those around them. Every time I look around the train, Japanese people are on their cellphones, playing games or reading emails.

A Fallen Glove

So when I saw a woman lose her glove in Takaoka Station, the second largest city in Toyama, I didn’t want to stay shut inside a bubble. I noticed the woman lose her glove as I was sitting in the waiting area. I stared at the glove for a solid minute, thinking of what to tell the woman in Japanese.  She was now sitting a few seats from me and was looking at her phone. Everyone else around me was either napping or glued to their cellphones. Not wanting to ignore it, I gently picked the glove up and carried it over to her. She looked to be about 60. She was elegant in a brown suede coat and reminded me of my mother a bit. “Sumimasen,” (excuse me) I said. She looked up surprised and instantly uttered a stream of “arigatous” (thank you).

A few moments later, she got up to leave. Before she left the station, she looked back at me and bowed twice.

It was a simple gesture of gratitude, and it made my day.

Train Stories #4: The Woman with the Flowing Skirt

The Woman with the Flowing Skirt in Nakanamerikawa Station, Japan

Japanese train stations are some of the most modern and efficient places I have ever seen, but here in the countryside, life moves at a slower pace.  Our trains are still generally on time and used by the masses for work and leisure, but many inaka train stations here are rustic and barren, minus the waiting seats and vending machines.

But at these desolate places, I see stories.

Inside Nakanamerikawa station (中滑川駅), part of Toyama’s Dentetsu line, there is a wall mural that always catches my eye when I walk past it.  In the mural, a young couple embrace.   They look more Western to me than Japanese, but they could easily pass for two characters in a manga.  The slender woman is clasping onto the man’s broad chest like her life depends on it.  Her blue skirt is flowing so that it looks like an ocean wave.  The man, wearing a tailored brown coat and slacks, looks ahead as if he is about to leave her to serve in a war.  Duty beckons, he thinks, and he must protect his woman and his country.

I don’t know the facts or history behind this mural, but I am drawn to it nonetheless.

A few feet away from the mural, there is an elderly woman who works at a sweets shop frequented by students.  She sells fresh crepes and ice cream in a rundown train station.  She is the only worker I have seen at the shop.  Except for the junior high school and high school students who buy sweets and giggle on the nearby bench, her only company is spiders and Winnie the Pooh dolls.  She is no more than 4 feet 11 inches tall and looks about 85~87 years old.  She stands with a slight hunch, always wearing a checkered apron and bowing or smiling when I walk past her.

To me, she is the woman in the mural.

She is smiling, and waiting.  Waiting for her husband to return, and waiting for the days when she does not feel so alone.

Sidenote: This is my 100th post!  Thank you to anyone who has ever read any of my entries, commented or simply inspired me to write.