February 12, 2018 § 5 Comments
I had moved to my aunt’s apartment in Hoya City on the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line, and it was a long way to my office in Kanda. This was in the summer of 1987. From her apartment I had to walk about five minutes to the station and then endure a 30-minute ride to Ikebukuro Station.
I say “endure” but it was so much more than that. The trains were only marginally cooled and the outside weather was deep-fried hot and humid. As the platform packed tighter and tighter with the swell of riders, the tension rose in synch with the temperature. Thankfully I was tall and once we were crushed onto the train I had breathing space and and could see above the crowd.
But even so it was murderously hard; with each stop the car got more and more jammed until by the time we were flushed out onto the platform in Ikebukuro many of us were simply gasping for air, our hearts pounding and heads swimming from the claustrophobia. Of course there were always people who simply broke down en route, sobbing, shivering uncontrollably, even howling.
And then I had a few minutes to hustle over to the next platform and take the train to Kanda Station, another thirty minutes of hell, ejected, always, soaked in sweat and swearing that there was no way I could do it again. Until of course I had to do it again.
I’d get to my office at Kanda Gaigo Gakuin and sit down, rumpled and head pounding and miserable. The desk across from mine was occupied by Middle-Aged Angry Dude. MAAD had fled the draft in ’71 and come to Japan, a place he seemed to hate. Even though Carter had pardoned the draft dodgers he had dug his trench and, at age 38, intended to lie in it forever. “Mind if I smoke?” he said my first day of work, blowing fumes across my desk.
“Yes,” I said.
“Tough shit,” he laughed. I didn’t say anything but he stared at me. “You’ll hate it here,” he said confidently. “Unless you start smoking a lot, and drinking a lot more.” He paused. “Actually, you’ll still hate it, but it will dull the reality of how much they hate you.”
“Fuck off,” I said.
“See? You’re already rattled. I bet it’s the commute. Don’t worry. It will grind you down into a pulp. It should be fun to watch. You know how many young pups I’ve seen sit in that desk?”
I looked up at him. “None from Texas, apparently.”
He laughed, uncertainly. “What makes you say that?”
“Because you’ve still got all your fucking teeth.”
That shut him up for a bit, but Angry Dude wasn’t far off about the commute. It got to the point where I would go to bed shivering in fear of the commute, and there must have been hundreds of thousands of prisoners just like me. I’d lie there in my futon and imagine being on the platform, being squeezed, being sweated against, watching people melt down, counting the minutes until I would get to dash out, catch my breath, and repeat.
And this was only the first week …
On Sunday night, the beginning of my second week, I decided to go to bed at 8:00, get up at 3:00, and do an early morning ride that would hopefully put me in a better frame of mind for the train commute. I hopped out of my futon, silently pulled on my riding gear, and slid out the front door. Tokyo was motionless and silent and black.
I’d consulted my map before going to bed and headed up Ome-Kaido for about an hour, then continued up into the hills. I saw an occasional car. The air was clean and the only sounds were my tires on the pavement and the clicking of my rear derailleur as I’d upshift to meet the continually ascending road. After a while I turned around, got lost a bit, and found my way back to Hoya by 7:00. The city was in full morning rage mode, of course.
I hopped in the shower and got ready to go do battle with the train when I had a funny thought. “Why not just ride to work? It couldn’t take much longer than the train.”
I reviewed my Tokyo City Map again, then jumped back on my Tommasini. I hopped onto Inokashira Kaido and followed the streets, all senses on max alert as I navigated the close but respectful millimeters of Tokyo rush hour traffic. Freed from the train cage, no longer having to gaze out of the little steamed-over rectangular periscope windows, I was able to take in the city, legs churning, blood pumping, wind cooling my head as it coursed through my liberated, unhelmeted hair. After a while I was smack in the middle of Kanda, where I worked. I locked my bike, skipped up the stairs and into the air conditioned building, and then slid in front of my desk, ten minutes to spare.
Angry Dude’s eyes were bloodshot and he stank of cigarette smoke. “What are you in such a good mood for?” he growled.
I leaned back in my chair and looked him over slowly, cataloging his thinning hair, baggy eyes, puffy jowls, and sagging breasts. “Nothin’,” I said.
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Wow, Natsukashi! Must have been a long ride from Hoya City to Ome Kaido, but who wouldn’t be in a good mood after those spectacular hills. How many times have I been up that way to Okutama, and Yanagisawa Toge on a good day. Have you ridden Itsukaichi, Hinohara (Okara donuts at the tiny Tofuya in front of Hossawa No Taki), Kazuma, over the top the back way down to Okutama? No way I could do it now as and old guy, but thanks for reminding me; a great memory to start a day.
Hello Wanky – reader fan here. Thanks for opening up your life to us roadies readers. You have quite the colorful background, and you mentioned living in different countries in the past few decades. That’d suggest you speak at least 3 languages, yes? Japanese, English and perhaps German? If so, that’s quite a feat for a yankee, and a very exemplary one. well done.
Way to think outside the ‘box’. I can’t imagine the shit-ass grin on your face when Angry dude looked at you that day, must of been priceless… Hell Yeah!
When I first started flying to Japan in the 60’s we were well off with the Yen/Dollar exchange rate (bought our Yen from Pak Fook in Hong Kong) and rode in taxis, ate at Suehiro’s Steak house and when I did ride the subway I could see over most every head … I was about 6 ft tall.
… as the years went by and the Dollar/Yen rate dwindled I was riding the subway a lot more and eating at noodle houses ….. and the teenagers on the subways (perhaps after more protein) were looking at me at eye level.
The subways had ‘pushers’ to fully load the traincars. It was ‘subway Rugby’ on the curves with everyone on your team trying to crush the other side of the car … and they were just waiting for the next curve in the opposite direction to return the favor …. my starched shirt (courtesy of the hotel laundry) was a rag at the end of the ride.
We were staying at the Tokyu Ginza early on, just a short distance from the Kabuki Theater (I went once) … remembering ….. I once saw an older man walking with his wife along the city shops … and she would stay exactly 3 paces behind him.
There was a lock shop that sold chastity belts for your mistress … custom fitted ….. the shop owner told me with a smile. He showed me one in progress …. she is very hot he noted ….. it was made of smoothly formed aluminum covered with a thin leather …. and fastened with small padlock.
When the new Narita airport opened we moved out by the airport to the Northwest Airlines hotel. In town we would run for exercise but at Narita a group of us got bicycles and with the low motorist traffic we could ride most everywhere safely.
I am not a fan of ‘taking the lane’ but at Narita it was the best policy.
The Japanese were careful drivers but the roads were narrow and if you gave them a chance to pass …. they would squeeze by slowly and literally force you into the ditch.
Had some great rides (and runs there … it was like a training camp) and got lost a couple of times on overcast days …. I was tired and cold and had knock on the door and ask directions from the locals … they must of thought I was crazy.
The Japanese people were honest to a fault and very rational … about most things ….. Great people and a great place to live part time.
Priceless: “Because you’ve still got all your fucking teeth.”