Tokyo Train Tales

Written March 2003, when I clearly discovered my love of alliterated titles…


Trains are the way of travel in Japan. My family and I used them countless times during our week-long trip over Spring Break. We bought a JR Pass (Japan Railway) that allowed us unlimited first class travel on the trains. We rode the Subway, the Japan Railway, and the Bullet Train, which goes 350 mph, the fastest mode of land transportation. Throughout these numerous trips to and from Tokyo, I gathered some interesting stories. They are collected here in 4 parts.


Part 1

Tokyo to Ueno Park – Subway Separation

The subways in Tokyo are simple and easy to use, even for English-speakers. After a few times, my family and I felt fairly confident about using it, so we headed downstairs to the platform. My mom seemed suddenly confused after reading the map. A train came and we were still unsure whether it was the right train for our destination. Afraid that it would leave us, my mom hopped aboard just as the doors closed behind her, leaving my dad and me staring at her through the glass panels. For a minute, they just stared at each other. I asked, “Well, where are we going to meet?” They didn’t hear me. I repeated myself, but again no one heard. The train started to pull away and suddenly, my dad shouted after the disappearing train, “Meet at the next stop!!!” His voice echoed in the tunnel. The next train came a minute later and as we pulled into the next station, we could see my mom running frantically after our car. I couldn’t help but laugh. She rushed through the doors and got the biggest hug from my dad while he said, “It’s so good to see you!” as if he hadn’t seen her in 10 years (only two minutes had passed, a most). Everyone on the train had witnessed the whole charade and I’m sure they thought: “Stupid Tourists!”


Part 2

Tokyo to Kamakura – The Sleep Train

Trains often lull people to sleep with their slow, rhythmic, rocking motion, so it is common to see commuters falling asleep on their way home from work. Many just bow their head and quietly close their eyes, but this one woman started to do head-jerks. You know, the kind where you start to fall, then catch yourself and suddenly pop back into correct posture. This women would do as many as 20 per minute, only sometimes catching herself before she hit my mother’s shoulder. Trains passed and seemed to push her back into position, but slowly, she’d lean closer and closer until her head was about to rest on my mom, then she’d violently jerk back. She never leaned toward the man on the other side, just toward my mom. Once, she adjusted her purse, moved her feet and changed hand positions. She even cracked her neck. She didn’t open her eyes, but I thought finally she’s woken up! 30 seconds later, I looked up to see her nodding off again. She was really knocked out, un-wakeable! I started to wonder when she’d wake up and how long she’d been there, asleep. I wondered how many other strangers she had slept on. What if she missed her stop and at the end of the line, the conductor would come out and wake her up and she’d be embarrassed to realize she should have gotten off hours ago. I wondered if her husband (she wore a ring) would worry when she didn’t come home in time. I wondered if he would call her cell phone and why he hadn’t already. Then, I started to get annoyed and rather angry at her! How dare she lean on my mother – the woman that was supposed to be my own personal pillow! Why couldn’t she just lean back on the window or fall on the other man? But then suddenly, she woke up… And she had the most beautiful eyes.


Part 3

Kamakura to Tokyo – Outlaws on the Orient Express

We climbed aboard the Green Car (usually reserved for ticketed passengers). We didn’t have tickets, just a rail pass. Our minutes were numbered. What would we do if the people who the seats belonged to got on the train? With an hour to go, we didn’t want to have to worry about moving at every stop! Then I saw it, the uniform jacket with gold strips. The ticket collector was in the next car! With saucer-sized eyes, I told my parents the jig was up. I kept watching the uniformed man. I waited for him to turn around at any moment and open the door to our compartment. It was exciting; we were fugitives, hiding from the ticket master, ready to run if he spotted us. I heard the door behind me open. I waited for him to question my parents first, but he approached me instead! I was speechless. “I…uhh…” I sputtered. My mother distracted him and flashed her Rail Pass. “Tokyo?” He said. She nodded. He looked back at me, but this time I knew what to say. I repeated the magic word. “Tokyo,” I told him. With that, he clicked his heels and disappeared down the moving hallway. I breathed a sigh of relief. We were safe, for now…


Part 4

Kyoto to Tokyo – Misplaced Mayhem

My mom is the most disorganized person I know. Her purse is in a state of constant disarray. It’s a chaotic jumble of things she continuously stuffs into her purse, overflowing with junk. I often try to test her, by plucking a wad of $20’s that stick out of her purse and then handing it to her. I think this will teach her how easy it is to get pick-pocketed, but she just shoves the money deeper into the bag of crap. During the entire trip, my mom has been making sure that my dad and I have our passports and rail passes on us at all times. She asked us 3 times today; it got quite annoying. While waiting at the train station, in a sudden panic, my mom decided that she had lost her digital camera. She became angry and blamed us. After more madness and some searching, we found it in a bag. Relief filled the air and we sat in silence for the next 10 min as my mom walked all over the station, window-shopping. A minute before the train arrives, my mom asks herself aloud, “Where’s my rail pass?” We don’t know! She thinks she must have stuffed it into one of her pockets or purse, but she checks and it’s not there. The train pulls into the station. She tells us to search the bag we found the camera in, while she looks around the station for it. I check for my rail pass and it is right where I always keep it. The buzzer for last call sounds. My dad looks at his rail pass and discovers another one behind his! He stares at both of them, puzzled, like “Why on earth do I have two?” I’m too panicked to explain to him. I yell down the track after my mom. She finally hears me and then starts WALKING back! The train’s buzzer is still ringing next to us. I yell at her to hurry up. She still moves slow, and then starts jabbering with my father in wonderment about how he got the pass. I hop on the train and hustle them aboard just as it starts to move. Japanese trains are always precisely on time, no matter whether your pass is lost or found!