Thursday, June 2, 2011

People and Trains and People on Trains

Night time blogging is a time for anecdotes. I don't keep a diary - I wish I was a thirteen year old girl, and could keep one without having to make sarcastic comments about myself but, alas, time marches on - so this blog suffices to keep track of the things that happen to me, and the places I go. Too often, though, I reserve my blogging for things of real note, events of substance, travel, theories that I can substantiate with photographs. This is a shame because, of course, most of the time, the things that strike you most about living in a different country are the small things, those that happen in passing, unlooked for. Today, then, I choose to record two largely insignificant events, one funny, one merely poignant.

The first was the kind of situation I find myself in all too often - where I am surrounded by people, all looking at me, all unable to communicate with me, all wondering what on earth the startled red-haired foreigner has done now. I was sitting on a bench in the Hiragishi subway station at 7 at night, having just finished my Japanese lesson. When I sat down, I was immediately very aware of the man sitting next to me, mostly because he stank of booze, but also because the toes of his shoes were pointy enough to pick locks. He was a host boy, a child of the night, a hustler of the streets of Susukino, brother to others such as these:

These pretty men stand on the street corners, lit from above by neon, haloed by hair, and solicit the attentions of likely-looking women. A single drink in the company of one of these men will set you back hundreds, so it pays to be wary of their sly glances and high hair - and they tend to run in packs. They work in shifts, bringing back women to their place of employment, lavishing them with attention, and gradually stripping them of all their worldly goods - and, likely, most of their clothes - before returning back home where they presumably shower, read manga and dream of all the new gold jewelry they'll purchase with the night's earnings.

My particular bench-mate was evidently a novice at the hosting game. His shoes were shiny as mirrors and he was slumped over, leaning his elbows into his knees, filling the air with fumes potent enough to make me giddy. Two minutes after occupying this bench, the train pulled up. And as it did so, carriage after carriage packed with bored commuters flashing past, Mr Host Boy passed out, suddenly, completely, pitching over, his head coming into direct contact with my shoulder. I got a fright; I jumped up. He toppled over onto the bench and then fell, face first, onto the tiled floor of the station at my feet. At that precise moment the train came to a stop and the doors opened wide, releasing swathes of startled passengers into what must have looked like a crime scene. "Oddly Coiffed Foreigner Slays Innocent Host Boy".

I didn't know what to do; he might well have been dead. There were hundreds of people piling off the train, but all cut careful paths around us, heads down. I made a move towards the train, as I did so, I saw him move and start to push himself up with his hands, thank god. Conscience clean, I got on the subway, away from my inebriated Host Boy. I hope he got home safe; I hope a Host Man takes him under his wing - he needs it.

My other encounter was less tactile and infinitely gentler. It was, also, more or less - nothing. I was riding the subway back home on a Tuesday afternoon. Across from me was sat a tall, handsome Japanese man in a very expensive looking suit. Immediately to his right was a little girl, maybe 5 years old, nodding asleep with the motion of the carriages. He noticed that she was about to tilt over sideways onto the seat, and he tucked one long arm around her, leaning her up against his torso. She was wearing a little straw hat with cherries printed on it; as she fell asleep her head fell forward, so all I could see of her was a little straw circle and two short legs in pink socks.

And that was all. He sat still and stared straight ahead, while his daughter fell asleep against his side. And, yup, it helped that he was handsome in a Ralph Laurent advertisement kind of a way, and that she was adorable in a Hello Kitty kind of a manner, but what made the scene so striking was its rarity. You never see Japanese men with their children, and if you do, the father exists on the periphery of a very clear bond between mother and offspring, bobbing along in their wake, palpably uncertain of his role. Japanese men are known for distance and dedication, providing for families that they know very little about. But this man routed the stereotype, and made me feel that perhaps Japanese fathers are given the short end of the cultural stick. They fit together perfectly, these two, father and daughter, and though I don't know where they were going, and though eventually the father took to glaring at me (I had been shamelessly staring for about 5 minutes by this stage, 'twas not unreasonable of him), I like to think that that subway ride was representative of a real relationship, proper familial ties, and that there are more of them in Japan than I tend to think.

And that's all. My two stories, two little intersections. Apparently themed, now I think about it - trains and falling asleep (though I don't think the five year old girl was under the influence of anything stronger than a hard day spent knocking things over and picking them up again; nor do I think that the host boy would have responded well to my giving him a hat with cherries on it and letting him sleep on my shoulder).

I myself have now mastered the art of falling asleep on the train. It's nice. I avoid the accusatory glances of those who have identified me as the murderous, perverted station-stalking host boy-slayer.