Saturday afternoon/ Train 2

•October 16, 2009 • Leave a Comment

It was a bright late Summer afternoon.

The face opposite me had the face of a woman eighty years old, drawn, gaunt and exhausted from her daily travels, an over sized black bag perched precariously on her lap but repeatedly threatening to fall as she dozed in and out of troubled sleep on my lazy Saturday commuter train.

The late summer sun streamed in from the eastern side windows, forcing her to push eyelids even closer together as she tried to snatch a few moments rest, the train stopping and starting with steady regularity acting like an irritating alarm clock every five minutes or so.

This person was only young girl, perhaps no older than eleven, dressed in a neatly pressed school outfit that clashed with the casual clothes of all around her. Instead of seeing someone in the prime of youth she possessed the body language of a person much older. A person fed up with life and the pressures it contains. The bag, stuffed to the brim with text books and study materials sat uncomfortably on her lap as she dozed, her body falling forwards time and time again, and as she roused herself so as not to fall the grimace on her face deepened.

Weariness pervaded her every thought. She wore the face of a defeated person, one who would gladly giver herself up for another existence, anywhere but this.

While those around her rested in their weekend adventures, some holding bags of recently bought goods and specialties, she in turn clutched the straps of her heavy bag tighter and tighter, her eyes trying to resist the sunlight that streamed in incessantly.

Where was she off to? Back home to another session of study, only to fall asleep with half studied books open or a half eaten meal, only to repeat the process the next day? I shuddered to think, hoping that this gaunt expression of child with most of her life ahead of her would find some kind of escape from the pressures her parents and society had placed upon her.

The sun continued to stream fearlessly through the window, for it was Saturday afternoon….



•September 2, 2009 • Leave a Comment

This morning brought the first hints of autumn. As I opened the door to yet another day of company service, a light, lilting mist floated across the city, with white, heavy clouds casting a steady, gentle rain across the cityscape. For a brief moment, I was reminded of England, and the overcast days of some Dickensian novel. But only for a moment…

Walking along the street on my daily ten minute trek to the station, I see the regular characters that populate my life on their way as well, some scurrying like hunted animals against this sudden change of weather. The heat and sweat of the last few months is suddenly forgotten as all reach for jackets, long sleeve shirts and heavier materials to cover what I feel is a welcome chill in the air.

As I walk, the street assaults me with a pleasant array of smells that speak of cultures lifetimes away. A burst of Chinese spice transports me instantly to some far flung eastern city and a meal of rich and sweet spices often accompanied with far too much oil for my liking, yet delicious. This reverie of Szechuan cuisine is cut short by the rich seduction of South American coffee that wafts into my path, tempting me to stop for a moment as the owner wipes down outside tables, ready for a busy day.

I resist, and keep towards my destination. An explosion of flowers then takes over some twenty or so steps later, full of rich hues and colors and a glorious bouquet that make me wish for a quick trip to the countryside to escape the reality of my gray Tokyo existence, if only for a few brief moments.

With each step, my mind is filled with bursts of activity as thoughts flit here and there, the steady pace of my feet on the damp cool road marking their passing in steady progression.

This sudden dusk-like light during the daytime seems to quieten all in the little city today. Thoughts retreat back on themselves and one is struck by the quiet privacy that umbrellas, gray-black coats pulled over recently exposed flesh and awnings now extended to ward off the rain offer their clients sudden anonymity. The city, quieted, bustles on regardless.

Ah, the cool of the air, so welcome…

The mist that blankets the air seems to capture all these smells and promote them to passersby with the utmost effectiveness.The grimy reek of streets not washed by rains in recent times is gladly lost, and sudden the air is free to work its magic, dancing with nature. Shops are already open, and commuters are lured for a moment to buy this or that, only to be forced to rush with quick frantic steps to the office, so that the great machine can tick on for another day.

All the while the air and mist continue to play, suddenly free from the sun and heat.

Autumn is here.


•August 31, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The rain pours down in steady sheets, eroding pressed pants, dry ankles and soaking socks early in a long Tokyo day. Regardless of umbrellas, the water, driven my a taifun off the coast steadily approaching, seems at times to attack at right angles, frustrating everyone’s best efforts to remain calm and clean.

The sky, gray and tattered strips of darkness, looms ominously above, brooding, as if a general watching its first lines of troops assaulting the enemy. For later, the true battle will come as the eye of the storm hits the coast and drives straight into the heart of the city.

In the quiet, typical Japanese way of dressing for a week of work, the water chops and rolls in relentless, fluid waves at perfected exteriors to reveal the heart of all; windswept eyes and hair, a woman’s ruined makeup shattered against a windswept wall, suits turned two tone by dark patches of water soaked up to the knees. Sweaty shirts are replaced with steam, as all stand crowded, sweating and humid on the daily commuter train.

Yesterday’s news- a change in government, like a tidal way itself the answer to years of discontent but seeming inability to change as the country languished under 35 years or so of solid control. Perhaps the commuters on today’s train are not the only victims of today’s storm, which threatens to wash away the gray polluted skies above the city, so long cast like a pall over the city.

All will function as normal until nature rears its hand in anger and swipes at thoughts of schedules and programs that usually run like clockwork, every day without exception. For nature, and only nature, will cause this fluid system of human governance and conformity to question itself and its perfection. If only for a few brief moments of a violent storm.

For now, I deal with squeaking socks and soggy shoes, and thoughts that they will be with me till evening time, when the eye of the storm is forecast to hit. A car drives past, a puddles water just missing me by inches as I walk, reminding me that regardless of the threat to chaos around me I am as yet, a cog in my wheel of industry.


•August 25, 2009 • Leave a Comment

A young girl gets on a crowded Japanese train at rush hour. There is nothing to distinguish her initially from any other passenger, except she exhibits a slightly rolling gait as she enters the train and looks trhough eyes that roam around the carriage aimlessly, wide open and unflinchingly interested in everything around her.

I realize the noise around her is lost to her ears when she starts signing to her reflection in the glass of the sliding door, talking away at high speed, hands flying this way and that in rapid, cognitive movements, accidentally knocking one woman’s mobile phone as that typical self absorbed commuter taps away some short message: “how are you? Its hot/ I want to eat some bread/my work is so boring”.

The woman looks up, and realizes that this girl is in her own beautifully simple world, and simply moves away, slight anger tracing her face. The other commuters, crowded around the door, likewise move away and go back to their little worlds of sweat, manga, hand held games or mobile pachinko oblivion.

The girl watches the landscape zip past the window, eyes staring yet not staring, in a waking dream of her own creation, fully committed to each progression of the vibrant greens and dull greys that are the Tokyo cityscape. It makes me wonder, which of the two realities is correct- the one full of wonder at the world, or the one tired of everything, retreated within itself, that is most definitely in the majority.

Each day of the week presents a different reality. The man who blocks the door jealously so as to ensure his quick departure ten stops away, the old woman with the badly placed and obvious wig whose tired legs scream out a song of age and decay that ensures a space around her whenever she sits. The ignorant businessmen in their boring greys and blacks who fight like jealous gods over seat position and rights to sleep, if only for a few brief moments before being vomited out the door at a busy hub. The woman who gets crushed by being too sensitive to all around her, apologetic in her pain and fear. Another woman who elbows her way to the door each day, barely an emotion passing a face drained of life. The little child smiling at all, another who cries and shouts his protest at a life he didn’t choose but received anyway, fearing the crush around him that is a trip to town each day.

All share the sweat of summer, trying to avoid the unmasked man who chooses to sniffle and sneeze, maskless, against the norms of this village like mentality. Eyes averted, emotions cloaked, day after day the world moves on, each traveller in their own reality, for better or worse.

On friendship

•August 22, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Friends are a phenomenon that come and go in our lives. Its a loose term often used to describe the whole gamut of connections we have with people, but when a few come along that fit the bill and make a mark on your life, separating from them can be challenging.

I have traveled all over the world in my 44 years on this earth, and everywhere I have gone have met amazing people who have opened their hearts and minds to me to help me on my way. Some of these people I have managed to maintain contact with- others appear and go in a steady succession, as days pass into weeks pass into months and years.

Some of these connections have seen me at my best, others at my worst, but so often it is the interaction with these people that keep us moving forwards, learning from the reflection they provide to us of our inner own workings.

Reflecting on my life so far, and all the places I have been, I can count more cultural wreckages than successes, but I can justify that now by saying that the mistakes were necessary in order to learn the right manner as a human being, wherever I may be.

I am still learning, but I must say I listen a lot better now before opening my mouth and committing myself to action.

Thank the world for friends- may you come and go, remain and linger as you will.