Category Archives: trains

My Pasmo Pal


When I got off the train at Shibuya this morning, I noticed that my Pasmo prepaid train card wasn’t in its usual pocket in my backpack. After a moment of frantic scrambling, I realized I must have dropped it on the train. I scurried back and spotted my card lying on the floor just as the doors were closing.

SHIT! I said out loud.

It wasn’t a great monetary loss; there was only about 1000yen left on it. And in this honesty loving country, there’s a good chance I would eventually have gotten it back. It has my name printed on it and I registered my phone number with the train people when I bought it. But I would have had to go to the ticket counter, explain the situation, fill out a form, pay an extra fare, inconvenience throngs of other morning travelers, be late for work and get myself into a foul mood.

As all of that passed before my eyes, a young man on the train must have seen my expression and followed my eye line, because he immediately bent down, picked up my card, and waved it at me with a big smile. I nodded and smiled back with enthusiasm. Then we had a “what now?” moment and came to the same conclusion at the same moment. We both stepped toward the window, which he opened and passed my card to me just as the train started pulling out of the station.


I hope the unicorns of destiny did something particularly nice for him today. Grasping a moment to do something kind without thinking twice is a mark of all that is good in humanity. I have felt warm and fuzzy all day.

Penguins and Prairie Dogs

The journey from home to the studio is just over 16km, which doesn’t sound like much, but if you think about the number of streets and buildings and vehicles and bikes and dogs and feet the trains pass under in that distance, the numbers get overwhelming pretty quickly. Add to that the trains were running late so the platform was human gridlock. She  had to wait for two trains to pass before she could even descend the staircase.

Space is plentiful in a sardine can compared to the crush of humanity inside the cars. The man crammed against her chest has beads of sweat on his upper lip. Someone smelled of mothballs, another of garlic, but worst of all is the tobacco stench, which curls its hateful fingers into her nostrils no matter which direction she turns her head.

The train lurches and rattles. The bodies getting on and getting off press against each other, each determined to reach its destination, oblivious to the others. The pain begins in her feet and slowly travels to her knees, intensifying as the journey lengthens. Tears threaten.

And then, at long last, train arrives at the station and she makes her way to the street. She passes through an elegant bamboo gate…


…into a wonderland where she is greeted by sophisticated penguins…


…and prairie dogs rise out of the pavement to greet the warmth of the sun.

prairie dog

She indulges herself in a celebration of this magical world, then takes a deep breath and turns her footsteps toward the studio, the work, the people, drawing strength from the electric fibers in the threads that bind the universe.

Sometimes a moment of recharge is all it takes.


The Tale of the Crazy Lady

Setagaya lineThe Setagaya Line is a silly little two car line that doesn’t go very fast. I’ve seen people whiz past it on bicycles, but it was the only way to get to yesterday’s job. After the first stop, a woman behind me started yelling quite loudly, “Excuse me! Excuse me!”

As is usual in such cases most people ignored her, but the conductor was obliged to go see what the fuss was about. The yelling woman had a cane but wasn’t old and didn’t seem to have any trouble walking. From what I can surmise, she wanted to sit and asked a young guy to get up and he ignored her. The train stopped at the next station. Yelling woman and two young guys got off and stood on the platform. The conductor took the guys aside and spoke to them quietly. The train pulled out of the station with the guys standing on the platform looking bemused. I don’t know what happened to yelling woman.

I can only guess, but assume the conductor said something like, “OK. This is clearly a case of crazy lady. In the interest of keeping the peace, would you two mind waiting for the next train?” So very Japanese.

This course of events made me a little late for work, but everyone enjoyed the Tale of the Crazy Lady so they forgave me. After all, a little crazy is the spice of life.


They say that when you have to give a speech and you’re nervous, just imagine your audience in its collective underwear, or better yet, underwear and socks. That should humanize them and thereby make them less scary.

We started a little later on this, our final day, so the trains were less crowded. Toward the end, the seats were all taken but there were few people standing, so I could look around and surmise. The weather is crap today so everyone was bundled up to their teeth, but I could see faces. And I wondered how many pairs of underpants were hurtling along the rails with mine and how those underpants matched those faces.

(Today I’m wearing green cotton bikinis. It is not possible for a woman shaped like me to buy underwear in Japan. Underpants only come in three sizes: itsy-bity, teeny-tiny and grandma. So I found a brand that fits well, lasts a long time and is commonly available in the States. Hanes for Her, cotton bikini–not high cut or low rise–size 7, assorted colors and/or patterns. Boring, I know, but reliable underwear is one of the things that makes my world a happy place. My birthday is July 2. Thank you.)

Yeah, that’s me. Like my tan?

So I was looking around the car and found myself starting to analyze. I figured it was safe to assume there were at least as many pairs of underpants as there were people, give or take a few. The more intriguing question was what those underpants might look like.

Of the ladies, what percentage wore cotton? Silk? Lace? What percentage bikini? Thong? Up-to-the-armpits Grannypants? As for the men, how many wore boxers? How many briefs? How many conservative stripes or plaid? How many more risque flowers or hearts or dancing Mickey Mouses?

How many were fresh from the mint? How many torn or stained? How many had shot elastic? How many were bought in person? How many by wives or mothers or creepy uncles? How many came from fancy department stores or upscale shops? How many from local supermarkets? How many were stolen from upscale shops or local supermarkets? How many were stolen from the neighbor’s balcony?

Whatever the unknowable answer to these questions, I started to grin and couldn’t stop. As I looked around the car, peering at people’s faces and contemplating their corresponding undergarments, they would occasionally look up and catch me staring with a goofy grin on my face. Just as I’ll never know what they were wearing, they’ll never know what I was thinking. And that thought made me smile even more.

So, this begs the obvious question. What are YOU wearing?

Alone Together


Yesterday was the first of six days of filming. The studio is inconveniently located on the far side of the city, so I continue my lifelong quest for silver linings. Saturday’s trains weren’t too bad; today being Sunday, they were even better. They jolted along, their wheels objecting to the early hour as they screamed against the rails.The cars of the trains were strewn with bodies in various states of consciousness, many lolling in unseemly poses, mouths hanging open, heads thrown back against the windows. Most of us were bundled up in down coats, our necks swaddled in wooly scarves. Two girls in matching sweats clutched lacrosse sticks, stared blankly at the floor. A large man in a suit snored, snorted and woke himself up. I felt an odd sense of unity. Our sleepiness lent us a communal vulnerability; we allowed ourselves to be seen in ways we would normally avoid, averting our bleary eyes, pretending not to see. We were seen but did not see. But at least we had space to breathe.

Tomorrow is Monday.  Dreading, dreading, dreading.