I‘d like to deviate from writing about Chatan for a while. I’ve recently returned from a training exercise on the Japanese mainland, and have plenty to write about. Most of the trip was spent in the shadow of Mount Fuji doing what Uncle Sam pays me to do, but for a day or two, my unit was unleashed on the unsuspecting Japanese country side.
A few of my fellow Belleau Woodsmen and I sought to make the trip to Tokyo for some well-earned respite…wrong move. Tokyo exemplifies Japanese culture as much as Domino’s Pizza exemplifies Italian cuisine. Sure, the signs were screaming in katakana, but everything else was a monument to the decline of eastern culture in the face of western expansionism. No sooner had I mentioned wanting coffee than I laid eyes on the circular logo of a Starbucks.
The real gem in Tokyo is the train system. Mt. Fuji is a ways away from the city, but my companions and I had no trouble finding a train to take us there. We received guidance from a polite, quasi-bilingual local at Gotemba Station, then boarded the iron beast for our adventure. Four trains later, we found ourselves in the Akihabara district, or Electric Town, to the locals.
The first portion of the ride was spent in an un-crowded car enjoying the warmth of the heated seats, and shuddering every time the doors opened to allow more folks to get on. We began in a farming suburb, and gradually the train grew heavy with passengers and the scenery outside transitioned from beautiful mountains and flowing foothills into urban entanglement.
The passengers morphed as well. Hunch-backed old ladies and young school girls slowly turned in to sharply dressed businessmen and couriers, grandfathers became public works laborers. By the time we reached the heart of the city, the trains were standing room only, and I wasn’t surprised when I no longer had to hold the overhead rail to keep myself upright. The press of foreign flesh negated the need for it.
On the ride back, I began to study the people themselves rather than the scenery outside the train. The ones I saw now were of the same ilk as the ones that traveled with us earlier in the day, but instead of the fresh hope for a new day, these people were haggard and tired. The high-powered businessmen no longer had the same wind in their sails. I saw many of them relaxing against the strangers pressed against them, sleeping while standing.
As we travel away from one of the largest cities on earth, the train car empties. By the time we arrive back at Gotemba Station, we share the car with only a handful, and it’s dark and cold outside. The Station itself seems to have gone to sleep. I’m grateful for the relative quiet. The truth of it is that there is too much in that city for me to write about in a hundred years, much less see in a day.