Friday 13 September 2013


It's like Tiffany never died*

Looks like we got back just in time to experience the last few days of summer. Just in time to experience a little bit of what we’d missed and be oh-so glad that we’d missed it. And then it started raining. And continued raining. And kept raining some more after that.

Down it fell in waves and sheets and torrents until I was seriously considering building some sort of boat in which to pack two of everything we own should the inevitable happen. I don’t know how big it would need to be, but I imagine I’d have to measure it in cubits. Unfortunately though I had more pressing matters to attend to, in that I had to go to work.

The commute is a decidedly mixed blessing. With the kids at home (and indeed at work) it’s one of the few occasions I can spend in my own head with minimal fear of interruption. I’m slightly shocked by how highly I’ve come to value that, to be honest. But on the down side, well, weird things happen. And when it rains heavily it’s not so much weird as just straight-up nasty.

Because heavy rain fucks it all up. The trains are late, and infrequent, and slow. I’m not in Tokyo or Osaka, so those nightmare youtube clips you see of people getting shoved on already overfull carriages by station staff wearing white gloves aren’t a regular aspect of my existence. But when it rains, oh boy. The only difference is that JR West clearly won’t splash out for those natty white gloves for their staff, so they have to shove us on with their bare hands, poor bastards.

But shove they do, and just when you’re convinced that there’s no possible way for more people to fit on we reach another station and slivers of space measured in picometres briefly emerge only to be crammed with more damp and harried commuter-meat. Cubits seem like a distant and unachievable luxury now. Forty days and nights are as nothing as the landscape crawls past through fogged up windows as the train inches its way along rails apparently coated in pitch and hot tar. There aren’t enough hand-holds to go around but everyone’s splatted together so tight remaining upright isn’t a problem. Except, of course, when the train hits even the slightest camber in the tracks, at which point we all slosh to the side like too-warm dregs of lager in the pint glass of a drunk and belligerent giant. The poor lass by the door gets the combined weight of the entire carriage smershing her up against the window and is none-too pleased by this. Now, I’ve seen a few movies in which women get pressed against steamed-up panes of glass and they normally seem very enthusiastic about this turn of events, but this is decidedly less exciting for all concerned. 9½Weeks it is not, for all that it feels that long.

Not like this.

And, oddly, all this makes me glad that I’m back in Japan.

This wouldn’t happen back home. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been on a fair few tube trains which come close to this level of involuntary body-contact, but it would pan out fairly differently. Brits just wouldn’t stand for it. Except they clearly would, both figuratively and literally. Instead of a carriage of silent annoyance and forbearance going nowhere fast, in the UK you’d get a carriage of vocal whinging and entitlement going nowhere fast.

I’ve ragged on the Japanese obsession with the ganbaru spirit before, and I stand by that. On the large scale it works against necessary change and encourages reinforcement of the status quo. But we’re hardly gearing up for a revolution back home, and so all that vocal individualistic complaining achieves is making a bad situation even worse for everyone around you. People in Japan are at least capable of shutting up and getting on with it when stuff is clearly beyond their power to change in the short-term. The trouble lies when that attitude spills over into the long term.

But I didn’t care about the long term on that train and nor, rightly, did anyone else. People were clearly unhappy, but then everyone was in the same boat/carriage. No-one felt they had more right than anyone else to bitch and moan about stuff. They just shut up and got on with it and that, I think, is a quality a lot of people back home could do with a little more of.

I’d still like to avoid it next time though, so I think I might build that boat after all. How big is a cubit, exactly?


  1. Agreed that complaining incessantly is worse than eating your plate of shit in bitter silence, but too much shit-eating causes one to develop a taste for shit. And, I've said it before, the Japanese are the best at eating big steaming plates o' the stuff.

    The gaman thing is only respectable when it isn't something that's been programmed in. You only need to look around to see that people are giving up way too much here...

    1. I wouldn't disagree with any of that.

      When I was younger I enjoyed the odd cigar, among other vices. Mum wasn't so impressed, so Dad took me aside and had a 'little chat', which was basically that doing stuff that was bad for you was fine if you knew the risks and you were doing it because you wanted to. If you were only doing it because you didn't know how to stop, then that was a problem. And don't tell your mother.

  2. Cubits of meat-packed joy. Reading how it just kind of is in Tokyo would have me hoping for a flood if I lived there. And even that I don't liive there or pray for floods (well, not big ones)... even though I live 'away from it all', the plate-cleaning table mannerisms of the writhing masses aren't limited to cosmopolitan buffets. Those little mom n' pop kind of towns can serve up generously proud portions of that steaming delicacy of 'gaman' - only it ain't as crowded and no one is in such a hurry, least not for seconds. Heck, it's all good shit.

    1. Don't pray for floods, eh? Not anywhere near Kyoto, are you?

      I wouldn't call it a delicacy, but it's definitely steaming...