Monday, July 30, 2007

A Long Road to The Festival (The King's Festival!?): Part Two of a Continuing Saga

To take a step back, we got on the subway to get to the Asakasa area where there is a huge Buddhist temple and a lot of photo-ready gates and pagodas and the accompanying commercial detritus. That’s where the fireworks were going to go up. Again, this sounds like a lovely idea. Such a lovely idea it was that the larger portion of the Tokyo population agreed and decided that they might as well come out to join us. They’re friendly like that.

I’ve written about the subway and its horrors, but to tell the truth, I’ve found a few ways to minimize the crush during rush hour.

Top 5 Ways Not To Get Crushed During Rush Hour on the Tokyo Subway:

5. Sneak in as far away from the doors as possible. Lots of folks worry they won’t be able to get out when their stop comes, so they fight for position around the door. Slide past these folks into the middle between the doors and you’ll earn yourself a inch or two of breathing room.

4. Avoid the express trains. You might think – oo! Express means faster! Faster means less time in the crush – all to the good, right? Well, kinda. Most everyone also thinks that though, so the expresses are much more crowded than the locals. And ya know what? I live an hour away, and the difference between the express and the local is a whopping 8 minutes. Feh, I’ll trade the 8 minutes for the joy of an un-collapsed lung, thanks. You can make your decision though.

3. Ride the female car. Now, I’m only suggesting this based on the story of one guy’s story about accidentally getting on the females-only car and finding it much roomier. Now that I think about it, the women were probably all staying as far away from him as possible. Ya know, only guy on the women-only car. That probably wasn’t so smart. That being said, I you happen to be blessed with the right chromosome pairing, I say give it a try. Even if it’s just as crowded as the other cars, my experience shows that you’ll end up with better smells, and I imagine most people would prefer a car with less fear of the pervy folk.

2. Carry a bag. This is actually a bit rude and I’m sure it’s cheating, but I play dirty. I’ve got one of my big pannier bags with the strap crosswise against my chest with the bag directly in front. This way I always get a little space in front of my face because no one can get closer to me than my bag. This is cheating because I usually see people put their bigger bags up on the luggage rack. I may get dirty looks, but I’ve got my nose in a book, so I usually don’t see them. Like a house elf, I bonk my head in contrition, but I still do it anyway. Bad, bad, rude Overread. Dobby would understand.

1. The Golden and Most Important Rule – Get out earlier. The difference between the 6:57 train and the 7:00 train is massive. I’ve even seen people able to open up a newspaper on the 6:50 train. I haven’t tried the even later train that we tried that first day again. Shudder.

It really is amazing how easily I get distracted, isn’t it?

I brought all that up because the ride to Asakasa that night was on a par or even maybe a bit worse than the first day I tried to ride the subway. Crazy crushed. There’s a picture of one of the cars from the outside, but it really doesn’t do the situation justice. It’s hilarious when you are smashed up against some random stranger, forced to take particular interest in the mole of the back of his ear for 5 minutes, and then you pull into a station.

You giggle a little bit thinking with a touch of schadenfreude about the poor saps who have no chance to get in the car. Maybe they’ll climb on top like they do in those old pictures from India you think with a superior chortle. A quick note – don’t actually laugh out loud. The exhalation of air from your lungs will give others a chance to squish closer. Well, that night, the joke was on me. The train pulled into the station, and there were lines of people politely queued up with hopes of getting on. Having already used my pseudo-joke about quantum train experiments and physical bodies occupying the same space, I really have no words to describe what happened next. I can only report the result. They all got on the car. I have no idea how. Although it is worth saying perhaps that there was serious consideration about how to lift one of our crew and put him on the luggage rack. Alas, we couldn’t move our arms, so the idea went nowhere.

Exiting the train was more of a panicky mass disgorging than anything else. If you’ll pardon the image, it really seemed like a birthing. People pushed with sudden urgency. I held my breath and struggled forward against the living walls around me. There were the indecipherable mumblings of the intercom voice, there was even a woman yelling out, “Itai! Itai! [It hurts! It hurts!]” I never did find out what happened to her, as I was pushed and pushing along the human surge. Finally, I was pulled gasping into the light where a man stood wearing a surgical mask. He slapped my butt and I cried.

Ok, well part of that last bit might not be exactly accurate.

This is truly becoming epic. More later.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Fireworks and Karaoke Part the First

Karaoke will do strange things to people.

I guess I should start at the beginning. Japan has a lot of holidays. I’m absolutely sure that they are or were once very important for what they represented, but just like Labor Day or President’s Day, they’ve now simply all become an excuse to party or BBQ or get drunk. Preferably all three. My evidence here is twofold. A couple of weeks ago there was a major bank holiday. It was explained to me as “Sea Day.” I was quite sure that I had misunderstood until the fourth or fifth person confirmed it. Nothing would be open because of “Sea Day.”

“Well, what do you do on ‘Sea Day?’”

“You should go to the ocean.”

“Are you going to the ocean?”

“No one goes to the ocean. It’s too crowded.”

I’ll let that little paradox twittle around in the posting area without comment.

My second piece of evidence was uncovered when we got an email from one of the groups in charge of some of us. The email said that there would be a proper booze-up and group outing to watch the fireworks. A follow-up email apologized for not arranging for us to wear costumes. This sounded great! I eagerly asked a Japanese friend what the holiday was for. Then I asked another. Confused with the answers I was getting, I asked several more, never getting much more than, “It’s summer, right? Everyone needs to wear the summer kimono and we’ll watch fireworks.”

I was a bit confounded, and frankly, I’m sure a consultation with Dr. Google would fix me up in no time, but I’m kinda of warming to the idea that there should be a “Sea Day,” and that occasionally, you should just stop worrying about why, and put on your summer kimono (called a yukata – never say this blog ain’t educational) and go watch fireworks.

The first part of the plan went fairly well. Our fearless leader failed to show, but an underling was ok to take charge and lead us into the bowels of the subway to our goal. At first it was kind of exciting – Oooh! Look at that girl in that beautiful kimono! Isn’t it gorgeous? Damn… I’m sorry about this, but at the risk of turning this into another War and Peace of a blog post, I feel I need to digress for a moment.

Again, I’m no fashion plate, but here we go. The kimonos were almost uniformly beautiful – I even got a couple on film up on flickr. Some were subtle and clean, some were a riot of summer-y colors and patterns. I saw one that I particularly liked that was nearly completely solid in a creamy off-white with a flower curled around the hem – very classy. They were set off with elaborate hairpins in elaborately coiffed ‘dos and broaches, matching bags and sandals – just gorgeous. Then, there were the… others.

First off, full points to the guys accompanying the young ladies in kimonos who bothered to wear one themselves. The male version of the summer kimono looks great and can match well with the woman’s. They look masculine and very stylish – frankly they are a lot more aesthetically pleasing than anything that the poor corporate salarymen wear during the week. Well done gentlemen – you are doing your best to make the less-fair sex less pathetic. Also, a well done goes out to the gaggles of gals in kimono (kimonos?). Very often quite the lovely sight.

The standard guy-gal couple was however, let’s say, less aesthetically pleasing. Alas, most often the male of the species sported a t-shirted and blue-jeans. (You should all know that my little glass house has major structural damage due to, let us say, ‘velocitized geology’)

However, my full scorn is aimed toward those among the Japanese youth, men and women, who A) think that 80’s hair bands were really on to something and we need to give their stylings one more shot. B) think that tan-in-a-bottle should be applied like Tammy Faye’s mascara (too soon? Too soon.) C) Well, ok there’s really only those two, but they were usually combined in the same person. Go ahead – try googling gunguro – well, I think that’s how you spell it anyway… You’ll see what I mean.

Ok, digression over.

Oh, for crying out loud. I haven’t even gotten to the fireworks or the karaoke bit yet. Not even time to proofread. Hmmph. This’ll have to be a serial post. More later.