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Nihon de: The adventures of Maggie » Train

The Strange Encounter

Posted by maggie on Jun 4, 2012 in In Japan

The late day sun drifted lazily through the windows of the car, the whole train lightly bobbing as it sped along the tracks. Every seat was filled that day, leaving many standing in crowds near the doors on either side. With one bag on my back and another in my hand, I slouched against the bar by the right side door and watched the land outside pass in blurs of color. The sun was not setting now, but it would be soon. I looked forward to the change. Even in the city, sunset paints everything in beautiful colors.

The train stopped. Passengers pushed their way in and out, shoving or stepping around the people in front. A few girls near me shifted slightly, but there was no pause in the conversation. I stood silently, shifting when I had to. A large crowd appeared at my door pushing their way in, and I moved to the other side, grabbing the handle above me. In no time, the doors closed, and we were in motion again.

But then I became aware of something. A noise from further down the car. It grew a little louder, and I realized it was a man. I frowned a little at his tone, recognizing a few words directed to someone I couldn’t see.

“Shut up!…What? Can’t you understand me?” 

It was almost palpable then. The entire car was tense, only the bravest daring a glimpse at this man. Some people squeezed around others to see, while others cast their eyes to the ground. Several shook their heads and returned to their business, a wary eye drifting every now and again.

With some subtlety, I caught a look at him from the corner of my eye. A wife beater and a lot of ink decorating his back and shoulders immediately caught my notice.

“What, huh? Do you speak English?….Shut up!”

My first thought was ‘Yakuza,’ or at least some gang member. Not just anyone would flaunt their tattoos so openly here. Some people actually don’t get served in restaurants and other places if they display tattoos.

Cautiously, I moved back to the side I’d been on first, standing with my friend. There was enough of a crowd that he didn’t see us, and I stood faced away, keeping my eyes down as well. I felt bad for the people he was shouting at, but I wasn’t about to get involved. By now, I figured he couldn’t be ‘Yakuza;’ the tattoo was large, but it could have been a few close together. It wasn’t a large landscape or very artsy at all, just straight black ink.

Still, he was obviously some punk kid who shouldn’t be crossed. My curiosity sated for the time being, I resolved myself to admiring various kinds of shoes that were gathered around me.

It was odd; usually all the cars were packed at this hour…

The next stop dragged slowly into view, the train screeching softly to a halt. A few people got off, minding their own business. The man was sitting quietly at this point, listening to his iPod, but no one from our side of the train dared to go near him. Probably just as well.

People shifted awkwardly back to conversations, every now and again casting glances towards the back of the car. I thought about the situation at the time, slightly concerned but also just the slightest bit amused. I knew to keep my distance, mind my business, and above all else, not make eye contact, but I thought about what he had said before. Had the lady provoked him somehow? Or was he just being a jerk because he thought he was tough and felt like bossing people around?

At the next stop, I felt the tension lift a little. After the initial crowd got off, someone must have alerted the police, because at least three or four officers boarded the train. After what I assumed was them nicely asking the man to leave, they ended up pulling him off with little protest. For a moment, we waited at the stop, watching him stand outside, hop up and down, and occasionally make faces at the people he was sitting next to. I couldn’t help but laugh, just a little. It probably wasn’t the best idea, but he was so focused on those people and was acting like an idiot.

We were on our way again in no time, leaving the punk back at the other station with the officers. A few people laughed at first, slowly relaxing back into their little groups, the din in the car mingling until I couldn’t follow any of it anymore.

As I made my way to the next line, checking for sure that it was the local, I couldn’t stop thinking about this strange experience. I had followed my instincts and stayed away from the danger, and yet I was surprised by how unafraid I had been at the time. Surely, in the states, such an incident would have raised the hairs on my neck and sped up the beating of my heart.

But while I was a little anxious, I didn’t feel in danger, per say. Maybe it was the crowded train full of people; but then, no one had spoken up when the punk began shouting at that woman. Or if they had, I didn’t hear it. Maybe he was shouting at several people at the time, and I just hadn’t noticed.

What had been the point of the argument? Of making such a spectacle of himself? Though trying to be tough and command attention and respect, he just seemed more juvenile, and I wasn’t quite sure if people took him all that seriously. Perhaps they were just annoyed by this man being rude and obnoxious on their peaceful commute home.

But it was certainly interesting; I hadn’t expected any commotion like that here. With a shrug, I just kept on walking, vowing to write about it when I was safely home. I boarded the next local train and sighed as it travelled leisurely on.

That is why I proceed with caution. Because even the friendliest city in the world has its dangers.


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