I think I should write a little bit about transportation. We will go in order of size; trains, then bikes, then walking.
Trains- （電車 － でんしゃ）
Trains are wonderfully convenient to get across town. Although not wonderfully cheap (at about $6 for a trip across town), they are always there, run about every 10 minutes, and run ‘till midnight. I think I’m stuck on “wonderful” because Tokyo Underground’s ad campaign is “Tokyo Wonderground.” Its so wonderfully catchy; I hope the Japanese get it too.
You could devote a dissertation to “the people of Tokyo’s trains,” but I will try to sum it up pretty quick. Everyone rides them. Everyone. Young, old, sick, athletic, energetic and totally apathetic people are all well represented. All of them wonderfully interesting (I’m going to keep doing this, just keep count). The young are often middle and high school kids traveling to and from school. Very easy to spot because of their formal uniforms made even more obvious by the fact that there are always four or five people dressed identically standing together. Like species, they can be separated by their markings. Each school has unique colors, styles, and particularly buttons. Really fancy buttons, at least which is what I have noticed. Moving on down the line we get to the working age men and women. They all dress alike too, but in a different, more ubiquitous way. The guys wear suits. They all wear suits. That is not optional apparently. I’m not sure if this is just me, but I seem to think that the younger men are even more identical. They all wear black suits. As they get older and into middle age, there are some other colors and subtle patters in the coats, but, ask a young worker, my guess is that you have to adhere to a quite stringent dress code (although I doubt it is actually a written code). The women wear mostly knee length skirts and have very well done makeup etcetera. Overall, both sexes seem to dress to the tea. It’s not like suits are cheap either. I think the average, decent suit is something to the effect of $500. I doubt the girls get off much easier. Almost all nice clothes are expensive here and I’m sure makeup, jewelry, and high heels are. Now the elderly population. It is amazing how many of them can stand for long periods of time. I guess it helps that they have probably done it all their life. For the most part they are quite deft at getting through the train system but every now and then you will see someone in wandering in wonderland; I guess a little overwhelmed.
And people sleep on these things. The other day going out to Sagamiko, an old guy woke up a teenager who had fell asleep and inadvertently rode the train all the way to the end of the line. Poor kid got off in a dazed confusion, all of us chuckled to ourselves, and the old man grinned in memory of those days I suppose. Heck, there are even little poster saying “Please don’t fall asleep on the person next to you’s shoulder.” The other day I witnessed the effects of this awkward part of train life. A guy was falling asleep and to the right. Unfortunately it was a full train and there was a young and very uncomfortable looking girl to his right. Well as he dipped farther and farther down towards her, she tried to pull herself to a small a space as possible. So now we have a girl taking up about 6 inches of a seat and a guy about to fall in her lap. It was everything I could do not to bust out laughing at the whole thing. Too bad he never quite fell all the way; I really would have laughed out loud then.
Bikes (自転車 － じてんしゃ)
So many bikes. Half the sidewalk is (loosely) devoted to bike riders and there are huge banks of bike parking spaces near all the stations. But they are more than just a means to get to the station. They are what you use to get groceries, how you transport children, the choice mode of transportation for anything under a mile or so. Every bike is a single gear with at least one basket and those little tire guard things. They would make for a wonderful 1950’s reenactment. Wives ride their bike to the grocery store, buy that day’s food, put it in the basket and ride off. No huge carts full of stuff. Just what fits in your bike’s basket (2-3 bags). This is reflected in the grocery store which has mostly hand baskets and a few carts that are really just roll-able holders for 2 baskets. But besides groceries, they carry kids. Sometimes two kids. They make little bike seats (basically like a car seat) that attach where the front basket would be or on the back or, as I mentioned, both. So you will see a young mother peddling along with her two kids in front of and behind her as she goes to the grocery store or home or wherever really. Those bikes are not limited to humans either. The other day I saw a guy with 3 small dogs on his bike. Two in the front basket and one in the back basket. If only I had my camera, that would have been a wonderful picture. They ride in the baskets looking around and enjoying the air (as there is no window to stick their head out of). The riders themselves are quite amazing. They can bike and talk, bike and text, and even bike with an umbrella. Talented.
Walking (歩く － あるく)
Like most countries besides the US I suppose, it is inevitable that you will have to walk. I walk around 50 minutes every day just to get to and from class. If you are me, it’s not so bad though. I enjoy it so much I barely notice. That’s obviously not a universal opinion; there are a fair number of the exchange students (mostly American) who don’t seem to enjoy the long trips by foot. I just think of it as a wonderful chance to see all the people. Guess I’m a bit of an overwhelming wonderland too. Thank you for the shoes Papa! I love my sandals. With all this walking a good pair of shoes is indispensible.
Bikes are always wising by. You have to get used to that when you come. They ride within a few inches of you and you just have to trust them.
Out in Sagamiko I also found walking to be the only way of transportation. As you hear, I walked quite a bit there and will probably do so again. It doesn’t seem that uncommon to walk quite a bit though, which might be at least a good part of why there is less obesity. That and the price of food. But back to the mountains, it seems that there are walking trails and small, old roads between all the small towns. I hope I can walk some more and maybe Mom, Dad, Justin, and Stormy too when they come.
By the way, it seems that was about 8 wonderfuls and a few wonderlands.