I ride the same train every morning. I see the same woman on the subway platform every morning. A middle-aged, plump woman with cropped black hair with a few gray strands slicked with too much gel so it lies in a limp mass on her head. We’ve never acknowledged each other, but we’re aware of one another. We’ve never looked each other in the eye, never exchanged a smile. I know this woman, but at the same time I don’t.
I think experience epitomizes what it can be like living in a Japanese city. It’s easy to get swept up in the fast-paced routine: the trains run on time; people jostle each other in a giant stampede to get to work; looking down, caught up in your head as the world passes you by.
It’s all very overwhelming at first. The sheer mass of people all heading to the same place at the same time…and all to get into an even smaller space! I’m still shocked at the amount of people they can squeeze into a single train car- just when you think it’s full, they somehow manage to fit 10 more!
Despite the initial exhaustion and shock, I’ve somehow come to join the robotic hustle. I’ve even created a timetable of my ideal commute to school: 7:46 express train into the city; 8:12 subway to school. If I don’t ride those trains, my commute becomes much more stressful- the trains become even more packed and won’t be able to get a seat unless I’m really lucky. You don’t realize how grateful you are for a seat until you’re squished between sweaty businessmen with barely enough room to breathe!
Japan works like a well-oiled machine. When I first moved here, I felt out of place; like I was a puzzle piece that didn’t quite fit. But as time passed, and now that I’m coming up on my 5th month here, I feel that I’ve been worked into a cog that fits within this machine. Although it might not be a perfect fit, since I’m still a foreigner after all!