There must be some sort of medal they give to gaijins who manage to navigate Shibuya train station at rush hour. Especially ones who have only been here for three weeks and have to navigate it twice a week, two times a day to reach their internship. Throngs of people rush every which-way—a roaring current that is liable to sweep away even the most seasoned businessman in rapids that never calm their frothy, frantic journey. Maybe a raft would make this better… I think, before taking a deep breath and plunging into the current. I whirl around corners and down stairwells, trying desperately to reach the opposite shore, where signs pointing me to the “Toyoko” train line beckon like land in a raging storm. “Sumimasen,” the only word I’ve said since I left the dorm at 7:15 in the morning, is my constant refrain as I try my hardest to unobtrusively barrel my way through the crowd.
Photo courtesy of http://www.Japan-guide.com, as I am often unfortunately too overwhelmed from squeezing myself into the car to think about snapping photos.
Down a set of stairs, past the women clacking in their heels like it’s illegal to wear anything else, around another corner, outside, back inside (good thing it’s not raining), up an escalator, scan my Pasmo (bye, 200 Yen), through the flood gates, and finally, my head is above water again as I reach the platform. A few moments later, the train glides to an effortless halt and I ready myself. The sea of people has somehow transformed itself from water into sardines, packed tightly inside metal tubes. Elbows out, head down, I step slightly out of the way as the doors open, releasing a wash of sardines in suits onto the shores of the platform. Before the last commuter has pried himself from the car, we throng in, crowding up against one another until everyone fits. I cannot miss this train, I think as I consider elbowing schoolgirls and grannies alike out of the way. The catchy tune chimes, the doors beep and let out a hydraulic “whoosh,” and we lurch forward. There are no handholds to be found, but that’s not a problem—I can barely move to adjust my arm, which hangs dangerously close to areas I have no desire to discover more about. I try to angle myself in order to avoid the gentleman behind me that has no choice but to ride this train in an unintentionally similar fashion to the way clubbers dance on a Friday night. For someone who considers herself a little shy, I’ve gotten to know a lot of complete strangers far better than I’d ever wanted to in these past few weeks.
Uh oh, the man to my right is sweating profusely. Ew. I’ve got enough of that going on already, thank you! Is it this hot for sardines when they’re canned? If I can just inch a little to my left… “Oh, Sumimasen,” Trapped. Only two more stops.
People shove by me as the train stops and I can’t help but think to myself, I’ll move, no need to push. A simple “sumimasen” will suffice, goodness. For such a considerate culture (in my experience), you’d better not try to stand in the way of a salarywoman who needs to exit the train if you value your limbs, or at least your shoes. “Kikuna desu!” That’s me! “Sumimasen, sumimasen,” The metro waits for no man! And to think, it’s only 8:05am and I have to come home later. Bring it on, evening rush hour.
Here’s a little vocab, in case you aren’t familiar with some of the words I used:
Gaijin: The less-than-polite term for “foreigner,” the correct term is “gaikokkujin,” but no one has time to say that these days.
Sumimasen: “Excuse me,” “I’m sorry”
Pasmo: The card, like an Oyster Card in London, that is scanned in order to get on and off the metro and trains.