I love trains. Densha ga daisuki!
The first time I rode the trains in Tokyo, I fell in love with them. Feeling ko, nasa loob ako ng art gallery. Kasi, ang ganda ng mga poster ads sa dingding at kisame. Very imaginative ang mga ads: may nakadikit, nakabitin, nakasabit at kung anu-ano pang gimmick ang meron nila. Siempre, ako, bilang isang visual artist, I appreciate looking at these poster ads even though I did not understand a bit of what they are selling or promoting. Basta maganda ang kulay, picture at composition, enjoy na ako. Ang babaw ng kaligayahan, no? I was already artistically nourished.
Now, several years have passed, marunong na rin ng konting Japanese, I am able to understand most of what these ads say. In fact, whenever I ride the trains, lagi kong tinitingnan ang mga ads sa loob. Not that I am interested at them but I try to test my Japanese reading ability. I look for the kanji characters I need to know. Kung meron akong kasamang Hapon, I ask them to translate what those characters mean. It's a good way to learn Japanese while riding the trains. Kaya kayong merong asawang Hapon, o kung medyo malaki na ang mga anak ninyong Hapon, huwag ng mahiya. Magtanong sa asawa o anak. Are wa dou iu imi desu ka? Anong ibig sabihin noon?
Basically, the train ads are great teachers. I learn so much about the Japanese language: grammar and kanji. I learn about Japanese culture, history and geography. I learn about the new celebrity endorsers. I learn the news, as well. Inside the car trains of JR Yamanote Line in Tokyo, meron TV monitors at each door. They tell you what is happening in Japan and all around the world. They tell you the weather forecast for a week. They even give you your daily fortune, as well! They tell you if there are accidents in other train lines and advice you what you should do. Dakara densha ga daisuki!
On-the-dot ang mga trains dito. Minsan, sabi ng friend kong si Taro, we meet inside the first car of Yamanote Line Shinjuku Station at exactly 3:17 PM. Dumating right on time ang train at nakita kong nasa loob at naka-upong naghihintay na si Taro sa akin. Hindi pwedeng ma-late. Mortal sin ang pagiging late dito sa Japan. I wonder if I were late that time. Eh di, good-bye na sa train at kay Taro. Just imagine if the friend you are supposed to meet inside is giving you a gift, eh di, sayonara sa gift na rin! The trains in Japan tell you one important thing: Be on time or it's good-bye.
Ang lupit naman ng mga tren dito. Iiwanan ka talaga without any mercy at all! So what if di mo talaga kayang maabot ang oras? Actually, mabait pa rin ang mga tren. Why? Because they give you second chances. You just take the next train. Ganoon ka simple. Ganyan ang buhay. Try and try again. Dakara densha ga daisuki!
Si Teroy, mas grabe pa sa akin. Kung wala raw siyang ginagawa, nag-tatambay sa loob ng densha. He travels as far as the train could take him. Nag-eenjoy siya sa mga scenery outside. He takes the best seat while enjoying the comfort and convenience of the modern Japanese rail system. Wika ni Teroy, "It's so warm inside. Meron heater during winter. At during summer, it's cool inside. Nag-ba-baon ako ng onigiri at o-cha para feel-na-feel na nasa Japan! Aba, walang problema sa 'call-of-nature.' Meron toilet sa loob ng densha." Kulang na lang siguro at mag-lagay sila ng shower room sa mga densha. Baka hindi na umuwi si Teroy sa kanyang maliit na apato at sa densha na lang siya manirahan. I think that would be a great idea: train hotels! And why not? In Japan, basta pagkakakitaan, they would do anything.
When my friend, Beatrice, visited Tokyo as a first time tourist, just buying a train ticket seemed like a nightmare to her. She looked at the train and subway maps which appeared more complicated than a spider web's design. Although I have been living in Tokyo more than half my life, I understand well her predicament. Sometimes, when I travel outside of Tokyo to Nagoya, Osaka or Fukuoka, I get lost even with their simple train/subway map system. I agree, the Tokyo train and subway system is a jungle maze! That's why if you are lost, just ASK! Magtanong lang po kayo. Japanese are very much accommodating when it comes to helping lost foreigners particularly the ones who want to practice their English.
It's so fun sometimes when my friends and I meet. I usually advice my friends the cheapest or fastest way to get from one station to another. They get surprised when after all these years, they have been commuting the long way when in fact, they are other ways to travel shorter or faster and even, cheaper! I love staring at the train maps. Para siyang puzzle. I learn new ways of sneaking my way into the Tokyo jungle.
Pero not all is well and good about the trains in Tokyo. Meron din mga negative aspects like the groping crimes. Perhaps you've heard about the chikan (pervert) where they try to grope on victims especially women. When Japanese women get surrounded by strangers during the rush hour, most Japanese women would rather pretend that nothing unusual is happening than to create a scene. Hindi sila iskandalosa tulad natin. Mag-ingat lang sila kung Pinay ang katabi nila! Anyway, during rush hours, "women only" train cars have been introduced with guards present to enforce this. But how does one protect oneself when faced with this situation? Basta, tularan si Darna at sumigaw ng, "CHIKAN!" I tell you, takot ang mga Hapon sa mga iskandalosa. They would leave you immediately alone in peace. Amen!
Also, be warned of the rush-hours in Tokyo trains and subways. Kahit ba sabihin nilang marunong mag-pila ang mga Hapon, walang pakialam ang pila during rush hours because they fill up the trains to more than 200% capacity. People push each other just to get inside the train. Again, people will push you out when they leave the train. Mas hamak pa sa sardinas ang turing sa mga tao sa loob. Imagine mo ang init sa loob. At kung morning rush-hour, naku po, yung amoy ng bad breath. Alam na alam mo kung sinong kumain ng natto, piniritong isda, miso shiro, toyo, oshinko at kimchi. Hindi ba sila marunong mag-tooth brush and gargle after eating? Baka wala na silang oras. Kung evening last hour train naman, mag-ingat sa mga lasing! Amoy beer, sake, mizuari at whiskey ang mga salarymen. At laging tingnan ang linalakaran at baka maapakan ang curry rice o ramen na sinuka ng lasing na salaryman! Sus ginoo!
With the good and the bad points said, I still love the Tokyo trains. At least mas safe and feeling mo kesa sa mga Jeepney sa Manila. Naku po! Kung hindi aksidente ang abot mo, baka heart attack naman ang aabutin mo! Beep, beep!
Dakara densha ga daisuki!
"Shoganai" is not the first Japanese word I learned, but it is certainly the most used word in my vocabulary when dealing with daily life in Japan. It means, "some things can't be helped." This is, of course, a rather loose translation because "shoganai" is used for a myriad of situations with a slew of different meanings. Basically, this column will talk about the many things in and around Japan that are "shoganai," specially for Filipinos, and perhaps for other foreigners, as well. By the way, "shoganai" should not be confused with "shioganai," which means "there is no salt." One letter difference, and a whole new meaning is made. This is another thing about Japan that is "shoganai," the language and its many quirks. "Shioganai" by the way is the link to my blog, "Why?" you ask. Well, that is a whole different story which I will probably tell at some future date.
In Japan, commuting is "shoganai." But one thing I did notice in Japan is the ease of commute. A lot of foreigners often feel that commuting in Japan is the most confusing thing on Earth, but actually, with a little patience and practice, commuting becomes a piece of cake. People who drive are often more at ease with riding cars than commuting. But for people like me, who cannot drive, and who had to face the horrors of daily commute in Manila, we think that easy commuting is a God-send. So, I love the fact that commuting in Japan is really easy. It is as if this country was specifically designed for non-drivers like me.
Living in Japan, people often think that the main means of transportation is via trains. This is true for the most part, however, buses are also quite useful. Buses go to places where the subways can't. And riding the bus is quite scenic compared with subways. But many foreigners are daunted by the seeming complexity of bus maps and routes. Actually, bus maps and routes are available online, for almost any city in Japan. All you need is a little bit of patience, and you can discover many places erstwhile unavailable in the usual tourist maps.
Living in Japan can be fun and adventurous if you just take the time to go out and discover the places around you. Riding the trains and the buses, well, this is a cheap and educational way of discovering places. And you might actually discover a new mall, or park, or coffee shop, or maybe even a Filipino store/restaurant that you haven't been to before. So, grab a bag, check out the bus schedules and start your adventure. Happy Commuting!