So Alex offered me a blob spot (*I can't stand the word blog, so hence forth it shall be called blob on my blob) on Kendo World the other day. God knows why, but bless his cotton socks. I've never blobbed before. I have to admit I'm not much of a writer either. In fact every attempt at keeping a diary has ended with me either forgetting about it or losing the actual booklet I was writing in. I can't promise material as interesting as Alex's work; hell I can't even promise semi-regular updates. However, I CAN promise you that this blob and everything in it will be, and you can quote me on this, mediocre at best. And that aint not half bad!
Alright, enough of my idiocy.
I have a two-hour commute. It sucks but after five years I've learned do it well. Yes, that's right "do it well". There is an art to riding the cattle train with Japan's economic animals. That may sound offensive but for some reason commuting to and from work really brings out the worst in some of the people here. One has to be calculating and totally aware of his or her surroundings, because you may end up smashed between some sweaty old men who smell like an ashtray (and booze if it's night time) or in the worst case scenario shanked by some kook with a box cutter. I've had my fair share of unpleasant experiences riding the rails in Japan, and this has left me somewhat jaded.
After a meeting on a Friday evening, the night I leave for Tokyo to get my ass beat in the dojo and the pub with the rest of Japan's kendo loving gaijin, I stood in the aisle eyeballing two open seats on an express train just about to pull into Kyoto station. Both seats had suited up salarymen sitting in the window seat. You have to have size up and choose your bench-buddy wisely or you could up next to some jerk who will take up half of your side of the seat and spread his newspaper out in front of your face. It didn't look like any other seat was going to open up so I just picked the one closest to me. The moment I sat down I was overpowered by the smell of booze coming from the older gentleman next to me. Out of the corner of my eye I watched him suck the last drops of sake out of his "One-Cup" jar of vending machine sake. As I wrote earlier I've had some unpleasant experiences on the trains and more often than not it was from an ugly drunk. I just buried my nose in my book and did my best to avoid any contact with the man next to me. The trains rocking eventually causes me to doze off in the middle of reading.
I woke up a few minutes before the train pulled into Takatsuki station (sort of a halfway point between Kyoto and Osaka station) and I could feel the guy next to me staring at me. I'm not sure if he wanted to try and talk to me or if he was just trying to figure out how to ask me to move so he could get off at the next stop, but my spider-sense was telling me this guy wanted to communicate badly. Before I could even fully turn my head in his direction he pointed at the title of the book in my lap and said, "Samurai. Samurai." (I was reading "Samurai Invasion" by Stephen Turnbull, I highly recommend it)
Damn it! I had done did it. Now I was either going to spend the next hour listening to unintelligible English or have "the conversation". By "the conversation" I mean the conversation I and many other expats have had thousands of times before. Where are you from? Can you eat sushi? Can you use chopsticks? And so on. I didn't want to have it again so I nodded politely, smiled, and said "Yeah, samurai". Then I immediately turned away closed my eyes and pretended to go to sleep. Hey, I said I was jaded!!!
The very instant I closed my eyes I felt terrible. "What's wrong with me", I thought, "He's just being friendly and trying to make conversation". A couple years back I would have chatted this guy up regardless. So as soon as I closed my eyes and laid my head back, I perked up and turned to the fellow and explained to him what my book was about in Japanese. We had a nice conversation about history (more specifically my interest in it) and our hometowns (respectively). After about fifteen minutes or so the conversation returned to the title of my book. He again pointed to the book and asked if I have any interest in samurai, swords, or armor. I explained that I did and that I practice kendo and iaido. All of a sudden he got very excited and told me to hang on a second while he dug through his bag trying to find his business card. He handed me his card and revealed that he is a swordsmith on his way back from a business trip in Kyoto. When I took his card I noticed his gnarled hands. He then showed me the many potmark scares covering his arms and face, and a rather grotesque one on his belly that came from smithing. Needless to say the conversation soon turned to swords and smithing. I found myself shamelessly taking on the role of noisy-neighbor full of questions. Thankfully he didn't mind and I spent the rest of the train ride hanging on his every word.
As we pulled into Osaka station I handed him my card and wished him a safe journey home. He tells me that he has DVD of NHK International program that featured the forge he works at in Okayama prefecture and that he would send me a copy. We then parted ways. He continued his four journey home and I got ready to go to Tokyo.
Weeks pass and on the same day that Alex offers me a blob-spot I receive an envelope from the blacksmith containing the DVD that he promised. It turns out the NHK program, "Out and About" is hosted by Alex Bennett. Thanks to him I now have something worth writing about.
Anyway, this little experience reminded to always try and be nicer to people. I often get wrapped up in my own little world of home, work, and keiko and forget about those around me. It also gave me new perspective; I was annoyed at this man wanting to communicate with me but didn't hesitate to do the same to him when it fulfilled my own selfish needs. I like to think I've learned from this embarrassing behavior and hopefully it affords me more interesting encounters in the future.
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