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Tokyo is known for it's densely packed commuter
trains, and although they aren't always crowded,
there is some truth to the general perception.
As you may know, last week I started Japanese
language school. Class begins at 9:00 a.m.
This means that I have to get on my local
train, the Hibiya line, during rush hour.
My stretch of the Hibiya is one of the worst
commutes in the city.
Sometimes in the morning I can't even get
on the train because it's so obscenely packed,
it looks like a college football team in
a phone booth. As it pulls up to the platform
you can see the smeared, white faces of the
passengers pressed up against the steamy
windows. The open area just inside the doorway,
between the rows of seats, is the worst.
When the doors open there is an audible groan
and sometimes a few people will get ejected
onto the platform merely from the release
in pressure as the doors open -- kind of
like a pimple. They have to force themselves
back in again just before the train pulls
away. Not every car is this bad, but there
certainly are some cars like this.
Like everything else in Japan, there is a
lot of etiquette involved in taking the train
when it's like this.
The Japanese generally avoid touching --
think of them as anti-Italians. However,
on the rush hour commuter trains touching
is unavoidable. It is so densely packed that
sometimes it's painful and people pass out.
So, what do you do in such a situation if
you abhor physical contact with strangers?
One trick is to act as if you were alone.
Never look anyone else in the eye; never
speak to anyone else; close your eyes and
sleep standing up like a horse. Everyone
must always face the same direction because
that way your face is in someone else's back,
not someone else's face.
Another thing that people do is walk backwards
onto the train. There are three reasons for
this. One, you don't have to look at anyone
as you're hurting them by forcing them back
further into the train. Two, you get the
coveted edge position with your face up against
the window in the door. And three, you need
to use the leverage you gain from backing
in while you reach up and grab the top of
the door frame with both hands and push yourself
back with a bench-press motion.
I've heard that people have died on
(from various natural causes) when
crazily packed and that nobody noticed
the crowd eventually thinned out and
person dropped to the floor.
Let's hope I don't end up one more corpse
surfing the train crowd.
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Hello to all of you new visitors coming from
the v Photobloggies finalist page. I hope you like what you
For those of you who don't know about the
Photobloggies, they're a new award, kind of like the the
Grammies I suppose, for photo-centric web
logs, like this one. Hunkabutta is one of
the finalists for the 'Best Travel Photo
Blog' category. If you like Hunkabutta then
go there now and vote because I'd really like to win.
The funny thing is though, I never thought
of Hunkabutta as a travel log before, and
I'm kind of surprised that other people see
it that way. I live here in Tokyo, I'm not
on a trip. As a matter of fact, I was really
hoping to make the finals for the 'Best City
Photo Blog'. I like to think of Hunkabutta
as an ongoing archival project that is currently
focused on Tokyo.
It's kind of strange, but I noticed that
all of the blogs in the 'Best City Photo
Blog' category are about American cities,
while all of the blogs in the 'Best Travel
Photo Blog' category are about places outside
the US [CORRECTION 01/11/2003: one of the
travel blogs is about Route 66 in the US].
Hmmm, I wonder why that is....
Anyway, a big thanks to Rannie of Photojunkie.org who organized the Photobloggies. They're
a great idea and have been a lot of fun so
In other news, my friend Nadine and I have finally managed to make the arrangements
for the Tokyo-area bloggers' party that we've
been talking about for so long.
It's happening on the 28th of February at
the Pink Cow in Harajuku. It's open to everyone, just
send me an email if you'd like to come so
that we can book enough seats.
Read more about the party.
I hope to see you there.
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My Japanese language class is absorbing all
of my time. You wouldn't believe how tough
it is. Sometimes I'm amazed at how fast they
move us along, and the amount of homework
they give us is obscene.
Right now, mostly because I joined three
weeks into the course, I'm pretty much the
worst student in the class, especially in
terms of reading. However, I am determined
to surpass the rest of my classmates by the
time this segment of the course ends in six
Let me tell you a bit about the people I
am up against. So far I've attended just
five classes (three and a half hours each),
so I still don't know everyone that well.
As a matter of fact, I'm still not sure of
everyone's proper name. Because we're only
allowed to speak Japanese, everyone has a
Japanized name ending with 'san'. So, for
example, everyone calls me Kuraku-san, and
nobody is sure if that's really my first
or last name.
There are nine students in the class, including
myself. Everyone is in their mid to late
twenties, except for me. The room is small
and shabby. At the front is a narrow teacher's
desk and a black board. The students' desks
are arranged in a U-shape with the teacher's
desk occupying the space at the top of the
U. I sit directly in front and to the left
of the teacher, at the top right side of
Sitting directly across from me, at the top
left side of the U, is Lee-san from Korea.
A jovial kind of guy with a round face, he's
a little bit hesitant using his Japanese.
He cuts his hair short and wears those narrow
little eye glasses that are popular with
Asians. Although he's a bit pudgy, he carries
himself well. He told me that he programs
smart cards in the C language.
Sitting to Lee-san's right is Romero-san
from France. He's thin with a long nose and
a weak chin. When he speaks he accompanies
every halting expression with at least one
dramatic facial contortion. He puckers his
lips and he raises his eye brows to the rhythm
of the sentence: [mouth open saying 'AAAHHHHH'
for a while] Kin yobi ni [pause...brows up] doko de [ 'AAHHHHH' purses lips] ikimasu [makes flapping noise with lips as he exhales
and thinks of the last word] ka?
To Romero-san's right is the girl with the
coolest name in the world: Ruby Wong. We
just call her Ruby-san. She's got very classic
Chinese features and long black hair. I think
her family is from Hong Kong but she was
born in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada. She's
one of those people who sit tall. Do you
know what I mean? For the first class I saw
her sitting there across from me and though
that she was long, lean, and lanky. At the
end of the class she stood up and was only
about five foot three. Her Japanese is okay,
but she speaks with a bit of quiver in her
To Ruby-san's right is the star student,
the one to beat, Chisook-san from Korea.
A small girl with short hair, she's a real
go getter. Her pronunciation is outstanding
and she's one of those people who can memorize
a short dialogue full of new words after
just a few readings. She also speaks beautiful
English. My envy makes me hate her, but really
I have to admit that she's pretty nice.
Next along the line is Rosa-san from Hong
Kong. She speaks native sounding Cantonese,
but to look at her you'd swear she was a
third generation Peruvian Japanese. She's
got the square-ish face of a Japanese person,
but she carries herself like a total Latino,
all swinging arms and head-snapping-back
laughter. She sometimes gets angry at the
teacher over apparent illogical irregularities
in the Japanese language.
Sitting to Rosa-san's right is the beautiful
Romanian Claudia-san. On my good days I think
she might be a model, on my bad days I think
she's probably a stripper. I guess we'll
never know, but all of the other Eastern
Europeans I've met here have fallen into
one of those two categories. It seems like
she's been in Japan for a while because her
Japanese is quite good and she uses it easily
yet she's not an especially good student.
Next to Claudia-san is Tom-san from Israel.
Tom-san has a real presence in the classroom,
mostly because he won't shut up. He's heavy
set and still has his army hair cut. He's
a good guy, but has the incredibly annoying
habit of jumping in and answering everyone
else's questions. If the answer doesn't come
to you quick enough, you can always count
on Tom-san to shout it out. He's either really
competitive or else really impatient, I haven't
decided which yet.
Finally, to Tom-san's right, and my left,
is Kawasa-san from Bangladesh. His pronunciation
is pathetic, but otherwise he's really on
the ball. I'm going to have to keep an eye
on him. He does a lot of extra work in the
classroom, always trying to find an excuse
to speak. At first I thought he hated me
because he scowled and looked bored when
I first spoke to him. This is something a
lot of people from South Asia, I've noticed,
seem to do. However, after we talked for
a bit he was all child-like smiles and pleasant
appeasements. Yesterday I heard him singing
to himself as he walked down the hall.
So that's it. That's my competition.
got six more weeks to kick their linguistic
butts into the dust.
Wish me luck.
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It's late, so just a quick note.
I officially registered with The Japanese Language Institute today. I've gone to two days worth of classes
so far. The teachers there are extremely
strict, and they give a lot of homework.
It's exactly what I've been looking for and
I'm loving it thus far. However, I started
the class mid-way, and trying to catch up
with everyone else is a tough task. It's
taking up all of my time, hence the lack
of a decent Hunkabutta post.
I seem to have picked a scab off of a sore
spot on the popular consciousness with last
Saturday's post on my personal struggle with
being an anti-Americanite. I'm a bit surprised
at the overwhelming response in the comments,
though of course I love to see all of the
action. As usual, you have been, for the
most part, courteous and civil in your comments,
which is surprising given the nature of the
Keep up the good work. Remember: Hunkabutta
is your butta too.
Today's pictures are of a taiko drumming
concert in Shimokitazawa, Tokyo, that we
went to on the weekend. Taiko is amazing,
but you have to see it live to appreciate
it. The drums are so big, and the drummers
strike them with such force, that the air
vibrates with energy (literally) and you
can feel the beats, very intensely, in your
chest. It kind of makes you all nervous and
Anyway, enjoy. More later...