Bullet Train

Wrapping it up on time with the Nagoya group, I reckoned without the book signings, the bows, and the inevitable posing for photographs, so we were running for the train.  Outside the classroom, shepherded by the inimitable Kaori and the gentle Norie, who will be my host for the next few days, we grab a cab, and the driver was a perfect division between a man and a woman – reminiscent of the old SNL skit about ‘Pat’.  Do I bow as if to a man or a woman?  As a haoli, it doesn’t really matter, I will be chuckled over and forgiven, but I puzzle over this on the way to the hotel, and careening around corners to the station with the luggage in our laps. The name on the license was of course no help to me, and the clothes could go either way, as could her (I finally decide) face.

Forget that, we are rabbiting down an endless platform to our assigned seats, and the sleek white tube slides out of the station and begins to fly. Aside from the speed, the efficiency, and the cleanliness, there is nothing remarkable about the train itself – we have assigned seats, and are not pushed in by white-gloved attendants.  In fact, the whole image of Japan as bustling ant colony has no resonance for me at all.

But this is my time – having only been in Tokyo prior to this – for the trite observation of how many people they manage to fit on this small set of islands.  There is simply no wasted space, and anything not covered with concrete is soggy with rice paddies.  The small hills bristle with electronic towers. As day slides into night, we flash past small towns – really one long small town between bigger ones – with neon lights.  More of them than I remember from Tokyo in Roman script: big buildings (casinos? bowling alleys? what?) with names like Wide Twin Park and Concorde 777.  Suzuki, Mazda, Toyota, Honda, Subaru, Sony, Sanyo et al are often written out in Roman script in ads and on the side of buildings – I guess they have to as worldwide brands, but it is disconcerting, a bit like having a McDonalds in your old home neighborhood. (I swore I would get out the C-4 and my black pyjamas for a guerrila action, but by the time McDonalds did show up on the outskirts of Damariscotta, I had resigned violence to its invasion of my space, as well as everyone else’s.  You can get a really good shrimp sandwich at the Japanese MacaDonaul’sa.)

We pass through Kyoto just at dusk, so I catch a glimpse of the temples I hope someday to visit, but Osaka and Hiroshima pass by in the dark.  I remember my Dad’s terrible ambivalence about Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The bombing and its horrible aftermath was anathema to him as a pacifist, but in a gruesome pun, he was being trained up in 1944 to be cannon fodder for the terrible island-by-island fight through the rest of the Pacific theater to Japan when those terrible bombs saved him and countless other Americans (and Japanese soldiers too) from that fate.

The conductors bow every time they enter the car, people come and go, we snooze and talk alternately (great to learn a little about Kaori’s life – that exuberant exterior dynamo that belies her age has a frame of tempered steel: into every life the rain has fallen; the question is did it germinate the seeds or just cause rust?  No rust here.)  By the time we arrive at 10 pm, we are bedraggled and slurring our words in fatigue.
The unltra-modern hotel at Fukuoka had a welcome shower and those enveloping Japanese toilets that are just dying to do something with you you’ve never had done before, though I have so far resisted the allure of their many buttons.  Now, this morning, creeping dawn reveals my spectacular view of the harbor and the buildings with – you guessed it – Hitachi and NEC written on the side.


I am told 100 physios await me this morning, headed up by an eccentric orthopod. How did I get here?  In these still small hours, I wonder if it is luck, or charm, or whether I really have anything to offer.  It is better, I have found, to be gripped by these fears and bottom-falling-out depressions before a gig.  If I am indifferent, so is my presentation.  Off to prepare.


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