Japan on the Cheap (part I)

The caravan drive from Narita International Airport to Tokyo appropriate reminded me of how distinct Japan is from the United States despite its modernity. The folk are shorter, highway lanes are substantially smaller than interstates in the U. S. , and trains and folk seem to handle their lives by some invisible domestic clock.

We met our Japanese friends at the airport. They rode the caravan with us from the airport to our transportation level in downtown Tokyo. From there we caught a commuter caravan to the suburban township where they lived.

Unlike with the L train in Chicago, there are no escalators to Japanese trains just plenty of high stairs. My corpulence got the better of me in no time. After purchasing our tickets we waited on the platform to make our train connection.

I'm a people watcher—have to be if you want to write about human subjects. Accepting the fact that we were in a foreign country, I noticed that nearly every male had on a suit and tie, and carried an attaché case while the women wore Western style dresses and skirts. But it was the young girls who struck me as somewhat odd. Many, if not most of them, had blonde hair and appeared to dress like some of the characters in popular Japanese comic books.

Minutes later our train pulled into the crowded station. Tired from standing nearly 30 minutes once we got inside we quickly took our seats. The doors closed and we were on our way. As I sat looking around at the unfamiliar scenery, I couldn't help but notice that a lot of the men were openly drinking beer and other alcoholic beverages the way we Americans gulp down soda pop. Some of the men immediately dozed off either from the beer or as victims of the Japanese penchant for over-work. Many of them looked like they could have used at least 12 hours of solid sleep.

As I sat there gazing out at the blackness my mind recalled the large number of elderly men who were gathered outside the train station and sat around dressed in rags on flattened cardboard boxes. These men would be recognized as homeless in Chicago but when I asked my friend about them she replied that "they are not without homes but are rich businessmen who prefer living on the streets because family problems prevented them from returning home." OK. I gathered from her answer that homelessness in Japan was a national embarrassment and she simply refused to acknowledge its existence.

About 45 minutes later we arrived at Shinjuku-Sanchome Station where my wife and I were met by the lovely daughter of our hosts. She drove us to the home in her pick up.

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