Print Story "Encounters at Mt. Takao - August 2008"
By lylehsaxon (Thu Aug 28, 2008 at 11:06:45 AM EST) Takao Mountain, Escaping Tokyo in an Hour (all tags)
Towards the end of the day at work, I began to imagine myself going out to Mt. Takao.  The closer to quitting time, the more it seemed like a good idea, so after work, I took....

..... a Keio Line Jun-Tokkyu train ("Limited Special Express"; one step slower than a "Tokkyu", or Special Express) out as far as I could, before changing to a local train near the end that veers off the main line and goes to the foot of Mt. Takao (Takaozan-guchi Station), and thus began a string of encounters that were ordinary in a way, but conveyed a lot on reflection and in context with the past 24 years I've spent in Tokyo.

There were a number of people who walked across the platform from the express to the local, but after the next stop, most people got off and I became aware of empty seats and a woman (around 20?) sitting next to me.  She stood up and walked down the car and took another seat.  I thought "I hope that isn't because I smell sweaty or something..." but then I noticed that we were the only two people in that train car, so had to admit that if I were a 20-year-old woman and found myself alone with a post-forty man in a train car, I would either actually move, or at least want to move, so... I couldn't complain.

As the train began the last leg of the trip, I turned around, opened the window, and kneeling on the seat, I contemplated the dark forested mountain passing by outside.  Nearly always in the unhealthy glow of florescent lighting, the lack of that much-hated form of lighting (I know - it's energy efficient - but I really hate the quality of light florescent tubes generate) is something I often dream of, but faced with the concept of walking into that light-less (other than whatever light there was from the moon) night forest, I had to admit the attraction of city life as opposed to something more primitive.

As the train pulled into the last station, I shut the window and got off as soon as the sliding doors opened.  Exiting the ticket gates, I turned right and walked up the path beneath the trees in the night, with the sky above (not to be taken for granted in Tokyo) to the cable car station.  This path was quite nice - just enough light to see, without damaging the ambiance of the night, and just enough other people about that there was no urge to look over your shoulder while walking along a lonely path in the night.

As I neared the cable car station, it was apparent that the cable car was about to depart - and since they don't run very often, I hoped to make it to avoid the wait for the next one.  There were three people in front of me - a man and a couple.  There was only one ticket machine on (the others turned off because it was late I guess), so by the time I was stuffing a bill into the machine, I heard the chain go up behind the couple, but I grabbed my ticket as it came out of the machine and ran up to the gate "Dame desu ka...?" I asked the guy ("No good?") and he gave me a rather unfriendly look, but wordlessly took the chain down again, so I gave him a "Sumimasen" ("Sorry!") as I had him punch my ticket.  Slightly wondering about the scowl and the fact that he had put up the chain after having seem me behind the others, I was nevertheless happy to not be left behind, so I ran to the cable car to avoid any more delay than necessary.

The ride up went about as well as it might - I was lucky to get a standing spot at the back where I could look back down the mountain out of the open window as the cable car climbed.  Midway up, a child sitting nearby wanted to stand by the window as well, but their parents told them it was dangerous - which got me to thinking "How?  Leaning out a side window can be dangerous, but the back window isn't so low that someone might fall out, and even if you completely hang your head out the window in back, there's nothing to hit it."  It's an old fault of mine - I like real reasons, not convenient and lazy lies.

The cable car goes through a tunnel, and then as it begins to climb more steeply, the lights of Tokyo appear from over the top of the mountain that the cable car just passed though.  Many of the people in the car seemed to be taking it up the mountain for the first time - while I've done so... ten times?  Fifteen times?  I'm not sure, but in any case I'm familiar with the ride and exactly when it ends, so as it was coming to a stop, I grabbed my backpack and walked up to the front of the car so I'd been one of the first ones off.  Once off, I skipped the (slightly expensive) beer garden and speed walked over to the free benches which still have a pretty decent view.  I was pleased to see that one of them was open (on the far right, next to the pay-binoculars), so I sat there and took out the food and drink I'd bought on the way (at a grocery store back in central Tokyo), and put it on the table-like shelf in front of the benches.  "Perfect" I thought....

Not long after I sat down, a group in their forties or fifties materialized to my right - and one of the men wanted to put Y100 in the pay-binoculars, but was dissuaded from doing so by someone in the group.  I thought "Aw, come on, let the guy give it a try".  I have spent my life seeing those pay-to-use binoculars, but have never actually used one (not that I can remember anyway), so I was sort of hoping to see one in action.  Since the binoculars were right next to where I was sitting, the man seemed to notice my radio waves, and he looked over - seeing a foreigner, he asked me "Good view?", to which I answered "Tashikani" ("Indeed"), which produced a laugh from the group, which seemed to expect me to be a tourist.  One of the men said "Yokeina koto wo shite..." to the man (not easy to translate, but something like "You should mind your own business").  They headed off, and a woman in the group turned around and said "Have a good time", to which I wordlessly nodded.  She may have intended it to be friendly, but it didn't feel friendly and I took it to mean something like "You may have gotten one of our expressions right, but you are not one of us."  [What's that sound I hear - groaning?  Booing?  You think I'm wildly imagining things?  Whatever - you jump in a time machine, go to 1984 Tokyo, live here for 24 years, and then see if you still have the same opinion.  I've met all kinds of people here over the past 24 years - and there are good and bad - just like everywhere in the world.]

After that, I tried to forget about the group who were young in Japan in the eighties, when it was more insular, more xenophobic, and more narrow minded than it is now.  As I had some more wine & dried mangoes (I know - weird - but they actually go together for some reason), the happy sounds of a young couple (with the woman pregnant) sitting to my left drifted over and I got back into the mountain vibes....

Later on, the couple stood up, pulled out a camera and proceeded to take their own picture (at arm's length).  I considered asked them if they'd like to take their picture, but stopped myself with "They're perfectly able to take their own picture".  They took a flash picture, then another, and by their third picture, and with the answer in mind, I said (in Japanese) "You should turn the flash off" - which produced blank stares, so I realized they didn't know how.  "Is that an Olympus?"  The man continued looking at me, but the woman acknowledged that it was indeed an Olympus (it was her camera I guess), so I told them "It should have a circle of four buttons, with a button in the center of the circle.  One of the four buttons should turn off the flash..."  The woman found the button, got to the "No flash" symbol, and I said "Now, push the middle button..." which worked.

The setting changed, I asked them if they'd like me to take a picture - which they did, so they handed the camera over.  The resulting picture showed the two of them in front of the lights of the city in the background (which the flash pictures didn't).  I briefly explained that while the exposure was good, since the flash was off in such a dark place, the shutter speed was bound to be slow.  I got them to expand the image a bit to see if it was sharp, or motion blurred.  It seemed to be sharp, and they indicated that they liked it (expressing surprise at how bright the picture turned out without the flash).  They said their (friendly) good-byes and headed off to the cable car.

I sat there and tried to piece it all together - the more relaxed young generation (with some dangerous hot-head exceptions) and the more up-tight older generation that I've spent 24 years here with (who tend to be more responsible than the current twenties people).  Basically, it must just be a situation where some things get better and some things get worse.  It's a blazingly-bright obvious concept, but still you expect things to get better without the good parts deteriorating, so it's an unpleasant surprise to discover the loss of an aspect to life that you thought was unshakably constant and solid....

After a while, I noticed a pair of twenties men (probably college students) explaining about camera ISO settings to a group of five twenties women.  After the men left, I could hear one of the women asking what they were going on about, and another woman said "something about ISO this and that..." so I ended up (stupidly) jumping up and explaining that the numbers tied in with shutter speeds at f16 (what used to be the smallest aperture on most proper cameras), thus ISO 400 would basically mean 1/400 of a second shutter speed in bright sun at f16.  They politely tolerated my lecture and then went on there way - joking that the night was full of camera education.  I sat there and thought to myself, "What you did for the couple was good, but jumping up to explain the meaning of ISO settings to the group of five was really a dumb thing to do...".

By and by, I decided to go back down the mountain, so I got on the cable car and ended up talking with a man who was part of a group from the beer garden (on the roof of a building up behind where I was sitting).  It was a friendly enough conversation, but he called me a "henna-gaijin" ("strange foreigner") apparently because I spoke Japanese.  I used to get that from time-to-time (another eighties thing).  If you were comfortable in the culture here and spoke the language, you were strange.  If you didn't understand the language or culture, and you bumbled around expecting everyone you came in contact with to help you in English - well... that was a normal foreigner!

Back on a train speeding towards central Tokyo, I sat down and found myself in one of those on-a-stage situations that the bench seats against the windows facing each other generate.  There was a group of about five men across from me who were interested in who was sitting across from them - so they were taking surreptitious looks.  Not staring mind you, but the interest was in the air and I couldn't relax, so at the next station I casually moved over to another seat without an audience (late night trains headed towards Tokyo are not crowded and you can nearly always sit down - in contrast to the usual situation of always standing.

Back in the city... back to normal....

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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