They say a million people an hour pass through Shinjuku station during rush-hour. I don`t know if that is an exaggeration, but when you ride the trains at that time, it is entirely believable. People are jammed together so tightly that your arms are pinned to your sides. If the group surrounding you isn`t getting off at your stop, neither are you. If everyone inhaled at the same time, I doubt there would be enough air to go around.
The train stops at a nearby station, no one gets off but there are dozens of people waiting to get on. Despite being crazily over-filled, they WILL get on -- with the help of pushers whose job it is to cram arbitrary numbers of people into already full trains.
Despite having an aversion to touching strangers, the Japanese don`t seem to mind. No one grimaces or shows any sign of annoyance. Their personal space reduced to the thickness of their clothing, they retreat someplace inside themselves.
Since I am taller then most, when a rough portion of track unbalances passengers en-mass, I can see the domino-like wave of stumbling humanity approach. As a game, I try to absorb it all and shield the group on the other side of me from being unbalanced. I have yet to succeed, but it keeps me amused.
So far, according to my score-card, the subway, in Darwinian fashion, weeds out the color-blind and the claustrophobic.
When the trains are less crowded, the Japanese read, sleep or instant-message one another via cell-phone. Talking on the cell-phone is forbidden and, except for the occasional group of girls, no one talks at all. When I sit down, they politely move away providing there is room elsewhere. Other foreigners tell me that they notice this as well. I have tried a number of different strategies to see how I could affect this phenomenon. Sitting perfectly still and looking down has had no effect. Neither has playing with my phone as if I were messaging someone. Today I tried reading the newspaper and, again, as soon as a distant seat became available, my neighbors moved. Even though it is not a polite subject, I think I will bring it up with my Japanese teacher. The question being, if I am well behaved what is it exactly that makes my fellow passengers uncomfortable? At the same time however, more then one Japanese has stepped out of their day to volunteer help when I have appeared lost. In general, they are helpful, considerate and watchful of foreigner`s well-being. But still, they prefer not to sit next to me.
My days have developed a routine of sorts. I wake-up at 8:00, stretch for a few minutes, shower, collect my lesson materials and head out the door. By 9:00 I am on the subway. I travel from Roppongi to Ebisu. At Ebisu, I transfer lines and continue to Shinjuku. A short walk takes me to the Starbucks across the street from the Berlitz School. As in America, in Tokyo anyhow, Starbucks are everywhere, and I enjoy about 20 minutes of coffee and people watching before class. Sometimes I strike-up a conversation with whomever is sitting next to me.
Lessons are from 10:00 - 12:15, and then I head back to my apartment. I grab some lunch, do my homework, and perform whatever maintenance needs to be done (laundry, shopping, cleaning etc.). If it is a training-night, I am back on the subway at 5:30 or 6:00. It`s a 1-3 hour commute to the various Dojos, so by the time I get back from a 2 hour class, it is getting late and I`m exhausted. I train on Sunday from 11-1 or 11 - 3 depending on how I am feeling. Saturday`s, I reserve for myself - No training or Japanese class. This Saturday, my friend and I are going to Shinjuku Park. We plan to take a few day-trips to more exciting sights in the upcoming weeks. We shall see.