Nearly every time I get on a train here in Tokyo, I experience a brief moment of panic when the train starts, thinking that the train is almost certainly going the wrong way. Usually, I need not have worried and I get where I’m going without a hiccup.
There is a Frank Lloyd Wright quote that I like when I am thinking about future goals and creating ones own destiny: “The thing always happens that you really believe in, and the belief in a thing makes it happen.” So this morning, I actually DID take the wrong train.
I was due at work at 9:45 so as to be prepared to walk into the classroom and teach at 10. I wanted to leave home at 9, but as things often go, I didn’t walk out of the building til 9:15. Still enough time to arrive by a quarter til, but none to spare. As I passed through the turnstile, I could hear a train arriving on my track. I raced up the stairs just as the doors opened, and hopped on board. As the doors closed, I was congratulating myself on making the most efficient commute possible, when the station announcement came on to let me know that the next stop would be some completely foreign place called Mejirodai. Whaaaa?
Oy. I stared at the English on the screen in disbelief. Flustered, I got off the train and fished around for my cell phone and the important work contact numbers that I hadn’t yet bothered to enter into my 2 day old phone. I finally managed to call work and let them know I would almost certainly be late…on a day when I had a class starting in less than half an hour (sometimes my days start with an “office hour”). I crossed over to the track for opposite direction and checked the train map. Not only had I gone the wrong way, I had managed to take an express train in the wrong direction. The local would arrive at 9:40, and I would have to pass 3 stops to get back to where I started, and then change trains to go to the right stop. I nearly started crying while waiting for the next train.
Fortunately, something nice happened after that. An older Japanese lady struck up a conversation with me in English… something I had been told would never happen here, but since then has happened a few times just this Monday alone (more on that later). “Do you live in Mejirodai?” she asked. No, that was an unplanned stop on my itinerary I said (in much plainer words). She was quite fluent. I learned that she had traveled extensively, and was taking free English classes at the city community center…my school was a bit expensive, she thought. She also had a friend in Oregon that she kept in touch with. We exchanged cards, and she told me that she sometimes works at a pharmacy in my neighborhood, so hopefully I will be able to find it and stop by to see her sometime. When we finally arrived at the (correct) station, around 9:55, I bid her goodbye and let her know I would be taking off running now, as I was extremely late. I bounded up the escalator whispering “Sumimasen! Sumimasen!” and managed to beat the crowd out of the station. I nearly sprinted the 5 or 6 blocks to my building and arrived at work sweaty and panting (I’m out of shape!) with precisely 2 minutes to collect my lesson materials (and collect myself!) before I had to start a class and pretend to be normal.
So fortunately no real harm was done, but I certainly will be checking the route sign on the outside of the train EVERY SINGLE TIME now. One thing that would be really helpful, is if the trains announced the next stop BEFORE the doors close…while you still have time to do something about it! However, I’m almost positive that would not have helped in my case. I’m sure I would have been frozen where I stood while my brain tried to process the information I just heard (all in English, mind you), and having a Homer Simpson Doh! moment as the doors closed regardless.