21 September 2010

More Strange Subway Stuff

I wrote 3 months ago about some strange stuff I saw one day. I've since seen much more pornographic sandwich board advertising and have even seen more of the little Michael Jackson impersonator. But until today I hadn't seen much more strange subway stuff.

I was riding home from school practicing Japanese and two Japanese girls sat down beside me. I didn't give them much thought and went back to trying to learn 3000 kanji so I can read a Japanese book (only ~2850 to go!).

A few stops after the girls got on the train I noticed a guy shoving himself through what was now a crowded subway car. He wasn't excusing himself as he pushed his way from one end to the other. He was making for the other end of the car but when he was perpendicular to the girl two spots to the right of me he made an abrupt turn toward her and pushed his way past a couple more people to stand in front of her. He grabbed two of the rings hanging from the ceiling and then leaned in, bringing his face about 4 centimeters from hers.

From the moment I noticed this asshole shoving himself through the crowd to the point where he leaned into this girl's face was about 10 seconds. At first I thought he was just a rude asshole; then I thought that this rude asshole must know this girl because he made an abrupt turn toward her. But he didn't.

Immediately after leaning into her personal space he repeatedly shouted "Sumimasen! Sumimasen!" ("Excuse me! Excuse me!"). He shouted for about five seconds and then, disgusted that the girl didn't acknowledge him, resumed pushing his way through the crowd to the other end of the train car.

I was totally fixated on this guy: from the moment I noticed him pushing his way through the crowd, to when he was shouting at the girl, to when he stormed off in anger, I didn't take my eyes off of him. And I was the only one. Not a single person cared that he was pushing his way through the crowd; not a single person cared that he was shouting at some girl; and not a single person cared when he resumed shoving his way through the crowd. The strangest part was that the girl he was shouting at didn't bat an eyelash while he shouted at her.

When the screamer exited the car I looked over at the girl and she was gorgeous - and very composed. Her beauty explained why the guy took an interest in her but I wasn't able to figure out how she remained totally serene. It bothered me more than it did her that she got screamed at by this guy. She acted as if he hadn't existed. Maybe she's adjusted to these kinds of things the same way women in North American adjust to being hooted and hollered at?

If I spoke better Japanese I would have loved to talk to her about the whole episode. If I ever see her again I'll have a leg up on the competition, too - I'll know not to break the ice with a "Sumimasen."


  1. The longer you live in Japan Mike, the more you'll realise that Japanese people are very good at keeping to themselves, even in the most extreme situations. If you think this story is bad I will tell you one that will make your stomache turn.
    A couple of years ago on a train a woman was raped in the toilet. The man sat beside her and told her he had a hammer and if she didn't come to the toilet with him, he would use it.
    The other people on the train witnessed all this but did nothing to stop it from happening.
    As an outsider I was appalled when I read this story but on some level can understand that part of it is self preservation. I asked myself what I would have done and I would like to think I wouldn't have just sat there and let it happen.
    As for your story, I'm guessing most people are immune to the few crazies that do travel the trains and subways and have decided it's best to just leave them be or things might get ugly.
    Hope that has enlightened you somewhat.

  2. I have heard that story before Maree and you're right, it is stomach-turning. You're right about self-preservation being a motivation for people to do nothing. But I think in a crowded train that becomes less of an excuse. Maybe if it were only the lady, the rapist and one other person it's a more viable excuse. But in a crowded train there's no reason for the other commuters not to react.

    In my case you are likely right - people have learned to just ignore this guy.

  3. It's completely off-topic, but I'm wondering how you go about learning a completely graphical language such as kanji. It must be really weird to do as an English speaker.

  4. I have a program on my iTouch that I use to learn them. It's a dictionary/flashcard program. They're difficult to learn but they get progressively easier because a lot of the more complex kanji are pieced together from other kanji. And as they get more complicated I use mnemonic devices to remember them. An example:

    fast - 早
    flower - 花
    grass - 草

    By themselves "fast" and "flower" are easy (in part because the bottom part of "flower" has part of the kanji for north [北] in it - flowers grow up or "north" so it's easy to remember) and so I remember grass as a fast growing flower.

    It's difficult but once you've mastered some of them (even the complicated ones) it becomes less and less difficult. The real problems arise with the multiple readings. 生 has 11 readings that I know of. I know 3 of them.

  5. Wow. That still sounds really hard. But good on you. Laura and I were planning on learning Swahili so that we could have a secret code language but even that was pretty hard and we kinda haven't really learned anything yet.

  6. You should learn French sign language. It would help you improve your French and you'd have a secret(ish) language to talk in. The chances of running into someone who understands French sign language are probably only slightly higher than the chances of running into someone who understands Swahili.

  7. I didn't know there is such a thing as French sign language. I thought sign language was sign language.

  8. The differences aren't as apparent as the difference between two different spoken languages, but yes, there are different sign language languages. A deaf Japanese person and a deaf English person will have an easier time communicating than a Japanese person who speaks no English and an English person who speaks no Japanese though.

    There was a school for blind people in my hometown so I know a little about this stuff. I used to go to wrestling matches there when I was on the wrestling team.

  9. Blind people can't see sign language.

  10. Haha, that's embarrassing. I meant a school for blind and deaf people.

    This is the school: http://www.psbnet.ca/eng/schools/wross/index.html