Living somewhere foreign gives you a bit of twisted perspective of the world. Everything is a first. Every week makes you feel like a child again reading “My First” books. My first sake, my first bullet train, my first sushi, my first sumo, my first washing machine museum. Yesterday was My First Typhoon.
The default reaction of Japanese to the news that a massive storm is approaching their islands is to roll their eyes and start mumbling something about the trains. “It will disrupt the trains,” they grumble while shaking their heads and looking solemn. “They’ll be cancelled for safety reasons. It’s just so inconvenient having these 130km/h winds and a year’s worth of rain in a few days. It just buggers up the time table for at least 24 hours.” That seemed to be the only thing anybody was bothered about yesterday. Personal safety wasn’t much of issue. Getting home on time was what mattered.
My afternoon classes got called off and we all got sent home early as the typhoon made landfall further east of the Tokyo and, apparently, had plans to skewer the country for the rest of the day and night barrelling its way north west. The closest train line to my work was already closed so i hopped on a bus for a few minutes to another train line which was also shut. The late afternoon had already turned into an eerie dark dusk. The wind seemed undecided which direction to blow in so just chose all of them at once. Rain lashed down not in a steady down pour but in intermittent buckets. I walked to another train station (yeah, in know, there are three train lines within walking distance and tiny bus ride from where i work on Wednesdays) and that one was still running. It made it about half the way home and then stopped at a small local station waiting for the storm to pass.
I left work at 4.30. It was now 5.30. The rain battered everything. Cars were lined up outside, only their windscreen wipers moving. The wind buffeted the train which rocked from side to side. There was a typhoon passing overhead. A fucking typhoon. Wasn’t this a bit, you know, dangerous? I looked up and down the train and saw people sighing, their body language saying, “This is rubbish” not “Shit! A Typhoon!” Then i realised, quite stupidly, that just because this was My First Typhoon it didn’t mean that it was for everybody else. Japan gets hit by one of these a few times a year. Some people read books, some people chatted, a lot of people pushed buttons and screens, most people went to sleep being rocked by the wind that was gyrating its way around the train, station, building, city and country beyond. Why was i even worried? I found a seat, read a few chapters and got some sleep.
I woke up to find that it had stopped raining and the wind was lessening. The train wasn’t planning on moving forwards anytime soon though and i swear that none of the people had moved either. They were all in the exact same positions reading, talking, texting and snoozing. The trains wouldn’t be running for a while yet and i figured i’d just start walking as the rain had stopped and i’d been sat on the train for the best part of three hours.
It took another two to walk home. I followed snakes of traffic, road signs and my local train line to find my way back to dinky Myoden. There was a kind of giddy yet exasperated atmosphere on the streets and in the stations. Giddy because something had broken the monotonous routine and everyday ordinariness and everybody now had a story to tell about their day. A bit like when a dog turns up in the playground at school. And exasperated because everybody was an hour or two from getting home. Damn those trains. I marched through the streets noticing all of sudden how much crap was lying about. This seems to happen in most cities when there’s a storm or really windy day. It’s as if the world has had its hair ruffled and disturbed a load of dandruff and crap that you never knew existed. Plastic bags and empty wrappers, an old shoe and bits of wood, a plant pot and an amazing amount of broken umbrellas. There was also the sight of long rows of bicycles that had, until recently, been an ordered parked row outside a train station that had, quite quickly, dominoed into a long mass of wheels and handle bars strewn down the pavement.
I walked past my local station on the way back to my flat to be greeted to the sound of a train rumbling past. They’d started running again just as i got home. I flicked on the TV to see what the latest was. There were the usual cooking shows and shit dramas and the news mentioned something about Fukushima. I didn’t understand much of the report but it didn’t really matter. It may as well have said, “The typhoon is now approaching the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Many people there are very worried...because they might not get home on time.” I am, of course, now converted. The next time i hear of an approaching typhoon i’ll roll my eyes and shake my fist at the impending death and destruction before surreptitiously checking the timetables and planning my evening commute.