An Accidental, Pornographic, Stinky, Ironic Japanese Train Ride

Whew! I made it to my train. I even had time to stop pick up two onigiri (rice balls) and a bottle of orange juice. The Tsukuba Express train smoothly pulled away from the Akihabara terminal. I wasn’t going to wait 45 minutes to eat, so broke out my trusty torigomomku (とり五目) rice ball and started noshing away. It was soooo good to be eating that rice ball! I was extremely hungry. As I was eating, the train made a sudden shift and l lost my balance, sending a chicken chunk from my rice ball directly into the man’s bag standing in front me. I could see the chicken and wanted to reach in and get it out. Being the only African-American in this particular train car, and knowing it would be hard to not look like a pickpocket…I decided against it.

I shifted my eyes to the right, away from the chicken piece I had just dropped. As I my eyes were moving, I caught a glimpse of something quite interesting, pictures of naked, Japanese women. The man to the right of “chicken man” was looking at naked lady pictures. Really??? Right here??? During rush hour??? He was totally in his own little world, just gazing away. There’s nothing wrong with admiring the female form, but I was a little shocked because I had never seen anyone, let alone a Japanese person, doing it so openly on the train. I just let him do his thing, and just stared off into space hoping that it would make the ride faster, but for some reason, I couldn’t zone out…

The day already seemed quite long because the English class schedule had to be re-arranged to fit in time for the undokai (運動会) or elementary school sports festival. I didn’t have a problem with the schedule change; I just went into every class and gave it the best I had. Immediately after work, though, I had to run…in more ways than one. First I had to high-tail it to Tokyo to make it to this potential gig, where I literally had to run short sprints. It wasn’t overly tiring work, but when you combine a full teaching day, with hustling to the station, with the park running on a nice warm day, I have to say I was smelling rather…well…ripe (I hate to admit it, but it’s true).

Because I was going home during the evening commuter rush, it meant no seats and train cars that were packed to the brim…standing room only. These most certainly aren’t the best conditions to be in if you don’t smell so fresh. I felt so bad, because I could smell myself!! If you can smell yourself, you can be d@mn sure that the people around you can smell you, too (especially in an enclosed space). I wanted to curl up into a ball and just hide in the corner of the train car, but THERE WAS NO ROOM FOR THAT!! I just had to wait it out. You know what I found funny, though? I smelled so terrible, and I just happened to be standing in front of an advertisement for Kirin’s new drink called…get this…“Pungency.” I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony…how embarrassingly fitting.

It’s time to go home and take a much needed shower. In the words of that great, Atlanta poet, Andre 3000…
“Stank you smelly much.”


Donald Ash

P.S.- GEEZ!! What is up with the train comedy this week? I was riding the train the following morning and two more interesting things happened. There was an older gentleman who had managed to pull off one of the most “unique” comb-overs I had ever seen, but there was this long tuft of hair hanging down . As the train was in motion I just watched this pendulum-like, long hair tuft just moving, swaying to and fro. I wanted to take grab the hair it and lay it across his head so badly…just to keep it from hanging there.

The other, more disgusting, thing that happened was that there was a man who sat next to me, who kept picking his nose and rolling whatever it was he was pulling out (because he was digging so much, I’m sure he was pulling out pieces of his own brain). I swear that out of my peripheral vision I saw him eat one!! I wanted to look over and ask “Oishikatta desu ka?” “Was it good?” I couldn’t keep myself from making an “eww” face at him. It was like an automatic reflex. He must’ve thought I was the stereotypical, angry black man, but bro, if you’re going to blatantly eat boogers sitting right next to me…dude you can think whatever you want. I was just happy for a short ride, LOL.

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  • Ken

    Funny story about missing chicken from your onigiri.

    I once encountered a strange sight on a train home in Japan. A guy who was probably in his 60′s, wearing jinbei and geta, were listening to his iPod. He then took out a tall can of beer and started drinking on a train. It seemed like he was enjoying the ride very much!

    • Donald Ash

      There’s no rule against alcohol on the train, is there? Good for that guy. Living the life, a relaxing ride and a cold one. That’s great!

  • My story involves tears. I was taking the Shinkansen from Kyoto back to Tokyo. It was really crowded so it took a long time to get on the train. I had a wheely suitcase so I found my seat and plopped down my bag and wheeled it to the end of the car to find the storage spot of suitcases. There was none, so I stepped off the train to get to the back of the car to see if there was a space there. Yes, you guessed it. The Shinkansen closed it doors and took off without me. Only my bag was on the seat. I was yelling at the platform dude to open the doors, to stop the train in Japanese. He just blinked at me. I kept yelling What will I do? at him in Japanese but he didn’t say anything. Thanks jerk. I ended up crying. It was very traumatic to pound at the doors of a bullet train.

    So then a women station work came along and in English she settled it all. I had to wait an hour for the next train and pick up my bag in Tokyo. It turns out if you miss your train, they put you on another one. And also nothing from your bag-wallet, cell phone, lunch-gets stolen. Japan is awesome.

    What did we learn? Once you get your butt on the train, stay there!

    • Donald Ash

      OH NO, ALANA! That sounds like a pretty unsettling experience. You must have been so upset. Traumatic experience, but an awesome story. I’ve actually been a bit surprised by the honesty factor here in Japan. I actually left a 4GB memory card in a public place (by accident of course) and when I went back the next day, they had it in the lost and found. It’s interesting, right?

  • Marisa

    I had 2 things in the train this week too… One, as I posted on facebook was a middle aged woman wearing a blue t-shirt that said “milk me” across the front… and have you noticed the ECC ad they have on the trains right now. I was in a crowded train yesterday and so I was facing it straight on. It has who I’m assuming is a teacher standing with one hand in his pocket… OK, well, that kind of made me think about how AEON always told us never to put our hands in our pockets, but that’s besides the point. So the guy is holding half of his blazer back with his hand in his pocket and so I noticed (because it was right at my eye level) that his jacket was held aside to give just the right angle to view his crotch area… and I don’t know if it was stuffed, but let’s just say something looked really large down there… Makes me wonder who they are trying to attract with those ads.

    • Donald Ash

      WOW! “Milk me?” LMAO! Good ones Marisa. I didn’t catch the “Bulging ECC Ad” but maybe they’ll get more students that way.

  • April

    I remember during a trip in 2009 to Tokyo, being on a train going to Chiba, and one old man taking his phone out to turn it off. Another old man in front of him, told him in no uncertain terms, “Don’t use that on the train!”

    BTW, a friend of mine is doing a semester abroad, she’s in Osaka, and she found a video of you showing how to use a Japanese washing machine. She did her own laundry and was so proud! So thanks for that video.

    • Donald Ash

      I have heard a story about a younger woman and older woman getting into a fight about the young girl using her train on the phone. I guess some people take that rather seriously.
      I’m so glad to hear that the washing machine video was useful. Please tell your friend thanks for checking it out.

      • Q

        wtf! how dare her use her train on the phone! i would take that VERY seriously! :p

  • Kurt

    Both stories at rush hour, the only time to truly experience JR. First, just standing around Shinjuku station, watched a train pull in and begin to disgorge the usual human wave. One really small man was being pushed along at the front of the wave as he was apparently standing right at the train door…except he is fighting to get back on the train! The human wave carried him too far, the doors closed and he stood there contemplating how he would get through the wave when the next train arrived.

    Next, I’m on a train leaving Shinagawa when I notice a Western lady with a long blonde ponytail being packed in with the rest of us. Unfortunately her ponytail was wedged between two Japanese moving one way and she the opposite. Luckily I was standing near by with my arm contorted above my shoulder in a failed attempt to grasp one of the suspended handles…the human ponytail clamp moved just close enough that I could reach it and free her golden locks from bondage. Now the ponytail was lying across some gentleman’s face…a stand-up-asleep gentleman who never even woke up. The lady did give me a nice ‘thanks’ grin. Felt like a true urban commuter hero.

    • Donald Ash

      Nice ponytail save, Commuter-Hero-Kurt!

      I’ve seen the sleeping standing up thing, too. Pure craziness. Or should I say…pure zen. Nice stories, thanks for sharing :)

  • Marisa

    Oh and there was that time that the man fell asleep against the doors on the TX and fell flat on his back when they opened halfway in the train halfway on the platform… And he didn’t wake up until someone pulled him back on the train by his feet.

    • Donald Ash

      I remember you telling me about that. Was that guy super drunk, or on drugs or something, Marisa? I would definitely wake up after hitting the ground, lol.

  • jim

    In an earlier century I was in the front car of the Odakyu Romance train out of Shinjuku. An elderly Japanese gentlemen took the front seat in the car and removed his clothing down to his long underwear to enjoy the trip. Perhaps we should all get so comfortable…

    • Donald Ash

      Ha ha ha! Perhaps, we should, Jim :)

  • Peter

    This is a little long, but it’s worth it.

    It’s 1984. My American wife and I were married shortly before coming to Japan, and the marriage unraveled in the year that we contracted to teach English. She left first, to visit Thailand, Nepal, India and left me with her stuff to return to Tucson, Arizona. So when I finally left Japan, I had seven suitcases and boxes, and her Mt. Fuji hiking stick with its inked tattoos and flag. That was the first to go — I forgot it on the train from Utsunomiya to Tokyo and never claimed it (I suppose it’s still in some storeroom somewhere). But the really traumatic part came next.

    Normally, it’s a short slog across Ueno station to the Narita Skyliner, but with 7 bags and boxes, it was tough. Upstairs, down the escalator, downstairs, up another escalator. I finally get to the window and buy my ticket, carry everything in 3 trips down to the platform and at 7:01pm, my train, the 7:11pm train, closes the doors and leaves. I know something’s wrong immediately – this is Japan and trains don’t leave earlier than scheduled – so I turned the person next to me and asked, “Is this the Narita train?”
    But something wasn’t right. In Japan, you have no right to expect any answer other than the most direct answer to your question –no frills.
    “Is this train going to Narita airport?” I asked.
    “No, this train is going to Narita STATION.” OK. A little adrenalin surge hits my brain. I was running a little late for my departure, but I thought I could still make my flight if I could correct the situation in time. Back in those days, you could actually arrive a half-hour before an international flight, so there was still hope!

    I pulled my suitcases and bags off the train at the first stop, hauled everything upstairs and downstairs, three trips, to the opposite direction platform. I got on the train, which came rather quickly, and 3 minutes into the return trip to Ueno station, it hit me. I screamed, moaned, punched the air and moaned, not caring that I was creating a scene, for I had forgotten my most important bag on the overhead baggage holder of the train that was now off to Narita station. My brand new, expensive camera, all my souvenirs, and clothes were in that bag. And, oh yeah, my passport.

    I got back to Ueno station, left everything on the platform, and ran to the ticket window. The next train was in 5 minutes. It was the last train that would have allowed me to make my flight, but without a passport? My Japanese was poor in those days and I could hardly communicate, but the lady behind the glass told me to see the station master and pointed to a window on the opposite side of the station. I ran to that window, but the person there said the station master had already gone for the day. I ran back to the first window.
    “The station master’s gone!” I cried.
    She said, “he’s there.” I went back and said, “The lady said the station master’s here.” “No, he’s not here,” she said, “but the assistant station master is here. “Chotto mate kudasai.” Less than 4 minutes to my train. A man appears behind the glass, wiping some shaving cream from his face. I explain, almost in tears, what had transpired. He calmly asked, “In what car was the bag?” Maybe the 6th car. “Where is the bag?” On top, I gesture. “Describe the bag.” It’s black, sports style bag, BROADWAY is written on the side. “Renraku shimasu.” Coincidentally, I had just learned that phrase the day before. It means, “We’ll contact you.”

    But how? He didn’t know my name. Cell phones hadn’t been invented yet. How? I knew I was in deep trouble.

    Two minutes to my next train. I ran up and down platforms like a grim game show contestant. I got everything on the non-stop skyliner express. The doors closed. I sighed. A portly German leans over, “Excuse me,” he says, “is this the train to Narita station?” “No,” I edged a small smile, this is the train to Narita AIRPORT. “Oh no,” he says, and I feel happier to know I’m not the only idiot in Japan.

    I’m unable to sit. Sweating, upset, at my wit’s end. I had just enough time to swear I would never ever cut things this close to a flight ever again. What am I going to do?

    Midway through the one hour trip to the airport, the non-stop train slows down, and then really slows down, inching its way along a station platform, where I see a train attendant running alongside the train with MY BAG!!!!!! He points to the end of the car, he reaches through the window to release the lever, opens the window and passes the bag to me. As soon as I grab it, he blows a whistle and the train returns to its normal speed in no time. No one’s any the wiser. Except me.

    • nihonsuki


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