I am Joe’s aching resentment

It seems every other post I write somehow concerns my commute, but to be honest it does take up a large proportion of my life and energy. This, however may be a final, definitive post. No, hang on, I lie; I still have an idea for a future one; I have a feeling I’ll never be able to let the subject rest. But this post revolves around a thought that struck me the other day while I was fighting for breath in an almighty crush.

Back in Britain, when things were getting on top of you, testosterone was building up and you needed a release, you’d simply go down the pub, get blotto and pick a fight. Usually it’d end in some posturing and shouting but, on occasion, blows could be exchanged, wounds inflicted and above all stress relieved. Or if work was getting too much to bear, you’d simply teabag your boss’s keyboard or hide rotting yoghurt in his office. The Japanese have no such release, so one wonders, aside from the Soaplands and Hostess Clubs, where they get rid of their pent-up stresses. Then, after a little more observing, it struck me that rush-hour train behavior is nothing less than a socially sanctioned Fight Club.

I kid you not! Sometimes the pushing and the shoving is borne from true survival instincts but more often than not it’s a dropped gauntlet, an invitation to a scuffle. I have seen it happen with my own minces: people making an effort to get in the way, to shove and be territorial when it was absolutely unnecessary. I’m not talking about them being unaware, quite the reverse; they see an opportunity for a fight and they gladly take it.

I have seen people take several steps away from their comfortable positions for the simple pleasure of getting into a shoving match. I am often pushed aside by commuters sticking out their posterior for that little extra push that guarantees a response. People try to stand wide, resting their shoe near or on top of yours and leaving it there with full knowledge of the fact. Free dangling elbows attached to arm-straps become targets as people stand, even lean back to make sure their head comes into contact with it, even if that requires the backwards flexibility that would make a limbo dancer jealous.

And it’s not just me. Often in my own exploits my dancing partners don’t even realize, at first, whom they are messing with. A backwards glance, a flash of surprise followed by a slow mask of devilish delight; a gaijin is just an excuse to continue the dance with increased vigor, not to end or start one. Once I had the life crushed out of me until I realized the guy in front of me wasn’t pushing; he was being pushed by a miserable looking sparring partner who gave him a look that in England would have read “and STAY down!” I was merely an innocent bystander in this tango they had started before entering the train. Sometimes an already quiet train descends into a deeper hush as further along the carriage everybody can hear the unmistakable sounds of two strutting peacocks aching for a fight.

With strict hierarchies, a cultural respect for the drunk and a marital institution that dictates the wife wears the trousers at all times the only anonymous release a Japanese man has is the train. By shredding their anger onto an innocent but willing victim during his commute he can manage his stress and continue his life as per usual without having to resort to actual violent outbursts. It’s the fight equivalent of those fake train carriages perverts can rent in houses of ill repute to role-play their little sexual fantasies, except, of course, that it’s real.

Rule 1 of Train Club: you do NOT talk about Train Club! The understanding is unspoken and mutual. Once you receive resistance or retaliation the fight is on. Rule 2, you do NOT talk about Train Club! There is no thanking your partner after a successful scuffle; there is no acknowledging of Train Club ever. Rule 3, only two men in a fight. Rule 4, fights end only in submission, by clearing space for the victor and ceasing the retaliatory shoving, or arrival at the destination and disembarking. Rule 5, fights may start in the queue on the platform but the main bout is always in the train itself. Rule 6, you may use newspapers and books in busy trains to provoke a fight. Rule 7, you do NOT talk about Train Club.

The next time someone shoves an elbow in your face or tries to clear space for his broadsheet while you are fighting for air, see if he gives you the look; that quiet, sideways look. If you return it and he holds it for more than three seconds you had best get ready to rumble. It is on. Oh, it is on!

7 comments:

  1. Sheesh, such prose, and you're supposedly a VISUAL artist...

    (Post more, please!)

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  2. I agree, the writing on this one was specially exquisite!
    I wouldnt mind reading more transportation tales if they guarrantee such a delightful reading!

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  3. You can't talk about Train Club, but can you continue to wax poetic about it? I'd love to hear about some more bouts!

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  4. Yes, clever prose. That kind of mentality is probably why we see chikan and chijyo cropping up - a different kind of release... or they're just crazy. Both are possible.

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  5. Hilarious, and quite true. You can cut the air with a knife in urban Japanese commuter trains, it's so thick with tension and testosterone.

    I know some of those fuckers were hitting me extra hard due to my gaijinness!

    ReplyDelete
  6. haha thats awesome, nice writing there. would be cool to see a video of it now =P

    ReplyDelete
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