It’s the problem with the herd mentality in Japan. While there are many reasons to appreciate and even praise some of the results of these practices, as a Westerner with little tolerance for bullshit and even less patience for idiocy, it wears thin. Everybody does the same damn thing on the same damn day at the same damn time. People have, by contract, days and weeks of vacation to use at work. They rarely do. Instead, they all give the same answer: "We have many holidays in Japan, so we can enjoy our time then." Yeah, with everyone else. Meanwhile they'll work like dogs into the dead of night. (before I get derailed, just search "Japan suicide" or "Japan salaryman" to see a sampling of the zero-sum game of Japanese working culture) How enjoyable is going to the mountain getaway and waiting hours in a queue for a mediocre dinner while your understandably antsy kids are bouncing off the walls?
You may recall the inexcusable hours of traffic I experienced back in September going to and from Mount Fuji. (How can you not remember my colorful rants?) Now, on the eve of Christmas Eve and Christmas Eve day itself, I once again fell victim to Japanese people’s inability to do something different than everybody else. Thus, taking the bus into Tokyo was a mistake. The train would have arrived on time, even if it was packed and I had no place to sit through three transfers. An even bigger mistake was taking the bus back home.
The exit off the highway and to the bus station is about one kilometer, maybe a scrotum’s hair longer. That bit of distance – doable on foot in about ten minutes – took the bus nearly an hour. Ask to get off alongside the road? Well, heavens no. That would be impossible. It might be against the arbitrary rules, and worse yet, it’s thinking outside the proverbial box. So as the bus and half the population of the Kanto region headed in the direction of the shopping outlets (which, by definition and practice in the U.S. offer goods at a reasonable if not significant markdown, is not a thing in Japan. Everything is full price, and bright, bold signs advertising the occasional sale offer a meager five to ten percent off. Hardly worth the gas people spend getting there from cities hours away) I could feel my blood boiling. Who knew it was a shopping day?
My estimated two-and-a-half hour window to ride home from the bus station, get a much-needed shower, take in my laundry, go pick up a Christmas cake, (yes, cake and chicken is the meal du jour) stop at the bank to pay rent, and meet someone at the train station had now been hacked to thirty minutes. Maybe, had I managed to catch the earlier bus as I had intended, I would have maintained a healthy cushion. But before morning became afternoon that plan too was foiled.
Fighting my way through Shinjuku Station, one of the busiest in Japan, I managed to get in line at the bus ticket counter with two minutes to spare. I could see the bus at A2. Good. But the people in front of me then decided to ask more questions than Alex Trebek, then deliberate at the counter while the attendant patiently waited rather than telling them to stand aside to jerk each other off so he could help people that already knew what the hell they needed. Another minute. Now it was the exact minute of departure. “Sano, please,” I said. The attendant told me the price and time of the next bus. I said no, I wanted the bus that was to depart now. He said sorry, it’s too late. It had already left. I pointed and led his eyes to the bus in question and said it was still there. But he wouldn’t let me purchase a ticket.
So when my bicycle met the toaster oven on wheels driven by a frightened-looking mouse, my mouth went into autopilot as I was picking up that stately two-wheeled wonder. My voice drew attention by others in the parking lot. The mouse’s hands gripped firmly to the wheel and her eyes didn’t break gaze with mine. Having a gaijin yelling profanities at her – or even just engaging in any little hint of a confrontation (‘cuz you know, you don’t wanna upset anyone for pointing out what’s wrong, because, Japan…) – likely scared the sushi out of her. I didn’t care. I had somewhere to be, and everybody was holding me up. And I’m sure Santa would see it my way. Merry Christmas.