☆ To see all of the parts in this series, click here ☆
So far, in my three months in Japan, I’d encountered an old man waggling his naked penis at me on the street, karaoked next to a room full of naked college boys, filled a saucer full of soy sauce with powdered green tea, accidentally made a toilet spray a stream of water across the room when I couldn’t figure out how to flush it, and found a giant piece of genitalia hanging from the ceiling of a purikura booth. That’s in addition to the less extraordinary things, like finding out where to buy fan-made adult comic books based off of my favorite anime series, and getting stuck in a grocery store because I couldn’t figure out how much they wanted me to pay.
On December 23, two days before Christmas and just over the three-month mark in Japan, something happened to me on the train. No to me, exactly, but, well, okay, let’s start out at the beginning.
This day after work, my new friend Erin wanted to do something together, and we decided on getting kaiten-zushi again. Mmm, sushi. I loved sushi soooo much, plus I knew now that the powdered green stuff wasn’t wasabi. I ate ten plates! And natto. Natto, that smelly, stringy mess that is basically fermented soybeans. Mmm, you’d love to have some of this, wouldn’t you?
The natto that I had was actually this kind:
The above two photos courtesy of Wikipedia.
Grossy-gross-gross natto rolled in sushi rice and surrounded by seaweed. Rice and seaweed, yum! But this concoction, called natto gunkan maki, was not yum for me. I’m a person compelled to try new things. If it doesn’t work out, then I’ve learned something, so when I saw the natto-maki on the conveyor belt, I gingerly asked Erin, “Is that natto?”
“Yeah. Do you want me to grab it for you?” she replied.
Thus, I ended up with the natto-maki in front of me. I took one bean from the pile, and it came away trailing a white, gooey string behind it. I put it in my mouth and chewed.
“Hey, there’s no tast— whoa!” I started gagging, so disgusting it was. But, I had to confirm whether this thing that tasted like vomit was actually natto, or just me imagining things. After loading it up with soy sauce, I threw the off-putting lump in my mouth.
IT WAS SO, SO GROSS!!! SOOOOOOO GROSS!!!!! It tasted like I had literally vomited in my mouth, but I was supposed to actually chew and swallow that vomit as food! Or had I actually vomited?!?! I did eventually get it down, washed down by liberal amounts of green tea, but could still taste it hours later as I sat writing in my livejournal. I tried natto various times over the years, but it never, ever tasted any better to me. I have friends who like it, though. So I suppose that it’s a matter of taste. Oh, on a curious note, natto is known for its hideous smell, but it did not smell at all that first time. Every time later, yeah. Pretty strongly.
Ugly little cellphone pics from the sushi restaurant that night. Pre-smartphone era, of course. 😉
We met up with Eda at the famous Starbucks above scramble crossing in Shibuya after that.. That Starbucks is supposed to be the busiest one in the world, and they only serve one size of drinks. We sat for a while, watching the people down below, and then I headed home. I took the Denentoshi line, a local line because it was almost the last train of the night. It was a little after midnight, and I was about fifteen minutes away from the station where I needed to transfer to the nanbu line, when the train came to a stop in the middle of the tracks.
I couldn’t understand any of the announcement that came over the intercom, aside from the chotto matte kudasai at the end. “Please wait for a moment.” I was worried about making my transfer, but these random stops happen on occasion and so far, they’d always ended after a few moments. The train care was packed, but I was sitting down, so I didn’t mind too much. I just waited.
Suddenly, though, I heard the sounds of a scuffle a meter or so to my left, near the priority seats. I couldn’t see anything, until the people quickly shuffled around and there was a break in the bodies big enough to glimpse what was going on.
What I saw was an old guy lunging repeatedly for the closed window behind the heads of the terrified-looking people sitting in the priority seats. Another man was struggling to hold him back, but the guy just kept jumping at the wall. People started scrambling to get out of the way, so my view was blocked for a few seconds. Suddenly, though, I heard a noise, like the sound of metal hitting the floor, and I look down to see what looked like a switchblade or razor quickly get stepped on. When people shifted again, I got a better view, and immediately regretted it.
The young guy restraining the man’s; his face is now COVERED in blood. It was running down his face from I don’t know where, dripping down onto his clothes, onto the floor. At this point, the people in the priority seats, as well as most of the others nearby, skittered away, and another man came forward and restrained the old man. Some other people forced the younger guy to sit down, and he picked up the razor/blade/knife. I’m starting to get panicked; between me and the men there is nothing but open space and some bars, but in front of me, there’s a mass of people pressing in. I was trapped, and could only watch. The train was still stopped.
Finally, after the longest, most heart-pounding wait ever, the train starts to move. It stops at the next station, and nothing at all happens. Nothing. Neither of them get off, there is no staff called. Nothing. Two stops until my station….. Unsure what else to do and walled in by people, I wait, staring. The old man seems to have given up now, and the younger one is trying to stop the bleeding with a handkerchief that’s completely soaked now. None of the passengers are saying a word. Nobody is panicking.
Then, two stops later, it’s my stop so I get up, and noticed that it’s not just the guy’s face covered in blood. The floor and the walls, and the jackets and bags of passengers are splattered with it. I went straight out, looking for a station attendant because if nobody was going to do something, I was going to do it. No matter my lack of Japanese. But as I stepped out, staff was rushing toward our car, and I watched them take the wounded guy out. Strangely enough, not only had it taken them three stations to do so, but they left the guy who slashed him inside.
I’d only been in Japan three months, and everyone told me how safe of a country it was. This night, I didn’t think so. Not at all. I made my transfer and walked home, jumpy and at a loss for words. It’s a good thing that my roommates were asleep for the night, because I didn’t really want to talk to anyone.
Debauchery, gross food, and bloody knife fights? What is my year in Japan going to be like? I wondered.
….to be continued. Of course.