Saturday is the morning when I can get up exactly an hour later than any other workday. I had laid out my clothes the night before, and, after a quick soak to make my hair less ostrich-like, a few trims to the beard, I dressed and packed two bags for the day. The first one contained my gym gear (yes, I rejoined the gym in January, paying cash for one year, which is much cheaper; no, there’s been no discernible change in my appearance or weight yet), the second, documents to proofread, and my laptop (a MacBook, the other big-money payout which ensures that I’m not going to profit from the inflated yen by sending any money home anytime soon). For a split-second I thought: can I get that computer bag into the backpack with the gym gear? A short struggle told me: no.
So I walk to the station with a bag over each shoulder. I listen to Silver Street, the BBC Asian Radio soap opera on the iPod (aging, but still holding up – the iPod, that is). The train arrives, remarkably full for a Saturday; I put my computer bag in the overhead rack, and start listening to the At Issue panel discuss Canadian politics. The train pulls into Tennoji Station. I promptly exit and head for Starbucks (despite how not-completely-unjustifiably fashionable it is to hate it lately, it’s a non-smoking café in a country not known for them). Enter, go to put down my bags, and realize that I no longer have bags in the plural. Feeling of dread immediately descends. I turn and walk back to Tennoji Station.
I speak to the station staff – a man slightly older and a woman much younger than me. Tell them I’ve forgotten something, and of course all that listening to English podcasts all morning has gummed the works of the primitive Japanese section of my brain (I think I described my bag as “Koizumi-iro” – the colour of the former prime minister – instead of “nezumi-iro” – grey*). They asked me what train I was on and showed me a schedule. Luckily, I noticed the crowd waiting to get into Kintetsu Department store, so I knew it was before 10 o’clock and indicated that. Next, they asked me which car (carriage) I was in and I told them it was the one “before the Ladies’ Car” ( for the last four or five years, there has been a women-only car on most of the subways and commuter trains in Japan, an option for women who wish to avoid all the repressed male gropers out to cop a feel on the way to or from work – and according to my female students over the years, there are plenty of them).
They conferred quickly: Well, we’ve missed Namba, it should be in Umeda in 9 minutes. So if we call now, we can get someone to check that car in Umeda (woman calls the Umeda Stationmaster). Yes, I’d like to report a forgotten bag on train # XXXX, car # xx. It’s grey and has a pasucon (personal computer/laptop) in it. Onegaishimasu (Would you be so kind?)!
They ask me to wait until the Umeda staff call back. As I stand by the counter, I watch the commuters pass throught he ticket gates. Some, not all, look at me, as if to say, Well, they caught another one. Wonder what this one did… I stand stoically. The phone rings.
“Hai. Hai.” (yes, yes) she says. “Grey. Has a laptop.” She turns to me. “Is it wrapped in a towel?” Embarrassed, I tell her yes (payday is Thursday. I’ll buy a proper case then). Confirms my information to the staff on the other end of the line, then rings off.
She tells me I can go pick it up now! “Jikan ga nai,” (I don’t have time) I tell her, and, this being Japan, she immediately understands that I have to go to work. “Well, you can get it anytime today. Go to the Umeda stationmaster’s office. Tomorrow, they’ll send it to general lost and found.”
I thanked them politely and bowed (which, I realize now, I don’t do all that often), and they smilingly bowed back. As I walked back to Starbucks (I really needed a coffee by then), I reflected that if I had mentioned this to any station staff in nearly any other country in the world, I’d have been lucky not to have them laugh in my face. I concluded, not for the first time,that although Japanese politicians and captains of industry set a world standard for corruption, incompetence and mendacity, the average Jousuke, for all his foibles, is all right. And perhaps that was my problem: in what other country would I have my guard down enough to let go of my computer in the first place?
The postscript is unremarkable: I went up to Umeda and got the bag, after filling out a form in duplicate (Japan must be the only industrialized country which still uses carbon paper unironically). I headed south, vowing I’d never forget anything on the train again. Until (remembering all the other things over the years that I’ve walked away without) the next time.
*On the other hand, I saw Koizumi on TV last night, and he certainly looked mouse-coloured (the literal translation of grey) to me.