My fifth day in Japan, I planned to travel from Kyoto to Imbe, the home of Bizen pottery.
For years I had been dreaming about the small pieces of Bizen pottery acquired on my last trip. Soy sauce pots and small vases went to my offspring and now I wanted a piece for me, maybe two pieces
Arriving alone at the train station, a solo traveler, probably an hour ahead of time, I was ready for this or so I thought.
Soon into the trip I had to change trains. Back out on the platform I studied the overhead signs. Of the three facts I needed for my train connection, (train name, destination and time), the board had listings with two out of three, but never all three things in one listing. Puzzled, I wasted some time, mulling this over. Then I waited patently to speak to a rail employee. They told me I needed a different platform.
I ran over as the doors closed on MY train.
Panic filled me. This was my only day to go to Bizen. The rest of my days were filled with places I equally longed to return to. Breathe, stay calm.
A railroad employee pointed out the next train would be along in 4 minutes. Four minutes –muhaha. I can live with that. Wow, it goes to show there is no reason to get upset.
I got on the next train, ate my bento and whoa. We stopped. EVERYONE got off.
But wait, this isn’t where I want to go to make my next connection.
Oh this train doesn’t go that far. You need to take another train to get to your connection place.
A bit of tension returns but I remember how well the last miss worked out. It will be fine.
I ask a young woman at the station if indeed this is the train to Okayama. She digs out her schedule and shows me. In tiny print I see my arrival time will be at 11:58. Thanking her I get on and we’re off. At about 11:20, with the motion of the train lulling me to sleep, I close my eyes. I awaken to the sound of the train starting up. I see the young woman across the way looking at me with stricken eyes. That was your stop she says. What!!! It’s only 11:40. I look at her schedule. It clearly says 11:38 is my arrival time. OMG, Mercury must be retrograde today.
I get off at the next stop. It may as well be a million miles away. It is too far to walk in one day. This stop is completely deserted. No human in sight. No train station employees. Will there be any more trains here on a Sunday afternoon? There is a schedule which I stare at, thinking I may suddenly start to be able to understand Japanese. There is no English.
I look at the highway and wish somehow to be transported in the direction I came from. A truck passes every so often.
Despair floods me. Remember, breathe. This schedule has to make sense somehow.
A thought creeps in. I read a blog by a man who hitchhikes around Japan. He says it isn’t done there but if he waits long enough someone picks him up. He has had some very interesting experiences with the people who give him a ride. He speaks some Japanese.
I read body language and use pantomime.
I could do it. I know everyone who cares about me will have a fit when they find out. But Japan has a very low crime rate. It appears to be a straight hop down the highway to my left. (When I get back to my hotel later this night, I find the e-mail I printed up from my tour group warning me about the train connection and the short timing.)
I take out a pen and my largest piece of paper. On the blank side I start writing in block letters Imbe. I use up all the ink in my pen, when a boy arrives at the station.
A human being. I pounce on him with questions. Finally he understands and looks at the schedule. Very hesitantly he puts forth the time a train will come. In another half hour. I can live with that, it will work. I still have time to get to Imbe. The way my day has been going and his hesitancy have me worried. So when woman shows up I ask her also. She starts to tell me and then she sees the boy and she seems to know, that I have just asked him. She says something to me in Japanese, while making a downward motion with both of her palms. My understanding of what she is saying based on this motion and her tone is –
Chill out lady.
I realize I am very unchilled. I sit and breathe and tell myself it is all okay. A little while later the lady comes over to me and seems to ask me where I’ve come from. I show her on my maps. She speaks in Japanese and I reply in English and pointing.
The train comes and I get to Imbe. It is pouring rain but I don’t mind a bit. I got myself a Bizen coffee cup and a tea pot that makes me cry. Ah, but that is another story.
© 2011 Jeanne Litt, All rights reserved.