I Did Not Know (fiction), Part 5: Trains

Kagoshima, Japan.  Photo by Sara K.

Kagoshima, Japan. Photo by Sara K.

March 14, 2003

Myrna frantically looked at the timetable. She could not read Japanese, and the timetable was confusing, so she must have misread it. There must be another train heading back towards Kagoshima. It was only 8:30 pm.

Myrna looked at the station name. It was in fact ‘NISHI-OYAMA’. She had already been through here once before, but she figured she might as well get on and off at Japan’s southernmost train station.

Because it was dark, Myrna could not see the surroundings too well, but she was guessing that there was not much of a town around here.

It was not as cold as when she had first arrived in Japan, and she had plenty of warm clothing, but she still hoped that the train would come soon.

There had only been a few people on the train with her. As Myrna walked through the station, she found that one of the passengers – a middle-aged woman – was lying down amid blankets. Was she homeless?

Then again, Myrna was homeless, though she had never thought of it like that before. She certainly was no longer paying her share of the rent for the apartment, nor did she have any intention of returning. She had stashed her most important belongings either in her luggage or at a (former) co-worker’s home.

Myrna found a place to lie down in the station herself. At least she could rest while she was waiting for the train which kept on not coming…

***

March 7, 2003

Somehow, in the morning of her stay at Shiratani hut on Yakushima, she had ended up going with the couples while it was still dark to a barren rock (though it was not far from the hut, it was steep, and Myrna was asking herself why she was following these people). Because of this, however, she got to see the sunrise from the top of a ridge, and watch mountain ridges covered with forest appear beneath the light.

On the one hand, Myrna had never seen anything like this in person, and she had to admit it was impressive. At the same time, she felt that she was not … as thrilled as she should be. It was beginning to dawn on her (well, it was also ‘dawning’ in a literal sense) that she was disconnected from her feelings in a way she had not been in the past.

She went down, and leisurely made her way (thankfully downhill!) through Shiratani Unsuikyo, this time actually looking around her. It was a lovely forest.

Having had enough of Yakushima, she got on an afternoon ferry back to Kagoshima.

***

Lou had been remarkably understanding about what happened to her tent. “It’s the second time a deer has ripped a piece out of this,” Lou explained. She pointed out the patch where a deer had previously damaged the tent on Miyajima.

Myrna spent another day in Kagoshima, not doing much. Yakushima had been more than enough adventure for her, but she did not like staying in the city either. So she went ahead, and bought a JR Kyushu pass, allowing her to ride all JR trains on Kyushu.

Her routine became taking trains all day, disembarking occasionally to buy food and walk around a little, and returning to Kagoshima every evening to take a shower and sleep at Lou Clarke’s.

“Really, all you do is ride trains all day?” Lou Clarke asked.

“It’s what I feel like doing.”

Lou looked like she was about to object, but then she relaxed and shrugged. “If riding trains is what you like, you came to the right country.”

Myrna felt more comfortable on moving trains than anywhere else. She did not feel as exposed on a train as she did on the street, and the trains kept on moving, which she liked. She felt uneasy with staying in the same place.

On top of that, during the many hours riding trains, Myrna found she could finally start to think about the issues in her life. Not too directly – there were things she was definitely not ready to confront – but she could reflect on some of the less scary parts.

Having figured out that Myrna had a thing for trains, Lou told her all kinds of things about Japanese trains. For example, Lou suggested that she visit Nishi-Ōyama, the southernmost train station in Japan.

***

At long last, after 9pm, the train heading towards Kagoshima arrived at Nishi-Ōyama. Before Myrna got on, she took one last look, and saw that the woman was still lying down there.

The next day, Myrna mentioned it to Lou.

“She might not be homeless,” Lou said. “It’s a bit early in the year, but Japan does have a tradition of sleeping outside.”

“Anywhere?”

“Not anywhere. But there are lots of places where people sleep, like train stations. A lot of Japanese people sleep outside when they are traveling during the warm months to save money.”

“So, if I were to just decide to stay at a train station for a night, it’s okay?”

“It’s best to ask the people working at the station. Some rural train stations don’t have anybody around at night, in which case I would guess it’s okay, or at least you would not be blamed. I’ve done nojuku a few times myself.”

“What’s nojuku?”

“That’s the Japanese word for sleeping outside. You’re planning on doing it?”

“What?” said Myrna. “No! I remember what happened when I tried camping!”

“Well, if you try it, you should definitely take at some blankets with you, and learn a little Japanese, enough to ask if it’s okay to sleep somewhere.”

***

During her long train rides, she thought to herself, she had been taught that being outside is dangerous, that she should be scared of strangers, that she would be safe at home with family, or with a boyfriend. However, she no longer really felt that such places were ‘safe’. She was even a bit uncomfortable at Lou Clarke’s place, and she was definitely uncomfortable with staying at Ana Teranishi’s place.

Though she still did not feel ready to try sleeping at train stations, she was acknowledging that a lot of the things she had taught had not worked out for her. Would sleeping at a train station really be any more dangerous than sleeping at the apartment she had shared with Sebastian?

To be continued…

***

Preview of Part 6: Consumed:

“Oh, so you had a fight.” Before Myrna could deny this, Sandy continued by saying, “So you fell out with the friend you came all the way to Japan to see. You have another reason for being in Japan.”

“Well, of course there are other reasons to be in Japan…” Myrna replied.

“I sense it is a special reason,” Sandy said. She seemed a bit like a berry picker, judging with her eye which berries were yet unripe, and which ones were sweet, juicy, and ready for picking. “Does this reason have a boyfriend in it?”

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