We Venture Into the Heart of Japan: A Train Story

Our wonderful week in Hokkaido was due to our friends and the film crew—both of whom helped us every step of the way. Toh even helped me go into stores and buy film and cigarettes.

So it was a thrill to be on our own and walk a few blocks to the train station in Tokyo, figure out how to buy tickets and which of the many trains to board, and then where to go on the train. We were setting out to visit an old friend in central Japan, in the shadow of Mt. Fuji, Jeremy Angel and his family.

We managed all of the steps, but our doubts weighed more than our packs. Once our packs were safely stored in the overhead racks (making the train dangerously top heavy I might add), we settled back in the comfortable seats and watched as we left Tokyo and headed up through the mountains of central Japan.

But soon our joy was replaced by a slowly percolating panic when we realized we didn't know where to get off, no one around us spoke English, and we couldn't properly pronounce the town's name so that anyone could understand our taut, crazed looks.

One after another we watched as train stops came and went, having just enough time to try and match the kanji letters on the signs with our tickets before the train would power down the track. Finally, a few of the passengers sensed why we were hyperventilating and they offered to help by animated sign language.

When our stop came up we were prepared. Our packs piled next to the door and us standing proudly having survived another pitfall of travel. The door opened, and like a trained group of professionals we hauled our goods off the train and on to the platform with precision timing and grace.

It was then that I had this really neat idea, the kind of idea that any veteran traveler, man of the world, experienced adventurer knows—I'd get back on the train and take a quick look to make sure we'd retrieved everything. The seats and overhead racks were empty, and for a brief shinning moment I surveyed the scene feeling proud of my family for such a good job, and proud of myself for double checking. After all, all of our earthly goods are on ..... and of course at that moment I heard the doors swoosh shut and the train lurch ahead. I rushed to the door, but it was sealed, and through the window I could see my family's panicked faces standing on the platform looking like one of those grim photographs from the war.

And in that instant I also saw a look come across Salli's face, a look I'd never seen before, the kind of look that highly trained Hollywood makeup artists get paid loads of money to create out of latex. It was the look of one's life flashing before them. And with that look and enough adrenaline to lift an automobile off a victim, she attacked the train with all her furry, fists hammering like pile drivers, screams that could stop a train. And it worked. The train actually stopped. The doors opened, and I rolled off the train laughing hysterically.

The veteran around-the-world traveling family stood there on the platform hugging and whimpering with each other as if we'd been separated for decades. We turned and watched as the train roared past, and in each window was a face staring out at us, the world traveling dumb gaijin, and wondering how such a pretty woman as Salli could stop a train with only her fists and fury.

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