The train unloads in Odawara and begins it’s journey, taking 95
minutes and making 15 stops along the way before reaching its terminus
station, Shinjuku. Inside the train, at Odawara station, the durable
maroon fabric seats gradually fill up as the conductors await its
departure, literally counting down the seconds.
Along the route the landscape gradually transforms before my eyes. Just
beyond Odawara, rice plants submerged in water shimmer in the sunlight,
blanketing the furtile ground from the steel tracks to the mountains’
base. The mountains aren’t paricularly tall, but stretch
across the entire window of the train, and looking out the opposing
window confirms this: we’re surrounded by them. Their silhouette is
defined yet they appear hazy when compared to the foreground.
Inside the falsely cooled train car, which is one of 15, the view
also changes as we quickly and quietly cover 82.5 kilometers. At stations
close to Odawara passengers alight, but at around the middle of the
journey, the graph flips to a positive influx. The train slowly fills,
and as the seats are occupied once again, passengers stand, gently
swaying with the motion of the carriage. The cars fill up more, until
my only view is the well-tailored pin-stripes pants crotch of the
salaryman in front of me; to his right is a group of high school
boys, with starched white shirts worn under blue blazers with gold buttons marked with their high school insignia and neckties open in haphazard fashion; and on his other side is a young lady wearing a summer floral-print dress, brown gladiator sandals and a droopy straw hat. The one commonality between these seemingly different characters is that their gaze is all focused on their flip cell phones’ screens, typing texts to friends who-knows-where or exploring the Internet for who-knows-what.
Turning to view through the window at my back, I’m treated to yet
another different view. The ricefields have been replaced by two-story
narrow pitched roof houses that are so close together you could share
your bath towel with your neighbour. And these houses are not in the
distance but, just as the green pastures of before did, they abut to the
edge of the train’s right-of-way. However, the density breaks briefly
every few hundred meters for more harvesting. These patches of
farmland host a variety of foods, from leafy vegetables to colourful
fruit trees to the all-familar rice crops.
As we enter the growing metropolis of Tokyo this landscape densifies again (hard to believe, I know), with buildings of any shape and size that an architect could imagine. The variety is akin to a haphazard line-up of groceries in a cupboard, with no consideration for how these seemingly indifferent objects will aesthetically interact. And despite theoretical failure of this idea, in reality it creates interest in the micro and macro skyline.
Finally, as we cautiously pull into Track 5 at Shinjuku Station, I think of my appreciation for trains. They are fast enough to cover great distances and offer changing landscapes at a rate that defies boredom, yet still slow enough for a gradual adaptation to the culture of the destination. And with that thought, I step out of the train door, being ushered along by the current of commuters, who will now disperse like water flowing from a river to an ocean, throughout the massive megacity.