Time and Distance
Growing up and living in Canada conditioned me to habitually thinking of distance more in terms of time than in terms of miles or kilometers. For example, I may not have known (and still do not know) the precise distance between Toronto airport and my house, but I knew/know that it is about an hour - or less if the traffic is light and I can get away with speeding. One might not know the distance from Toronto to Montreal, but one knows it is about 5-and-a-half hours. A car trip from southwestern Ontario to Vancouver could be done in three days or so, depending on one’s speed, duration of daily driving and distance covered, and frequency of breaks. I came to think of it as normal for Canadians and maybe for residents of other large countries like America and Australia, as well.
I did not at first suspect that people in a small country like Japan would measure distance in terms of time to the degree that citizens of large countries do, but they do. In a country where the average one-way commute to work is a couple of hours Japanese estimate distances to school and work in terms of time spent on the trains getting there.
Of particular interest for me now is a Japanese man I work for part time on weekends. I have no contract with this man, only a verbal arrangement. But like a lot of employers he is prone to regard me as a warm body only and take advantage of me on that basis. On short notice he will call me up and ask me to go here one day, or there on another. No payment for transportation, no payment for commuting time, but only the reassurance that the places he asks me to go are “only an hour from Shinjuku Station,” or “only 45-minutes from Ikebukuro Station.” Translated into linear distance he is asking me to travel a couple hundred kilometers there-and-back to do a one-hour job. But he probably does not/can not imagine it that way. So my wife and I have resolved to lie to him for any request that takes me out of the city of Tokyo by claiming other engagements. In addition, I do not have a cellular telephone, meaning that it is impossible for him to contact me directly at his pleasure. My wife has a cellular phone and I use her as a barrier between him and me. Fortunately, Junko is a tough woman by Japanese standards - and even by mine - and she doesn’t tolerate a lot of guff. She makes a good shield.