My Subway Station Adventure
In mid-December I decided to take to school some classroom posters that I had had in my home since the end of the last school year. They were expensive, store-bought posters made of thick, laminated paper. Pretty fine posters. I had forgotten that I had brought them home and put them in the upper shelf of the closet in my living room, rolled up and bound with elastic bands for
utility. But I re-discovered them the day I took down my artificial Christmas tree from the same storage shelf. I thought to myself, although these posters are my personal property, I have no use for them at home, so I might as well take them back to school and leave them there permanently. And so I did.For the last few years - after a terrible accident at the JR Ohkubo Station one stop north of the major Shinjuku Station commuter hub in which three people were on the track and then struck and killed by an arriving train - safety barriers have been operating at some stops on my subway line. My station is one of them. It is impossible for people to fall or be pushed onto the tracks. In addition, the positions of the sliding doors in the barrier correspond to the doors of the train cars, so commuters know exactly where to stand to board their trains.
As usual, I arrived at my local subway station at 5:54 a.m. to catch the 6:03train to Ikebukuro. That means that I have to let the 5:56 a.m.local pass by and wait for the next one. I stood at my preferred gate, put down my case and the rolled up posters, then pulled out a paperback Penguin Classic edition of Herman Melville’s 1850 classic American novel, Moby Dick from my shoulder bag and continued with my laborious re-reading. My train arrived and I didn’t look up from my book. The train stopped, the carriage doors and the barrier doors opened and then did I take my eyes off the book, reach down to grab my bag and posters, and discovered that the posters were gone. I looked all around the area by my feet. To the left. To the right. Behind me. I looked at the barrier gate and realized for the first time since they were installed a few years ago that there is a gap between the bottom edge of the gate and the cement platform. I deduced that my rolled up posters had fallen over and rolled through the gap and fallen down onto the rails below. So I tried looking down the gap between the train and the edge of the platform. But it was dark and I couldn’t see anything. In addition, I knew that the cement surface of the platform hangs over a hollow space beside the rails, and that if the posters had rolled in there it would be impossible to see them from the platform. Nothing for it at 6:03 a.m. I just took the train to work and assumed (with swelling regretful feelings) that the posters were lost.
But I wasn’t satisfied. I fretted all day and vowed to at least look in the evening when I returned home to see if the posters were indeed in the hollow space next to the rails, under the overhang of the platform. I did so at 6:25 p.m., and I was right! The returning train arrives at the opposite platform from the one I used in the morning, and that gave me the vantage point to see my posters sitting there, untouched, undamaged, and not too dirty. But out of sight and out of reach to anyone standing on the platform I was standing on in the morning.
I had to get my posters back. I was right there. They were right there. It was the right thing to do. So with my atrocious Japanese I approached the lone platform attendant on the platform I returned home on.
“Excuse me. This morning I lost some property on that platform.”
“Oh, honorable customer, please wait while I get the hook.”
I knew what he meant. For times when something like a hat or an umbrella fall onto the rails, station masters have long-handled hooks they use to scoop up the lost articles. But I knew that in my case the hook was not practical. First, because the posters were not under the platform on which I approached the attendant. They were under the opposite one. Second, because I checked and could see that they had rolled out of view and out of reach of the platform.
But my language ability being what it is, I had to wait until the man returned with the hook to escort him to a proper vantage point and point the property out to him with my outstretched arm.
He understood and returned upstairs to report to his superiors. I feared what he must have been thinking privately about troublesome foreigners.
Instead of following him, which is what I thought he said to me as he departed, I stayed where I was, expecting to have to direct him from my vantage point. Shortly, I watched two uniformed station employees walk down the stairs on the other side. A train was arriving on that platform and they waited for it to depart. They didn’t have the long hook with them, so I wondered, “What’s up?”
After the train pulled out they opened a small panel on the barrier, threw a switch and manually opened one of the gates. Then one of the men jumped down onto the tracks - a fair jump - and retrieved my property. His partner had to give him a hand getting back up onto the platform. I was so happy! I raced up the stairs on my side and met the two near the station exit, gushing genuine expressions of thanks.