外国人の日本体験 Experiences in Japan
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A Mountain of Pride (Part 2)
by Michael Buder
It was still cool and dark when I boarded the train to Seibu Chichibu station. I boarded the train in shorts, hiking boots, waterproof jacket and a small, overstuffed packsack loaded so full I was barely able to zip it up. The passengers all took quick, surreptitious glances at me as I took my seat. They were probably a bit surprised to see a foreigner in their neck of the woods especially at such an early hour.
The seats were facing each other in groups of twos. Two people got to watch the scenery approach them and the other two got to watch it slip away. I was able to find a group of seats completely empty, so I placed my rotund pack on the seat across from me, sat down and leaned my head against the cool window of the train.
The ubiquitous departure chimes sang their brief serenade, the doors slid together and the train eased forward slowly picking up speed leaving the tiny station in its clattering wake. The passengers all sat quietly, looking out the windows as if they were all in a deep trance. Their eyes fixed on the motley blur of greens, browns, and blues, landmarks revealing the progress of their journey like an enormous natural stopwatch.
My eyes followed every contour of the rich, textured Japanese wilderness as the train snaked through the mountainous valleys of Saitama. Pine trees, rivers, and steep, jagged mountains harmoniously punctuated with villages that seemed to be clinging onto or nestled into Mother Nature herself.
The scenery was beautiful and strangely reminiscent of the awe inspiring natural beauty of my own country. Yet it felt different, like eating the same dish at different restaurants. The romance that clings to exploration and discovery, particularly when carried out in a distant land often invokes an incredible euphoria. I felt as if awake in a dream.
The train slowed a stop at Chichibu station. My senses were alert and eager for what lay ahead. This was the terminus station so everyone got off. I threw on my pack and followed the other passengers to the ticket gates and down the stairs to the main level of the station. The station blended quite well with the surroundings. It was decorated in large part with wood and earth tones, which was a welcome departure from the concrete super-labyrinths of Tokyo.
Most of the large trains stations on any line in Japan have a shopping area built into them, and Seibu Chichibu station was no exception. Opposite the ticket machines was a long, covered, warmly lit corridor with souvenir shops on either side. The town seemed almost entirely visible from the main entrance of the station. Again I was reminded of home and of similar towns. It had the familiar small town aura of the small town I grew up in -- practical people doing simple yet necessary things, in a much slower gear. It was the biggest town in around for miles so even though it was small, it was buzzing with activity.
Casting a gray pall over this diminutive community was a mountain, hideously stripped of its dignity by man. It was being broken up and hauled away in order to make concrete, leaving nothing but a treeless, cone shaped mass with a flattened top as a result. I began to wonder if this disfiguration bothered the townsfolk. I pictured fiery town hall meetings. I could see corporations encouraging people to accept the removal of an entire mountain as a necessary by-product of "progress". It made me think of the debate between the logging industry and environmentalists in my own country.
I stood watching the trucks and men on top of this giant mound of violated stone for a few minutes. I shook my head and decided it was time to move on. I asked one of the rail employees for directions to Ohanabatake station. He spoke very fast and pointed in the direction of the shopping corridor. I didn't understand much of what he told me but I thanked him politely as if I had made perfect sense of it all and walked in the direction he had pointed. The shops lining the corridor were filled with knickknacks and snacks similar to what you might find in any small town tourist attraction anywhere in the world. Things a local would never buy but tourists do because they glorify their journey. Usually by capturing an embarrassingly stereotypical image of the region and its people.
When I got to the end of the corridor I saw a sign in both Japanese and English pointing the way to Ohanabatake station. After about a five-minute walk through a bit of a maze of side alleys and streets, I reached the station. As I walked onto the platform of Ohanabatake station I suddenly felt as if I had just stepped out of a time machine.
(to be continued)