Every day, I take the Sakaiminato-bound train from platform zero.
Its carriages are pink, purple, yellow, green, and blue and plastered with characters from a manga called Ge Ge Ge No Kitaro. One character, Nekomusume, a wide-eyed, fringed-faced girl, flashes razor sharp teeth.
Daily life is punctuated by sound. In the morning, the jaundice-eyed train lumbers along the tracks. Warning bells clang. Red lights flash as the barrier goes down. The whistle blows, the train stops and it begins to pace: tick tock tick tock. The vacuum seal doors gasp open and passengers alight and disembark. Once the train leaves, the barrier lifts. Cars, pedestrians, and cyclists trundle over the worn, wooden railroad tracks.
Music pipes through public speakers at different times of the day: 8:00, 12:00, and 17:00. The day ends: “Oh give me a home where the buffaloes roam…” Hawaiian music wafts down from Takashimaya’s speakers, making the summer days feel long and listless. The summer cicadas drone on and on, invisible to the eye. The Japanese call this shower of sound semi-shigeru. When I first arrived, their loud shrieks filled me with a terrifying existential angst. Now, they don’t bother me so much.
Many people cycle silently on the sidewalks. Girls wearing open toed wedges, delicate blouses, and gossamer skirts pedal by, unruffled by the humidity. Some ride in shiny black pumps, stockings, pressed suits, and crisp white shirts buttoned all the way up. Even older women ride along, dressed in more practical sun hats, flats, and capri pants. Female students zip by almost silently, their navy-blue sailor collars lifting gently. I plod on in the heat, drenched. A few blocks ahead, a man cycles slowly with two slim Shiba inus tethered to each handlebar. Shiny cars whiz ahead.
I turn the corner. The rain mists the mountains and the sky is a soft grey. Sometimes, it turns an angry dark grey. Occasionally, it becomes an azure abyss. I cross the rusty bridge. The river reflects the deep green of the mountains. I see a bunch of marigolds, bright yellow and orange in the sunlight. A farmer toils in the morning sun, tending baigan, tomatoes, pumpkin and pepper plants. Crows caw mercilessly above the railroad tracks.
I meet some students and we reach the school’s hill. At first, we climb a gentle meandering track but then come the sharp stairs. After two flights, I am soaked. The baseball players spot me. Immediately, they bow very deeply at the waist and roar, “OhayogozaiMASU!” “Good morning,” I reply rather sheepishly, as I wipe my face and rush to the teacher’s genkan to put on my inside shoes.