A day in the life of an ALT in Japan


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.


20 thoughts on “A day in the life of an ALT in Japan

  1. What a lovely and personal story! I really felt I was on this train, when I’ve never even been to Japan. Love the song at the end of the day, how random. It’s one of the reasons I’d love to visit one day.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a great ride on this lovely pink train. Also carriages are rainbow colored and painted with cartoon characters must be fun ride for children. While travelling on this train, you had wonderful opportunity to look for day to day life and finally baseball players spotted you. Great!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You must have had a fun time on this train. The pink train is so instagrammable, in all the countries I’ve visited and trains I’ve ridden on I’ve never seen a pink train! I must travel by train in Japan!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This reminds me of the train I take to work, winding around the mountains and then through the city. So many different lives flash before our eyes and we only catch a glimpse of it. I would just LOVE to ride on a pink train! Although I’m not so fond of the girl with the razor teeth! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a great post! I could practically see and hear everything you described and I felt like I was right there on the train with you. I wish I were!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow you are quite a storyteller! Public transportation in Japan has always been so interesting and I can’t wait to try them someday. But this is one of the best parts about commuting – you get to witness different people from all walks of life come together!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pink train before! Japan has been on my list of places to visit for a long time and it’s easy to see why. I’d love to experience daily life in Japan like you described.

    Liked by 1 person

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