I’m on the Shinkansen with the boy, headed for a ski weekend in Niigata prefecture with my friend Caroline and her family. It’s my third visit to Bears House, a lovely hotel right on the slopes of Ishiuchi Maruyama ski resort. So by now I have the drill down of getting there: local train to Tokyo station, arriving early enough (about 40 minutes) to buy a bento dinner for the 75 minute Shinkansen bullet train ride.
I think you all know where this is going.
So I met Caroline on the platform of our local station, Yamate. We expected a 50 minute, no transfer ride to Tokyo Station. About halfway there the train stopped right after the first car entered Kamata station.
We sat there for about ten minutes with periodic announcements in Japanese. After a bit people started getting up and heading toward the front of the train to get off, and we followed. When I saw that one car made it into the station, I assumed the worst: that someone jumped in front of the train. Unfortunately this is a fairly common occurrence in Japan. But when I didn’t see a white fabric barrier erected at the front of the train I figured it was something else. The JR East status website quickly listed “unidentifiable noise” as the cause of the delay. If it were a jumper then the status would reference personal injury.
The plan was to get off the train and somehow magically make it to Tokyo Station in time for our Shinkansen.
And on the platform in Kamata Station, our guardian angel appeared: Katayama-San, the neighbor of our drum teacher, Marcos. Katayama-san and I have exchanged friendly waves and genial small talk and appeared together in music recitals for three years. Caroline’s family also takes lessons from Marcos, so Katayama-San knew all of us.
Because the universe had my back today, Katayama-san was taking a group of boys to the same ski resort, and riding on the same Shinkansen. He and Caroline were even in the same car.
So he said, “Follow me!”. And we did. We sprinted about a kilometer from one station to another and hopped on a Keikyu train, then got off at Shinagawa and stuffed onto an overcapacity, rush hour Yamanote train, where there may or may not have been train pushers at work based on the crush that climbed aboard at every station.
We arrived at Tokyo Station with six minutes to make it on the train. We ran from one platform to the next and made it with two minutes to spare.
We absolutely would not have made it without Katayama-san’s help. Given the train delays we could use our tickets for the next Shinkansen, but we would likely end up standing the whole way.
With the whole 40-minutes-to-buy-bento-dinner thing out the window, I settled in with the snacks I packed: beer and blondies.
When I went back to deliver beer and blondies to Katayama-san and Caroline and her crew, I found Caroline dispensing her dinner/snacks in a method familiar to every parent of more than one child: counting out potato chips/crisps one by one to each of her three children.
We arrive at Echigo Yuzawa in 30 minutes. I really, really hope the bento stands are still selling dinner when we arrive.