When I was working, I used to hustle on and off the subway or trains every day. I usually read, played games on a PDA, or just sat with my eyes closed and tried not to think about all the chaotic surroundings or loud noises.
These days, I don't tend to travel much by train or subway but an unusual and unfortunate situation had me headed back along a familiar route to Nishi-Shinjuku station. My former company's former office (they moved to Kudanshita 2 years before I quit) was located there for 10 of the years I worked there so it was a path well-traveled over a thousand times.
My husband had ridden a bike to work today with the intention of riding it home and stopping at a bulk food store that is halfway between our place and his office. While he was at work, his back tire went completely flat. This is relatively suspicious because he just had it fully inflated at a bicycle repair shop 4 days ago. He wonders if someone who didn't like where he parked it let the air out.
The plan was for me to meet him in Nishi-Shinuku with a bicycle pump so he could pump up the tire and follow his original plan. Anyone who lives in Tokyo knows that you can't just leave a bicycle anywhere without having it nabbed by the parking police so he had to get it home one way or another. Unfortunately, it turned out the tire was damaged and pumping it up didn't help. That meant an hour and a half walk home for him while I took the subway back.
Since I hadn't been subjected to the (over)stimulation of the subway for awhile, I noticed things I didn't usually notice when it all jelled together into a loud, annoying mass during my commuting days. For instance, I noticed that an ad for a digital camera hanging in the subway carriage had a model with freakishly big eyes and unnaturally smooth skin. Both could only be the result of digital manipulation.
I noticed that a woman who rushed to hand a forgotten item to another woman who was getting off the subway returned to her exact empty seat even though she was alone and squashed between two strangers. She passed by several other empty seats and pushed past people who were standing rather than just take an easier to grab seat near the door. Her allegiance to that seat was curious.
When I got off the train, I noticed the swastika next to the word "temple" on a chart identifying landmarks in the area of the exit. This made me remember that I had recently looked up the swastika symbol on Wikipedia for reasons I can't remember and that it meant "lucky or auspicious object" and the word is likely derived from sanskrit. When I saw the symbol on the subway wall, I thought about how things are easily perverted and possibly misinterpreted. If someone who didn't know what swastikas mean in Japan (they are often placed on maps to indicate temples), would they think there was a group of Nazis here?
On the way home, I stopped off at a 99 yen store and noticed that a young mother in a white fur coat (it was 19 degrees Celsius/66 degrees Fahrenheit today) was blocking the aisle completely with her baby carriage while spending an inordinate amount of time meditating on which of the canned cocktails she wanted to buy to go along with a tiny container of cherry tomatoes and a sweet potato she bought at the counter. I noted the incongruity of someone in a fur coat shopping in the equivalent of a dollar store.
Experiences this evening seemed to move in slow motion and linger in my mind in a way they didn't when I passed by these same areas in the past. It shows how routine can turn life into a blur because you begin to shut things out rather than take them in. I had more of a sense of perceiving Japan in a fashion similar to how I did when it was all fresh and new for the first time in a long time.