Japanese Commuter Diaries

Intro here.

They are flooding the rice paddies now. The vistas of dirt fields are now filled with water; transformed into wetland almost overnight. In the evening light, they reflect the sky and mountains behind; like a placid lake segmented by the grids of paddy walls.

Looking down at the nearby paddies from the train, we can take in small, organic, squishy scenes. Muddy pools still, with baby rice seedlings poking up in their neat rows. Ducks and herons going about their business, clearly delighted. The little rice planting tractors at work, with the tiny farmer trucks supplying their trays of seedlings parked on the narrow roads between the paddies.

Later, these pools will become seas of deep green. And later yet, yellow: drooping low under the heavy burden of grain.

But for now it is water and mud. Ducks and rubber boot wearing oldsters in their straw hats going about their labors together.

The junior salarymen from my last instalment have put in another appearance. Just the youngsters, though: none of the managers are in attendance.

At first it was just two of them sitting in the booth opposite me on the morning leg. Nothing unusual here; with their pressed black suits, white shirts and striped ties, overly shiny patent leather shoes, briefcases and overnight wheelie carry-on bags. At the next stop down the line, however, they are joined by another of the lads. This one is different. He is rocking street clothes and has with him a full suitcase.

He sees his two compatriots are wearing suits. He expresses his concerned surprise at this with one of the many expressive Japanese vocalizations they use instead of words. (“ehh!?”)

His two chums are surprised too. You’re not in your suit? (“Sutsu? Sutsu?”)

Oh dear. Buddy in his trendy ripped jeans and rocker shirts whips out his smartphone and hurriedly accesses the email that summoned all of them on this excursion. He’s almost frantically scrolling through it now, looking for some way out of this nightmare. Perhaps the two guys in suits are the ones who misunderstood.

His two mates look on with a mixture of amusement and sympathy. Of course, there is also the subtle edge of predatory satisfaction over the failure of someone who is nominally your competition.

No salvation in the email, the street-clothed fellow sits with a stricken look as he contemplates whatever situation awaits him at the other end of the journey. Will he have time to change into the suit he has carefully packed away in his suitcase?

Not likely.

His pre-trouble embarrassment is not over yet, however. At each of the next two stops, another young colleague boards the train and joins the crew. Both of these fellows is, of course, wearing his suit and has a small overnight bag for his toiletries and street clothes.

Oh dear, oh dear. The one odd man out in the five. Not good.

Later, on the terminal platform, I watch the crew. They have been met by an older gentleman salaryman I have not seen before. He leads them off to their destination. The street-clothed chump with his oversized suitcase takes his place in the duckling procession following in the manager’s wake. Stone faced expressions all.

The manager has made no mention of the lad’s fuck up. Probably all the kid got from him was a raised eyebrow and a cleared throat. Maybe a cough.

This doesn’t mean he aint fucked, though. If they are on their way to meet a customer and don’t have time for him to put on his suit before they do, the manager himself is going to have to bow and scrape to Customer-sama for this breach of etiquette.

The subordinate’s fuck up reflects on the manager, you see. It is his responsibility. His bad.

But being anything other than five minutes early for an appointment is not an option either. Do they have time to handle this? However this plays out, it will not be forgotten. Careers have been torpedoed for less.

Oh well, sucks to be him. It’s the kind of fuck up that the managers will all happily bust a gut laughing about at the post-work drinking party, once the acute tension of it has passed. A “shit happens” incident that won’t truly upset anyone too deeply.

But that doesn’t make the youngster any less fucked.

This is Japan.

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