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Tokyo Train

        The Tokyo commuter train slowed to a stop alongside the Shibuya Station platform before its doors opened and a sea of black hair flowed first out of the train, then another tide flowed into the train. The sea was parted by the occasional teenager or grandmother sporting green and purple hair, but not nearly as much as by the blonde American's hair, which parted it now. Until the train became so crowded that all bodies touched and swayed together, an empty circle remained around the unique man.
        The train, packed as it was, made another man who also was a stranger there grimace as it pulled up to the platform a few stops down the line. The second foreigner's only consolation was his quasi-compatriot's face. The newcomer was only able to crowd onto the train with the rest of the homeward bound commuters and had to wait another stop for the chance to make his way to his friend. The latter had already seen his near countryman board the train on the same car and greeted him with a slight smile.
        "How was class today?" the approaching man asked.
        "Same as always. It was hard to explain the grammar. I had this shokyu class that got stuck on 'is, am, and are.'"
        "Man, one of my students, an old guy in the jokyu class," the other started as if his companion had asked him in return how his day had been, "He wouldn't believe me that 'I took my kids fishing' was correct! He insisted that it was 'I took my kids to fishing.' I tried to explain that it was like 'I go shopping,' not 'I go to shopping,' but he wouldn't believe me! He said, 'I think I'm correct' in front of everyone!"
        "Man," his friend sympathized, shaking his head.
        "I'm the native English speaker!"
        Their conversation died momentarily as Owen, the blonde foreigner, stared at a suggestive advertisement on the train wall. Such an ad, though in the minority among the thousands of posters striving to grasp the attention of commuters, was nothing new in the once conservative Japanese society. The look on Owen's face seemed to say, "Never in America would you see an ad like that."
        His companion, Sanders, did not share his expression as he glanced at a different poster, one showing the rolling hills of rural Japan. Dense forest covered the terrain like a dark green blanket, and in the foreground of the picture was an immaculate and ornate Japanese castle. The contrast of the ancient building's bright red and white against the forest caught Sanders eye. He could not read the characters written on the ad, but he seemed drawn in by their mystery. "You ever get out to the countryside?" he asked Owen as he lifted his forefinger towards the poster.
        "No. I wanna sometime though, at least before I go back to the states."
        Neither of them had ventured outside the gray walls of the city. They stayed on the train lines they knew and supposed that they had seen all there was to see. All they fathomed of the traditional Japanese culture were petite women walking in kimonos with hands clasped together under concealing sleeves. Never did the notion enter into their imaginations that the Japan before their eyes was a world transformed by the imperialism of the western world, especially American culture. Traditional Japan had been preserved only by the prior xenophobia of the island nation. Now, centuries later, the doctrine of taking the best of the outside world and making it their own had brought with it the worst of the world as well.
        The train jerked, sending its standing passengers scrambling to keep their balance. The doors opened, and after an exhalation of bodies, an even larger wave of newcomers invaded the already full car. Among these were a few kokoseis, apparently coming from long hours of study wearing their dark uniforms, and more likely going to spend their off hours with their peers than at home.
        One of these promptly got shoved by the crowd to the back corner of the car. Like a weak wildebeest separated from the herd by lions, the young girl was pinned with her back against the wall. Other elderly passengers were caught too close to the doors when they opened and were sucked out with the out going rush like ice cubes in juice being poured. These reboarded the train once the tide of bodies turned inward. Sometimes, when the train was not so crowded, a brave and courteous young person would give up their seat along the walls of the car to one of their elders while others pretended to be asleep so they would not feel awkward while pretending the aged person was invisible, but not when the train was this crowded. Now, those unfortunate enough to be standing in front of the packed seats were nearly shoved into the laps of those sitting.
        The slender kokosei who had been herded to the back of the car was smaller than average height. She wore overly thick soled shoes and a hiked up, pleated skirt to compensate for her stature. Anyone could see that she obviously subscribed to the common belief that a short skirt would make her legs look longer, and her taller. Her white blouse and slightly tinted hair contrasted with the darker jacket and skirt of her school uniform. Though an American might have been fooled by her young face into thinking she was a middle schooler, any native could tell by her high school uniform that she was a third year kokosei. The long, white socks that ran all the way up to the base of her knees were far too baggy to stay up if not for the glue that held them against her shaved legs. In other words, she was a typical kokosei.
        At first, the outrageously overcrowded commuter trains were a novelty to the two foreigners. But as time wore on, they felt the monotony that the native passengers had known all their lives. The uniformed station workers who pushed people in tightly with their white gloves so that train doors could close were no longer interesting. The occasional suicidal jumper meant only delays and worse than usual crowding. The stink of millions of sweaty bodies who didn't use deodorant would have been unbearable on the commute home if not for the fact that the two strangers were the tallest riders on the train.
        Owen was the ideal foreigner to sojourn in Japan. He was a young, blonde, blue eyed American with a quiet demeanor, which made him extremely popular. The rising generation would indiscreetly finger his surreal hair and would touched his eyes too if he would let them. Adults mistook his quiet manner for tact, giving them the impression that he had been assimilated into the stiff culture.
        To some extent Owen had been assimilated. He judged other gaijins or foreigners by how long they had been in Japan. He was no longer shocked by the infinite differences with his former world, such as the ever present scent of cigarette smoke, or the daily pornographic flyer in his mailbox, or even the trains so crowded that he could lift his feet off the floor without falling over. In his thirst for alcohol, Owen had even acquired a liking of sake, though he could still not bring himself to like sashimi or sushi.
        Sanders was not as well suited for Japanese living. He had yet to drink mugicha without cringing and could not even proficiently manipulate chopsticks. His hair was an unfortunate brown which was not as envied as his companion's natural blonde, but was still better than the black hair of other Westerners who would not stand out at all if not for their conspicuous height and long noses. Most of all, Sanders had not been teaching English in Japan as long as Owen, which made him the obvious subordinate to his experienced superior.
        Owen prided himself on being an American and not a Brit like Sanders. He would sometimes tease him about the last letter of the alphabet being "zee," not "zed." Still, most of the students in his English classes had been taught it was "zed," which Owen made a point to correct them on.
        In the United States or United Kingdom, the pair would have been ordinary and rather boring people, but here in Japan they were special outsiders, and they knew it. "You ever notice how people avoid crowding us on the train 'cause we're gaijins?" asked Sanders.
        "You see that, too? Yeah, I figure maybe they think we smell funny, or maybe they're scared we got a gun or something. I've had so many students think that guns and drugs are everywhere in America, just like on TV and in the movies."
        "And yet, at the same time, they all worship us," Sanders replied as if he weren't from Britain. "All those teenagers that dress like gangsters and dye their hair want be Americans," he retorted. "I've even had some of them tell me they wish they weren't Japanese but Americans. That's so ridiculous that they envy us and are afraid of us too."
        "Envy me you mean, but you don't always get avoided on the train. I've heard other guys say that sometimes they get people that press up against them when it's really not crowded, trying to cop a feel off them."
        "What do you mean, 'Cop a feel?'" Sanders asked.
        "You've never heard about what happens on these trains?" Owen looked about cautiously before he made his next remark. No one there looked to him like they understood what he was saying, so he continued. "There are perverts that take advantage of when the train is crowded, to touch people."
        The pair spoke in a hushed tone, but neither of them feared too greatly that the Japanese around them understood their conversation enough to get offended. They were too engrossed with each other's company to notice what was going on around them. Among the dozens of black haired heads surrounding them, they did not notice a man standing a short distance away, facing the kokosei pinned against the wall. The middle-aged man wore the inconspicuous, dark business suit just like almost every other male his age on the train, making him appear to carry the prestigious title transliterated from English of sarariman. His wrinkled and crevassed face distracted from the pepper hair of black and gray. The two Americans did not see what he was doing. No one else in the crowded train car noticed either, or they saw but did nothing.
        "You ever think about doing something with the girls here in Japan?" asked Sanders.
        "Girls here?" Owen recoiled. "Did I ever tell you the story of the oats and hay?"
        "No, I don't think so."
        "Okay, there was this horse whose owner always fed him oats. But then the owner fell on hard times and had to sell the horse to someone who fed the horse hay. Well, at first the horse was like, 'This stuff is disgusting,' but then he got used to it, and eventually he started to like it. But then the horse's original owner came upon enough money to buy the horse back, and so he bought the horse back and fed him oats all the time again. And the horse was like, 'Man, what was I thinking, believing that hay was good?'
        "So horses like oats better than hay?"
        "Yeah, and the point of the story is that we've been surrounded by American girls all our lives, or British girls in your case. Then we come here and at first think all the chicks here are butt ugly, but after a while we get used to them. Just wait till you get back to England . . . ."
        Owen cut off his comment suddenly when he looked to his side and saw the short Japanese girl who had made her way from the back of the train car, standing there with tears rolling down her cheeks. Owen hadn't seen her there a moment earlier. Both aliens looked first at the kokosei, then at each other, then down. She remained silent and exited the train at the next stop, running away on the platform and up the stairs as soon as the doors opened. The old man still near the back wall of the car watched her through the train windows as she ran out of sight.
        Neither of the foreigners said anything, but their faces and ears coloured. They got off at the very next stop just to switch train cars. They never even saw the man wearing a business suit who exited a stop after them to do the same.

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