A rainy night train in Tokyo

Last night some rain moved into Tokyo of the hard and blowing variety. Normally this is one of my favorite weather types, but that is when I am dressed for it. It is most definitely not my favorite weather type when I am in a dry-clean-only suit and dress shoes and have a 15 minute walk from the train station to my flat.

Japan in general, and Tokyo in particular, seems to be the reason why the English sheep population has rebounded after the foot and mouth disease episode and the Australian sheep have not all become mutton – it seems 90% of the male population, and a good portion of the female population, will not step foot out of their residences on a workday without being dressed in a wool suit.. and then stand in packed subway cars where they get so hot from the mass of warm-blooded people that sweat is running down faces and you exit the car drenched within your wool shell. I have watched as an army of technicians arrive at work wearing suits, go into a locker room, and come out wearing coveralls for the workday, then change back into their suits for the trip home. I think this explains why there is one grocery store within a 5 minute walk of my flat, but probably 6 dry cleaners… But I digress.

My trip home from the office last night began at the monorail station, where I just missed one train and so had to wait several minutes for the next one to leave at 11:30 PM. Since it was already at the station with the doors open, I went ahead and boarded and then watched a man (of course wearing a suit) walk onto the train, lie down on the floor, and in no time at all he was snoring. This prompted the train driver to call security, who woke the man up, had him move to a seat, and then left him alone. In no time at all he was snoring again.

The interesting thing about the night train home is that it is a mix of second shift workers and first shift workers returning home after an evening out. Wool suits are an excellent vehicle for carrying odors and the damp air of a rainy night seems to bring them out, so the car soon smells of a heady mix of stale sweat, cigarette smoke, an indefinable mixture of food odors, and usually a fair dose of alcohol tinged exhalations from a group of drunk men (usually also a major source of the other odors) propping themselves up with eyes closed and mouths hanging open after a night out….

Suits of course do not go well with rain jackets, so with the rain comes an array of umbrellas. I have been many rainy places, but I have never before seen the umbrella industry so healthy as in Tokyo. Every store seems to have a large rack of umbrellas for sale, both compact and full sized, and the most popular seems to be a full sized clear plastic one with a curved handle which are relatively cheap and somewhat durable – though they do seem to have a finite life given the number of them seen abandoned at train stations.

Umbrellas do not offer much protection against a blowing rain, however, but once off the train they were deployed regardless, even by a man in a suit riding a bicycle one handed and holding his umbrella in the other. I was no exception, and while my green nylon compact umbrella did keep my head and shoulders relatively dry, the remainder of my suit was thoroughly soaked by the time I arrived home. This morning, though the suit has now dried, my flat has the unmistakable lingering aroma of wet wool.

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