The Aizu train


The lady at Aizu`s tourist information humbly presented me with another leaflet.  I now have 37 leaflets; my trip is less than 48 hours old. 

I haven`t asked for any of them.  Giving leaflets is not just done for advertising I think.  Presenting something reduces the need for awkward eye contact with a stranger – eyes naturally drift towards the gift.

The Aizu train

The lady suggested I take the Aizu tetsudo line train to Yunokami onsen.  A local line for local people, it sounded fun – and it was.

On the Aizu line, a plaform with a building is a rarity.

A one carriage train, it was already parked on the platform, when I got there.  The doors were closed;  it looked like it had been stood there for days. 

Pushing a button to open the doors,  I stepped into the carriage.  Concerned faces turned towards me.  I`m used to this welcome and didn`t pay attention at first, then I realised they were waiting for me to press the button to close it.  “Brought up in a barn were you?”, they could have screamed.

I sat at the end of the carriage, across from three males, the cream and cud of Aizu perhaps.  Sitting directly across from me was Spalding, slouched next to him was Slouching Tiger, and standing in the corner was Burdock Root.

`For the Look and Feel of a Champion`, were the words on old Spalding`s white baseball cap.  The rest of his clothing was shades of beige: a polo-shirt, cotton trousers and leather shoes.  It`s a uniform for the retired, and worryingly similar to my own wardrobe

His carrier bag contained the retired man`s perfect picnic:  a carton of green tea, a bag of edamame (boiled soybeans) and a sealed glass of One Cup Sake

Slouching Tiger also wore a baseball cap, but his was at an angle, with the black peak bent backwards. Dyed orange hair lurked underneath.  He also wore a medallion, a nose-ring, and a cotton tiger stripe waistcoat.  I don`t own any of them.   

 Finally, in the corner, stood lanky Burdock Root in his PE kit.  Returning home from morning Athletics club training at school, his sun-tanned skin was as brown as chocolate.  

Listening to his iPod while fiddling with his mobile, he seemed to be concentrating on not getting trapped into a conversation with the people around him.  Glancing around at monochrome Spalding,  Slouching Tiger and myself, he had good reason. 

Burdock Root finally gets a seat and quickly sups up a carton of vegetable juice.

“There is no toilet on this train”

“There is no toilet on this train”, the train conductor announces.

 I looked back to see the Aizu train conductor, dressed in Smurf-like uniform, leaning into the microphone.  On a one carriage train, having a driver and a conductor is superb service.  There are trains in Tokyo with neither.      

So, there is no toilet on this one carriage train, that`s clear, I thought.  Then, ten minutes later, Smurf starts again:

“There is no toilet on this train”

“There is no toilet on this train”

I don`t know what incidents they have had on the Aizu train.  Perhaps Gerard Depardieu once took a ride.  Some serious incident must be responsible for this tirade of toilet announcements.  Just half half an hour into the journey, as we pull into a station, the Smurf walks up the carriage.

“We have a 3 minute layover at this station.  Anybody wishing to use the facilities can go now”, he repeats.  Nobody moves.

2 minutes 45 seconds later, a lady rushes out the carriage carrying her 2-year-old.

“Where is the toilet?”, she asks Smurf.  Smurf, albeit reluctantly, was prepared to let her go.  I truly believe that now.  But the burly driver stepped in, suggesting she get back in the carriage.  The people of Aizu must endure.

The journey continued through the rice fields and green wood covered rocky hills.  Smurf made one entertaining cameo, valiantly chasing a moth out the carriage window – I doubt he gets a bonus for this.

Smurf`s lone battle with the moth goes unnoticed and unappreciated by dozing passengers.

Arriving at Yunokami Onsen, I decided I had to give Smurf a deep bow and smile; he`d put on a superb performance.  Instead of that though, Smurf had an unforgettable encore for me.

Typically, I`d lost my ticket amongst the mountain of leaflets I`d picked up earlier.  You need to show a ticket to get off the Aizu train.  Fortunately, Smurf knew I had a ticket; he`d sold it to me at the start of the trip.  

I got off the train alright.  Now I just had to get past the Smurfina waiting at the station gates. I ambled towards her.        

That moment, I heard frantic shouting.  Looking around, I could see the Aizu train disappearing in the distance, and leaning out of the window was Smurf, shouting something at Smurfina. 

“The foreign gentleman bought a ticket, he just can`t locate it at present, please let him through”  

This is what I like to think Smurf said anyway.  His words certainly did the job, I got past the gate.  `Foreign gentleman` or `******* ******`, whichever is closer to the truth, Smurf made my day.

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