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Trains in Tokyo

Like most everyone in Tokyo, I rely on the train system as my primary mode of transportation. It may not always be easy, but it is frequently interesting. A psychologist would learn a lot about human nature by riding the trains. As an example, here is my latest experience.

On a recent morning commute, I cram myself into the train car. In front of me is an attractive woman, professionally attired and ready for work. She is standing close to her boyfriend with arms wrapped around his waist. Although Japan isn't a nation of huggers, her behavior doesn't strike me as particularly noteworthy given how unbelievably crowded trains are in the morning. If you are going to be pressed into someone's body, it might as well be somebody you know. For the record, the woman crammed into me didn't seem to be deriving the same level of enjoyment as the cuddler.

At the next stop, the boyfriend gets off suddenly and I find myself squeezed in a tight triangle with the two women. I hear a noise and look down to see a cell phone that has dropped to the floor between our feet. The cell phone clearly belongs to one of us but no one makes a move to pick it up. I wait a moment, expecting someone to acknowledge the object. Maybe it's too crowded to bend down gracefully? All three of us stare at it. I know it's not mine but finally I reach down, pick it up, and ask one gal if it is hers. She shakes her head. I offer it to the cuddler. She stares at it but says nothing. Puzzled, I put the cell phone on the shelf above the seats.

Soon, someone gets out of their seat – a precious commodity on morning trains. I push a little old lady out of the way and triumphantly claim the spot. Just kidding – old ladies have long perfected the art of beating people to vacant seats but they don't frequent rush hour trains.

I notice the cuddler standing next to the businessman seated next to me. She reaches down and starts fondling his tie and playing with the buttons on his shirt. Now I'm really puzzled. I mentally review events leading up to that moment and I'm certain this is a different guy than her boyfriend. I start to pay closer attention. The man feigns sleep as he makes subtle movements trying to escape her determined grasp. It dawns on me that the "boyfriend" earlier on the train was an unwitting victim of her attention and he had probably stepped off at the first opportunity. Although the train is painfully packed, there is now a zone of restricted airspace around her as everyone, having become aware of the unfolding drama, tries to keep their distance. The cuddler, her eyes now closed, begins swaying, swooping, swooning and generally behaving like someone going home after a late night of bar hopping rather than someone dressed for work on a morning train.

The cuddler sets her Gucci purse (with a significant wad of cash exposed) on the armrest at the end of the row of seats, next to my "sleeping" seatmate. The purse quickly gets lodged between him and the armrest. He makes a determined attempt to ignore all of this. The cuddler continues to sway.

At the next station, a major stop, the doors open and there is a rush out the exit. She either gets off or is swept out. I remain behind with my seatmate awaiting his reaction. He finally opens his eyes – is it safe to come out? He sees the purse that has fallen onto his lap. Now he's the one that looks puzzled. Where did she go? He cranes his neck, trying to locate her, gives up and stares at the purse with an expression of disbelief. What do I do with this thing?? He ponders his options, pauses for a few moments, and finally puts the purse on the ground next to the door.

Now, I consider my options. Grab the purse and take it to the station master at my stop? Or cowardly let it be someone else's problem? I ponder what would happen if I snatched a bright white purse filled with cash and ran off the train. I'm finally influenced by the certain knowledge that in Tokyo, cuddle-girl has nearly a 100% chance of getting both her cell phone and purse back (with wads of cash untouched). Balanced against the downside of explaining myself to an officer, I opt for convenience and diffusion of responsibility and let it be someone else's problem. I feel guilty but entertained. Every day has its own mini-adventure.