Conflict on a Japanese Train

-by Seth Howard

On the train to Hokkaido I was trying to read, but one of those old Japanese women with too much energy for her age was blabbering on about something in a loud obnoxious voice. I looked up at her a few times annoyed, wondering when she would stop. She didn’t seem to care, or even realize her effect on those around her. She simply continued on as if in her own bubble. She was obviously taking advantage of the fact that she was an old woman in a country that respected the elderly.

It was morning, and having only slept three hours the night before I felt like dying, but I figured I would wait it out, having seen no other option. So I continued to read my book. The old woman went on and on, getting louder with each sentence. I couldn’t imagine what she could be talking about for so long. Each sentence stretched on as if she were bragging to those around her saying “Hey everyone! You have to listen to me because I am old, and there is nothing you can do about it, so just sit back relax and enjoy the show!" I had no idea what she was talking about. I probably could have caught her line of thought if I had any interest to, but I didn’t. I continued to try reading a Hemmingway short story, but it proved to be a greater feat of concentration than I was capable of at that hour in the morning. At the end of each of her sentences she said in that loud penetrating voice “Right!? Right!?" Her old husband nodded in agreement. His eyes looked tired as though he had given up long ago. I wondered how much of the old lady’s ranting reached his ears.

Just then, at the height of her petulance, a younger Japanese man sitting nearby yelled over at her.


“Shut the fuck up!" He spoke with rude Japanese. The old women went silent, and waited for the moral foundations of society to take effect. The old husband looked up, his eyes coming into focus for the first time.

“Are you serious?" was all he could manage as his face reddened. The blood of his ancient samurai ancestors seemed to flow directly into his face.

“Yes I’m fucking serious, I am trying to sleep here. Tell your old hag to shut up." The man said, then rested his head back to sleep.

The old lady had kept quiet all the while, and now the old husband, afraid to speak, just stared. His face reddened, and he seemed to be plotting how he would avenge this great disrespect, his eyes alert and bloodshot. He looked angry and ugly, thinking hard, but the younger man had already drifted off into sleep. I looked up one last time at the old woman. She looked old and weak now, but there was also something childish about her. Her face was grim and smug, and I almost felt bad for her. She fiddled with a bag in her lap. Her movements looked irregular and unpracticed, like a baby who didn’t get its way. I knew the old couple would not get over this event during the train ride. They probably never would. I picked up my book and started to read. The tall Tokyo buildings skipped by soundlessly in the corner of my eye.

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