An obasan (older woman) boarded the Yamanote train car I was sitting in tonight. There were 2 empty seats between me and a salaryman on my left. The obasan began to sit down next to the salaryman, hesitated, then moved to sit next to me. I was elated, thinking that I was finally moving up on the Japanese social ladder after a decade of avoidance.
Then I noticed something odd about the row of Japanese faces sitting across the aisle from me. They were all not looking in the direction of the salaryman. Here in Japan, a mundane train car environment will result in a random patterning of blank stares this way and that. However, when you have 15 Japanese not looking at a particular point, you can bet your life on the fact that, at that precise conspicuously ignored point, something is horribly amiss.
At this point I did what any polite Japanese would do and, instead of turning my head to stare, I squinted at the reflection of the salaryman in the window across from me hoping to pick up some sort of clue, but the window was too foggy.
Two stops later the salaryman staggered to his feet, and turned my way just before he stepped off the train. There were 5 shiny red rivulets of blood trickling all the way down the left side of his expressionless face from an ugly gash on his forehead. I may have to concede that this possibly played a role in the obasan’s decision to scoot next to me.
But I’ll take any sign of progress I perceive. The way I figure it, I’ve socially advanced to somewhere between profusely bleeding salarymen and vomiting late-night baseball fans.