Japan Train


by Jay Hudson

Tokyo eki (railroad station) to Fuji eki train ride seemed like a good way to spend my R&R (rest and recuperation) from Korea in 1955. I was on my way to a U.S. Army Special Services hotel at a lake at the base of the famous volcano mountain of Fujiyama. The hotel was taken as part of the spoils of war after WWII. Prior to the war it was a vacation spot for the Japanese. A room cost $.75 (cents) and I have forgotten the cost of a beer. I found my way to the Tokyo eki because of the English under the Japanese sign. The train was more of a long distance trolley left over from before the war than the fast trains of today.

I took a seat next to a window and bowed to a young Japanese man across from me while his small mother kept her eyes on what appeared to be a meal wrapped in a white cloth with a knot tying the four corners together. I saw no other roundeyes on the train but did not feel any tension from the defeated Japanese even though I was in the uniform of a victorious army. The train was making several stops where riders leaned out windows to purchase food and drink from platform vendors. My new friend leaned out the window of the first stop and bought a large bottle of sake and smiled as thought he had bought the last bottle in the country. He unscrewed the top cover of the bottle and it turned out to be a very small cup. He filled the cup, bowed and offered the cup to me.

I had heard about sake but had never tasted it. I was a $78 dollar a month soldier and drank beer as though it was the only refreshment allowed. I did not want to refuse a gesture of friendship on the belief that a defeated host may well be showing not only respect to a visitor but a sincere effort to be a new ally. I was not liking the taste of sake but as the train rolled on, the sake disappeared. A couple of stops later, my friend leaned out the window and bought another bottle. I was beginning to refuse his offers but he was not giving up on emptying the bottle. About half way through the second bottle he began to show signs of the effects of sake. His mother looked at me and with apologetic eyes asking my forgiveness.  His mother opened her cloth lunch box and offered me something I didn’t recognized. I refused her offer not based solely on the unknown food but also believing she had little money to spend on a stranger simply because she had become an unwanted host with a slipping son.

At my stop I got off the train to a beautiful view of Mt. Fuji wondering how to find the hotel. I looked back at my friend who was buying his third bottle of sake and at the same time hanging out the window trying to wave to me. I really thought he might fall out the window onto the platform. I watched the train disappear down the tracks wondering if his mother would tell him how embarrassed she was because of his behavior but remembered that it was a paternal society and women, wives and mothers should not speak up, no matter what the issue.