shi shi shi shinkansen

aho no jigazou

The title of this page reflects my tumbleweed brain's fascination with combinations of numbers, particularly regarding dates. April the 4th 2004 was 04-04-04. It was also, in Japanese terms, Heisei 16. 4 squared. Cool, hey? The title also reflects the fact that on that day I caught a shinkansen, sometimes called 'bullet trains' by Westerners. "Shin" means new, although "shi" as well as meaning "four" means "death" and is considered unlucky in Japan. Obviously I don't see it that way!
The subtitle, which I hope translates roughly as 'self-portrait of an idiot', reflects how much of a charlie I made of myself on the aforementioned shinkansen. This anecdote contains references to the band Ulfuls. If you aren't familiar with them it's not going to make much sense to you. I recommend that you just look at the picture of the pretty train then go elsewhere.

ticket My ticket.

It was the 11:55 from Hiroshima to Shin-Osaka. I had been to see an Ulfuls concert at the Yubin Chokin Hall the night before and was heading back to Osaka for one more day of shopping and takoyaki before flying back to Australia the next morning. I wandered onto the platform and dumped my backpacks where I thought I was meant to line up for my carriage (I wasn't sure if I had it right because there was more than one number on each sign) and wandered off to take photos of other shinkansen. I like shinkansen. I also like Japan, where you can leave your money and passport standing alone in a public place while you wander off to take photos and they're still there when you get back. This is one of the photos I took. It was heading out of the station at quite a lick, so I was pleased at how well it turned out.

pretty Not my shinkansen.

While I was waiting for the train, photos taken, I noticed a guy coming off the escalator that looked just like John B Chopper. While I was busy digesting the fact that it was John B Chopper and that he appeared to be catching my train, the train turned up and I turned out to be lining up in the wrong spot. I started to walk towards my carriage along the outside of the shinkansen then decided that this was not wise. Shinkansen don't hang around for long and I wanted to be on the inside when it took off. So I clambered onto car number 5 instead of 8, where I belonged. Looking up the aisle of the car I realised that I was blocking the path of another passenger who was trying to head towards the other end of the train. At this point my brain set up a loop that went from 'That's Tortoise Matsumoto.' to 'That can't be Tortoise Matsumoto.' until it gave up and opted for white noise. On some level I realised that I was in his way and managed to offer 'sumimasen...machigaeta' which I think means 'sorry, I goofed'. He said 'No problem' and asked, in English, if I was in the right car while I got my backpack out of his way. I then tried to work out how to reply, in Japanese, to his retreating back. Masterful. The last time I had a meltdown of that degree I had the excuse that I had just jumped out of an aeroplane. So there you go, one completely wasted opportunity to meet Tortoise. And he speaks English too. I suppose I should have guessed because he can sing well in English and he's been to America but then again I've been to Japan and I can sing (not well) in Japanese and my Japanese is bloody awful. As I went on to demonstrate.

Looking back to the way I needed to go I realised that the car contained, amongst others, Ulful Keisuke, John B Chopper and Ito Mikio. I didn't see Sankon but he was on the train somewhere because I saw him in Shin-Osaka. I stood and dithered for a while then decided that on balance I was going to find it harder to forgive myself for just going straight to my seat than for behaving like an idiot who wouldn't know good manners in any language. So I went up to Iwamoto-san. He gave me a look of polite enquiry. I imagine that he thought this frazzled-looking gaijin with the big backpack was probably going to ask for directions. I apologised for my rotten Japanese then offered the opinion, in my rotten Japanese, that Ulfuls were the best. He burst out laughing. I told him that I had come from Australia to see the concert. He said 'uso' ('you're kidding') and I insisted that it was true. He shook my hand and gave me one of his monogrammed guitar picks.

my precious My pick.

I dithered a bit more, told him that I had been to the Kurashiki concert as well, shook hands again and moved on. I offered a hand to John B, who was sitting in front of Keisuke, and he shook it impassively. Even more rattled by John B's Entwistle-like cool (or maybe he just doesn't suffer fools as gladly as Keisuke) I turned to look at Miki. He actually looked pretty welcoming but I had lost it by this stage and just nodded to him then scuttled (as much as you can scuttle with a largish backpack on board) off to find my seat.

A couple of stops later I got up the nerve to go back and ask for a photo. I was profoundly aware, and still am, that bugging people while they go about their private lives is no way to behave. But I did it anyway and I don't have any excuses to offer. When I got back to car number 5 Keisuke seemed to be the only one on it that was still awake. Unfortunately that included the guy in the aisle seat next to him who got woken up by Keisuke getting out to go to the end of the carriage for the photo. Actually, the guy sitting behind him was still awake because he offered to take the photo and came with us. I never did thank him properly. The reason Keisuke was still awake is that he was going through the feedback forms filled out by the fans at the Hiroshima concert. He gestured to them and I realised that he had mine on top. It put the finishing touch on my image of Ulfuls as guys who really work for their living. Heading for home on public transport, carrying their own luggage and going through their own feedback forms. I was impressed enough that they asked for feedback at all. I've never encountered it before and I've been to dozens of concerts. Still, I assumed someone at Taisuke got the job of going through them and just compiled stats. Apparently not. So here's the photo.

ke-yan Ulfuls leader.

Keisuke tried talking to me but didn't get very far. He asked about my being at Yassa 2003 and I said I had enjoyed the concert and especially singing Rokko Oroshi. He asked if I liked the Tigers, I said I did. I asked how they had done the night before. They won. He asked me another question. Me- 'mou ippen?'. Asked again. 'yukkuri!' Asked again. 'wakaranai'. I just couldn't understand him. It didn't help that the areas at the ends of the carriages are pretty noisy. He said to enter the Ulfuls office, which confused the hell out of me. It's in Tokyo. Then he mimed writing and pointed to himself. So I will write to him, care of the Tokyo office, in my shitful Japanese. I suppose I should apologise at least. If the feedback forms are anything to go by it might even get to him. And that's that. He said 'arigatou', I said 'itsumo arigatou' and we parted on another handshake.

The whole thing could have been a lot worse. On balance, however embarrassed I am about it all, I'm really glad to have met Ulful Keisuke. He's really, really nice. And, geez, what are the chances of any of it happening at all? I'm not sure how many shinkansen run between Hiroshima and Shin-Osaka every day but it must be dozens. And if I hadn't got onto the wrong carriage and had to squeeze past them I would never have talked to any of them. I'm pretty shy and not up to running up to strangers in a busy railway station. If I believed in it I might call it unmei. As it is it's one hell of a big plate of shrimp.

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