I was talking to a friend of mine earlier this week and she was telling me about the one time we went to the EPSON Aqua Stadium in Shinagawa, Tokyo. She brought up how I managed to get us from the TGI Friday’s across the street from the Shinagawa Prince Hotel to a northbound Yamanote Line train at Shinagawa Station to a Ōme Line Special Rapid at Tokyo Station in roughly 20 minutes, even though we were nearly an hour behind schedule having sat in the TGI Friday’s on that blustery March afternoon in 2008. It took me a moment to recount that day but when I did, I was marveled at what I was able to do in that moment. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: the day I became “The Train Guru”.
How I first came across this moment? When I made the decision to move to Tokyo late in the Spring of 2007, one of the big draws aside from living in a major city with skyscrapers galore was the train system. I got introduced to the rails on my 2nd weekend in the city and from there, it was love at first experience. I took a lot of lumps in the Summer of 2007 getting comfortable with the surface trains and subways in Tokyo. I got lost plenty of times. There was even that one time where I got lost in Shinjuku Station for 2 hours trying to find the Nishi-Shinjuku exit. I learned the basics that summer before I deployed to Iraq for 5 months. During that deployment, to distract my mind away from finishing a difficult stretch of college, I studied everything that pertained to rail transport in Tokyo. Basically, when I wasn’t in the books, I was on Wikipedia or Google learning about the trains. It was through all of this that I learned intricate details about the train system…like which side the doors opened at each station, the difference between rapids, commuter rapids, and special rapids, and which doors were closest to the escalators at any given station. But the most important thing I learned during those 5 months in the sandbox away from Tokyo was the schedule. I figured that in order to maximize my tour of duty in Tokyo, I had to use every possible minute available to me exploring the city and to do that, I had to know the train schedule so that I comfortably teeter along the line as late as possible without having to find myself taking a cab from Tokyo to Fussa or staying overnight deep in the heart of the city. Initially, my knowledge of the schedules came into play only when I went to concerts at Billboard Live Tokyo or Blue Note Tokyo. Those were the absolute latest times I stayed deep in the city. All other times, I kinda winged it. Then came March 22, 2008: the Tokyo aquarium trip. Me, my friend, and a tag-along were supposed to leave EPSON Aqua Stadium at 3:30pm in order to make it to Shinagawa Station by 3:45pm at the absolute latest…even though it was across the street. But we had been out all day and all the walking around the aquarium pretty much killed our legs. So we decided to deviate from schedule by sitting and eating at TGI Friday’s. We ended up being like 50 minutes behind schedule. When we arrived at Shinagawa Station, the ladies walked over to the clockwise platform as they were thinking we were going up to Shinjuku to transfer to the Ōme Line. It was a few minutes before 5pm and I knew that we wouldn’t get seats transferring at Shinjuku that late in the day. That’s when I remembered that all Ōme Line Special Rapid trains left Tokyo between :00 and :09 on every hour between 5pm and 7pm on Saturdays. So we switched gears and went counterclockwise to Tokyo. It took 11 minutes to get from Shinagawa to Tokyo and another 2 minutes to get from the Yamanote Line platform upstairs to the Chūō/Ōme Line platform. When we came off the escalators, the 5:09pm Ōme Line Special Rapid was just pulling into the station. We were first in line. The doors opened and we got seats all the way to Fussa.
What it meant to me then? Knowing the train schedule back then was only useful for me because it allowed me to know the last possible train back to Fussa from any station on the Chūō/Ōme Line grid and it gave me a time window in which to decide if I wanted to transfer at Shinjuku or Tokyo for seating purposes. Knowing the routes made it that much easier because I knew which trains would get to Tachikawa faster in case I didn’t want to wait on the directs. All of this came really came into play on the evening of February 13, 2010. I was on my way to a Chante Moore performance at the Cotton Club Marunouchi when I arrived at Tokyo Station, which was across the street from the venue. As I was about to walk down the escalators towards the Marunouchi South exit, I saw some of my church friends. They looked all lost and cold. The leader of the pack that day—my tag partner on that Tachikawa Krispy Kreme trip—asked me which train would get them to Fussa fastest. Looking at the platform clock and seeing that the train I had just got off was now an Ōtsuki-bound Chūō Special Rapid, I told them to get on that one and take it to Tachikawa and switch to the Ōme Line to Fussa there. I told them that once the doors closed, they’d be at Tachikawa Station in 41 minutes, where they’d have 3 minutes to get from Platform 6 to Platform 2 to catch the Ōme Line. From there, 17 minutes to Fussa. Apparently, they made it on time because I heard all about it at church the next day.
What it means to me now? March 22, 2008 was when my friend dubbed me a guru of the train system because from the time we left that TGI Friday’s to the time the doors closed on the Ōme Line Special Rapid at Tokyo Station, only 17 minutes passed and we didn’t spend any more than 1 minute waiting anywhere in between those 2 points. Nearly 2 years later, I became a legend amongst my friends because I “saved” them from being stuck deep in Tokyo in the cold February night on St. Valentine’s Day weekend. They all still mention that even now…how I just showed up out of nowhere and knew which train to get on and how long it would take. Today, even though years have passed since I’ve lived in Tokyo, I still know the schedule and the routes in and out. I still know that if you exit out of the last door on the right of Car 6 at Fussa on an Ōme-bound Ōme Line train, you’ll be right in front of the escalator. It’s all forever in my head and I get to use it all once a year when I visit.