Japan 2 – The woman on the train

The most impressive person I’ve seen in Japan is the woman on the train. And I’m not talking about an over-rated book here.

I’m talking about the woman who cleaned carriage 7 of the Odakyu Romance Car during the five minute turnaround at Shinjuku Station. This was the train to bring us to Hakone. I was standing on the platform. 

The train pulled in. The people got off. Then I noticed her. She scurried left to right along the carriage, picking up the detritus from behind the seats. She was like a bird pecking from side to side as she went.

She was fast. She moved in a loping half-run. And she wasn’t young either. I’d put her at over sixty.

I felt a great dignity in her work. A sense of duty and pride in doing well what she did. And I see it in a lot of Japanese. You see them making every possible effort to get it right.

There was an easy rhythm to her, as, bent low, she loped up and down the carriage, checking and rechecking her work. Her movements were well-honed.

At one point a ticket checker walked down the carriage towards her but he stood in, as if she had right of way. And I guess she did, with only a couple of minutes to get in, complete her task, and get out.

I hope she feels that one passenger, at least, appreciates her work. Because I do.


Novelist, short story writer, essayist, sports writer. Crime novel: Whatever it Takes due out 31 July 2020. The First Sunday in September, debut novel, published in 2018. Mercier Press, Stinging Fly, Irish Examiner, Irish Times, The42.ie, Holly Bough, Honest Ulsterman, Quarryman, Silver Apples.

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