Over the last few years I’ve read my share of horror stories about Americans living or traveling overseas who have been treated with nothing but utter contempt. Here is a story that’s going to tip the scale in the other direction. One Saturday, not too long ago, I was traveling through Tokyo via one of the countless steel-clad rail huggers that relentlessly crisscross this overcrowded concrete jungle. It was the Kehein Tohoku train line to be exact and when the doors of the car I was riding opened at Ueno Station, I heard this gasp of what seemed to be extreme elation. When I looked up to see the face from which this joyous utterance emerged I beheld an expression of total surprise and from behind a pair of black framed glasses with lenses as thick as the bottom of a glass coca cola bottle there were two eyes bulging wide open that pointed straight at me like an unavoidable oncoming hail of bullets. When the doors of the train car slammed shut, sealing all of its occupants in together, the elated middle-aged man who had just entered turned his body 360 degrees, extended his “back pocket” in my direction, pointed to the protruding posterior part of his anatomy with his index finger (which was pretty hard not to notice in the first place), and then turned his head around with a come hither expression as the words “thank you” rolled off his tongue in accented English. It looked like it was going to be a long ride.
Then as he continued to strike what on perhaps a more appealing figure might have been considered a seductive pose he spoke again. Index finger pointing south, the words “Levi’s, thank you,” once again fell from his lips. Then he straightened out, turned around, looked me squarely in the eye and asked, “What country?” I told him “America.” Upon which he returned to his bent over position, pointed again and said with a smile, “Levi’s. Thank you.” That's when it finally hit me. He was thanking me, an American, for giving him that distinctly American brand of dungarees.
Within seconds we reached the next stop, Uguisuadani, (only six stops away from my destination) and he didn’t get off. Since I was the only apparent representative from the birthplace of Levi’s dungarees I told him, "You're welcome." Seemingly overjoyed by my response, he began to walk up and down the entire length of the rail car demonstrating kendo techniques with, thank God, an imaginary sword. Now while that may seem strange, what’s even stranger is that the entire time this performance was going on every other passenger was totally oblivious to it. Everyone was either “dozing” or had their face plastered to the pages of a book. Nobody looked up for a second.
When my somewhat loony friend returned to his former perch across the aisle from where I was sitting, the train was just pulling into Nippori Station and it looked like he was going to get off (yes!). No such luck. After topping his kendo show off with a couple of inscrutable jokes, which I may have inadvertently encouraged with a couple of forced chuckles, and a couple of train stops later we were both still there. That’s when I imagine the music started to play inside his head because from the top of his lungs came, “Imagine there's no heaven. It's easy if you try. No hell below us. Above us only sky. Imagine all the people. Living for today… Imagine there's no countries. It isn't hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for. And no religion too. Imagine all the people. Living life in peace...” By the time we had reached Kami Nakazato, just two short stops away from where I was definitely going to get off, he had delivered a stirring rendition of the entire John Lennon classic. It was a touching performance, carefully crafted to break down whatever barriers that existed between our two nations and pave the way to peace for all humanity. Unfortunately this wonderful performance caused all the other passengers to fall into a deep, deep coma. It would have been rude not to applaud and so, carefully avoiding to wake anyone from their slumber, I clapped as quietly as I could. Smiling from ear to ear, my crazy crooner gave a deep bow of appreciation. This time with his rear end thankfully pressed up against the door of the train and not my face. When the train came to a stop at Oji Station the doors suddenly opened and our brief interlude ended, strangely, just as it had begun. There was a huge gasp and when I looked up to see the face from which this utterance emerged it had an expression of total surprise with eyes bulging wide open that pointed straight at me. As the doors that supported his backside suddenly parted, his body spilled out on to the platform. Miraculously he was uninjured, but even more miraculously was that at the exact moment this strange fellow’s bottom hit the concrete, something, perhaps the jolt of the impact, awakened every last one of the afflicted riders from their comatose state. Imagine that!