Today, I had two options: I could either take the 7:16 a.m. train and its 7:37 connection (arriving to school a full 40 minutes early) or I could take the 7:42 a.m. train and its corresponding 8:03 connection (arriving a more reasonable 15 minutes early).
Valuing my sleep like a true post-grad college student mourning the loss of afternoon naps, I chose to take the latter combination of trains.
And that was the wrong decision.
I switched platforms to take my 8:03 connection…. and instead of finding noisy high-schoolers milling about, I was greeted by a silent, empty platform. Dreading the response, I talked to the stationmaster, and although I didn’t catch anything he said besides “typhoon,” I figured it out: because of last week’s typhoon, that particular train line had cancelled half of its regularly scheduled trains, including the one I was planning on taking! (However, this train line did NOT inform the internet of this fact, because the internet still believed that the 8:03 train was running as per usual.) In fact, according to the new timetable posted on the platform, the next train wasn’t leaving for another 46 minutes!
Of course, I panicked and called my supervisor. Everyone has told me that in Japan, being 5 minutes early is considered “on time,” so I figured being 30 minutes late was a pretty huge transgression. I explained the situation, though, and luckily my supervisor was totally chill about it — I wasn’t teaching until 2nd period anyway, so she told me to just take the next train, as long as I would arrive before 9:40.
That suggestion didn’t sit right with me, though. I needed to do something. As I was googling the distance to my school, two students from that same school arrived on the platform, breathless and expecting a train. “Karen-sensei!” they shouted, recognizing me. I told them “No train!” (feeling a little better that I wasn’t the only one who screwed up the morning commute) and the two girls rushed off again, shouting “bike!” Unfortunately lacking a bike, I decided to suck it up and power-walk the 46-minute route to my school from the station. My goal was to arrive at school before the next train was meant to depart — that would make the walk worth it.
About halfway to school, the same two girls rode past me on their bicycles. “Karen-sensei!” They called again as they whizzed by. “Hi-ho, hi-ho! Ganbatte! (Do your best!)” I found their simple words of encouragement to be terribly endearing, even though I annoyingly found myself humming “Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work we go,” for the rest of the trip.
And in the end, I made it. In fact, I arrived at school a whole two minutes before the next train was scheduled to even depart, meaning that by walking, I shaved off a good 15 minutes of potential tardiness. Of course, I was still an unforgivable 20 minutes late, but luckily everyone today was willing to forgive the poor, sweating, panicked foreigner.
Moral of the story: always be 40 minutes early to everything. In Japan, it’s necessary.