High School Girls

(On a drier day, this is high school girl shopping heaven: Shibuya.)

I’m sorry for the recent lack of posts. So much has been going on with paper writing, rehearsals for a nō performance competition, traveling for rehearsals and the competition. I’m now finally in Kyoto, where I’ve been able to work on my writing far away from the recent dreariness of my home in Yokohama (a combination of a vague fear of radiation and the solitude of the metropolis).

However, on the trip here yesterday, I met a girl who tagged along as my travel companion for part of the way. Meeting her reminded me of another girl I’d seen on a commuter train between Shibuya and Yokohama recently. Both were high schoolers, and both had their little stories.

A while back during rush hour traffic back to Yokohama from Shibuya late one evening, I barely got a seat on a commuter express, and a high school girl in uniform with her pleated skirt rolled up at her waist and eye make-up on stood in front of me. She looked incredibly confident of herself as she looked out the window behind me, perhaps at her reflection.

However, not too long into the ride a look of terror came across her face, and she hastily pulled out a small mirror and make-up removing towelette from her bag. Partway through removing her make-up, a businessman turned around and came to stand next to her. She began to cry and hid her face in her hands. The man put his arm around her. It seemed clear that he was her father and she had first seen him reflected in the windows of the train.

Eventually, the girl cheered up a little and began bantering with her father. I couldn’t hear everything they said, but they joked about her mother a little. I think he asked her at one point if she had a boyfriend, and her sassy confidence returned as she answered “yes, it’s no big deal.” He didn’t probe further. Not there on the train right next to so many people.

But once they arrived at their station, and they turned to leave, he said to her casually, “let’s stop by a cafe on our way home.” Her answer “I’m not hungry” didn’t dissuade him. He didn’t seem to want to go to a cafe to eat. It seemed that he wanted to talk with his daughter about the ways of the world in relative private, away from the rest of the family. . .

Then, yesterday I came to Kyoto on the Seishun 18 Kippu, a JR pass that allows for five days of unlimited travel on local trains during school vacation season. That meant 8 hours on the train and 6 connections between Yokohama and Kyoto. Somewhere between Shizuoka and Hamamatsu, a red-headed young man spoke to me in German because I had pulled out a German book. He was Swiss, perhaps a little younger than myself, and was headed to Nagoya on the 18 Kippu.

Between him and me sat a girl, who because they chatted a little with each other I first thought must be his girlfriend (yes, I know it’s a white guy stereotype, I’m sorry). That turned out not to be the case as was clear when he asked me to look after his bag while he got something to eat at the next train station. The girl waited next to me, and we exchanged a few words. She was shy, but seemed to want to talk.

The three of us boarded the next train and had to stand for a while. Eventually a seat opened and the young man sat down. I kept standing, having had enough of sitting for a while and because I wanted to watch the countryside pass by. The girl stood next to me, silently.

At the next transfer, we had four minutes to catch the next train. The girl and I moved quickly, and I somehow lost sight of the young man. I wonder if he made it on the train or had to take the next one. In any case, the two of us were going further west than he was. She said she was going to Shiga, a prefecture just before Kyoto. We found seats together and after eating our rice balls, I started nodding off.

At one point I overheard her on her phone talking with someone about her plans to go to a fireworks display that evening. She said she would be stopping by her grandmother’s house beforehand to prepare. She was probably going to wear yukata, I thought to myself as I drifted back off to sleep.

Shortly before the next stop, I woke up. Until now I had mistaken her for a college student, and she smiled when I asked her, saying she was often mistaken for a middle school student. The lack of a school uniform had thrown me off. She said she had moved to the east to go to high school and was now on her way to her hometown for a part of her summer vacation. I wondered if she lived alone wherever it was she went to school, but her silence dissuaded me from asking.

Having realized how young she was, I began feeling a little responsibility for her. At the next connection, the train filled quickly, but I got us both seats. “Sit here,” I told her and she obediently did, but since we sat behind one another, we didn’t have another chance to talk. At the next station, she said good-bye. “Take care of yourself,” I told her and she told me the same.


4 thoughts on “High School Girls

  1. Happy Sunday Hanna, hope you are doing great in Kyoto.
    Thanks for the traveling piece, this is the beauty of “traveling by (and FOR) oneself”
    one always meets interesting people and has situations that would rarely come up
    if one is with another person. I love traveling by myself.
    Here it is raining and I hope you are having good days in my favorite town.
    Did you rent a bike yet ?? I can see you along the bike path on Kamo River.
    Love, christiane

    1. Dear Christiane,

      I’m sorry it’s taken so long since I did anything on this blog! I love traveling alone as well, but for me that is how I always travel. . . it’s nice to sometimes travel with someone as well. I didn’t actually rent a bike while in Kyoto, but the place where I stayed was so close to the Kamo River, that I spent a lot of time there. I really walked all over, haha!

      How was your summer?

      Love, Hanna

      1. Dear Hanna, as you see, I never gave up on you, checked once in a while and found your new entry yesterday. Glad that you are back! We missed you !! How wonderful that your summer was so “colorful” – I see you walking along the river in Kyoto. The photo is wonderful, little kids all over the world seem to have fun with water…..
        My summer was full of travel as well.
        My biggest “find” was a photographer I wanted to mention to you, because I think,
        you will be interested in her work. Maybe you even know her, she is around for a couple of year. I can’t believe, I totally missed her. Now she is real “famous” and her
        work so special and somehow strange. There are four interviews on her webside.
        The Charly Rose one I find specially educational.
        Here is her name: Taryn Simon
        Please tell me, what you think. I am very curious about your opinion.
        I finally “found” her during the Biennale in Venice.
        Sending warm greetings and all the best for your thesis.
        Thinking of you,

    2. Dear Christiane,

      Thank you for pointing me towards Taryn Simon! What fascinating work! She seems to go after many issues that fascinate and sometimes baffle me. That’s what has made me the news junkie I am (and as evidenced by my many posts after 3/11 about events here in Japan). But here a question for the viewer of her photographs: are these stories just to look at in a museum or should we act on them? And if we act on them, how can we? I’m beginning to think these very human stories can tell us something about ourselves and give us the motivation to do good in the world at whatever capacity we see ourselves capable of. Ten years ago, I was going to anti-Iraq war protests and learned that it is very hard to make the world change from the top down, as in it is hard to change politicians’ minds by telling them to change. It is far easier to change oneself and the world one directly interacts with, and I don’t mean that negatively. The best kind of change, I think, is usually the result of a creative desire to do good. Taryn’s creative engagement with the issues that fascinate her is wonderful, because she does exactly that, she does what she can do, and to fabulous effect. You met her at the Venice Biennale? How fascinating!

      Lots of love,

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