“The weather reports say the typhoon will arrive on Monday” one of my students said nonchalantly. This was the first I had heard of it. “A typhoon? Here? In Tokyo?” “Yes” my student confirmed.
Then when I was at the hospital waiting for my appointment, I saw weather reports showing a big swirly circular thing just south of Tokyo.
Then I didn’t hear any mention of it again over the whole weekend. The weather was great on Sunday afternoon.
On Sunday night it hit.
I was safely ensconced in my room with all the supplies I needed but I could hear the torrential rain. When I went to the bathroom, the floor was wet because rain had blown in through the window – a window that faces across a narrow alley. The worst of it came overnight, by morning it was calm again but the effects were still being felt.
I was supposed to be at the kindergarten in Ichikawa at 9.00 am so I was up, showered, dressed and ready to go – I saw there were delays on the local subway line and thought it worth emailing the office, I got a message back confirming the morning lessons were cancelled.
My next lesson was in the Inage area at 6pm so I was able to go back to bed for a while, but I made sure I was up and ready to go with plenty of time to spare as I suspected there would still be problems with the railways.
The Tozai subway line was fine, but when I got onto the JR Sobu line heading towards Chiba City, things got difficult. The first train took me to Tsudanuma station, the next one to Makuhari, but it was clear that no trains on this line were going any further south than that.
Chiba is the headland that lies to the east and south of Tokyo, masking it from the Pacific Ocean – it looks a bit like Florida. It took the brunt of the typhoon and clearly they weren’t yet convinced that the railway lines were safe to operate. I followed a couple of other people who looked equally confused as I was, and one of them approached a station official asking about Chiba? He got the “no way” hand signal and a shake of the head. That wasn’t good.
But I wasn’t going all the way to Chiba, I just needed to get to Inage. So I tried asking the same official “Inage?” He gave a bit more of a positive answer but pointed me to the line going back the way I had come. He kept saying the word “Keisei” which I eventually understood to be an alternative train line. I figured I could connect with the Keisei line at the previous station, Makuharihongo.
I had to wait a while for the train to go back, but I wasn’t alone. I saw a Caucasian guy with a backpack on the platform, he got on the same train and also got off at Makuharihongo. As I was jogging up the stairs (already conscious of the time) he asked if I was going to Chiba.
It turned out he was from Iceland and had a flight booked at 10pm that evening (it was about 5pm by this point) and needed to get to Narita airport. But so many train lines were down, the buses were intermittent and the lines for the taxis were massive, with few taxis to be seen. He hoped that it would be easier to make a connection from Chiba, a bigger town with direct airport routes.
We found the Keisei line and I worked out how many stops I needed. When the train came, and I saw the “Chi” character on the front, I said looks like it is going to Chiba, but then when I checked again it was another station (something like Chiba-Chuo) so everything was a little up in the air again, but once on the train and checking the line diagrams, it was clear Chiba-Chuo was after Chiba, so the train would get us both where we needed to be.
I wished him good luck and got off at Inage – but this was not the Inage station I knew, it was a smaller, parochial station – Inage Keisei. Still more or less on schedule I would have to find my way to the main station where the bus stop I needed was.
Fortunately the main station was signposted (not well signposted, but well enough for me to find it at the first attempt) and I was at the bus stop at just about my usual time. However, unlike normally, there was no bus information on the display boards.
I had been trying to get an internet connection and then a clear connection to my email server so I could update the office. I think there must have been problems with the internet infrastructure on top of everything else. So at this point I just called Shugo at the office and explained where things stood. He authorised me to get a taxi to the site.
I couldn’t see any taxis so I went out the back of the station and hunted around a little, when I came back to the front I saw the bus I needed just pulling away! It came at just the wrong time for me! I thought I can catch it – I know the route, and started sprinting across the square. It takes the buses ages to get past all the lights and crossings so I thought I could make it easily. But I went in the wrong direction, left instead of right.
Now I was not just probably late, but also out of breath, and hot and sweaty. I returned to the bus stop and found the queue for the taxi rank – right next to the bus stop! It was hard to recognize because normally a taxi rank has a few taxis at the front, but here there were none. I waited in the line (I did confirm with the lady in front of me that this was the taxi queue) and also knew that I could keep an eye on the buses that came and went.
There are two main routes – the 41, and the 31-32-33 route. 41 goes nowhere near where I need, of the others 31 and 32 are good, 33 not so good. Only 41s and 33s seemed to be coming in today. The only 32 I saw was the one I had chased earlier.
I updated Shugo again explaining there were no taxis or buses, and I was probably going to be late if I could even get there at all. He said he would get back to me. In the hour between my finding the taxi queue and Shugo finally confirming that the lesson would be cancelled for the day, a total of 2 taxis came. There were still 7 people ahead of me in the queue. No more 31 or 32 buses appeared.
Now I had the not entirely simple task of getting myself home again. Inage Station was basically closed, there were no trains going anywhere. I traipsed back to Inage Keisei. On the way I passed a group of firemen considering what to do about a big telegraph pole that had blown over into a building.
The Keisei station was a lot busier than I imagine it normally is, and there were lots of little buzzing insects forming a globe around each station light, and intermittently attaching themselves to my shirt. When the train came it was standing room only at first, though I got a seat after a few stops.
Rather than getting off at Makuharihongo, I took my chances and stayed with the train up to Funabashi. I needed to do a little hop to Nishi-Funabashi to connect with the Tozai line but that was simple enough. In the end I got home a lot more quickly than the journey out.
Now I admit, I wasn’t personally exposed to any extreme weather and my story of transportation logistics may not be the stuff adventures are made of, but for the normally so punctual and reliable Japanese transport systems, this was a big deal. I came so close to navigating the chaos and reaching my destination against the odds, but it wasn’t to be, I was stymied at the final hurdle. This time I did all I could.