To this native New Yorker, trains mean gray slabs of grime, noise and speed. They mean boisterous crowds, rank smells and, these days, incessant cell phone chatter. But none of my Amtrak or subway experiences ever prepared me for this, my first train ride to Osaka.Imagine Tokyo Train Station, gigantic yet quiet. Imagine train platforms, each spotlessly clean, with numbered tracks and numbered places to stand for each train car. There is a proper line to stand on, solemnly, silently. Moving in, you check the seat number within for your car. Many tickets have seat numbers (mine does). Once inside, you sit down just so.
Never yet, in Japan, have I done a Tea Ceremony. Now, at least, I partake of the ritual that could be called a Train Ceremony.
WHITER THAN THE SNOW ON MT. FUJI
Ooh, ah and wow! The train glides down the track like a huge fish, sleek nosed and gleaming bright white, like your teeth when you’ve had a professional cleaning.
No need to floss this train, inside or out. It is, quite simply, immaculate.
Speeding toward our destination, the ride to Osaka will takes about 2 ½ hours. I watch in awe as luncheon boxes emerge. No way would you call these train picnics “lunch boxes.”
No carry-out bags are in sight. Instead, most travelers have brought their own boxes, in assorted sizes, made of materials ranging from bamboo to cloth-covered to tastefully decorated cardboard “fast food” containers. In order to participate here, Ronald McDonald would definitely have to wear a tie.
Out come the chopsticks. Passengers eat delicately, recreationally. They toy with the various dishes within each bento box, each distinct part of the meal neatly presented, the whole meal-set perfectly ordered. Don’t expect to find chewing gum parked on the seats of these fastidious diners.
Later during the ride, an elegant train waitress walks down the aisle with a cart of refreshments. Beautifully dressed and groomed, with the grace of a dancer, she proudly wears a starched apron, a perfect bow at the back. When I grow up, I want to be this woman, so serene, so lovely.
Out the window, I get used to the houses, apartments, and offices. Traditional bumpy tile roofs alternate with the most modern architecture imaginable. But what really stirs my blood are the mountains. Past Tokyo they wobble in the background like ocean waves stopped mid-roll. Sometimes one layer shows, sometimes two or three. In the crisp November afternoon, each of these mountain waves wears its own shade of indigo.
Why is it, I wonder, that Mount Fuji is so famous while nobody ever told me about these sublime ocean mountains?
All life experience here at Earth School prepares us for Deeper Perception.
- A schoolroom located in Osaka, or aboard a super-fast train like this one, offers a teaching environment of tranquility, order, and thoughtful repose.
- Schoolrooms in my native New York educate us about how to sort through chaos.
- Soon, I’ll be back home in the suburbs of Northern Virginia, where drivers hone survival skills and learn how to slalom past road kill.
So many speeds, so many windows, so many landmarks in classrooms at Earth School–but everywhere I can have the sweetness of going deeper. Nobody announces that inner journey aloud, like “Kyoto” or “Osaka.“ It is a private journey, even secret. I don’t get to wear a beautiful uniform or glide down the aisle selling snack foods.
But on trips like this one, in my mobile schoolroom, I realize that God has packaged me up nonetheless. The classroom and I are bound up together with one perfect bow.