I’m sure we’ve all been there: you go out for a few drinks after work and end up having a few more, followed by a few more, followed by a bottle of tequila. Next thing you know, the alarm goes off and you drag yourself from under the covers like a zombie clawing its way out of a grave, except the zombie smells better and has better motor skills. You know you have to be at work and all you can think is “Where are the typhoons when you need them?”
Of course, when you work in Japan, a typhoon or any other natural disaster is rarely seen as sufficient cause for canceling a day of work. In my three years in Japan, I saw several typhoons and countless earthquakes, including one that measured over 7 on the Richter Scale, but we worked through every last one of them.
Then one day, a weak typhoon hit—really little more than a strong rainstorm—and we got a day off work. I had even gone out the night before, so you can imagine how happy this made me. Or would have made me, had I noticed….
I was working in Fukuoka at the time, where my workweek ran from Tuesday to Saturday. Most days I had to be at work bright and early at 1 pm; Saturday was our busiest day and we started at 10am, which is practically still the night before. Needless to say, I generally tried to avoid going out on Friday nights, but that didn’t happen as often as I would have liked.
On the Friday night in question, I enjoyed more beers than minutes of sleep and woke up early on Saturday feeling appropriately excited about the coming day. I’m going to assume I took a shower and got dressed before heading to the train station, but I can’t be sure.
At the station, I noticed—but failed to register—a lack of people. Usually the platform is full of passengers heading out on a weekend trip (10%) or heading to work (90%; it’s Japan, remember). On this day, the platform was mostly empty and the signboards showed that every single train was delayed. Trains are NEVER delayed in Japan, so this in itself should have told me something was wrong. But it didn’t.
Instead, I just brainlessly took in the information that my train would be late and would arrive in 12 minutes and 31.23 seconds. When it finally did roll into the station 12 minutes and 31.25 seconds later, it was accompanied by announcements apologizing profusely for the additional two hundredths of a second delay. I got on and actually got a seat for once; I can’t believe THAT didn’t strike me as odd.
I probably would have finally realized that something was not right if I’d only looked out the window, but the windows on Japanese trains are virtually impossible to see out of when your face is pressed flat against your tray table in a puddle of your own drool. Somehow I still managed to get off at Hakata Station, which was coincidentally even the exact station I needed.
As I was climbing down the stairs from the platform into the station, I remember noticing—but again not registering—that the station was pitch black. When I stepped off the final step and landed in several centimeters of water, I stopped in my tracks. This definitely wasn’t normal.
I heard a few people chattering excitedly around me, but I paid them no attention. I was too busy trying to make sense of the situation: why was I standing in a lake inside a completely dark train station; and not just any station, but the main station for the whole island of Kyushu. Finally it hit me: this was all way too complicated for me.
So I just waded my way through the dark, mostly deserted and completely flooded Hakata Station and headed to the bus station building next door. My office was located on the ninth floor, but when I got to the entrance, I discovered that the whole building was locked. That had definitely never happened before.
Undaunted, I walked around the side and eventually found an unlocked service entrance. Naturally, the elevators were all out of commission, so I had to climb nine flights of stairs. When I finally reached my workplace, it was locked. I don’t really know why I was expecting anything else. That was when I finally decided to take a look at my phone.
I had three emails from my boss, all of them excitedly letting me know that I didn’t have to come in to work and telling me to thoroughly enjoy the disaster-related day off I’d been wanting for so long. It was a nice sentiment, but the excitement didn’t quite translate when read outside the office at 10 am on a Saturday in soaked shoes.
Taking solace in the fact that I could soon fall back into my bed, I walked back downstairs and to the train station, where a nice Japan Railways employee informed me that the station had just been closed and would remain closed indefinitely as all trains had been cancelled. Perfect.
As I was riding a combination of buses and private trains on an alternate—and much, much longer—route home, I realized something. While I had always made fun of those foreigners who come to Japan and attempt to fit in by wearing a kimono or eating their noodles with a ridiculously exaggerated slurp or doing some other thing no actual Japanese person outside a period drama or a comedy ever does, I had just spent a morning doing the most Japanese thing imaginable.
I had stubbornly and mindlessly made my way to work despite all the obstacles in my way and all the fairly obvious signs telling me to stay home, including three emails explicitly informing me I could stay in bed. Obviously the country was beginning to rub off on me. The only other possible explanation is the beer and I’m certainly not willing to blame the beer.