Wednesday, September 21, 2016
The train seemed to have lost its will to continue, to carry me back to Kyoto. It stopped somewhere between Ayabe and Sonobe. Restarted. Paused again before reaching Kameoka. Then after crawling into the station at Kameoka it gave up. There were dozens of announcements. I could only make out, "Gomennasai" (sorry). Finally the conductor confessed, "We have no idea when service may resume". This was translated by my companion. A highly unusual admission by a Japanese railway official. Trains in Japan are rarely delayed. When they are, there are announcements and scrolling electronic messages confidently stating to the minute when the next train will arrive or depart.
The night was wet with rain, black ink running over the landscape. The storm had washed out the rails. The entire length of track through the mountain pass would have to be inspected. This station stop had become a dead end, a strange island of dim lights in the shadowy countryside. Stranded.
Katsura, my home, was less than 20 kilometers away. But between me and my destination lay the mountains of Arashiyama. Once upon a time, before trains and highways the only route through these mountains was the Hozu River. Skilled boatman transported goods down this narrow, twisting waterway in flat bottom boats. I've seen this gorge, the rocks, the rapids. At night? In the pouring rain? Not an option.
I bought a beer and soba from the station convenience store. A crowd of hungry, frustrated, but typically well-mannered passengers all converged at once on this shop fairly overwhelming the staff.
We waited. And waited.
Alternative transport was nonexistent. Buses never arrived. Calls to taxi companies were in vain. It seemed we may never leave Kameoka. I pictured living the rest of my life there. A Gilligan's Island.
We waited. And waited. Tickets were refunded.
An attractive woman with a limp, skirt too short, heels too high wandered back and forth through the ticket gates in a sort of daze. A group of local hip-hoppers rapped to beats from a boom-box under a yellow light. Just as my patience was beginning to fray and the night seemed to be teetering on the edge of bizarre, my friend spotted a Kyoto taxi.
The lights of the station and the little-train-that-wouldn't blurred into the soggy darkness as we drove away. A quivering reflection in a rain puddle. A dream.