Here and There ...

Whenever I am talking with people recently - particularly if we are discussing my activities with the new shop in Asakusa - they invariably at some point in the conversation bring up the topic of commuting. Knowing that my home is in Ome, on the far western outskirts of Tokyo, they commiserate with me on how difficult the daily commute must be.

I have written before in these stories about just that topic - the long commute from Ome to Tokyo, because my next-door neighbour works downtown, and the sounds of his scooter leaving the driveway at 6:30 in the morning and returning around 10:30 in the evening act as bookends to my day. When I first considered the idea of opening the shop in Asakusa, I was determined not to let myself fall into the same pattern, and I haven't.

Rather than sleep here, work there I do both things in both places. I do not come home to Ome every night, and I do not go to work in Asakusa each day. One of the first things I did after getting most of the construction done was move a set of bedding over to the shop. In Japan, this is easy of course, as there is no need to worry about making space for a bed - a clear area on the floor will serve nicely, and the light mat that I use for sleeping rolls up and tucks into the closet when not in use.

I have a computer workstation in Ome, and a satellite laptop in Asakusa, sharing data back and forth through a cloud, so I can run the company affairs from either place.

I do of course, travel back and forth between the two locations, but I have worked out a wonderfully relaxed (and productive!) way to do it. Our shop is closed on Tuesdays, so on Monday evening I lock everything up at closing time and head out to a nice local restaurant and take my time over a peaceful dinner. I return to the shop, pack my bag with anything that needs to be taken to Ome, and then take a late train. This is well after rush hour, so the train is not so crowded, and I can usually sit and work on my laptop. Arriving in Ome quite late, I head straight to bed.

After one (or sometimes two) days working with the staff in Ome, I do the same thing in reverse - enjoy a peaceful dinner, either at home or in a restaurant near the station, and then head to Tokyo on another late (and totally deserted) train. I let myself into the shop, lay out the bedding, and fall asleep.

As I usually stay in Asakusa three or four days at a time, and in Ome one or two days, this means no more than four train journeys in any given week, all taken in peaceful surroundings, completely avoiding the staggeringly crowded rush hours.

The commuting time becomes work time, and in the mornings, I'm able to get started on waiting jobs no more than a few minutes after waking up. I can't begin to calculate the number of hours my neighbour wastes each and every day on his commute. Well I can actually - it's just over two hours each way, and he does it six days a week. 24 hours a week spent in strap-hanging commuter hell. No thanks.

And I'm learning the answer to a question that has puzzled me for years: how do the 'one percenters' - the kind of people with homes in Tokyo, London, the Riviera, etc. etc - manage the mental shift between locations when moving around? The answer for me, so far anyway, is that I can't! I'm constantly reaching the wrong way for the toilet paper (hanging on the left in Ome, the right in Asakusa) or for my toothbrush (on the right in Ome, the left in Asakusa).


Comments on this story ...

Posted by: Connor

I commute from Hachioji to Ochanomizu 6 days a week. Fortunately I can sit down the whole way for the hour and 15 minute commute. I actually get a lot of work done on the train which consists mostly of correcting my students' homework (I teach at a university in Jimbocho). I usually finish work in the early afternoon so I can sit down on the way back, too. If I work late and can't get a seat, I listen to audiobooks. So I really don't mind the commute to and from the sticks and Central Tokyo.

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