On Saturdays I teach 2 classes of adorable kids and 4 classes of adults in Utajo. My commute is long, my day begins early, my schedule is packed and, happily, the next day is Sunday – a day off. I like nothing better than to celebrate the finish of a long, satisfying day – and the start of a beautiful day off – with a nice, cold can of beer on my train ride home.
It took a while for me to feel completely relaxed about drinking in public. I knew it was legal but for my first few weeks here I couldn’t help glancing around on the street when my friends bought cans of beer at the conbinis to oil themselves up for a night on the town. Eventually, I joined them, loitering outside conbinis or the gates of temples and shrines. Sometimes I plunk 200 yen into the beer machines on the corner of my street and enjoy a few savory sips as I walk the rest of the block to my apartment building.
I favor Asahi Super Dry on the train rides back from Utajo. I crack open the can as the train leaves the station and I gear up for the 70 minute train ride with a book of kanji to study or my notebook. We pass rice fields and houses with swooping roofs covered in curving red or blue tiles, I try my best to memorize my daily goal of 20 new kanji per day and stab my fingers into my phone key pad to type texts to Bob or Sean defending my actions. “I am not a drunk!” I will insist. How dare they! Nothing says “It’s Asahi Time” like finishing a long day of work and therefore I will enjoy my “Thank Goodness It’s Saturday!” beer on the train home from Utajo. Who cares if I’m the only person on the packed train who’s doing it?
Yesterday, I became too engrossed in kanji study and didn’t finish my beer by the time I reached Abeno Eki. I still had about half a can of beer left and I couldn’t see myself chugging it or throwing it out so I took it with me; again, conscious of the fact that I was the only person in the station clotted with whirling eddies of people who was actually drinking alcohol. I took small sips as I walked to the trolley and for the first time felt really unsure about drinking in public. I’d seen people do it at night as they walked down the street, but in the middle of the day? In a crowded train station? ビール？まっぴる間から？
I had only a few sips of beer left as I boarded the trolley. I noticed an elderly woman sitting on the seat across from me, calmly surveying me as I drank. Flushing red, fully convinced now that I was committing a breach of Japanese etiquette, I immediately guzzled my last sip and stuffed the empty can into my briefcase.
When I dared to look up again, she was smiling.