Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Japanese Engineer

Japanese train driver in Sapporo station, June 20, 2007.

Between September 2005 and July 2007, I traveled in China for almost three months, spent two weeks in Vietnam, and lived in Japan for 19 months. Since returning to the U.S., I frequently field the question, “What are the people there like?”

For three years I answered by underscoring the differences, feeling comfortably smug in my firsthand knowledge of the cultural nuances distinguishing groups of people that many Americans simply lump together as “Asians.” And then last spring I finally saw the folly of that approach.

In China, I traveled with Ronald Olsen, a fellow American photographer and train-lover whose experience and knowledge of Mandarin enriched my trip far more than I ever could have imagined. Of the past 14 years, Ronald has cumulatively spent more than three of them in China. Last spring, an interviewer asked both of us about the people there. I listened, while Ronald answered.

“They’re just like us. They want a good job. They want a nice roof over their head. They want to spend time with their families. And they want to have a laugh and a beer now and again. They’re a lot more like us than you realize.”

That brings me to today’s photo. Of course I did not take it today. I captured this view of a Japanese train driver in the Sapporo station on Wednesday, June 20, 2007. It was 5:12 p.m., departure time for the luxurious overnight sleeper train Hokutousei for Tokyo. His center-cab DD51 diesel hydraulic locomotive is nothing like any passenger engine in the U.S., and you won’t find very many American engineers wearing such crisp white shirts and black hats. But just like any American engineer all the way back to the days of steam, he looks at the ground when he starts his train.

And just like any American engineer or European driver, he hopes for a fast, safe run, and an on-time arrival at the end of his territory. And right now, if he still works the Hokutousei out of Sapporo, he hopes for the day when his country has returned to normal enough that his train can again depart. This train travels along the east coast of Japan’s Tohoku region, and much of its tracks were crippled and swept away by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Japanese Disaster Relief Funds:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very nice Scott!

I knew you'd have some eloquent words about this disaster.

The familiar figure on the Bluffs.