As I recall it, a ticket vending machine first appeared in the early 80’s at the nearest train station from my home in Japan where I grew up. There had been two ticket windows one of which was replaced with the machine. It was an exciting new gizmo especially for children that spewed out a train ticket by just pushing a button corresponded to the destination. The ticket gate was still operated by a clerk. The ticket examiner stood in an open booth with special clippers in his hand. Passengers would show the commuter pass to him, or have the ticket clipped by his clippers to get a hole or a nick on it. The examiner handled clippers skillfully, clipped tickets one after another so fast and rhythmically. When passengers broke off, he would turn clippers many times in his hand artfully as if he had been a juggler. Later on, the ticket booth was also replaced by the automatic ticket gate.
In those days, more and more vending machines had emerged here and there in Japan. They started with coffee and soft drinks, then cigarettes and beer. Soon pornographic magazines and condoms, hamburgers and noodle soup were all purchasable from the machine.
Nowadays, ordering at restaurants has been by a touch screen on the table, and check-out counters at the supermarket have been self-service registers. Either at a restaurant or a supermarket, I pay an incorrect total once in two or three visits when human servers and cashiers take care the payment and make a mistake. I know the odds because I look into the receipt very carefully right after the payment each and every time. Almost in every case I don’t gain but overpay, which is a mystery, so that I claim at once. I understand I myself induce their mistakes by using every possible coupon and discount promotion in one payment that makes my total so complicated. When a machine handles service in place of a human, it’s fast, convenient, clean and no mistakes. But on the other hand, no small talk or smiles are a little tasteless. Even so, machines may fit better for me since I often get annoyed with people too easily.
The day that machines take up most jobs of humans’ might arrive sooner than expected. If it happened, the government would pay the people a basic income by taxing companies. Is it possible that people don’t have to work? For the first time after the ancient times, humans would get liberated from money at long last. Everybody could live by doing what they want. I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing that day come. I’m strongly hoping. And I believe in a miracle as such.
On the second day of a trip to the western region of Japan, time was running short for the train I was going to take while I was preparing to go out at the hotel room. I walked to the closest train station hurriedly and called my parents.
One of the purposes of this trip was visiting my parents. When I do, I never tell them about my visit beforehand. My life experience taught me that they will plan some ways to attack me if I give them time. I let them know right before my actual visit in order not to give them a chance to think of any plots.
The one who answered my call was my younger sister to whom I hadn’t talked for more than a decade. Before the trip, I had received a phone call from my mother who was crying and confessed that her life had been hell since my sister began to live with them about a year ago. My parents had kept it secret from me for a year because my sister didn’t want me to know that she had returned to Japan from abroad and had lived with them. Although I had known that from my mother’s phone call, I pretended not to know when my sister answered my call as I also had known her intention. I said, “You’re back in Japan,” and she admitted in a very faint voice. And an unexpected new fact followed when I asked her to put either of my parents on the phone. She told me that my parents had no longer lived there because they ran away from home.
My mother had mentioned some kind of abuse by my sister on the distraught phone call less than a month ago, but I never thought it was serious enough to run away. My sister explained in a feeble voice that they had felt excessively stressful to live with her. And she didn’t know their whereabouts.
After I hung up the phone, I called my father’s cell phone. He answered sounding absent-minded. I told him I had come to see him and asked him if we could meet. He answered it was inconvenient for him because he had somewhere to go with my mother and there was no time to spare for me all day long. He apparently avoided me and sounded he didn’t want to see me. When I asked him where they were living now, he said in a vacant voice, “In an apartment near the condo where I lived.” I had a previous engagement to meet with my high school teacher before I was going to see my parents and the train to catch was coming. Although I had tons of questions left, I ran out of time and hung up the phone.
To meet my teacher, I needed to transfer the train at Osaka terminal station. As there was 15-minute space to the next train, I used the bathroom in the station. I was headed for the platform where the next train would depart, walking through the enormous station that has eleven platforms and seven different train lines. The passages were entwined and crawling with passengers. It looked like as much as O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. I was waiting for the train on the platform I had made sure on the information board. When the train came in though, I noticed a wrong destination was displayed on the side of the train. I had checked the platform number by the departure time. Unfortunately, Osaka Station is a gigantic station that has numerous trains depart at the exactly same time. I had been waiting for a train diligently at the wrong platform. I saw the right train coming in a few platforms away. I panicked, rushed down the long flight of stairs, ran down the long main passage, ran up the stairs and tried to zap into the train. But on the platform I ended up, the right train didn’t arrive. Instead, an unfamiliar, new special gorgeous train had been parked and the full-dress station attendants were standing in line in front of the train, giving it a salute. There were some camera crews around them. It seemed some sort of ceremony was being held there, and I appeared in the midst of it dashing out of the stairs. I couldn’t grasp what was happening for a moment and was just looking around frantically for my train. A young lady attendant approached me with a kind smile, saying to me, “Why don’t you take one if you like.” and handed me a small plastic flag on which an illustration of this special train was printed. Then I realized I got on the wrong platform again because I didn’t come here to see off this train with the flag. I ran down the stairs yet again, and dashed up the stairs to the right platform this time.
The platform was empty with no train and no passengers. My train seemed to have long gone. I was standing alone in a daze, panting for breath on the oddly quiet platform with a small flag holding in my hand.
I was late for the arranged time and made my teacher wait, but was able to see her again who is one of only few people that have understood me and supported me for all the years after I graduated from high school. A good time passes quickly. I was immensely encouraged by her even in this short meeting and got on the train to go back to the hotel instead of going to my parents’ home.
Because the plan to meet my parents was cancelled in an unexpected way, I happened to have time to go to the outlet mall that I had given up the other day because of rain. I enjoyed hanging around there with my partner and had dinner at the Hawaiian restaurant with a turkey sandwich and popcorn shrimps that are rare items in Japanese restaurants and give me yearning for the days when I lived in the U.S. In the end of a weird day filled with totally unexpected twists, a wonderful time waited for me. My precise plan for this trip turned to be completely different two days in a row…