“Bear’s Wood Main Line” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui
English Publication History:
Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (Alma Books, 2006)
Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (Pantheon Books, 2008)
Original: Japanese, 1974
Translated by Andrew Driver, 2006
Synopsis: On a personal quest for the best buckwheat noodles, one man takes a long train ride. On that ride, a kind fellow traveler informs him of a little known train line that could save him four hours of travel time. The Bear’s Wood Main Line seems to be owned and operated by the man’s clan but he’s evasive about their responsibilities to the Line. Atop the hill, the man’s family is hosting a wake, yet their giddy ways enliven his unparticipative state.
Analysis: The common notion of not talking to strangers on public transportation spans nations—it’s as true in America as it is for Thailand as it seems to also be true for Japan. With the exception of one notable bus journey sitting next to beautiful women (OMG, she had the sexiest voice I’ve ever heard but she also had the longest arm hair), conversations engaged upon a train usually meet with someone demanding something from me (my sandals), being awkwardly invited to the bathroom for a smoke (stale, hand-rolled Thai cigarettes), or being talked at for hours (much of it over my head).
The man who takes the train journey for the simple pleasure of perfect buckwheat noodles meets his fate when he speaks to a stranger on the train. The stranger’s advice seemed innocent enough—save a few hours of travel time—but the man’s first fault was accepting this advice. His second stumbling block was accepting an invitation to join the funeral festivities at the top of the hill, in which the family members performed a ridiculous song and dance. Everyone, including the man, were enraptured with laughter at the sight and sound of the dance. When everyone had their turn—each slightly altering the vowels to the song—the man felt he had to confidence to participate. This participation was his third fault which has long-reaching unforeseen consequences for him, the family, and the nation.
Therefore, decisions made on public transportation should never include the advice of strangers; otherwise, you may inadvertently place your entire country in peril. Listen to your mother: “Don’t talk to strangers.”