Monday, April 06, 2009

"Running With the Herd"

The first day of my new "leave early" schedule last week (reduced hours due to the bad economy), I left the company at 4:30, and marched down the street feeling half-concerned about the reduced paycheck that leaving early is going to produce, and half-happy at being outside earlier than usual. Since Tokyo is hit by the double punch of being in the wrong time zone to begin with, and also not having daylight savings time; for over half the year, the light is nearly or completely gone by normal quitting times of 5:30 or 6:00. So I happily looked around at the glorious daylight and thought "Now I can take more daylight pictures!". (Some people think I specialize in taking night scenes, but the main reason I have so many night scenes is simply due to that being the only time I can take pictures!) Of course, it'll be more difficult to pay for transportation to go places and take pictures, but if I can manage that somehow, I will have more time to take the pictures in.

And so I approached the train station thinking I had mentally gone over the main parameters of the new situation I find myself in. But... I got on the train, sat down, and within seconds realized that the atmosphere was different. I looked around and saw that in place of purposeful businesspeople and students, there were many older people who looked like they were either retired or just shy of retirement age, but not working; and students. One thing about Tokyo is that you can see students (easily identifiable by their student uniforms) pretty much any time of day or night, weekdays, weekends, national holidays, and whatever other kinds of days there are in the 365 days of the year (well - okay, maybe not on New Year's Day), so that's a constant, but even the students seemed more subdued than usual.

So how has it been at 5:45 instead of 4:45? At 5:45, there's a sense of purpose in the air, with people feeling glad to be off work, and heading somewhere with money in their pockets for shopping, going out for dinner, meeting friends, going home early (no overtime - banzai!), etc. Even the students seem to amplify the generally happy vibes of the working people.

And then, on the weekend, I went out for a walk and noticed a late-teenage (or maybe early twenties) man applying for a job at a restaurant (with an open front, taking advantage of the nice weather). He had an air of quiet desperation about him, and I thought back to my student days when I looked for part time work and felt worried/desperate/etc. until I found something. I continued my walk, thinking of how hard it seems to be to get the balance right - to get it so that you're gainfully employed and making enough money to pay the bills, as well as buy some fun stuff (eating out, acquiring tech gadgets, etc.), and you have enough free time to enjoy yourself outside work. For someone who has achieved that balance, I suppose this is just a lot of verbiage, but the "When I have enough money, I don't have enough time; and when I have enough time, I don't have enough money" routine must be familiar to many - and I dare say most - people.

Finally, the element I tend to overlook when thinking about working society: the element of being comfortable when running with the herd, and feeling unease when stepping away from the herd and finding that freedom comes with the price of increased risk. Standing alone on the sidelines, you want to belong to one group or another. Standing within the group, you want freedom from the group. .................. The elusiveness/difficulty of achieving balance, and the ease of going from one extreme to another.

Would I rather be bored? Certainly not - the constant existence of a quest is what makes life worth living.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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