How I defeated Japan Rail and saved my back from injury
The last challenge was the day I needed to board the airport train with the Brompton and my full luggage, I didn’t want to carry all that for endless distances but you are not allowed to wheel bikes through the ticket barriers at Japanese station.
The previous night I had made a reconnaissance of Ikebukuro. There were four entrances but the one I was interested in was the south gate, it was the closest to the lifts so I would have the least distance to carry the whole load if it became necessary. Also I had used the west and east gates several times in the previous two days and the staff might recognise me and what I was up to. An element of surprise could work in my favour.
There was only one other obstacle, a double flight of steps down from the street. This had not been a problem on previous trips but this time I would be fully burdened and I had to take the steps one at a time, very steadily, if the whole assembly was not to fold up and perhaps trap me embarrassingly half way down, as happened before at Niigata.
Nobody appeared to pay much attention – I had come to recognise the imperceptible sideways glances as passers-by weighed me up, but they only saw a crazy gaijin with an improbable apparatus, I was not yet a challenge to the whole organisational fabric. My route used a network of underground passages through the foundations of the Sobu department store, busy with commuters and branching off to subway lines on either side, until my target was ahead.
I approached at an angle that would conceal me till the last moment and, for a moment, I thought I was in luck, the booth looked empty and the gate open but the guard appeared just as I approached. I waved my pass and he appeared to be about to let me through then stopped me. “You can’t bring that thing in here. You have to pack it up properly before I’ll let you in.”
Plan B was to agree emphatically, mime the act of folding something up and point to somewhere above his left shoulder, but he just repeated himself. “Sorry chief, you can’t do that, more than my job’s worth.” Plan C was to park the bike against a nearby pillar where he could see it clearly, mime “yes I am going to fold it up, look here’s the bag it packs into, but I want to wheel it over to the lifts over there and up to the platform first.” The response was still negative but I hoped I had indicated some willingness to operate within the rules. Then on to plan D.
First the crucial piece of information – “it’s very heavy (grimace, act out carrying two heavy suitcases) do you want me to end up with a bad back?” Then repeat the idea of wheeling it to the lift and finishing the job up on platform 2 where the Narita airport train leaves.” At this point I said the magic word “Narita” and it may be the fact that he realised that this guy was actually leaving the country and would not be back to repeat the performance that clinched it, or perhaps he suffered from a bad back himself and could see my dilemma. Either way he waved me through and I had penetrated the last bastion – I wheeled my bike over the station concourse, up in the lift to platform 2 and I had 25 minutes to pack everything up ready for the flight home.