Sensei told me the story of The Great Hanshin Earthquake . Four years ago Kobe was wracked by an earthquake. Kyoto felt it too. My teacher, Mr. Yamamoto happened to be awake on that early morning. That’s the main feature of his tale. He couldn’t sleep. The city shook. Things fell apart.

My first earthquake experience also occurred in the early morning, 3:15 last Friday. I was awake before it happened. The futon on the floor felt like it was floating in all directions. That was all, apart from a few noises. I thought I could hear my mom’s china cabinet rattling the way it does when the B&O diesel screams past on the tracks by my house. But then, I’m a long way from Baltimore, or Ohio for that matter.

Real trains take me practically everywhere. I used to take one to get to school. Now I ride downtown for book shopping and coffee.

An electric hum deepens as it whines; short bursts of vibration racket from the tracks. Several hundred people are visible in an instant and then gone, blocked by the tunnel walls. A light goes by, and then another and another at increasing speed until they blend to form a blinking neon streamline. The cars clash and spar. Static garbles an overhead address. A heartbeat comes up from the rails. Then the train slows. Gravity slurs. Electric hum again and the doors puff open on both sides. Droves rush in, bringing with them new faces and smells—perfume and urine, musty monks in robes. Electric hum, racket and then none. That’s the way you get downtown.

Never seen without at least one girl on his arm, Mr. Charisma has a plethora of girlfriends who worship him. Why? Because you can’t say anything stupid in a place where you can’t say anything at all.

I hear a girl talking to her cell phone, ‘Oh it was great!’ she seems to know that everyone can hear her ’the temple was full of plants and everyone was throwing beans all over the place to scare the daemons away.’

There are no old cars, not that I can see, in Japan. I notice this on the walk back toward the station. The girl from the cafĂ© passes me and smiles. I return the favor, but there’s a very lonely boy behind my grin. Does it show?