The prospects look decent. It’s a late night, so there are still available seats on this downtown Hibiya line. We have five or six stops, around fifteen minutes. —That is absolutely right! It was Hibiya line where all the wonderful things happened!! (This is a bit of a unique occasion; since my friend was there too, I asked him to look over my draft of this story. I put his comments in green)
His stop is one before mine. “So…who are you thinking about drawing? The girl in front of us? Or…” I think I’ll draw this guy on our left. He has a head of black hair that is combed forward at the top. He is probably in his early thirties. He has strong eyebrows. His collar is raised quite high, covering his chin and obscuring his jaw. I draw what I see. Of course, the gentleman notices. But this is Tokyo. This isn’t something you do here. So the gentleman looks away. He continues reading his book. And then it’s done. I put my pens down, I snap a photo, put my camera back in my pocket. Sumimasen, I say, Anata no kaku desu. Kore wa purezento desu. (Excuse me, it’s your portrait. This is a present).
The gentleman isn’t sure about this. He isn’t sure he should touch the green cardstock paper with his likeness in blue and black ink. Finally, he does. He takes a moment to look at it. Then he stares at me. “…Doushite?” (…Why?) he asks. I try to explain, with my limited Japanese vocabulary, that this is my hobby. That I’ve drawn 5705 people before him. That I find people interesting. But he says something more. This is longer and I cannot understand it. —I think he actually said that he was very happy about the present, since he has never been portrayed by somebody and it was completely a surprise.
He also said “Kon-na koto arunn da na…” meaning “I never expected this to happen to me…” with very surprised but bright face.
Ano…moichido, kudasai. (Um…once more, please). This is why I want to learn more Japanese. This is why I want to know more of every language. By his second sentence, he already reached the limits of my skill in his language. I ask him to repeat his question. Maybe then I’ll understand. But my friend has been watching the whole thing. As shocked as the gentleman is, so too is my friend, sitting beside me. He’s never seen this before, in all his days taking these trains in Tokyo. He comes to my rescue. “He asked where you grew up.” Kohei, my friend, peeks his head out from behind me. Now, they get a good look at each other, these two. They introduce themselves: first name, last name. Kohei explains what I’m doing here, what he’s doing with me. I realize this isn’t just my conversation—it’s Kohei’s.
These two Tokyo natives who just expected an ordinary night, an ordinary train ride, shared a moment. They shared in something they thought was so rare, they just kept on talking. I don’t remember all that was said, nor was all of it translated for me, although my friend Kohei tried his best. But I remember that soon we passed stops four, five, and six. And then Kohei’s stop came. Kohei did not care. He just kept on talking. Mine, too, came and went. We kept on talking.
“What kind of coffee do you like?” The gentleman, Takayuki asked. —Yes, his name was Takayuki Maeda. He had started a business selling coffee based on each person’s individual tastes. He was trying to figure a way to thank me. He decided to send me a free package of coffee. He would send one to Kohei, too. But…this wasn’t enough. “How can I repay you?” I think for a moment. I respond. People have given me things. I can’t always pay them back. So I pay it forward. I give things freely to others. Please, like I gave this portrait to you, do something kind to someone else. It was a lot of words, but Kohei got the meaning across to this gentleman, Takayuki. “Sou ka…” (I see…) he said. “Today...today is the day of beginning for this. I will do nice things for others, starting from today.”
I don’t know if he has. I don’t know if he will, pay it forward. But I know that at that moment, on that night, on that train on the Hibiya line through Tokyo, he meant it.
We talked all the way until the end of the line.
I draw a man sitting beside him. I draw a woman with a large collar sitting a little further. I draw a handsome gentleman. I notice an old man has been watching this whole exchange. He tells one passenger to look up, because he’s next. So after that, I draw the old man, too. He was happy to pose.
I haven’t forgotten that train ride either.