I could feel the hostile eyes upon us as our diesel driven “One Man Car” chugged along the rusty, rural tracks. The train meandered into the ninja-infested blue mountains of Iga. I knew there were ninja in those mountains–even though, naturally, I didn’t see any. I know because everybody knows–The Ninja come from Iga. Iga is the ancient mountain province between Ise and Nara that the Ninja fought to protect. They failed to maintain their sovereignty, but they didn’t leave. They waited, hidden in the hills, biding their time, until video games and manga caught on.
Had I had time to notice, I would have been amazed by the scenery. Mountains jutted up before us, as steep as cliffs, with trees and tea bushes holding to the sides for dear life. at the base of the mountains rivers flowed through valleys, passing through villages and towns or by the occasional abandoned farmhouse. the fact that these old wooden houses are standing after decades of neglect is a testament to Japanese construction of the previous era. In the modern age no building is built to last more than twenty years.
I didn’t notice any of this because I knew that at any moment I might have to spring into action, defending the worthy lives of my fellow passengers against attack. Ninjas are known for surprise attack, and I could tell no one else on the train was expecting Ninjas at all. Our tiny train was bright purple, so I could only hope that the Ninjas were colorblind. If so, we might blend into the background. Otherwise we were sitting, or rather crawling, ducks.
In the hands of the young engineer, the purple one man car made its way up and down hills, through tunnels and towns, stopping every five or ten minutes at another unidentifiable single platform station. Sometimes people waited on the platforms, sitting on benches or standing randomly on the raised deck. Usually there was no one there when the train stopped. From inside the train a single stooped old woman or frail old man would shuffle off and down the platform to their homes.
That’s what it’s like in the Japanese countryside. Most of the young have moved to the city, leaving the aging population to maintain the farms and family residences. Once in the city, the sense of family melts away, and children and grandchildren never return to these ancient hometowns. After the grandparents die, the land is sold to corporations and the towns disappear one by one. It’s not unique to Japan, but, from my point of view on that purple train, nothing was more regrettable and wasteful.
At last the one-man-car pushed through the last tunnel. On the other side the countryside gave way to the suburbs or Nara. We were likely safe from the Ninjas here, although one should never feel too secure in Japan. We changed trains into something a little more comfortable and sailed on to Nara station. Hours had gone by in the mountains, but when it was over it seemed like only a few minutes.