This morning I am working on Helga’s biography. We tend to think that we have hard times, whatever times we are living in. But read what my client went through as a ten-year-old German girl living in Tokyo in 1935. In many ways she led a privileged life, but check out her journey to get to school.
The first week of school, Fritz—she called him Vati, escorted Helga, and from then on, she went alone. The train routes did not allow her to progress in a direct route; instead, she took three trains, first riding north and then heading south. To get to school, Helga walked twenty minutes to the Uehara train station and boarded a train jam-packed with people. The Japanese train system was designed for passengers to board on one side and deboard on the opposite side. Little Helga memorized her route and, when her stop was coming up, allowed her body to be pushed towards the door by the crowd. She rode the train north for ten minutes and jumped off at Shinjuku. (Today, the Shinjuku station is the busiest train station in the world; in the ‘30s and ‘40s, it was a contender.)
From Shinjuku, Helga boarded a train that reversed her course, heading down the east side of the Meji Shrine and south towards the coastal town of Shinagawa. After that twenty-minute ride, she changed trains again and rode another ten minutes south to Omori. From the Omori station, it was a twenty-minute walk to school.
“Don’t talk to strangers,” her parents had warned, and she didn’t. “Keep your mind focused on where you are going, and avoid looking around at everything else, which will distract you.” It was advice she heeded for years to come.