Sunday, November 21, 2010

My Favourite People in Japan

It's no secret that Japan values anonymity and uniformity. It might be considered racist and culturally ignorant to state that they all the look the same - and it's totally untrue, given their penchant for unique clothes and crazy hair - but it's nothing but honest - indeed, complimentary - to say that they act the same. As I think I may have quoted before, 'the nail that sticks out, gets hammered down'. And it's a really big, government-sponsored hammer.

That said, there are those that stick out, and it those people that I notice. So this blog post will be devoted to documenting those Japanese people who, through no knowledge or deliberate action of theirs, have been mentally noted by me as being My Favourite People In Japan.

NB: Some of these are ironic. You'll probably be able to tell.

1. The Guy Who Dresses Really Well and Stands Up And Reads on The Subway

It's no secret that I'm a raging fan of the written word. The thicker the book the better. It's the basis of any dissatisfaction I experience in Japan - I simply can't READ enough, there being limited access to books written from left to right, and front to back, in an English alphabet. I can't even read the signs on the train, or the instructions on how to change the toilet roll in the public toilets. It's frustrating.

So I have an appreciation for those Japanese folks who demonstrably capitalize on the fact that they are living in the country of their mother tongue. Many people, myself included, face long commutes to work. Playing on ones iPhone can be unnsatisfactory, as tunnels and intermittent underground stops make for haphazard internet connections. So, often, commuters resort to the antiquated entertainment of the written word. This is nothing special if you have a seat. BUT it becomes considerably more hazardous if you attempt to immerse youeself in Steig Larsson whilst standing, given that spine support and page turning require both hands and all ten fingers. Lisbeth Salander wouldn't have it any other way.

My favourite Japanese commuter is therefore a man whom I witness nearly every morning, legs wide and braced, as he clutches his leather-bound book with both hands. To have the physical capability to surf the subway in combination with the mental capacity to absorb plot segues takes some superior left-brain right-brain co-ordination. And yet, there he is, at 7am, risking becoming a human domino for the sake of ten minutes uninterrupted reading time. AS IF THIS WERE NOT ENOUGH he is also always beautifully dressed. For example, this morning, he sported a heavy wool dark to royal blue trench coat, a fawn scarf draped casually across the lapels and a maroon tie, the colour combination of which might sound daring, but was pulled off with flair. His pants were pin-striped and straight-legged, and his shoes elongated in a patent brown with a square toe.

If I were a Japanese man, I would aim to be him. As a Caucaisan woman, I aim merely to touch him.

2. The Man Who Always Talks to Me on The Elevator

Actually, this is not limited to one man, but this particular man is distinguishable by his tenacity. I live in an apartment building which is largely populated by 60+, who appear only to leave their apartments to dispose of rubbish and talk to me. I am therefore often accompanied in the elevator by one or may grey-hairs, all of whom come up to my waist, and all of whom seem deeply interested in my welfare. Upon my arrival, most were content to smile at me benignly. My problems arose when I gained the ability to say in Japanese which floor I wished to go to. I say it very convincingly, like a native, with conviction (I'm very proud), so they naturally assume that I speak Japanese. However, two inquiring sentences later, they quickly realise that it is all farce, and I am just a foreign as my hair suggests, and give up.

But not my favourite! Oh no! Each time we ascend or descend together, he rattles off increasingly long and complex sentences. H even walks me to the base of my stairs up to my apartment, commentating as we go. I suppose he is anticipating the day when all the study finally clicks for me and I am suddenly fluent, and we can have green tea together and discuss the vagaries of the Japanese economy together, and I will be like a CHILD to him, but I can tell you, little old man, it is not this day!

3. The Lady Who Got Angry At My Cereal

My local supermarket is just across the road, so it has a similarly aged population to my apartment block. These lovely senior citizens block the aisles and slow the counters at their leisure, going their own gentle pace. I respect this, as every time I go to the bank or post office, I take nine times as long as everyone else, due to my dangerous approach of simply agreeing with everything anyone says, whether I understand them or not, and whether it was a question or not ('What kind of postage? Express or regular?'....'yes'.)Therefore, anyone else who holds up the speedy progression of Japanese life I view with some solidarity.

However, as well as being slow, these old people are also nosy. They peer into my cart, looking askance at the persimmons, glaring at my Choco Pies as if personally affronted by the English packaging. One lady in particular took this to whole new levels, when she took my Frosties out of the bag I had placed them in (preparing for departure, having already paid, not as a precursor to shop-lifiting, whereupon her behavious might be villified) and started YELLING, loudly, in Japanese.

She gestured, she pointed, she waved them in the air.

I had no idea what was going on.

After about thirty seconds of extreme embarrassment, I decided that a packet of Frosties was a small price to pay for making my escape, and turned to depart, whereupon she thrust the offending cereal back into my bag with some force and turned back to her husband, who was watching sedately, as if this was something that happened everyday. Perhaps it does. Perhaps she is the Japanese Ambassador for Rice For Breakfast, and I was simply her latest target.

It didn't stop the Frosties tasting goooood.

4. (general category) Japanese People who Pretend They Don't Speak English But Actually Do

This is encountered EVERYWHERE, due to the dual intelligence and reticence of the Japanese people. Even if they speak the lanaguage to a level considerably higher than the average American (not so difficult, really), they will patiently stand, and wait, while you exercise your entire Japanese vocabulary (fifteen words) upon them in a desperate attempt to convey what you want.

After ten or so minutes of mime, charades and tears, they will apparently decide that you have been reduced enough that you are no longer threateningly foreign, but merely demonstrably illiterate, and will say, in perfect American accents 'Oh, you want soup! Of course. The soup corner is on aisle three. Please follow me'.

If you have ever tried to mime a pumpkin, you will understand my resulting frustrations. Alleviated in part by pumpkin soup.

5. The Man Who Stared At Me So Hard He Walked Into a Pole

No explanation really necessary.

1 comment: