Things I love / hate about Japan: Alone again, naturally!

Summer has announced its approach by blessing us with a day warm enough to be spent on the beach. I spent mine however teaching my kids how to say what they were going to do this summer. One girl tells me she’s going to spend it thinking about me. She’s 15 going on 30 and wears her uniform skirt so hiked up her panties are constantly in view. Today’s were this eye-drawing pink lacy number I gave myself a headache spending the entire class trying not to look at.

After school I usually spend an hour or so unwinding at a cafe where I can puff a stogie and have a decent cup of coffee for a reasonable price…Starbuck’s provides half of my needs…the coffee is decent but, at about $3 a pop, the price is fairly unreasonable. Smoking inside of Starbuck’s is prohibited but, aside for the table closest to the entrance, the 6 or 7 tables out front allow smokers to get their fix. I presume that one table is off-limits because the smoke would be vacuumed inside every time the door opens. Makes sense.

There was one empty table when I arrived and I placed my briefcase in one of its two chairs to hold it before I went inside to place my order. I used to worry about leaving my belongings unattended…I don’t even give it a second thought anymore. Maybe one day it will cost me, but I doubt it. I’d noticed the jovial, lively conversations underway as I approached the empty table, and the eyes of all turning my way as I reserved the seat for myself. I noticed too the tension, that fear that overtakes some, and the sudden feeling of discomfort that attacks others. I ignore it as best I can.

When I returned with my ice coffee, as expected, my briefcase was as I’d left it. I sat down and the dance began. First the couple at the table to my left…almost immediately upon my seating, started kinda fidgeting, like they were being plagued by a swarm of mosquitoes but it was a cultural no-no to scratch or swat at them or acknowledge them in any way.  Their smiles transform from fleshy, toothy, glee-plus cheese to petrified plastic moldings. Their conversation had been joyful and free. Now it was subdued, lots of communication with the eyes. A hard stare between them that as much as screamed, ” We are in agreement: The atmosphere has changed, hasn’t it? This location is no longer comfortable. ” The guy looks at his watch…it’s time to go. The actual time was irrelevant. Then he looks back at his companion…but she had already packed her purse and was reaching for her parasol – way ahead of him. They all but run in their haste to depart. She accidentally bumps into the chair at my table and it grates like a trumpet against the grainy patio stone floor. She wanted to apologize, I could see in her eyes, but alas she glanced at my un-Japanese-ness and  assumed her words would fall on deaf ears, a waste of her breath,  so she opted to say nothing and just kind of bowed and  brushed her hair out of her face.

A couple of guys occupied the table on the opposite side of me. They were trying to ignore me, one of them less successful than the other. He was the one who was unfortunately seated on my side of the table. He had already shifted his position so that he was looking away from me (and I at the back of his head) and had moved his bag from my side to the opposite side between himself and the nihonjin seated at the table on the other side of him. A safer place for his belongings I presumed. I’d noticed it but didn’t let on that I had;  just took it in stride as just one of those things that Japanese do. It means nothing, I tell myself over and over like a litany. They’re just ignorant, they don’t know any better, and taking it personally serves no purpose other than to fuel the raging flames of indignation that burn within me that I’d rather not, better not, ought not to fuel.  His uneasiness is contagious and his friend contracts it like chicken pox in a kindergarten classroom.

“Ikou?” Shall we go?

And with a swiftness he approved the suggestion by getting up and out of that seat and grabbing his bag. I told myself, he probably had to go the bathroom.  Now the tables on either side of mine were empty. Conspicuously so, for it was just one of those type days when there would be a line waiting for these tables.  All the other tables are maxed out…and people were waiting for them to open…though, to their credit, they were pretending not to be waiting for any table aside from the TWO near me.

I could almost read the thoughts of the people passing by. Their body language and expressions telling the story in an unmistakably human language (no matter how different from foreigners they think they are) Their bodies say: “It’s such a beautiful day to be alive and have cash and credit cards and shops galore! Ooooh! a Starbucks! A smoke and a frappacino would be nice! But it’s so crowded. WAIT! There are two free tables! That’s odd! It’s such a beauti…”

Then they see me, the fly in the banana pudding.

“Yappari” (No wonder) some will think. “Sou ka” (Now I get it) others will exclaim. “Kawaisou” (that’s a shame) some will sympathize.

None will sit.

At least that’s how it goes usually. But out of nowhere a couple of cuties pulled up and, without undue hesitation, they sat!

to be continued…


10 Responses to “Things I love / hate about Japan: Alone again, naturally!”

  1. 1 Qcue
    May 15, 2009 at 12:50 am

    You crashed a party….only by drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette…LOL

  2. May 15, 2009 at 2:16 am

    You sir, are my hero.

  3. 3 BK
    May 15, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    yeah but checkout http://www.japantoday.com ..the JN on JN crime is spiraling out of control!

  4. May 17, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    wow – very well written – no wonder you are grappling with “should I stay or should I go now”. Your students flaunts her pinks and then no one sits near you – what a day.

    • May 21, 2009 at 9:21 pm

      Yeah, grappling is a good word!
      More grappling to follow hehehe

  5. 6 topaz
    May 18, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    Loco, just curious. Were you smoking a cigarette, or a cigar?

  6. 7 topaz
    May 18, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    Loco, I see from part 2 that you clarified you were smoking a cigar. Clearly you think those couples were fleeing due to the color of your skin, and I sure won’t discount that as a possibility. But you know a lot of people just hate the smell and smoke from cigars, right? Personally I love them. And there’s nothing wrong with smoking them outdoors at Starbucks. But I am pretty sure that if a Japanese customer were smoking a cigar at Starbucks, he’d get a very similar reaction from nearby customers. You should try a few visits to that Starbucks with and without cigars, if you want to do an experiment, to see if the response differs.

    • May 18, 2009 at 1:50 pm

      Good suggestion….thanks!
      Actually, though, Black & Milds are not quite cigars cigars…just pipe tobacco on a stick, and they smell terrific, I’m told, by Japanese as well (I can’t smell them anymore) But You’re right, there could be a connection that I overlooked. I have however experienced the same thing inside a Starbucks san cigars but I’m sure somebody will find something else just as glaring as the smell of my tobacco to rationalize Japanese behavior, and I’m sure it’ll be legitimate to an extent…there’s always going to be an alternative possibility I’ve found and thankfully so otherwise I would have given up on them a long time ago (-:
      Thanks again for shout Topaz san


  7. 9 Qcue
    May 18, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    Topaz, can you handle a sarcasm? I already knew that they were fleeing because Loco is a black man.

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Please know that this blog is my original writing and may not be reproduced in any way without the expressed written permission of the author (that's me!) Thanks!

Words I love…

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