Iiwake: the game

The 2nd floor of Doutor cafe is the smoking section. There are a few available seats, but most are stuck between or opposite people I notice. Most eyes spot me instantly, then check their vicinity for free seats. The people with empty seats beside them start to shift and fidget. I have four to choose from. I select the free table for two not too far from the staircase, and cop a squat. The woman sitting at the table beside mine hadn’t looked up when I arrived, but did as I sat down.  She gave me a double take and her totally relaxed posture became erect as a cat with a growling dog nearby.

I wasn’t intending to play but she started the game with a bang by moving her bag from the seat across from her which was near me to her lap, but…she was probably expecting a phone call from her boyfriend and I reminded her of her boyfriend, a handsome black soldier stationed at Yokosuka Navy base, who kicks her ass twice a week for letting the phone ring as many as three times before answering. The cellphone was in her handbag and she didn’t want to miss the call or have any delays answering it. That would also explain why she turned her chair away from mine. When she catches a glimpse of me she can psychosomatically feel it in her recently cracked ribs currently on the mend.

10 points

Usually I go out of my way to ignore the show the Japanese put on whenever I cop a squat in their midst but occasionally when I can’t think of anything else to write about or it’s just too damn intriguing to ignore I check it out surreptitiously as possible. And occasionally I play a game in my head (and on paper sometimes). I call it: Iiwake. Iiwake is the Japanese word for excuse. I started playing it a while back without realizing it. It wasn’t a game when I first began. Far from it. What I was doing was trying to find alternative reasons for the bizarre behavior of the Japanese people around me.  What I do is I endeavor to detach myself emotionally and examine everything going on around me from as objective a state of mind as I can manage.

I give myself 20 points if I make myself laugh (reduced to 15 points if I laugh out loud), 10 pts for merely creative Iiwake, 5 points for mediocre, -10 points if I fail to come up with an Iiwake and -50 if I even think a negative thought about my fellow Japanese customers. My high score is 175. My low score is too embarrassing to mention.

Why do I play Iiwake? Simple. I want to rule out paranoia. I suspected I was becoming paranoid, thinking that everything going on around me was somehow being caused by me or was as a direct result of my presence. So, initially Iiwake served three purposes: one was to get out of my head for a bit (never a bad thing) and see life through another’s eyes, so to speak. The other was my secret hope that by doing so I would be able to gather ammo in my on-going internal war against the part of me that finds most Japanese people irretrievable cowards and unconscionable xenophobes, thus repulsive. If that side of me wins I would be forced to leave this land that I have grown to adore, with a bitter resentment. If I could find other reasons and/or rationalizations for their behavior- something that paranoia had heretofore blinded me to- then I’d score points and so would they. It’s a Win-Win kind of game.

The third reason was simply for entertainment. If I could laugh at them or at myself then I would feel so much better.

Half-way through her cup of coffee the woman at the table beside mine stood and decided that she was going to leave her soldier boy with the penchant for using her as a punching bag, leaving him for good this time. She would go home immediately, pack her stuff, and go stay with the grandmother in Nakano he’d never met…

10 points

As she was leaving to start her new life, another customer came up the stairs and was scouting for a seat…he spotted the one she’d just vacated beside me and was on a beeline for it when he noticed me and suddenly remembered that his girlfriend was coming to meet him but wouldn’t know he was upstairs in the smoking section because he hadn’t told her he smoked. He had been keeping it a secret because she’d expressed on several occasions that if he were a smoker that would be a deal breaker. So, he diverted and sped for the window seat across the room which was also available and from which he could see his girlfriend’s arrival and pop those mints in his pocket before he spoke to her.

10 points

Another woman, middle aged, well-to do, arrived at the stairway landing. She sees me and decided that now is the opportune moment she’d been waiting for to quit smoking. “It’s a nasty, stinking dirty habit and I must quit now,” she mumbled under her breath and returned downstairs so as not to be tempted by the death sticks being consumed so gratuitously on the 2nd floor.

15 points

Another woman appears at the landing, younger this time, maybe late 20s. She spots me and the available table beside mine. Then she surveys the rest of the room looking for…ummm…looking for her friend. Right, she’s looking for her friend that she’s supposed to meet here, but her friend’s not here and all the other seats appear occupied, so she gingerly, painfully slow, takes the seat beside me, her whole body turned away from me. She’s giving the room a twice over…for her friend. She actually didn’t want to sit down as not to put too much pressure on her buttocks because of her explosive hemorrhoids that have been inflamed for days now, and that medicine the doctor had given her only alleviated the pain temporarily…and the doctor had also prescribed plenty of, ummm, ultraviolet light, right. For an unrelated condition…her skin, which was actually kind of lackluster. Which would explain why she can’t take her eyes off the seats in the rear by the windows. And, suddenly, when someone at one of the window seats rose to leave she darted that way, almost spilling her mocha from her tray in her haste to follow her doctor’s orders.

20 points (-:

A couple arrive at the landing now…the girl spots the table beside mine and heads directly for it, but before she could sit down her boyfriend actually grabs her arm and with a penetrating gaze conveys the message, ‘did you forget?’ (ummm…god, this is a difficult one…Iiwake is not an easy game) ‘…that we sat over there on our first date? Over there!’ He points at a currently occupied table for two over yonder, and almost on cue the man who was sitting there stood up and began packing his things to depart. Lucky them.

5 points

Another woman comes up stairs, spots the table besides me, and sees that I’m writing the words you’re reading now, and decides that the absolute last thing she would ever want to do in life is disturb my composition with her presence, and upon seeing no other free seats, replaces her ashtray and heads back downstairs. God she was thoughtful, because if she couldn’t sit by me without fidgeting and flinching and jumping every time I made a move like most people do she would have, indeed, disturbed me. Damn!

-50 points

Another man had come upstairs while I was writing so I barely caught him noticing me and the empty table beside mine. He walks to the middle of the room and does kind of a slow pirouette scanning the room for a seat, as his eyes pass by the seat beside me they actually make a detour up and over the area I’m seated in, looking for a seat on the ceiling or something… because he had a…umm….fuck! He had a mental blind spot. Yeah, a mental blind spot, and he…ah fuck it, he’s just crazy!

-5 points

Then, he comes and sits beside me. I try not to notice anything about him in my peripherals. I mean, the really crazy ones…they make my skin crawl. But, he’s just a-flinching and a-fidgeting and scratching his head like he’s having an actual allergic reaction to… something. Ah, got it…He’s allergic to my tobacco smoke. It’s not a brand typically smoked by Japanese so his polluted lungs aren’t able to… Another seat opens up and he jumps up and heads for it because…oh fuck him…I’ll take the point loss!

-50 points



12 Responses to “Iiwake: the game”

  1. 1 SuperPretendo
    August 18, 2009 at 8:31 am

    Long time reader. Just had to say that bit with the moved bag had me completely laughing my ass off. Great read as always, loco.

  2. August 18, 2009 at 9:32 am

    I’m sorry. I feel sad (and I’m a bit shocked it was in Yokohama, supposedly an international city), and I want to apologize as a Japanese. That’s ignorance and fear of the unfamiliar those people have, though I know it’s no excuse. It still hurts even when you know it’s not personal. I’ve been yelled at for being a foreigner here, too, and I can’t forget the humiliation, anger and confusion I felt.

    I hope you won’t have to play the game again!

  3. August 18, 2009 at 11:34 am

    superpretnedo-san, thanks for the shout (-:
    Lose your sense of humor here (or anywhere for that matter) and you’ll go Loco for sure

    Hippo-san- Yeah I was surprised when I first moved to Yokohama too but syouganai jyan. Like Dory said in Finding Nemo, I just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming swimming swimming…” Just replace swimming with writing for me and that’s how I deal. no need for sadness
    …humor is the cure

  4. 4 Solla
    August 18, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Awesome post loco it really made me crack a laugh here and there, maybe you could make a series out of this in the future who knows 😉

    • August 19, 2009 at 10:13 pm

      Solla-san, thanks for the shout. I don’t know, man…i gotta learn how to finish a series before i start a new one.

  5. August 18, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    The BEST “creative Iiwake” I’ve encountered was a very pretty Japanese screamed when I was going up and she was down down a one-person spiral staircase in Shibuya’s Pizza Hut. She recovered by saying in English that I was, “so handsome” she “couldn’t help it.”

    • August 19, 2009 at 10:12 pm

      Thanks for the shout Taro, LMAO (-:

  6. August 19, 2009 at 11:55 am

    Great piece of writing, any foreigner will have a few good laughs reading this. But this game is really interesting, maybe I`ll try to adapt it and use in another context.

    • August 19, 2009 at 10:11 pm

      Igor-san, thanks for the shout
      I’d love to hear about your adaptation

  7. August 19, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    “my on-going internal war against the part of me that finds most Japanese people irretrievable cowards and unconscionable xenophobes, thus repulsive”

    It’s an internal battle I have been waging for years. Do I change or adjust by chillin’ out and not calling out everyone on everything everytime whether they can understand me or not or do I “adjust” and slowly start hating myself for “adjusting”??

    I used to put fists on faces for far less than I put up with now. Brawling in Hawaii was much funner than in Japan as it only cost me a night in jail or 3 on a holiday weekend and 30-90 hours of anger management classes that just made me….angry? Here they don’t take to kindly to American’s pounding on the locals and the American embassy helped me 2x but sent me a fax of English speaking lawyers with a terse letter suggesting I was embarrassing myself as well as my country by my acts. It’s 3 strikes and your out with the Fukuoka embassy….apparently.

    Good luck with the struggle, your not alone

    • August 19, 2009 at 10:11 pm

      Thanks for the shout Chris-san….ganbarimasyou ne.

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