Live from Locohama S1/E14: Envying the kids on the train

I take the same train, the same time every day. Most mornings, I stand in line for the 4th door of the 2nd car for two reasons. One: It will put me right in front of the staircase at Yokohama station so I can avoid some of the rustling and tussling that goes on. Two: In that car there are anywhere from 15 to 25 English-speaking students, Elementary, Junior High and High School, and though I’m a teacher, I learn so much just by watching them.

One thing I like is that they are all bi-lingual; fluent in Japanese and English, and some even a third language like Spanish or French. They are mostly Americans, mostly the children of well-to do foreigners living in Japan for various reason, primarily business purposes. Some of them are haa-fu (Half Japanese/ Half something un-Japanese). Some of them have been living here their entire lives but their parents have made sure they were natural English speakers by sending them back home/abroad frequently, only speaking English in the home and enrolling them in this International school they all attend. The classes at this school, I’ve gathered, are mostly taught in English. 

How have I done all this information gathering? How do I know even some of the intimate aspects of their lives? Well, they are loud. Very VERY loud.

They’re kids after all and…well, they don’t give a FUCK about the people freaking out around them. I really miss that not giving a fuck part of being a kid. I give too much of a fuck, sometimes. Always have, actually. But they don’t. That half the people in the car are trying to avoid them, or are staring at them like they are creatures from another planet, or shaking terrified in their iwakan boots, or haughtily condescending to them…it means NOTHING to them. They are teenagers and this is their world. Their attitude seems to be “you can hold on to your old school ideas if you want to…but we have no use for them. We are the New Power Generation. We’re gonna change the world. The only thing that’s in our way is you!”

There are different ways of NOT giving a fuck, though, so let me clarify. The kids spend the entire train ride either discussing or studying for exams, or they’re talking about music, movies, TV shows, books, games, etc, or they’re talking about relationships and people in their lives- The typical things people talk about. And, these things, they most certainly DO give a fuck about. Sometimes too much.

What they don’t give a fuck about is the ignorance and xenophobia and iwakan going on around them. They see it just like I see it. I watch them see it, curious to see how they’ll respond…more accurately I should say fail to respond. They don’t give a fuck! They see the people doing the same things that get under my skin from time to time, and it’s like if they’d seen a cat licking his own ass to clean it or dislodge a stubborn stool: albeit disgusting to us, that’s just how they do things. Cats don’t have toilet tissue and Ex-Lax. Cats don’t know that licking their asses while you’re eating, and then coming and licking your face, is disgusting to you. And Japanese don’t know, either.

That’s just the way this one boy looked this morning on the train. The train pulled into a station and the boarders rushed in. One man was rushing to a pole near me, saw my face and detoured sharply right, and right smack into this white boy all of sixteen. The man froze and looked behind him at the surging boarders, looked back at the boy and then at me, and stayed put, only turning his back so that it was to the boy and to me. The boy had been watching all this with keen eyes, knowing eyes…like he’d seen it a thousand times before. And, he hadn’t even paused his conversation with his buddy. When he spoke he had one of those high-pitched, mid-puberty transforming voices. And though they weren’t yelling he was practically in the man’s ear…the man suddenly turned and with a huff pushed through the crowd…actually the crowd, all pretending not to be totally absorbed with the  two boys and I, opened instinctively, like an anticipating vagina, welcoming the man into the warm safe folds of familiar sights, sounds and smells, then snapped shut behind him like a mobile phone.

The boy, who had witnessed this, didn’t blink, didn’t flinch, but there was something in his face that made me think of the cat metaphor. Something made me think that he felt cats will be cats and Japanese will be Japanese, as he continued chatting with his friend about the NBA.

You gotta love that shit! It’s just the charge I need in the morning to get me through the day.  

There are so many of thse students that sometimes I only catch a tidbit of a conversation and have to hypothesize the rest. At that moment I heard one of the elementary students tell another loudly and plainly, like if they were in a playground in China:

“It’s because the Japanese are afraid of us…”

I whipped my head around at the sound and caught a glimpse of the speaker, all of 9 or 10 years old, white and tiny and cute with dirty blond bangs in his hair. Totally oblivious to the hundreds of these “cowards” standing over and around him, he seemed, in that way kids appear to be living in their own universe when they play games with one another. “That’s what my father says. He said ‘don’t let them bother you…just ignore them.'”

And that’s exactly what he was doing. What an obedient son!

I envied him.


PS: Ummm…if you read / follow my blog, why don’t you go to my networkedblogs page here and click “follow.” (and rate me…I like 5 stars but I’ll take what you got) It’ll help me build up my readership and whatnot. Also you can catch my tweets at Locohama.


21 Responses to “Live from Locohama S1/E14: Envying the kids on the train”

  1. March 5, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    Woo! 10 points for the Prince reference 🙂

    • March 5, 2010 at 1:36 pm

      Thanks Gaininja…20 points for knowing it!

  2. 3 ike
    March 5, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    nope, that’s because he fails to assimilate into the goddamn country he lives in, he’s in his own enclave just like the new immigrants living on the stateside.

    i think he got brainwashed by his family/parents that he’s holier than thou

    • March 5, 2010 at 9:52 pm

      hey Ike, thanks for your thoughts.
      I think you’re partially right…but I also think that many foreigner’s efforts (and I’m speaking from experience) to assimilate here are thwarted (to put as soft a point on it as I can with a straight face) so this boy’s parent’s kind of thinking is the result. If that family felt a concerted effort on the Japanese part to include rather than the concerted effort they feel to exclude, ostracize, and marginalize (for whatever reasons) then I think they would have given their son another message to share with his friends.
      You speak as if assimilation is a one way street, the sole responsibility of the foreigner. I think it has to be a two way street. Otherwise, what’s the incentive? To be part of something that has not demonstrated its desire to have you as a part?

      As for those immigrant folks in the US who fail to assimilate I think they also have their reasons…not necessarily feeling they are holier than thou or (though some clearly do) but…sometimes, like in the case of many of my childhood friends who came from every country in the so-called third world, the recption they encountered was less than welcoming thus they developed a resentment for the land of milk and honey (while they’ve managed to partake of it)

      Thanks again for the shout!
      Feel free to do so anytime (-:

  3. 5 Cedric Domani
    March 5, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    Kids are a bottemless well of wonders and knowledge. I personally blame the Tell-Lie-Vision for most of the ignorance people fill their craniums and lives with. It never ceases to amaze me how people let the idiot box educate them while they have endless opportunities everyday to learn the truth and make meaningful contact with different people. It’s mind boggling.

    Having worked in television myself I would assure you that I’ll never let it educate me or my children. It’s entertaining and diverting…at best. Excellent blog as usual.


  4. March 5, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    Cedric, thanks as always! Yep, kids are a blessing and I’m blessed to work with them everyday. They keep me young (at heart anyway) and they make my day. We can learn so much from them. It’s a shame most adults think it’s supposed to be a one way street.

  5. 7 WC
    March 5, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    It always amazes me when I see some kid that is 1/3 my age has already conquered a problem that I haven’t yet. I try to let it be an inspiration, instead of a downer.

    • March 5, 2010 at 7:44 pm

      WC, you said it! It pumps me up!
      thanks for the shout!

  6. March 6, 2010 at 1:51 am

    …your old fashioned music. you old ideas. we’re sick and tired of you tellin us what to do!! ooo-oo-ooo.
    Now that’s a true Prince fan for ya ASS!!

    I do have a comment on sentence structure that I will comment on via a Twitter DM I think or maybe via email…It’s actually funny every time I read it though! LOL Going back to read it again just for fun…

  7. March 6, 2010 at 2:15 am

    I couldn’t figure out how to reply to a reply…

    I liked your reply to Ike. It’s comment #4. That’s the view I’ve taken when it comes to foreigners in other countries. I used to think the way Ike did, until I found myself in the position of a foreigner in someone else’s country, where my efforts to assimilate were flatly rejected.

  8. March 6, 2010 at 4:02 am

    I haven’t the time right now to do this post justice but a few points if I may:

    While I’m pleased that these kids seem to be doing well, I’m always troubled when I think of kids whose lives are likely to be impacted by the attitudes of people like those you encounter on the train everyday. What of the children who are unlikely to grow into a network of wealthy, well-connected peers?

    I would argue that the “Japanese will be Japanese” attitude may come from a place of privilege, or worse. It is little comfort for the people who can ill afford to let Japanese be “Japanese” (how essentialised!), whose every encounter with bigots is a humiliating reminder that they may well only be worthy of the dignity afforded their Japanese counterparts in their own minds.

    I’m not sure why you’d view anger as a problem. On the contrary I assert that it is a perfectly acceptable response to ignorance, stupidity and racism when you encounter it. It is a perfectably acceptable response to a failure of the Japanese to affirm the values they claim to believe in, and that their government signed international treaties to uphold.

    • March 6, 2010 at 6:14 pm

      Rubi-san! As always thank you for your comments.
      Anger, eh? Well, while anger is an acceptable response, i think with today’s zeitgeist, anger is not receiveed well at all, unless you are privaleged. If Obama had shown even a hint of the anger he must have felt at some of the things Hillary and McCain said, despite it being an acceptable response, he probably would have lost the elction. I’ve noticed quite a bit of this on my blog, and while my anger remains I have just decided to express it in different ways. If that boy has decided his way to deal with his anger is to think of Japanese ignorance the same as he thinks of a cat licking its ass, more power to him. I mean, it is essentially. You can get angry at the cat all you like. Still gonna lick its ass. And you can get angry at Japanese all you like…they still gonna do what they’re gonna do. And that goes for people anywhere, not just here. Sure, some people change if the law coerces it, but most will not.
      “…whose every encounter with bigots is a humiliating reminder that they may well only be worthy of the dignity afforded their Japanese counterparts in their own minds.”
      I feel sorry for those people. Who are they? Koreans? Chinese? Brazillians? Nigerians? British? Or does this affliction have no nationality?

      This is too deep for a comment area discussion dude. I’d like to do it in here, but I’m not. I’ll catch you on Skype or FB!

    • March 7, 2010 at 12:56 am

      I think we may have a bit of a misunderstanding. One can affirm that anger is an acceptable response without also necessarily affirming that a) one has to show their anger and b) that showing one’s anger is the most effective tactic in all circumstances.

      What I was saying is that I don’t think I can get with the idea that feelings of anger in response to ignorance is something that should be viewed as a problem.

      Anyway, bruv. I will definitely try to get at you on Skype or FB.

  9. 14 Andrew in Ezo
    March 6, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    “Well, they are loud. Very VERY loud.”

    Well, that explains alot of why the Japanese in that train were uncomfortable/disapproving. It’s just plain rude behavior and culturally insensitive on the part of the students. Let me tell you an experience I had on the Keikyu Line out of Shinagawa- a bunch of American teenagers boarded the train, were loud and acting “friendly” to the other passengers in a clearly condescending way- of course the Japanese were not thrilled with their presence, nor was I or my American father- I’m “haafu” by the way, fully bilingual FYI. This disapproval of loud behavior is not xenophobia either- the high school where I work sometimes gets complaints about the same caused by the (Japanese) students riding the subway to/from school. Hint- being the “loud and proud” foreigner isn’t going to make you very popular among the Japanese, except as a (deserving) sideshow attraction. If you don’t like that, then perhaps it’s time to think of living somewhere else.

    • March 6, 2010 at 5:29 pm

      Thanks Ezo…I agree with you. But the same should hold true for the J kids who are loud as well..and I mean loud. Especially the J-Girls,But, i thought that went without saying. Apparently it didn’t. KIDS are loud on the trains, nihonjin and gaikokujin, The foreigners are actually quieter than the J-kids when they congregate (2 or more) on the train usually. Solo (unless they’re on the phone) they’re pretty quiet though.
      The behavior of the dissapproving passengers is not the same. Merely dissapproving. No relocating. No running, No back turning. Just dirty looks…Maybe an old person might “shhh” them or point to the sign saying no keitai use on the train…that kind of thing


  10. 16 Andrew in Ezo
    March 6, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    “The behavior of the dissapproving passengers is not the same.”

    Not condoning the more over-reactionary behavior of some of those passengers, but I can understand why they do it- Kanagawa Prefecture has a big US military presence, probably second after Okinawa, and many personnel use public transport on weekends, etc. Now, I’m sure 98% of US military personnel are good ambassadors for their country, but that 2% can ruin it for all foreigners. In fact, if I was on the same train car with rowdy service personnel (many of who are huge, given their profession) I’d move too, as fast as decorum allows. Now to your average Japanese jiichan or baachan, all foreigners look alike (*where have I heard this before- oh yes, in rainbow America where Asians like me look all alike), and foreign teenagers look around 10 years older than they really are. To the harried Japanese who rushed onto the train suddenly to be confronted by a group of boisterous young foreigners, I think the reactions you mentioned are quite human, if not admirable. It sometimes helps to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and at least see where their behavior comes from.

    • March 6, 2010 at 6:31 pm

      I said they were talking not yelling. But you’re absolutely right. That passenger probably came on to the train, saw me and thought rowdy soldier, saw this white teenager and thought loud disrespectful foreigner and decided that the facts were irrelevant and mendokusai (too much trouble)and bolted into the vagina.
      As far as the rest of that stuff you said, I don’t know why you feel the need to justify the behavior of reactionary people. There are as many rationalizations for reactionary behavior as there are stars in the sky. To state them you risk overstaing the obvious. I won’t waste a breath debating them with you. I’ll just say this: The vast majority of the Japanese people I have come in contact withover the past 7 years can best be described as irrationally cautious of me and still I make a concerted effort not to paint the entire race with the same brush. I’m sure most foreigners here would appreciate the same effort. As I’m sure you would. as I’m sure the 98% of the the military would.
      And I can see where this behavior comes from, sir, all too well. But I cannot wear Japanese shoes, I’ve outgrown them!
      Thanks again Andrew

  11. March 7, 2010 at 8:31 am

    I think this is something that is unavoidable in Japan and most Asian countries. Everyone looks and sounds alike so any foreigner is an anomaly, something that does not conform to what they know and see every day. Contrast that with the US or the UK, where every nationality on Earth can be found in major cities. A ride on the NYC subway during rush hour is like a meeting of the United Nations.

    Mind you, I actually enjoy going to these countries just for that reason. I remember being in Tokyo and getting the same reaction on the train. Sometimes I’d get stares too. And at first it used to bother me. But then I used to think, that is the way they are. So be it. And that was it.

    Kids are fearless and they don’t care. That are two attributes I wished stayed with me as I got older. Not all the time, but many times. The thinker part of my brain worries more about what people think than what is best for me.

    • March 7, 2010 at 8:41 am

      Thanks for the shout Brian…as always. (-:

  12. March 8, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    “I think the reactions you mentioned are quite human, if not admirable.”

    Admirable as in…..you admire them?

    Your head is jammed in your ass. Your SO fucked up you don’t even know what the fuck your talkin’ about. Admirable??

    Pronunciation: \ˈad-m(ə-)rə-bəl\
    Function: adjective
    Date: 15th century

    1 : deserving the highest esteem :

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