Friday, May 9, 2008

"Make a plan to love me, sometime soon."

America sees a Man in the Moon, Japan sees a rabbit pounding mochi - a type of rice cake. I see craters. I'm aware that it orbits the earth every 27.3 days, but as a child - which is to say, a few months ago - I would see it so often - so late in the morning and so early in the evening, sharing its sky with "the sun whose rays are all ablaze" - that I came to the conclusion the Pacific Northwest must get more than its fair share of moonfall. If it is shining on us so long, how does it find time to shine on other people? So I felt a little proud - because what else but dark evergreens are a fitting frame - and a little pity - that the rest of the world doesn't get the same view we get.

And then I moved to Japan. And to my great surprise, the moon is in the sky here all the time! But how can it be both places at once? If it shines here, then it must now be dark at night where I am not there to see it. I've come to this conclusion: the moon is obviously orbiting around me. It shines most where I am, it belongs to me.

Despite the benefits, I'm not sure about having gravitational pull.


I go the bookstore across the street when I have some free time. Japanese has a word that pretty much means "standing in the aisles and reading a book or magazine without buying it" which is tachiyomi - what a wonderful language. This is a trend I am all for, and even I can find something with pretty pictures or simple kanji in the children's section, enough to while away a few happy hours. But my consumer's guilt gets to me after a while, so yesterday I caved and bought a photobook for my favorite artist - usually such things are over 20/00 but this was 3/50 so who am I to deny destiny. Flushed with pleasure over my find, I scurried to the counter - only to encounter a setback. Now, I usually get by with buying things by only shopping places where they don't ask questions - or more than the minimum. I can now recognize the "this is more than 100 en, is that okay?" that they ask at the hyaku en shop (how cute is that, even though it's clearly marked) and the "this much is your change" at the grocery store. But I am very careful not to go places where they might ask other things, like "do you want this here or to go" or "do you want fries with that?" Which makes for a rather bored and lonely eating experience, but that's another post. Usually I can get away with a quiet "iie" (no) or "ii desu" (it's fine) to most quesions, and I've figured out the usual question (which did trip me up at first) at this particular bookstore is "do you have a membership card? "(I recognized the "T-Card" from signs all over - kado, rather) and then "do you want one?" and no thanks usually covers that. Only this time the clerk cleverly turned it around on me, by asking something that was probably, "has someone told you about our card deal yet?" so my all purpose answer, no, got me the full monologue. When he paused for breath, I used my other tool, "sumimasen, nihongo hanasemasen" and I'm inclined by his smirk to believe he knew that all along.

I try not to pull that out, see, except as a last resort. I try to go with the flow and pick up the vocab I know and hope people think I've been here long enough to be decently proficient. First of all, I can't stand people thinking every white person in Japan is too stupid to speak the language - even though in my case it's true, I don't want to spread breed the stereotype and give the perfectly intelligent foreigners out there (none, sadly, in Yaita) a bad name. It's akin to my refusal to admit that I am moody once a month because I am female - if I happen to be temperamental at that time, it is entirely coincidence - or my insistence throughout my childhood that age does not come hand in hand with maturity - firm believer in the rights of the chronologically challenged, still. I fill and overflow with frustration every time I hear an anecdote about how a Japanese person, when spoken to in comprehensible if not fluent nihongo, will respond with "I don't speak English" because their eyes have made them deaf. I tremble with sympathetic embarrassment when I read about cashiers who dread foreigners coming up to the desk because "what if they only speak English?" and I don't want to make your job more difficult, this is hard for me too. And I implode with rage at the people on Learning Japanese forums who respond to every question with, "Don't bother trying to learn, you never will, it's too complex and beautiful a language for your puny alien brain to understand." I have seen it stated as a fact that no other culture can appreciate cherry blossoms or bird song the same way, no one else is capable. And I want to laugh it off, because it's ridiculous, but... what if they're right?

Second, on a purely personal note, I dread what they might be thinking. "You don't speak Japanese? Then why are you in a Japanese bookstore? If you don't speak it you certainly can't read it, so why are you buying a Japanese book? What can you know about this musical artist from our country? Why are you here?" Understand, Dear Reader, this is the POV of a person who was unable to order for herself in restaurants for 20 years because the waitress was definitely thinking, "She's really going to eat all that?." New paranoias for new countries, I say. And I can't tell them all this, all about how I am learning as fast as I can stuff knowledge into my tiny brain, that when I hear a word I don't know I write it down to look up later, that every thing I see in print - store signs, street names - I sound out and try saying under my breath. If I met a Japanese person in America, even if they didn't speak a word of English, if I knew how hard they were trying...


I live directly on the main road in town. It seems to be some sort of major freightway because there are constantly all sorts of large trucks going in both directions. I can't say my image of Japan before involved truckers, but. This is only a problem at night, when it can be quite loud - because shipping knows no schedule, I suppose. Sometimes I'm not sure if there's yet another tiny earthquake happening or if it's a large semi. (Speaking of terrifying events, there was a 6.2 one the other day 0_o) But I noticed something else as I was walking down the sidewalk yesterday. There seems to be a popular game of "honk at the foreigner." It happened four times in a ten minute stroll. It's not the eardrum piercing BLARGH of trucks back home, just a little tap. It wouldn't even stand out except that NO ONE in Japan uses their horn - not even bicyclists use their bells which is unnerving when they come up behind you. And before you think I'm paranoid (in light of this whole post) I looked up at the driver each time it happened and they were clearly watching me. And it's not like I was swerving into traffic or something, just walking straight down the sidewalk minding my own business. Japan, how confused I am by thee.

1 comment:

Beeniac said...

Hi Em,
Lots of interesting thoughts. I'll have to ponder for a while. What expression do the honkers have on their faces? Maybe they're warning you that they're driving on the left side? Maybe your teacher friend would know.
Love you!