…and once I get vexed, well…what can I say? I’m a New Yorker. I have to represent. If you violate personally you should expect some kind of personal repercussion. That’s a simple maxim, and a universal one, I thought. And even if that maxim doesn’t mean a thing in Japan I’m pretty sure Newton applies here…evidence to the contrary, Japan is still on the planet earth, so it ought to be understood that: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Y’all remember Death Wish, right?
I think there were 5 sequels. I’ve only seen parts 1 and 2, but that was enough. Charlie Bronson was violated, and he reacted! I think he overreacted a bit. All of those crooks didn’t have to die. But, they needed to be taught a lesson. I came to Japan to teach English, but, like Charlie, I felt thrust into the role of teaching something else: A little common decency; American style.
I ought to apologize, though. I probably made the lives of a number of foreigners in the Tokyo / Yokohama area a little harder…their experience here a little more intense,…the Japanese a little more afraid of them, especially the black guys. Gomen ne. (Sorry) But, living in Japan had become a daily vexation…if you’ve read some of my other posts (an empty seat, the crush, Shaking Shit Up, etc…) you have an idea of what I’ve been tolerating on a daily basis: Basically, the intolerable.
I thought a little retaliation was in order. At least i thought so in this 2nd phase.
Granted, I was warned. By people, by books, by movies…the word was out: Japanese people are shy (a pleasant little euphemism for xenophobic and/or racist) and not prone to displaying their true emotions. I could have come here and accepted their “shyness” on face value. I actually tried. But, I’d never seen such active and aggressive shyness before. It was fascinating at first. Almost comical. Until, come phase 2, when I lost my sense of humor about it entirely. I mean, sometimes it’s just offensive, and that’s barely tolerably in itself. And, other times…well, it’s taken to a point that no man with a sense of his own humanity can stand, that anyone with feelings can bear. It’s taken overboard.
Innocent or not, it had to be addressed.
I tried to understand it, first. To find some rationale for accepting it aside from this is their country and if I don’t like it I can go back to my own country. That’s certainly a sentiment a certain segment of Americans would spit at foreigners complaining about being abused. So. that one held me in check for a long time…until I paid a big fat tax bill, and then another and another and another…And I graduated my third-year students and found myself in tears, and helped carry a shrine through the streets of Yokohama, and had run into a former student from a few years back on the train and been told (with eyes welling and in pretty damn good English) that I was the best English teacher she’d ever had and thanks to the advise I’d given her she was able to secure her dream job as an English language tour guide in Japan, etc…In other words, I LIVE HERE, TOO.
Yep, the flame of self-righteous indignation was ablaze.
In my effort to understand it, I went into a long period of deep observation and experimentation. The results of which I hadn’t truly finalized until phase 3 (which I’ll discuss in later posts.) They say, don’t drive mad. Well, don’t research mad should be a saying, too. It can really bungle your results something awful. I mean, I should have started my research with a more careful examination of my own issues. But, at the time, I was seeking blame externally, and only incorporated any internal issues that supported the conclusions I wanted to arrive at, the foregone ones.
I asked myself a series of leading questions. For example: Why are Japanese so insensitive to my feelings? Can they be so obtuse as to believe that since I come from a different country and culture that I don’t share the capacity to feel as they do? I thought this, mental pen and pad in hand, while I watched (without making it obvious I was watching…like a Conservationists observing some endangered species’ mating rituals in the wild) an occurrence that takes place about 5-10 times a day: a man on the train shifted to an unnatural angle in order not to have me in his direct line of sight yet still be able to observe me peripherally, like a fish. Another man on the other side of me is stealing glances when he thinks I’m not looking and when I glance up purposely to test his reaction, he, as expected, darts his head away, like a fish when you tap your knuckle against the bowl. I generously chalked this kind of behavior up to their curiosity overwhelming their decorum. They know they shouldn’t be staring, and in their misinformed, stereotype-plagued minds it’s actually dangerous to do so, but they can’t help themselves. Even at the risk of being rude they feel compelled. They would prefer to be natural, to look or not look and feel no ways about it. But, because I’m not Japanese they are placed in this awkward situation. So, I wondered: Do they blame me? But, that would suggest that they weren’t insensitive to my feelings. That they were well aware that I possessed the same feelings as they but somehow this was retaliation. I’d made them uncomfortable by being in their vicinity so they were going to make me uncomfortable by treating me like a spectacle.
Was that the rationale? I didn’t jump to conclusions, though. I’m a piss-poor researcher for sure but I’m not an idiot.
When there’s an empty seat beside me on a crowded train, which occurs quite often, I pretend to read my book (it’s just a prop when I’m in research mode) and watch as well as I can the reaction of people on the train to the seat. Sometimes a man will board and see the seat. Though I avoid looking up at his face, I can tell by the position of his feet that he is facing it. He’s close. He’s huffing and puffing, making guttural Japanese noises I’ve learned indicate annoyance. Annoyance at what, I wonder. At being put into such a position by my mere presence? Annoyed at an empty seat’s shout of, “sit on me you asshole!” exposing the things he’d rather not know about himself, and about his brethren? It yells “you are all cowards at best, racists at worst.” It sighs, “you are so easily manipulated.” It belittles him. The empty seat ridicules them. Hell, I would get angry too if a seat made me feel like shit.
But, this was all projection on my part. I needed confirmation.
My first experiment was performed in order to confirm that they shared my feelings. One of those values embedded in Western culture is “do unto others as you would have done unto you” or something like that. Well, I decided to do some doing unto them. See how they like it. So, for a few months, I pretended to be Japanese. As soon as I began this experiment I knew it was going to be a total failure.
On the first day, I was nervous. I felt…bad. But, hell, they needed a taste of their own medicine, i just didn’t know if i was up to the task of administering it.
Maybe you’ve seen me. I was that black guy on the train not sitting next to a Japanese person. Funny, right? If anything, they were relieved. So, I had to be overly overt. I’d rush to an open seat, get half-way into the seated position, time enough for the person sitting beside it to notice that a Gaijin was about to sit beside them, and then I’d look at the person, and pretend to be shocked to find a scary-ass Japanese person there, donning the best look of fear I could muster. I must have looked like Buckwheat in the haunted house. I probably scared them more than I was pretending to be afraid. Tell me I ain’t going loco. The person looks and visually is so relieved I didn’t sit down that they actually exhale audibly “Phew!”
Have you seen me? I was that black guy on the crowded train surrounded by Japanese people, looking terrified (see picture again) bouncing from person to person, with a look on my face and a manner in my body language that indicated I believed coming into contact with any of them would expose me to a lethal disease that kills slowly and painfully and for which there is no cure…and receiving the most bizarre looks you can imagine in return. My fear scared them more than my book reading and Tetris playing ever did.
Sometimes I’d strike pay dirt. Like if some guy would bump up against me on the train, I’d turn around and give him a dirty look and then, most conspicuously, pull my wallet out of my back pocket, gesticulating a bit to draw attention (as if that were necessary), repeatedly peeking back at him, with a lot of tooth-sucking and eye-rolling, check its contents, and then place my wallet in my front pocket and give him one last dirty look. You know what pay dirt looks like? He’d wince ever so slightly, like maybe someone stepped on his toe. He wouldn’t even acknowledge me. That’s the most reaction I’ve ever gotten.
Yes, it failed miserably. Yappari, deshou? (As expected, right?)
This vexed me further. How the hell could someone ignore what I’d been doing? Acknowledge me goddammit! I mean, I’d mimicked their most offensive reactions to me as best I could. It was really difficult. I’d never really snubbed people before, not conspicuously anyway. I’ve had precisely zero experience doing this kind of thing. I’ve never even had cause to treat people with seething contempt or malice… And, I’ve never been afraid of a people, per se. A person, sure. But, not a whole race, and of course not any race other than my own. That’s just too absurd a notion for a New Yorker.
I wanted some satisfaction! It was time to take the gloves off.
to be continued…