The thing is, since I’ve moved to Japan, in my heart and mind, America has become this oasis of tolerance in a desert of bias, a harbor of humanity in a stormy sea of chauvinism and xenophobia, and, at the risk of sounding President Bush-whacked, a beacon of freedom and diversity in a dark, putrid, pit of prejudice and ignorance.
I know, I know, I know…
But, for me, this is one of the side effects of life among the xenophobic. The downside of life in Japan can make even the downside of living in America pale in comparison.
So, when I come HOME and I see that my Japanese GUESTS have not only brought their swimwear, cameras and credit cards to my country but have decided to show their asses and smuggled in what amounts to contraband: namely their predisposition to unabashedly project and display fear and/or terror in the face of people who look different from themselves, and particularly people who look like me, well, unlike the anger I felt back in their country, which can be and has been, at times, dismissed with the words “you can always go home if you don’t like the way we treat you” I felt a righteous anger. You can do whatever you want back it Yokohama, that’s yo’ shit! But here? In my neck of the woods (so to speak)!? Like my Moms used to say when I was a kid and I’d act up in public:
You must be out of your natural mind!
I’ve never felt such a posessiveness about America before…at least not while I was living in America. I mean, most of my life I spent feeling that my country, along with most of Western Europe, were the greatest evildoers in the universe. But, the Japanese have provoked something dark out of me. And though I feel compelled to keep it at bay in their country, man oh man, you better believe I don’t feel that way in my own. It’s like when guests come to your house. They should know not to do certain things without invitation. They should know to keep their feet off of my coffee table, keep their eyes and hands out of my medicine cabinet, keep their faces out of my refrigerator, keep their asses off of my bed, etc… That is, if they have manners or intend to ever be invited over again. I think it should go without saying that if you come to my country you have no right to treat me or anybody else like an object of fear.
And that’s where the provocation comes in. It’s not like I came to Japan and disrespected the shop they got set up over here. Hell no. I’ve tried to make their lives as easygoing as possible considering they find me terrifying for some reason. I’ve tried to live within the guidelines they’ve laid down. I’ve been a model foreign citizen (well almost anyway) since I’ve been living in Japan…tolerant, for the most part, of the virtually intolerable, patient when my patience is tried daily. I even refrain from abusing their generosity and ignorance…most often. (-;
So, when I went to breakfast in my hotel’s cafe the second day to indulge myself in the breakfast buffet, I expected my country’s guest to behave like they got a little sense in their heads. When I had a seat by the bay windows near the Japanese couple with their two young kids, then went to fill up my tray with waffles and bacon and all kinds of fruits and breads and returned to my seat, I rightfully expected the family to be sitting where I’d left them. Not to have moved to another area of the cafe…suddenly. Yes, circumstantial evidence, but I’ve seen so much daily circumstantial evidence in Japan that I don’t think it’s circumstantial evidence anymore. It’s a fact, now.
So I, just as suddenly, decide the morning Hawaiian sun is too bright for the hangover I’m nursing and move to another table myself, a table that just happened to be next to theirs. This done without even acknowledging their existence.
Now what! I said in my head and spread some jam on my croissants. I could hear mother hiss, the father suck his teeth. The son kept looking at me the same friendly way most kids do in Japan. I smiled and played eye games with him. His mother noticed and put that shit to a halt. She hissed something I couldn’t mae out, I think “Abunai” (dangerous) at her son and he looked so frightened suddenly, not of Mom but of me, that my stomach churned.
“Good morning!” I snapped at them.
The mother looked shocked like I’d picked up a knife and aimed to throw it at her. The father turned and gave me a plastic face of amusement.
“Good morning? Hi…hello…aloha…can you speak?”
The kids responded to my smile with nervous smiles of their own. The parents sweat.
” Welcome to America! Sweet land of liberty!” I felt like Mr. Roarke on Fantasy Island.
“Thank you,” the father said. “We are Japanese.”
“That’s no problem…this ain’t China…and this ain’t Japan. This is a free country. MY country, and we take all kinds here. Even Japanese. So, enjoy your stay…ki wo tsukete ne!” (be careful) I smiled and winked.
And, with that, I returned to my breakfast and ate heartily grinning ear to ear.
But, unfortunately, my country’s Japanese guests were just getting started…
…and so was I.
to be continued…