This conversation took place today between myself and a student at a cafe in Yokohama:
Me: Really? thanks! Yeah, I wrote it earlier this week.
Student: What was it about?
Me: It was about a guy I used to work with when I first came here. He was a real playboy…I’d wanted to know how he was able to…um…meet so many Japanese girls.
Student: He had a lot of girlfriends?
Me: I wouldn’t call them girlfriends, but yeah he had a lot.
Student: Really? So, what did he say?
Me: He said…well…hmm, how do I put this? He had an unusual philosophy. He said that it was easy for him because he thought of all Japanese people, especially the girls, as…um…children or animals.
Student: He what???
Me: Now, this is not my feeling…it’s his.
Student: I don’t understand.
Me: He thinks Japanese people can’t be held responsible for their behavior because they are…I don’t know…kinda handicapped by not having morals or the ability to recognize human dignity in people who are not Japanese.
Student: He said that???
Me: Yeah, basically.
Student: That’s incredible!
Me: Yeah, it is isn’t it.
Student: What do you think?
Me: Hmmmm..that’s a difficult question.
Student: Really??? Why?
Me: I don’t know….ok, tell me what you think about this. So, last night, I went to a show at the Blue Note in Tokyo with friends. Roberta Flack was performing.
Student: You went? Wow! I love her!
Me: Yeah, me too. She’s getting up there in age, but still put on a helluva show! Still has a great voice. And she has an amazing band!
Student: Wow…so what happened?
Me: Well, she had these three back up singers too. They were incredible! I mean, all of them could be lead singers! Anyway, at one point in the show, a man got up and walked to the side of the stage where the back up singers were. A Japanese man.
Student: Oh no. What happened?
Me: Well…he has a 10000 yen bill in his hand. I was sitting right upfront so I could see everything. He reaches out to one of the backup singers. She thinks he just wants to shake her hand or something. Mind you, Roberta is singing at the time and they are backing her up. So, I figured he is probably drunk. So does the staff. They try to pull him away, but without getting rough….you know…politely urging him away. But, he managed to get to her and shoves this 10000 yen bill in her hand.
Student: Are you serious?????
Me: She remains pleasant, the singer…she kind of looks at it, and smiles at the man. She turns towards me and she and I make eye contact. I’m the only black person in the joint practically except for the performers on stage. Anyway, I can see this kind of shocks her but she was such a professional. She just kind of sticks it in her blouse and wiggles her hips like a stripper might do. You know what I mean? Playfully like.
Student: That’s incredible!
Me: I thought so, too.
Student: I can’t believe that.
Me: He was probably drunk, I figured. But, I gotta tell you…if he had tried that with Roberta I would have turned into a bouncer and thrown him out on his oshiri (ass).
Student: My god…how shameful!
Me: Ok, so tell me this: if she were Japanese would that ever happen? Would even a drunk Japanese man think to go up to a professional Japanese musician, on stage mind you, and give her a tip?
Student: No! Never!
Me: That’s what I thought. I mean, if she were a street performer, sure why not. But…
Student: He probably just didn’t understand tipping. We don’t tip…not in Japan.
Me: I see…but if he were to do that to a Japanese performer, it would be an insult wouldn’t it?
Student: Yes. A very bad insult…and very embarrassing. We never do that.
Me: So, it seems to me, if he weren’t sure about tipping, rather than presuming he was doing something good and risking insulting her, why not follow the rules he knows? Or, even ask the staff? Why assume that that kind of thing would be ok?
Student: You’re right. I don’t know…
Me: This is the kind of thing that the playboy guy, he would consider child-like ignorant behavior…or an inability to acknowledge the dignity of people who are not Japanese.
Student: I see…I still can’t believe he did that!
Me: Funny thing, though. I saw her after the show standing by the bar chatting it up with some musician friends who’d come to the show and signing some autographs, right? And when she saw me she said, “did you see what that guy did? WTF was that?” And laughed. I just shook my head. I wondered if she knew, and would it make a difference, so I told her that that was about hundred dollars. She winked and said,” Well, hell, at least he was a generous asshole!”
PS: A little more Roberta!!!