I stood alone at the bus stop thinking about this afternoon’s game plan.
OK, go to the ramen shop in Tsunashima and have a late lunch. Then head to the tobacco shop in Jiyugaoka and grab some smokes… That’s when I noticed her approach, steadily striding towards me, probably to catch the same bus. She was middle aged, casually dressed and focused on her cellphone. I resumed… OK, then go to Starbucks and grab a tall cup of medium or dark. Then, head over to the internet cafe and, hisashiburi ni, work on my photography site… As she drew closer to the bus stop, maybe 20 feet away, she looked up from her cellphone, saw me, and stopped. Then, she returned her attention to her cellphone, resumed her forward march for another 10 feet or so before stopping again, turning and facing towards the street.
The 8-10 feet between us was a social canyon.
…Oh, what the fuck was I thinking about? Oh yeah, my photography site, right. Add some of the pictures I’ve taken recently, including a shot I caught yesterday of a different woman at this same bus stop who, on final approach, noticed me and promptly kept a distance of 5 feet between us and, unsatisfied with the visual buffer the space provided, turned and faced the wall til the bus came.
A man was hustling towards the bus stop and came to a halt beside the other woman. He glanced at his watch and peeked around the woman expecting to see a line between her and the bus stop sign. What he saw was me, and he made a face…grimaced, actually. When he peeked around the woman at the gaping gnash between us again I could read on his face that he had immediately perceived the reason for the gap, that even he thought it was bit much. But, he remained in his space.
Three more people came and followed suit. No one closed the gap.
After 8 years here in Japan, I know full well how to close gaps, how to disarm people.
It’s very simple, actually.
All I needed to do yesterday was, in Japanese, greet the woman watching the moss on the wall behind us, or basically ask her anything, as long as it was in Japanese. and she would have responded cheerfully, and having learned that I could speak her language, all hostilities would have subsided, and the moss on the wall would have become much less appealing.
And don’t let me turn on the charm with a big ole smile and a little of my “I’ve been around this archipelago for a minute now” Japanese. Shit, she might have a stroke the rush of relief would be so intense.
I’ve done it hundreds of times before. I’ve watched others do it. It’s a most natural thing to do, sometimes.
I actually had incorporated it into my “Gaijin Persona” as not only a survival tactic but as a way to get ahead here. It’s done wonders over the years, has turned many annoying encounters into relationships with potential. It’s gotten me private students and even gotten me laid a number of times. This kind of response to the native habitual compulsion to avoid, evade, and treat like a threat has been rewarded and positively reinforced.
I KNOW this is the social tax I must pay to make the most out of my life in Japan…
I’ve partaken of the rewards so often it leaves no doubt that this is, at least partially, a way to break down walls of ignorance. That each of these little episodes, positively resolved, is a girder in the SkyTree of Tolerance Japan can potentially house.
But, I chose not to. I chose not to yesterday, and I chose not to today.
Yesterday and today, I wanted to be respected unconditionally.
I wanted my feelings to be acknowledged unconditionally.
I wanted others to do unto to me as I’ve done unto them….
I wanted to be free to stand at a bus stop, mind my business, and contemplate my afternoon’s game plan without having to assuage Japanese anxiety, conciliate contemptuous behavior, comfort those consciously or unconsciously making efforts to discomfort me, and reward those who would shun me for irrational reasons.
Yes, I chose not to.
And I realized today that of late I have been choosing not to a great deal more often. Even to my own detriment:
The souring of my disposition, putting a strain on already fragile relationships;
The self-imposed isolation disguised as reclusiveness,
The authentic smile that used to light up a room fueled by a flame only an optimistic heart can produce is slowly being replaced with a plastic replica whose credibility only a discerning eye could distinguish from the former…
The following conversation, which took place today at an internet cafe in Jiyugaoka, is an excerpt from an ongoing conversation I’ve been having with myself since 2008…
Me: So why would you choose this, Loco? Appease them, man! Just do it! Don’t think so much.
Loco: If I do, the terrorists win!
Me: Who do you think you are? George Bush??? They are not terrorists.
Loco: This is behavioral modification by pain infliction. What am I? A dog? I will not be trained.
Me: Will you listen to yourself?? They are just people, Loco. People! Some good, some bad, some ignorant, some wise… People! That’s all.
Loco: So am I, dammit. So,why do I have to prove it so often? Defend myself so often? It’s not fair.
Me: Life ain’t fair! Grow up…
Loco: That ain’t good enough.
Me: Here, Loco…in this place…if you want to be just people, then you’re gonna have to conform, or at least pretend to. You used to fake it so well…You even had me convinced. Well, actually you didn’t, but it was fun to watch. You’re a great faker!
Loco: Always happy to entertain you.
Me: Good! Cuz you’re a natural! You should update your skills on LinkedIn.
Loco: I don’t even know why I bother talking to you.
Me: I was just acknowledging your gift for faking it.
Loco: Yeah, but all that faking is backfiring, isn’t it?
Me: How so?
Loco: Look at me! I’m faking myself out!
Me: I don’t follow.
Loco: My real smile has become a fake smile more often than not. My real feelings have become fake feelings disguised as real feelings. All to protect myself. To make others feel better. The terrorists are winning, I tell you. Their WMD works from the inside out.
Me: Hyperbole doesn’t suit you.
Loco: Nevermind, this is so pointless. It’s like talking to myself.
Me: You need to smile more.
Loco: Give me the reason.
Me: How’s this for a reason?
Loco: Fuck! You know I’m partial to Chaplin…