Reeking in a shinkansen
Who as a child did was not amazed seeing a person from a different ethnic group for the first time? For those of you who are from multi-ethnic countries this may sound exotic, but I still may feel somewhat lost talking to a person from an ethnic group that I never encountered before, for the first time. Of course, this “feeling lost” was a completely different type of feeling when I was a child. For me it was amazement and curiosity, but for some it could be different.
As we are all human (maybe I am unaware of some non-human being reading this blog - in this case I am sorry), so such reactions are rather universal. This time I am the stranger from an alien ethnic group in Japan. While in Tokyo a stranger like me is a common view, I have heard that it is not the case in other Japanese cities. Recently I have visited friend in Nagoya and it seems likely.
From Nagoya we went to Inuyama, to see the castle - one of few originally preserved in Japan. After the arrival it was time to grab some snack in the local shop - oden - a soup filled with some things, that you are free to choose. So “to choose” in that case meant an attempt to throw my 3-year-old’s (or maybe I would better compare to an infant?) Japanese language on the shop keeper. During my exhausting struggle to understand and answer some questions, the two primary school girls waiting in the queue were observing me with an unfettered attention and after a while started to laugh loudly. I am not sure what exactly was so funny in the foreigner struggling to order a soup, but perhaps in their place I would laugh too. So I only smiled.
There were 4 of us, so when coming back in the metro we took 2 places near one wall and 2 on the opposite side, to talk freely. I set close to a child which I did not pay an attention to. But quickly I was informed by a friend sitting opposite to me:
- Be careful. Stop moving so much and talk a little bit quieter. The child next to you is terrified.
So I looked to my side and there it was, a boy pushing himself as far as he could into a corner of the sit, trying to hide his head between his arms and focusing his sight on his chest. Well, he better get used to it - we just started taking over this island!
My last activity in Nagoya was visiting okonomiyaki restaurant. Yo get the ingredients and fry it yourself on the hot plate built into the table. We took for types of okonomiyaki and attempted to fry them ourselves. We asked for an instruction in English and surprisingly there was one! However, appreciating their attempts, the effect would be better if they used a google translate or a similar tool. I am not exaggerating - there were some instructions that we could not understand no matter how hard we tried. Fortunately it can be more or less deduced from a general cooking experience. Anyway, we were learning and even though the results became better with each dish, we produced terrifying amounts of smoke. The fact is, that a significant amount of that smoke decided to find a comfortable cradle in our clothes.
So we were coming back with the metro and people around us were covering their noses and moving a little bit away. When I sited in the shinkansen - the bullet train - back to Tokyo, a young man siting close to me quickly started using his blouse to cover his nose. Fortunately, as most Japanese do, he quickly fall asleep and did not have to perform such a workout anymore. I wonder, what smelly dream did he have. I hope that none of this people decided that it is in a nature of every foreigner to reek.
However, similar situations can vastly improve language skills. During the beginning one keiko two senseis decided that me and another person should do kata forms in front of them. Well, it was a little bit surprising for me, so I repeated the good quality I learned a long time ago during my 5th kyu exam - I started with the wooden sword - bokken - upside down. And at this moment I was enlightened, a grace fall upon me, for I could understand as clear as my own language, their:
- Hahaha! He is holding his sword upside down!
Fortunately since my 5th kyu exam I am very able at fixing such upside-down sword issues quickly. The second laugh was after another keiko, after a small “ending party” I decided to help to wash the dishes. So I stepped into the small room with the sink and slipped my foot into the slippers, which are a common thing in a places like this and toilets. So all of the remaining people, including senseis, gathered behind me and had a good long laugh seeing half of my foot protruding out of the slippers.
The sensei who picked me up the first time I came to this dojo invites me to his training with high school or middle school kids - I am not sure, but probably not as young as those on the picture below. I will definitely go one day, so the kids are going to have a large share of their laugh on the stranger too.