Konichiwa everyone! I’d like to introduce you to my new friend Hiroko. He is a rice paddy farmer in the small town of Magome. I met him while walking around in a daze of amazement and love for Japan. He climbed right out of his rice paddy to come talk to me and my two friends right after he nodded that it was okay to take a photo of him. Then he promptly told us while flashing his tobacco stained smile to get the f&*k off his street.
Okay, that isn’t exactly how it happened if I’m being honest. He did swiftly climb out of his rice paddy, ask us where we were from and then point repeatedly at the tourist village we had just dropped down from while talking rapidly in Japanese. We asked him if he wanted us to go there and each time he smiled and nodded vigorously. So, there are a few options here, a) He was trying to be kind and thought we were lost, b) he is completely sick of stupid white women trying to take photos of him, or c) He was trying to recruit us to go get some more hoes and help him out. We decided it was b, and politely said “excuse me ” while bowing our way back up the hill.
Once again, I have no idea what happened there. And this is the story of my life lately during a large percentage of my day. Yet, weirdly, I have never been happier. I think I am living proof of that old saying that “ignorance is bliss”. It’s like living in a bubble where you can just automatically assume that people are saying nice things to you because they are smiling. And if they happen to be calling you a trash smelling, meat eating, jolly rotten cow, you can feel just as good about yourself than if they were saying you seem like a supermodel who just won the nobel prize for peace.
In an effort to be polite to the locals, I started Japanese classes last week and am really getting into it. Hopefully this is going to slowly help me understand more. Okay, maybe I’m not really THAT into it, but I can say about 5 things now. Every morning I pass by a hundred school children or so and I ramble on and on saying, “Ohayo gozaimasu” and they giggle in my face and yell “HELLO” while poking at one another. I truly love the pride on their little faces when they realize they know how to say something to me in English. They giggle and jostle in their little yellow hats before they get onto the bus while pointing at the weird western lady, probably wondering why I’m so round.
I thought I’d try and use google translate at the supermarket the other day to find out if I needed a store card to get sale prices. A frustrating 10 minutes later, the poor woman at the service counter looked like she wanted to use a samurai sword on herself and we were no closer to solving the issue. The thing is though, people here will continue on and on and on and on with you until they have helped you or answered you the best they can. I can’t say I had this experience living in Montreal where if people found out I did not speak French they would hang up on me sometimes in an abrupt manner and I’d be left with my mouth wide open. I spent countless hours on the phone with utility companies where they would pretty much act as if I were blessed to be giving them my money.
There are times, when this lack of communication is really troubling though. For example, my landlady (who lives next door) popped by last weekend to tell me there were “dangerous children in my windows”. This later turned out to be my son and his sleepover buddies (who were apparently way more danger seeking than my son who usually needs encouragement to cross a monkey bar…. unbeknownst to me). They had found their way onto our roof while I was downstairs cooking pancakes. This poor woman was terrified looking on from next door while the boys yelled “Konichiwa” at her.
Being unable to fully understand her, I assumed that the boys were just yelling out the windows and, of course, this is what they said they were doing. No confessions were forthcoming. Not until two days later when I got a letter from my management company in english telling me children on my roof were strictly prohibited, did I realize the seriousness and the terror of what had happened. I’m pretty sure she thinks I am on drugs, to say the least, and now I have to climb 25 stairs every 5 minutes when there are kids over so they don’t plummet to their death or give her a heart attack.
Every day is a school day, and every day I’m figuring it out a little more. But, for now, I’m happy to stay in my little air conditioned bubble and smile and wave boys….smile and wave! I think I’ll go up to the roof and have a few drinks now.