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Every morning when I go to school I take
the elevator down from my apartment on the
ninth floor to the lobby. This morning when
I got into the elevator a woman living on
one of the upper floors was already in there.
We rode down together in silence.
Like pretty much everybody else around here,
we were both heading to the train station.
We stepped out of the elevator together and
walked in sync out the back doors, not looking
at each other, and together we emerged on
to the long, straight walkway that leads
to the station. Our unintentional companionship
was starting to get awkward, but we were
both walking at the same pace, in the same
direction, with the same destination. What
could we do?
Then she did something kind of funny,
actually kind of typical for Tokyo:
into a sprint, as if suddenly realizing
she was late for an appointment, and
ahead of me about 10 meters before
her normal gate.
I've seen this kind of 'awkward-moment-sprinting'
a lot before, usually on my way home from
the station late at night.
Typically, the person is coming up from behind
me and wants to pass, but because their pace
is only just a little bit faster then mine
it would take them thirty or forty seconds
to actually do it. So, what they do is walk
right up to my back and then suddenly burst
into a run until they are, again, about 10
meters ahead of me.
I let that woman from the elevator get to
the station long before I did. I didn't meet
her again. However, I'm thinking that if
this same thing happens again tomorrow morning,
then I'll sprint along beside her, just to
see what she'll do.
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I think that I told you already that Karen
and I have been going out these past few
days with our friends Jay and Theo -- they're
visiting Tokyo. We went out to dinner two
nights ago to an Indian place (because Zakuro,
the Turkish/Persian restaurant, was all booked
up), and Karen went out dancing with them
and some other friends last night.
Since Jay and Theo have come I've found myself
doing something that I haven't done much
of in a long while: drink beer. More specifically,
drink Japanese beer. And you know, I've come
to a surprising conclusion: it's not half
bad. Believe it or not, it tastes almost
exactly like Canadian beer. I know that that's
not saying much, Canadian beer is nothing
to jump up and down about, but it's what
I'm used to I suppose.
Usually when I go out in Tokyo I end
an Irish pub -- I love pubs. I love
I love the (live) music, and, unfortunately
for my wallet, I love Irish and British
A pint costs almost 1000 yen (CAN$12.00).
However, lately I've been finding the Japanese
brew a bit more palatable, which is good
because it's a lot cheaper. I used to be
a Sapporo kind of guy, but I've slowly started
to move over to the Kirin Ichiban camp.
We've made reservations for tomorrow night
at Zakuro. This time there's no getting away
from the gorge fest. And I suppose we'll
be having a few glasses of Kirin to wash
it all down with.
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We spent a pleasant afternoon yesterday wandering
around the stalls at a local festival. They
had hotdogs and pizza, children's games and
pudgy, sunburnt housewives by the dozen.
It felt just like home. It was held on the
playing field at the community sports center.
I'm not sure what the occasion was -- it
could possibly be 'little boys day'. See
Tomorrow night our friend Beccy is going
to babysit Jack, then Karen and I, and our
visiting friends Jay and Theo, will be gorging
ourselves immobile at our favorite restaurant
in Tokyo: the Persian/Turkish stuffing ground
known as Zakuro.
I can't wait.
All that I ever hear anymore from people
when I tell them that I'm Canadian is, "Oh!
Gasp, Canadian, eh? Really tough with all
that SARS there," as they nervously
That's why, even though I live thousands
of miles away, I am relieved that the WHO has dropped its travel advisory on Toronto.
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Living in Japan, where people prize tact
and decorum above all things, there are times
when I feel like a lumbering long-nosed brute.
I seem to plod along awkwardly through one
social situation after another. Then there
are times when I feel quite the opposite.
Sometimes it feels like my relative forthrightness
and candor empower me and lift me up above
the stuffy confines of rigid Japanese social
Japanese people are themselves quite conscious
of the difference between their social norms
and those of Westerners. A Japanese friend
of mine once summed it up nicely by saying,
"Westerners just don't care what other
people think of them." This may not
seem true to you if you live in the West,
but trust me, by Japanese standards we don't
really care what others are thinking.
I'll give you an example situation. Today
I conducted a wedding in a bridal salon that
was a renovated European-style family mansion
in the heart of Tokyo. A very beautiful place,
it was surrounded by large trees and had
The choir members (three girls) and I were
told that we could use a small room in the
attic as a dressing room. It was nice enough,
a few tables, a window, some boxes of printing
paper, but it didn't have any chairs. As
usual, we were really early for the wedding,
so we were going to have to stand there for
about 45 minutes. I didn't want to do that,
and I know the girls didn't either, so I
had a peek around and noticed that there
was an old padded bench half-hidden in a
little storage closet. Well, in about two
seconds I hauled it out and quite proudly
sat down upon it and invited everyone else
to join me.
My invitation was greeted with giggles, gasps,
and disbelief. They couldn't believe that
I just went and moved the bench. They kept
saying in Japanese, "Oh my God, only
a foreigner could do something so bold like
that." I really don't know what the
big deal was, but they acted like I had just
had sex with the salon owner's wife or something.
I kept thinking to myself, "It's only
a bench for God's sake."
However, I suppose the girls interpreted
things a little differently. Japanese people
always seem to be communicating in hints.
I'm guessing that by getting my own seat,
I sent a message to the bridal salon staff
saying that they were bad hosts for not providing
us with seats in the first place.
And furthermore, the company
that we work for was contracted out by the
salon, so we were kind of like paid employees
and really should have been walking on egg
As I sit here and think about it, I realize
that I don't have too many problems with
this kind of thing anymore. For the most
part, I can usually stop the bull that is
my Western personality from running through
the china shop that is Japanese social decorum.
Of course, I still screw up now and again.
However, I just try to focus on the empowering
feelings, and try not to step on too many
toes along the way.