.... welcome to my neighbourhood!
28.10.2011 20 °C
When I first arrived in Japan, I wanted to make a good first impression, so I would smile at everyone I passed, would bow to those staring at me as they drove past and I would say 'Ohayo gozaimasu' and 'Konnichiwa' to anyone who was within earshot. I would test the local kids level of English with 'Hello' and 'How are you?' which was usually met with giggles. I didn't want to come across as Pollyanna, I just thought it was important for them to know I was approachable and happy to be here.
My Japanese level is pathetic, and for whatever reason my brain switches to German whenever I'm stuck in a tricky situation, even though I haven't lived there in four years. But I persevere and use whatever Japanese I can pull out of my wrangled brain and use a lot of hand gestures or shirades to fill in the rest.
This has naturally lead to some pretty random encounters which I will share a few little gems with you now...
During my second week in Japan, and on my first morning of getting to work by myself - I was waiting at the bus stop. A woman outside the house across the road was watering her plants and sneaking glances at me every few seconds, so I bellowed out an 'Ohayo gozaimasu', she didn't respond, just a tiny head nod and carried on. A few minutes later a bus roared up the road heading in the opposite direction to where I needed to go. She noticed I looked confused, and started yelling out to me and I soon understood no more buses would be coming down the hill. Quick as a jot she ran to another neighbours and got an elderly man to come out in his pyjamas and gestured to him to take me in his car. I was mortified but the elderly man insisted on helping, and drove me to work to arrive just in time. Neither of them spoke a word of English but smiled at me the whole time.
The next day, I arrived at the bus stop an hour earlier and waited for the one and only bus that goes in the right direction. After a couple of minutes of waiting, the little old lady popped out of her house in her dressing gown, ran across the road and without saying a word popped an egg in my hand and scurried off. It was a hardboiled egg, and I had it as a snack later on that day. She's now done this three or four times, and refuses to engage in conversation with me even when I'm muddling my way through Japanese - yet she makes my day every time.
After a month in Japan I was in desperate need of a haircut, and as there is absolute no shortages of hairdressers around my area I decided to go local and went to a small place attached to someone’s house. I already knew language was going to be an issue but determined to get it over and done with I entered the saloon. The owner took one look at me, and started pushing me out the door. She wouldn't make eye-contact and kept on saying 'daijoubu' which means OK, so I was extremely confused. A little complexed I wandered into the grocery store around the corner and having previously met the owners (after seeking their help to get a package re-delivered) I was met with 'ohhh Niki san, genki desuka' (How are you??). I acted out what had just happened up the hill, and the owner of the small grocery store dragged me out on to the street and pointed up the hill to the hairdressers and gestured that the woman was 'baka' (crazy). She then took me to her car and pointed to jump in. We went for a drive up and over the hill, through the narrow streets, to another hairdressers I hadn't seen and popped inside. Two minutes later she came back out and indicated that the woman inside was happy to cut my hair in a few hours time. We returned back to her shop, which she'd left completely open and unattended to find her very confused and not too impressed husband standing outside wondering what the hell was going on. She turned to me in the car before we got out and in perfect English she pointed to her enraged husband and said "My Darling".
Her husband has since warmed up to me and chuckles at my attempts to communicate. Nothing will stop me from getting my story across and has even involved me lying on the floor of the grocery store to explain a particularly funny story to the bemused (and slightly horrified) owners.... but that's a whole other story....