Just Because


It’s rare for Japanese people to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger but, for some of the older generation, foreigners are outside of Japanese society and therefore not subject to its limits. They also haven’t figured out yet that foreigners are just like any one else who travels to a foreign country; be it for business or pleasure, maybe we just want to read our book. Follows, a transcript of a recent and all-too typical conversation that took place on the train last night between myself, Meir and a random elderly Japanese man. As always, fully italicized sentences have been translated from the Japanese for your reading ease and my ego satisfaction.

Old Man: Do you speak Japanese?

Me: Um, a little. 

Old Man: Where do you come from?

Me: America. 

Old Man: [switching to painstaking but perfect English] What do you want to do in Japan?

Me: I’m not a tourist, I live here. 

Old Man: You live here?

Me: Yeah.

Old Man: Why did you come to Japan?

Me: Just because. 

Old Man: Why did you come to Japan?

Me: Because that’s the way it is, right?

Old Man: “Because that’s the way it is.” [back to English] What you job?

Me: [reluctantly] English teacher.

Old Man: Nova? Geos? 

Me: It’s a secret. 

Meir [in an awesome talk-block maneuver]: Excuse me, can I sit here? 

Old Man: Yes. [to Meir, in English] Where you come from?

Meir: I’m sorry, but I don’t speak English. 

 

The moral of this story is that my Japanese has progressed to the point where I can be cryptic.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Ginger says:

    that man was so rude! things like that make me so angry.

    every time the topic of japan comes up around my grandma, she looks down and says she still doesn’t trust the japanese after what they did to pearl harbor.

    maybe bring that up in your next conversation with an inappropriate person?!

    good job rocking out the japanese though! i would have loved to tell a korean where to shove it in his/her own language. sometimes i just pointed like something was behind them, something impressive or shocking, and then they would look, nothing would be there, and they’d feel stupid. then they’d look at me, and i’d just laugh at them. stupidity is universal.

  2. Kimberly says:

    LOL! I almost shot pop thru my nose.

  3. ieatmypigeon says:

    I really don’t think they’re trying to be jerks; in this case, it’s more ignorance. I think sometimes they even think they’re being worldly by being curious about a foreigner, but that’s more ignorant than anything else. I mean, a) leave me alone, I’m talking to my friends and b) what do you THINK we’re doing here? Obviously we’re here for business or pleasure. Why did we come? Why does anyone go anywhere? It’s the assumption that because we look different, we are basically different at our core, too.

    I’ve never really had anyone be openly mean to me; just the basic staring and dumb questions you get. If anyone’s still pissed about Hiroshima no one’s said a word about it to me. That’s too bad about your grandma; does she know that Japan hasn’t had an army since WWII? Or that they’ve pretty much modeled their economy on ours? Or that they have some of the best food and cutest babies ever? Let’s see how she feels after she tries some Pocky sticks.

  4. hi says:

    Sorry if this is OT, but I noticed you have a link to a site called ‘Crying while eating’.

    Funny enough, this is a phenomenon I have noticed many times on Japanese TV, so I thought it was funny to see a site about crying and eating.

    I’ve seen it on Toyko Tower, GTO, and Ryusei no Kizuna to name a few…

  5. Nice linguistic milestone there, Liv!

    While I understand the annoyance of being asked questions all the time – I don’t see that the above conversation was in any way rude except for an inability to pick up a signal that you didn’t want to talk. Unless the man pushed your friend away or interrupted a conversation to start with then there is nothing bad mannered about it at all.

    If you live in an even slightly multicultural society (where I grew up in Melbourne we once had a mock Olympics and had more countries represented than were AT the Olympics that year – by BIRTH lol) then it’s really difficult to comprehend the homogeneity of this country. Nagoya is even more so than Tokyo because of the sheer numbers of tourists in the bigger city. I might see 3 white people on trains or on the street in a week, if I go into the city everyday – so we really stand out. I can completely understand the curiosity about what it is about their country that we find so interesting that we want to live here when they find other countries infinitely more interesting than Japan – as we all see our home countries as just “normal”.

    In my experience, it kind of is “worldly” for a Japanese person to do this not necessarily in the showing an interest but in having the guts to do it, the most common reactions to white people that I see/experience are purely fear-based and I’ll take curiosity over fear any day!

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