I was at the mall. It was packed full of shoppers collecting gifts for the quickly approaching Christmas. A Santa Claus was spouting Japanese at screaming children with Mrs. Claus at his side. People were going this way and that, maneuvering their way through the tangled mass. Bright lights glittered everywhere, the mumbling crowd was all there was. It had been a long day. We took a short rest in an out of the way spot. Or so I thought. I plastered myself against the wall and watched people pass. Everything was fine. But then the tide began coming in. Each successive wave broke closer, ever closer.
Am I a heavenly body with its own gravity?
After a while baby strollers bumped into my feet. Feet bumped into my feet. Scowls met my face.
An open space gaped on the opposite side. But still they kept coming.
It wasn’t the first time I experienced being in the way in Japan, and I’m sure it’s far from the last. Everyday it seems like I’m in the way. My heels have been nicked countless times in the checkout line and I always happen to stand exactly where someone wants to be.
I’ve always prided myself on being hyper aware of my surroundings. I’ve always tried my best to make room for people. I’m actually a bit paranoid about it.
At this, I’m a complete failure in Japan.
Is it part of my adaptation, or lack thereof?
Is it part of the culture?
I’ve thought long and hard about this issue and the underlying issues. Probably too much.
I’ve been told that Japan is considered a give-way society. I’m not sure what it means but I think I’ve seen it best illustrated on the road. At the many crosswalks littered throughout the cities of Japan you will see cars come to a stop to let pedestrians and bicyclists cross. When raining, it is much appreciated. When the weather is nice, it feels forced. We are taught in America not to stop our vehicles when driving except for emergencies. Seeing cars stop randomly feels out of place to my established American perspective. When a car stops, I feel embarrassed, especially if they stop for me. I wish they would move on so I can pass behind them without having to acknowledge their thoughtfulness.
And maybe that is part of it. A core part of me doesn’t want to inconvenience others. But it is only perspective; we look at it different. Perhaps it isn’t seen as an inconvenience at all.
Eighteen months in Japan and I’m still in the way. Everyday it feels more difficult to resolve.
– Do I plant my feet, hoping I will be maneuvered around?
– Do I hide, venturing only when I perceive it to be safe?
– Do I just ignore it and hope for the best?
– What do I do?
I don’t have an answer but I must keep trying. I want to be invisible. I don’t want to be a burden or an inconvenience.
The research I’ve done about this usually points towards micro-aggressions or racism. I’m hesitant to place the blame there. It’s too simple and places blame indiscriminately. Not to say that there is no blame. I just think there is more to it, or rather, less to it.
When we observe clashing cultural mores we search and dig for reasons. We dig so far we can lose sight. Little things become all encompassing. It becomes a pet peeve, a sore spot, frustration. The bad drowns out the good. We give it a name.
For now, I’m convinced that people from different cultures move differently. We stand different, we move through crowds different, we interact different. There are a lot of people on the island nation of Japan. Centuries of interaction evolved differently than my background. Mutual frustration ensues.
Each day brings new challenges. We have much to learn. Hopefully, we can learn from each other, together.