Chapter 4B: In a Strange Land

1年5ヶ月が経ちました。

Hello reader and welcome back. Last I wrote, I chronicled all of the events leading up to the moment when I decided to return to the United States. Today, I will finally pick up where I left off.

Japan is a strange place. At least, a strange place for westerners and perhaps anyone not specifically familiar with the country. This happens to be a fortunate thing when waiting two weeks for a flight to take you home. While I can’t really describe this period as enjoyable or anything to that effect, I definitely had some interesting experiences. Allow me to share a couple of them before getting back to more practical matters.

An encounter with an お爺さ(ojii-san)

Japanese culture heavily emphasizes respect for one’s elders. One is frequently expected to show deference to them, in both words and actions. In turn, they are expected to guide and protect you. This can lead to some truly meaningful and beautiful relationships – parent and child, senpai and kouhai, student and master. This anecdote does not describe one of those.

I visited 大通り(oodori) park a number of times while in Sapporo. It is very much the heart of the city – central to the commercial district, always bustling with activity.

大通り公園(oodori park)

On one of these visits, I was sitting and people-watching next to a fountain when I was approached by an old man with the scent of alcohol on his breath. He sat down next to me and (while finishing a cob of grilled corn from a nearby stand) began asking some friendly questions – how long I was in Japan, how I liked it, if I liked Japanese women (I dodged that question by feigning that I didn’t understand), etc. We progress through the conversation OK with a mix of his poor English and my poor Japanese. I was glad enough to talk to him but after this is where the strangeness begins.

The elderly Japanese man next says that he wants to introduce me to his friend, another old man sitting on a nearby bench. I decline, saying I’d like to stay where I’m sitting and that I need to go shopping soon (my still-exhausted emotions don’t really want to continue the conversation at any rate). He cajoles me to at least allow an introduction so I walk over with him, fully intent to make my 自己紹介(jikoshoukai) and then promptly excuse myself. We walk over to his friend, who refuses to say hi or make eye contact with me, and seems to be wearing a pleated skirt (but is dressed conventionally as a male otherwise). Ok, I’ve just become more uncomfortable but also I’m not the only uncomfortable one here. The first man I had spoken with tries to make conversation for a couple minutes and then without warning flicks up the second man’s skirt to reveal some bright pink パンツ(pantsu). First Man bids me look and asks what I think, while Second tries futilely to push the skirt back over his undergarment. Embarrassed and confused, I turn away and tell First I need to go shopping now, and insist when he protests. He finally accepts that I’m leaving, and after making a point of calling me “my friendo” gives me a parting hug reeking of booze – which I allow since at this point I could not possibly be made more uncomfortable. I swiftly leave the area.

Was he pranking his friend? Or me? Or trying to set us up in some strange way? Or is there another explanation outside the limits of my imagination? I’m not really sure but I’m done thinking about it forever.

An adventure with Don Quijote

What do the following pictures have in common?

If your answer was “these are merchandise from the メーガドンキー(Mega Donki) in 札幌市” then congrats, you are correct. Don Quijote is a Japanese discount store chain which has some really incredible sundries. I can highly recommend it as a way to waste inordinate amounts of time should you find yourself bored in a major Japanese city. The only thing I ended up getting after multiple visits of several hours each was a nice set of nail clippers as a gift for my brother. Japan has really high quality nail clippers.

Coming Home

I really wish I could have justified actual vacation activities during my last two weeks in Japan, since all my sojourn there ended up as was a very scuffed vacation. However, I felt the need to conserve cash (well, credit at this point) and as I’ll describe in later entries, this was a very good decision. Between exploring a context incredibly strange to me and playing 100+ hours of Fire Emblem: Three Houses I managed to pass the time and on August 5th began the flight which – after two transfers – would take me home uneventfully and in a reasonable amount of comfort. My brother Tor picked me up in my Buick at the airport and I booked a AirBNB outside Boston where I would settle down for my next job hunt. Things then went to shit for a while but I’ll cover that in the next entry, which should be forthcoming in a shorter interval than this one. Until then~

またねー!

P.S. Milk tastes weird in Japan. Something about the UHT processing but probably some other factors too. If you run into someone who’s lived in Japan, ask them about it. :)

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