Notes from the Obstacle Course
Dr. Michael Peckitt
She experiences the small daily shock of reentry that every foreigner in Tokyo knows. A sudden, pulse-quickening awareness of the obvious: Here I am, in Japan. Every morning it takes her by surprise – the sudden consciousness of profound difference… Even after years and decades have passed, you never get over the excitement, the unique daily thrill, of living as a foreigner in Japan.
Richard Lloyd Parry
No, you didn’t dream it. It may seem like yesterday was an aircon and alcohol fueled phantasm, but it’s true. You really do live in Japan. It is a truly odd experience, and one that, as Parry notes, certainly doesn’t go away. You are here…in Japan.
It really shouldn’t strike you as odd. You got up yesterday, up from your futon, turned on NHK to watch the asadora – ‘morning drama’, a fifteen minute long programme documenting a life of kawaii gāru – a cute girl of Japan. That wouldn’t happen unless I were in Japan. You cleared away last nights chu-hi, and bi-ru cans, placing them into colour-coded bags for the recycling people to process them easily, and that certainly wouldn’t happen back in the home country.
You returned to the television at around 9:55 (not 09, Japan doesn’t seem to use the twenty-four hour clock, lunch shall be eaten at 0:00) to hear the most uncanny of things, music you know from TV magazine shows back home being used to introduce the morning exercise routine for those at home. And that wouldn’t happen unless you were in Japan. You then went to the conbini, the local convenience store, to pay your gas, electricity, and water bills and latest purchases from Amazon. You notice that the seasonal beer, a variation on a rich malt, is now on sale. And that wouldn’t happen unless you were in Japan.
You returned to your apartment, waving to your neighbours – konnichwa – her kids playing with what is for you, something not seen since the eighties, a skateboard. And that wouldn’t happen unless you were in Japan.
Once in a while, you get a noisy alarm from your mobile phone, the siren sounds – listen to me, listen to me, listen me – an earthquake, a five point something magnitude is predicted nearby. You locate your passport, zairyu ‘resident’ card and inkan (necessary for signing official documents) just in case an evacuation is ordered. It isn’t but, you remain glued to the TV until the troubles passes. And that definitely wouldn’t happen back in the home country.
You begin to wonder, why, why does this still disturb me. You have been here for over three yeas, and yet others assure me that this feeling, which isn’t entirely negative, never goes away. You of course, have your theories as to why. For the western foreigner at least, everything about Japan emphasizes difference. The buildings are taller than back in the old country (and have to be earthquake-proofed), trains generally run on time, unless there’s been a suicide, making you feel guilty when you complain the train is late. Alcohol can be consumed in the street, and is often cheaper than drinks of the opposite type. These differences makes everything that is similar, somehow uncanny, as if there was something wrong with an escalator that goes up and downstairs (just like it does back home), or that a red light still means stop or danger. After all, this is Japan; surely things don’t happen the same way here?
Dr. Michael Gillan Peckitt is an academic who lives in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, Japan. He runs the Japan and disability related website ‘The Limping Philosopher’ (https://thelimpingphilosopher.wordpress.com) and you can find him on Twitter @Peckitt.