Thursday, June 21, 2007

Guessing Game - Tokyo 6.19 ~ 21.07

It's been a little over a week since I arrived in Tokyo. So far my area of activity has not passed the Inokashira line and remained anywhere between Shibuya and Kichijoji or between Shinjuku and Shibuya (alright, except a few hours spent in Ginza yesterday). It has daunted me now how much energy and time (if not pure muscle strength) that it takes to set up a place. Everything little thing - from bathroom's towel hanger to plastic organizers to dishware or cooking ware to tissue boxes - every single thing had to be stuffed in mere plastic bags (thanks to the tough ones in Japan!) to the point of explosion and slowly transferred back to my apartment in two hands. Thanks to good public transportation network, no Uhaul or Zipcar is needed here.

There has been an embedded sense of anxiety within, however. Every day as I open my mouth, a "guessing" game begins. It's actually quite fun of a game at times, since this game involves the testing or observing of Japanese people's various reactions to pronunciation + face recognition.

B/c I am born of an Asian face and probably my attire has somewhat resembled the Japanese fashion, daily when I open my mouth to speak, a few circumstances would occur (in the order unexpected and uncontrollable) :

1) 5 sentences into the conversation the person realizes that my Japanese is not native - this is resulted either from a mistake made in the grammar structure or a pronunciation slightly off from my side. Or, alternatively it's the bombardment of honorifics that render me speechless for that 5 seconds that catch the other's attention. Despite all that, the Japanese counterpart would continue to speak in fluent and fast Japanese and attempt to make the conversation flow as freely and naturally as ever. A moment of shock or realization is inevitably realized on his/her face, yet such realization becomes internalized and the person manages to keep it all within oneself.

2) 1 minute into the conversation the person realizes that I am a foreigner! Again, this is resulted from the similar causes mentioned above but the Japanese person's resolution to the circumstances now differs. Either he/she would start stumbling through words b/c of a desire to search for a simple way to speak to me, or he/she simply is still absorbed in the unfamiliarity of dealing with a foreigner with a Japanese-looking face. In any case, the conversation begins to stall and my flow of words begin to stall more if not my grammar becomes ever more erroneous. At the end, the communicate would result in a sense of awkwardness and only may be rescued if either side decides to simply toss out a smile or bow profusely to defuse the tension in the atmosphere.

3) The very first sentence fails to be understood right away. In this case, the person would utter a "eh?!?" sound along with a "eh?!?" look and then freeze in the air for a few seconds not knowing if the other person - aka, me - has emerged from Mars. In this particular circumstance, the Japanese counterpart would begin to "externalize" his/her confusion while his/her own Japanese ability start to recede to a point where nothing spoken from my side is anywhere recognizable. Such a conversation usually resulted in the Japanese person giving me a displeased look of annoyance if not disgust, and whatever request or inquiry that I have attempted to bring up would inevitably get lost and utterly abandoned.

Such is the common reality faced by foreigners living in Japan. This is certainly not a reality experienced by all foreigners, for 9 out of 10 times my fellow Caucasian friends would only experience the first circumstance accompanied by overwhelming among praises about how great their Japanese is even if only one word is spoken. Born of an Asian face, I, alas, am disqualified to enjoy such privileges.

To end this very long rambling of cross-cultural communication ... Here's a hilarious scene witnessed in the streets of Shinjuku the other day -

(the front view)

(the line that waits around the corner to get into the line in front)

In this so-called increasingly global world, a certain fascination towards "foreign exoticism" has not come to an end ...

梅ちゃん at 1:44:00 AM



at 6/23/07, 3:26 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lovely piece! I would try my luck next time in Japan. Bernard Shaw.

at 6/25/07, 9:05 AM Anonymous Derek said...

Yes, I remember visiting the Krispy Kreme near Shinjuku last March. It was 10:30 pm and the line was snaking back and forth outside, like at an airport security checkpoint! Funny that all the stores in the U.S. have gone out of business (Atkins diet), but that the craze continues abroad.

Hope you get to enjoy more of Tokyo during the summer! It's been a beautiful weekend in Central Park :)


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