ANDY FISH is a comic book artist

Thursday, February 21, 2013

More Babblings: A GAIJIN in JAPAN

Walking through the train station in Nagoya Japan I am quite tall.  At 5'10" 190lbs I don't stand out very much here in the states, but in the Land of the Rising Sun I am Sumo-sized.  My sister and law and my wife are walking with me.  My wife is about 5'6" and my sister in law (who happens to be full on Japanese) is about 5'3".  We enter an elevator with a charming older woman who smiles at me and nods.  I do the same.

My Japanese is akin to the English skill of a three month old baby.   I know a few words here and there, say "cookie" and I'll turn my head.  The Japanese clearly have a better understanding of English than most American's do of ANY other language.  More so in Tokyo but even here in Nagoya I'm able to get by even on my own.

The woman speaks to my sister in law who laughs, as does my wife.  My wife is also fluent in Japanese and with dark hair and dark eyes she can pass for half Japanese and is often mistaken as such.  With Blonde (okay-- blonde and gray) hair and blue eyes the same will never be thought of me.

I'm wearing Jeans, a polo shirt and a sports jacket-- essentially the same exact thing I wear in America just about everyday-- the only difference is it's October and rather than needing a scarf I need an iced tea.  It's hot.

I ask my wife and sister in law what the woman said that made them laugh and they reply that the woman asked if I was an American business man and if they were my escorts and interpreters.

Actually the answer to that is also yes.  But in this case, we're all family as well.

My sister in law is one of the nicest, sweetest people I know.  She was extremely worried one night when I opted to go off on my own-- worried that I would get lost and not be able to find my way back in the perils of downtown Nagoya.

For the record, I did get lost and I did find my way back.  Just because I can't read or speak the language doesn't mean I can't figure out which direction I should walk, or find a policeman and do my best thru hand gestures to explain where I'm trying to go.

I am smart enough NOT to get on a train, lest I end up in Korea or somewhere else, walking it's nearly impossible not to find your way back-- as long as you keep walking.   It's not like I was in the woods devoid of food and drink, food vendors constantly called to me that they had "big american portions!" as I would walk by.

Apparently they think we American's are not happy unless we get A LOT of food for our money.  I found that particularly funny because I actually prefer Japanese portions.  I know the stereotype of the gluttoness American has some truth to it-- I've been to Wal*Mart.

I was surprised at how many people would strike up conversations with me.  Apparently many Japanese study English in school and then seldom get a chance to use it.

One older man came over to me, pointed and smiled "American?"


"Where from?"


"Ah Boston!  Very smart people!  MIT!  Harvard!"

I laugh, obviously this guy's never been to Southie (ouch!).

I asked him how he knew I was "American", rather than just a "Westerner" as all non-Japanese seem to be referred to, or Canadian, or European.  I'm curious guy.

He told me it was the way I walked.  I walked like an American.  Europeans, he told me, wear too much aftershave (and seconds later a French guy walked past smelling like a cheap brothel) and that Canadians walk nervously.

All righty sir.

I was going to ask him if I walked like John Wayne-- remembering that great scene from THE BIRDCAGE with Robin Williams and Nathan Lane-- then thought the better of it.