The Witless Clunkery of a Third-Rate Mind

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Inspiration Everywhere

Even though I don't consider myself to be a negative person, it seems that I spend a lot of time complaining. This is just my way of venting and releasing negative energy, while at the same time relating a (hopefully) mildly interesting story.

That's the nice thing about this website thingy. Whenever something bad happens to me, instead of getting upset, now I say to myself, "This gives me a little story for my diary." Frustrating experiences become grist for my complaint mill, or something to that effect.

So last night, I went to the onsen with my friend Mark from Alabama. We were both pretty bored, and we hadn't been there in a while. The temperature is finally starting to cool down, and onsens are best enjoyed when the air temperature is cooler anyway. So off we went.

Now, I have definitely noticed a difference between living in the Tokyo region and living in Nagasaki, where I was before. In Nagasaki, foreigners are a real oddity -- so strange that seeing one up close is maybe a tiny bit fun, like looking out the window and seeing a raccoon. "Oh look! How cute! They look just like they do on TV! Let's see if they bite." But in Tokyo, foreigners are everywhere: being loud in bars, eating while walking, belching on trains, impregnating your daughters, etc. and just generally doing everything they're not supposed to do. Instead of being cute, they're just pests. "Oh look! Another bunch of raccoons! Get the rat poison."

So instead of getting shy glances from people that I imagine want to speak to me but are too shy, here in Chiba I get barely-concealed contempt, or indifference. So, Back to the onsen. I was showering before getting into the bath, which I always do. It is important to be clean before you get into the baths, because they are shared. I also take comfort in knowing that (almost) everyone else is clean before they get into the same bath water that I'm soaking in.

I guess I must have accidentally splashed the man sitting behind me, because he got up, and with an angry look on his face, barked in English, "Be careful!" As a reflex, I said sorry in Japanese, and he left before I could think of anything else to say. The fact was that, in the next couple minutes while I finished showering, I was splashed by any number of people on all sides of me. This always happens every time I go to an onsen; it is practically unavoidable. Technically, it's a faux pas, but it's almost impossible to control where your water goes. This guy had chosen to vent his frustration on me, simply because I'm a foreigner and he naturally (?) assumed that I was ignorant of the proper way to behave. He chose not to say anything to the Japanese guys on either side of him who were also doubtlessly splashing him before I came along.

The more I thought about this, the more ticked off I started to get. In fact, as a foreigner in Japan, I am generally more polite than most Japanese people, who can get away with the occasional bent or broken rule. I have seen Japanese people talk on their cell phones on the train, but I never do it; businessmen drop rubbish in the street, but I always put mine into my pocket until I can find a trashcan; people smoking in areas that are clearly marked non-smoking; short Japanese people with their legs sticking way out into the aisle, causing a major disruption on trains while I am sitting with my feet neatly tucked in and my knees up around my ears. And most relevant to this discussion, I've seen numerous Japanese people come to an onsen, and not bother to bathe, but just go directly into the bath. If I did that, I would probably be lynched.

I started wishing that I had fluent Japanese so I could explain this whole double standard to the Japanese man who had told me to "Be Careful!" but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that he would never understand my point, no matter how fluently I expressed myself. Whatever country you live in, there are always going to be assholes... I guess the challenge is not to sink to their level.

Then again, I'm starting to think that the correct response to his getting up, coming over and saying "Be Careful!" to me would have been to bow deeply, apologize profusely, smile, and then spray him right in the face.


At 6:42 AM, Blogger Taylorteam said...

Become the raccoon. What a marvelous opportunity to study those strange creatures who live in houses and think raccoons are anything but what they are.


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