Wednesday, 24 March 2010

PostHeaderIcon My Japwegian mate

I started to write this entry a few months ago when my University friend visited me from Kyoto for less than a day.  It's interesting that I'm not exactly certain what his full name is as I've only seen his English name before and I think he shortens it.  Nevertheless... my friend Rio was probably the first Japanese person I ever met.  I'd seen numerous tourists and had small talk with one or two in lectures but Rio probably marks the start of my Japanese adventure.  I moved into a nice flat in my last year of University that was about two minutes from the library.  I quite liked moving in with strangers as all my groups of friends tended to argue and fall out when they lived together.  So I moved in with a medical student... a nice bloke who made his own beer.  I occasionally hung out with him and his posh rugby mates who didn't like me because I was rubbish at poker.  Rio moved in a week after me and I talked to him in normal English because I assumed all Japanese were fluent.  He only understood me because he'd been living in Britain for about five or six years.  

I never noticed at the time but he actually left Japan after he finished junior high school (about 15-16) and went to study English in York for the summer.  This is really unusual as the vast, vast majority of Japanese go on to some form of high school and possibly take part in an exchange program for a year at the most.  He mentioned recently that his English was really bad and he had agreed to stay in England without really knowing what was going on... something I can very much relate to now.  The day he arrived  at the airport  in Scotland he tried to phone a taxi to pick him up and experienced his first bout of Glaswegian English.  I think the woman shouted "Ah cannae understawn ye.  Where dae ye wantae go tae wee man?" and then hung up on him.  At least when Japanese people panic when I speak their language poorly they don't give up and run away.  

Anyway... so I shared a flat with Rio at University for a year.  I didn't really know much about Japan to be honest.  I probably knew the same as most people reading my blog know but I had absolutely no interest in manga, anime or anything like that.  My biggest encounter with Japanese culture at that point had been watching Battle Royale and Takeshi's Castle.  Actually, I showed him the latter being repeated on some cable channel and he couldn't believe that a twenty year old, poorly made program was so popular with young British people.  If you haven't watched it then it is various 80s looking Japanese people running through assault courses and getting hit in the face with plastic balls.  It's brilliant.  Also, I remember he once left a Japanese book on the kitchen table and I briefly flicked through it.  The language staring back at me was truly terrifying.

When I lived with him I thought he was a little bit different but I just put it down to him being Japanese.  I once told him about an incident involving our gay neighbours across the hall.  One of them had murdered the other in a jealous rage.  His responce was to ask me if I had seen his favourite spoon.  However, after living in Japan myself I think he is even more unusual.  The first Japanese person I met is also the most un-Japanese person I have ever met.  He still did Japanese things but he never really seemed to conform to the stupid ways I have encountered here.  I remember when I first told him I was going to go to Japan and he responded with "Why? It's crap."  I asked him why he came to Scotland and he replied with "I dunno.  It's crap as well."  If I asked the same questions to every other Japanese person I have met since then I would have been met with the standard answers of culture or experience.  We're like two soy beans in a pod of bitter cynicism.

Looking back on that year at University I regret not doing more to socialise with him.  I was too busy working and studying to do much in my last year so I didn't really care much.  I probably should have invited him to more parties or trips or did some Scottishy thing.  I said goodbye to him without much care that we'd ever meet again.  Yet... I got an email from him one day this February that proclaimed:
im going to crush into your place this week from kyoto, where i live.  next week im busy and then forever.  tell me where you live

It's one of my favourite emails ever.  True to his word... he crushed my place the next day.  He laughed at my beard for about five minutes and then I took him on a drive of some of Kochi's finest places.  I had a fantastic talk with him about Scotland and Japan.  He said he was struggling to come to terms with the fact someone he randomly encountered in Scotland had been living in rural Japan for years.  I guess it would be strange as I was telling him about Kochi and stuff like the various differences in Buddhist architecture in Japan, China and the rest of Asia.  He just laughed whenever I said something interesting.  I suppose if you compare this with the time he told me he was from Kyoto and I asked if that was the place with all the geisha and temples then it would seem different.  We had a good time comparing the ignorance of Japanese and Scottish people to our respective cultures.  A lot of people just called him Asian or Chinese or would start conversations with him about his favourite manga character.  Also, we mentioned the strange sensation of going back home and feeling like you had never left... the only difference being that everyone else had aged a few years.

His mum called him later on and he told her about all the foreigners going on about the famous sunset that happens in Kochi.  He told her that he had no idea what we were going on about and that the countryside must have infected our brains.  He left the next morning and I haven't heard from him since.  A true Japanese gentleman if ever there was one.


Slip and Fall Accident Lawyer said...

Thank you for all the great posts from last year! I look forward to reading your blog, because they are always full of information that I can put to use. Thank you again, and God bless you in 2010.

Mike said...


Anonymous said...

I don't understand why the comment is chop chop chop? Is it to say that you are slowing down in your cynicism and to hurry up and get better?

You and your old flat mate sound like a incarnation of two sages meeting. Glad to read that he crushed into your place. It is strange to realize that you really have been living in Japan for years, it seems only like months.

It's fun to read about what you think.

Ahoy hoy said...

I'm sure I'll be cynical again soon.

The chop chop chop was actually a refernece to something I forgot. Rio was the slowest chopper of vegetables in the known world. He would also take longer to chop that fourth piece every time.

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About Me

I am a 24 year old Scotsman currently teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren. I live in a small town on the east coast of Kochi prefecture.