Sep 24, 2018

The Interruptions of Old Men

    For people of my age range in my homeland, there are several observable factors that let you know whether or not they are approachable. One is the presence of ear buds or headphones. Someone wearing these is listening to music or audiobooks. if they have not taken the apparatus off or out, it is a good bet that they are not in the mood for people-ing or at very least are currently engrossed in something else, be it a catchy pop song or urban fantasy novel or what have you. If the earbuds are in or the headphones are on, they are not to be spoken to unless absolutely necessary.    
    Apparently, at least one random older Japanese guy in my neighborhood did not get this memo.
The Interruptions of Old Men photo
I don't personally think I look so approachable. Apparently this guy disagreed.

    A few weeks ago, I was walking across town as I always do on Saturdays, tracing the one kilometer that connects the English school where I teach on Saturday mornings with the music school where my daughter studies just one hour after the end of my last class. My lunch break every Saturday is mostly walking, but even at my leisurely pace, it only takes about half an hour, leaving me a little time to eat a packed lunch around Nishi-Shiogama station and fight at the Pokemon Go gyms there, all three of which I have yet to reach gold-medal status at yet. Usually at least one of them is about to go into raid mode, which locks the currently housed monsters in for an hour while everyone gets to fight some larger, more difficult being. A minor level raid was about to begin and the monsters at this gym were already at half life. Given the 15 minutes I had available, I wagered I could take over the gym and have one of my guys locked in there before the raid began.    
    And I could have, too, if it weren't for the pesky bicyclist.
    As I am standing on this lovely path, literally facing a tree, headphones in, furiously tapping at my phone in my Pokemon-related pursuit, this random older man on a bicycle decided to come by and just started talking as if I, of course, could hear him over my audio-book and understand his native-level, native-speed Japanese. He was wrong in both assumptions.

    Seeing that this wasn't a random "Hello and goodbye" sort of moment, I paused the book and turned to face the man, continuing the Pokemon battle I was already in the middle of.

    He went back to talking, assuming I'd heard whatever he had previously said. I tried my best to say something the equivalent of, "Pardon me. I am in the middle of a Pokemon Battle." but whatever I did say didn't mean anything to him outside of: "Yes, I am terribly bored. Please talk to me more, Japanese man. I need your help."
So he did. I followed the first couple of questions well enough, as these are almost always the same: Where are you from? How long have you been here? I answered these as the battle on my phone came to a close and, as the man then chose to engage with longer questions at a faster rate with harder vocabulary, I chose not to abandon my Pokemon goal for the day.

    I don't know for sure that this is a Japan only problem, but this culture does put men above women and old above young even in the context of basic conversational language. So an old man meeting a young woman means she is meant to be deferential and polite, no matter what.    
    Personally, my lack of enthusiasm about studying the language can likely be traced back to these ingrained Japanese truths being so much a part of society that I feel the need to rebel. Why learn to talk to people if it means I have to always treat every man as superior, and every old man more superior than that. I am for respecting your elders, but I feel this takes it too far. And this isn't the first man or older man I've met here to decide that whatever he wants to do right at that moment trumps any desires I have or respect I deserve from the salary man on the subway in Nagoya that thought my upper thigh just needed his hand for companionship to the old guy who cut in line in front of me at the post office in Gifu to the old man who interrupted another lunch break, long ago in a Sendai coffee shop, to shout the one word of English he knew, "Country?!" It's just a thing that happens here.
    Needless to say, I was not a fan of this guy and did not want to continue this conversation. He kept talking anyway but I honestly did not understand the question. Once again, I'll never know if this stems from my waning interest that occurs in these unwanted conversations fairly often or my lack of lingual ability, or a bit of each.

    I told the guy I was having trouble understanding him. He responded in Japanese, "Oh, you don't know words. Here are words. Blue. Pink."

    I was taken aback. It isn't rare for people in Japan, or anyone who has never studied a foreign language really, to not get the difference in levels between "I don't know colors" and "I don't understand adult-level native-vocabulary at a native speed" but this was a bit of a shock. He had just asked questions I had answered, and now out of nowhere, random color vocabulary I learned in college more than ten years ago.

    So I asked, in Japanese, "Why are you talking about colors now? Blue? Pink? Why?"

    To which he responded by laughing to himself and saying, "Hai, kiiro."  Yes, Yellow.

    I blinked. Then I apologized and ran off to my kid's class, arriving a full ten minutes early with no Pokemon in gyms and less energy than I had had before my colorful conversation.



A working mom/writer/teacher, Jessica explores her surroundings in Miyagi-ken and Tohoku, enjoying the fun, quirky, and family friendly options the area has to offer.


  • helloalissa

    on Sep 24

    Oh no. Cultural whatever (and I'm a huge fan of respecting culture, normally), but you do NOT have to respect men who 'can't read the air,' especially those who want to sexually harass you or just be rude. There's a big difference between people being curious and friendly vs. people being rude, wanting a free English lesson, or something worse. You don't have to be polite. I mean you told him you were busy and he ignored you. I've heard even Japanese women can't understand o-chan ramblings half the time - they should really get a clue.

  • JTsuzuki

    on Sep 25

    @helloalissa I totally agree!