It feels weird being in a place where the language around you isn’t your own. I feel isolated and separated from everyone. Usually I can secretly listen into the private conversations that people have in public and assert myself into people’s secret lives, but Tokyo won’t let me penetrate its heart. In the bus I stand out. My curly hair defies all forms of conformity with frizz flying in every direction. Each of my faults is on display for the Japanese to judge. Too fat, too loud, too American. But no one knows what an American really is. And I am not a good example. My hips as wide as the deserts in Mexico, my skin the color of European snow and my mouth every bit independent, American and open. I’m not ready for the rules of propriety. I’m a bowl of rotting fruit at this picnic.
It was amazing how just by pointing at imaginary headphones he was inviting me into the inner sanctum of Japanese society. He wasn’t mean about it either. He didn’t passive aggressively sneer at me or make snide remarks in Japanese. Instead he quietly but with dignity gave me some silent advice. It was as if he was saying, “hey I know you’re not a part of our culture and society, but let me help help you get closer to them.” It gave me mixed emotions. As a young adult I felt the urge to resist any structured order, especially the rules of society when I am in a short mood. Yet, more than that, I also felt somewhat grateful that he didn’t just cast me aside as a foreigner. If I was a complete foreigner, it would be impossible for me to even attempt to assimilate into this culture. The locals would ignore me and all my embarrassing habits. Yet the way he looked and helped me reminded me of when I was a kid. There was something paternal about the whole thing that made me feel uncomfortable and shy.
After you’ve ridden a bunch of trains in Tokyo you get used to the cramped space. At first it seems so foreign, people suffering to such a degree just to get to work. You can’t help but look at it and chalk it up the masochistic nature of Japan. But then you start to wonder how many people are in your one train car. There’s always way more men in business suits salary man coming home after working the night than there are women. As a woman we try to avoid the packed trains late at night.
Now I’m scanning the train looking for a familiar face. It’s bound to happen at least once, you end up in the same train and boom fate. If you weren’t so tall I wouldn’t be as aware. Now I can’t help but look for an impressively tall Japanese man wherever I am. I know it’s silly. Sometimes I wish I had a sign on me that made it impossible for you to ignore me. You would have to stop and say hi to me no matter where we are. You can’t ignore my existence then. But I’m short average and plain. So you don’t even notice when I’m crumbled at your feet.