Two months ago, a mentally-unstable man that I met on the train in Saitama, took one look at me and announced in a loud, prophetic voice: “You are too young to be in Japan.”
Once I got over the shock of being addressed in this manner (in English!) I laughed it off, saying “Buddy, I’m a quarter of a century old!” And most days, that’s exactly how I feel; old and incredibly jaded.
But then there are other days (like today) where I feel like I’m just an insecure kid playing pretend at being this competent and capable adult. I feel like I’m at the emotional level of a 14-year -ld and that 14-ear-old is horrified at the thought that she alone is responsible for making so many important life choices. Right now, she’s staring numbly at the the myriad of flight itineraries looming on the screen before her and saying, “You want me to do WHAT? Make a decision that could potentially ruin my life? Shouldn’t you be asking a grown-up this? Why don’t you just call the guidance counselor?”
Japan seems to have a funny way of bringing that painfully self-conscious, frightened teenager out in me.
I think it’s because I feel like I’m being judged here for not conforming and for not being perfect, or even close to it. There are just so many unspoken rules. Don’t eat while walking, don’t put on makeup on the train, don’t speak what’s on your mind, don’t jaywalk, (even when it’s 3am and there isn’t a car in sight).
Everything must be done the correct way, the proper way, “the Japanese Way”. There’s a proper way to write, a proper way to hold your chopsticks, a proper way sip tea and stand in line. There’s a proper way to clean, eat, cook, arrange flowers, take a bath and even walk.
I cried, cursing the evil bastards who decided to make the copy machine gaijin-proof and the Chinese person responsible for bringing his impossibly difficult written language to this island in the first place.
Later, the owner of the cram school gave me the polite, Japanese version of “What the Hell did you do to my copy machine?” And like a 14-year- old caught cutting gym class, I mumbled, red-faced: “Um. Well. You see…There were a bunch of buttons…and the Kanji…Well.”