Now I know that Americans (and people of other nationalities) get rip roaring drunk, but I've seen a surprising number of unbelievably tanked individuals here in Japan. There is a popular karaoke bar near our apartment, and I can't count the number of people I've seen staggering out (if they're lucky). Last night my husband and I walked by a girl lying face down in front of the building. She was surrounded by three or four water glasses and a couple of friends who seemed uncertain what to do next. My husband practically walked over the woman and I passed within six inches, but she never even stirred. Although she is the first karaoke customer I've seen sprawled on the sidewalk, I've seen many more just shy of that fate, not to mention the various vomit stains scattered out front. Now this sight by itself is not so remarkable, but we've seen countless others like it. In fact, earlier in the evening we encountered a group of intoxicated college students, three of which were barfing in the grass. Another in their party shrieked "I love you!" (in English) over and over. In my experience, drunk Japanese guys love to shout English phrases and/or take photos with foreigners. On other occasion, a thoroughly hammered young man befriended our group at a restaurant and posed in photos. Later in the evening we saw him laying, face down, in the middle of the train station. When he noticed us passing by he too shouted "I love you!" Doesn't the Japanese character from Sixteen Candles shout "I love you!" when he falls from the tree drunk? If so, than those situations are a stereotype come to life.
Would you let your nine-year-old wait alone in a crowded train station? Is it wise to allow a seven-year-old girl to ride the subway in central Tokyo by herself? You and I might say no, but people in Japan apparently feel differently. I suppose Japanese parents are more relaxed about supervision because the crime rate is much lower and kidnapping rare, but kids can still get lost or slip onto the tracks. I often see mothers striding several feet ahead of their toddlers, rarely looking back to see if he or she is keeping up. It's quite strange to me. The one exception is my kinder class, in which case every mother is pressing her nose against the observation window, watching her child's every move.
Do you remember the scene in Back to the Future where the mayoral candidate blares campaign messages from a large van? If not, imagine a person shrieking into five bullhorns at once and that is what we hear outside our apartment four, five, ten times a day. Be sure to imagine frantic, high pitch, incomprehensible shrieking. Here in Japan, political candidates and/or their henchman cruise around town blaring their message to the world. They also wear sashes and white gloves and wave to people like Miss America contestants. Sometimes opposing vehicles cross paths and two people attempt to shout over one another, and that is true auditory joy. What's ironic is that it's against the rules to use a cell phone on the train, because it might disturb others, but this loud, incessant caterwauling is perfectly acceptable, as long as it doesn't start before eight in the morning. Combine that with the garbage truck diddy, the crosswalk song and the talking vending machines and you've got yourself quite an urban symphony.
Sunday, April 22, 2007