Sunday, September 12, 2010

The continuing education of a wannabe well-mannered man

This morning I decided to get out of my environmentally friendly mansion (I learned we folk in Japan have these by reading the comments on Paul Krugman's recent NYT op-ed) on a cool crisp late summer day expected to only reach 34 centigrade.

As I tried to enter the gate at upscale Denenchofu station, a lady exited by aiming right for the gate I was nearing even though we were the only two people there, and she could have easily taken a closer gate. I, still having a bit of barbarous, uncouth USA manners, yielded to let her rush through the gate first.

I hopped on the front car of an Ebisu-bound train and seeing as how the seats were mostly full except for a few spots which were half taken by folk who seemed very reluctant to share (but still of impeccable good-manners) I went to the head of the car where I could watch out the front---a popular spot for young children and elderly men with runny noses.

Soon enough, grandpa joined me and began repeatedly sniffling and a few moments later let fly two full-bore, open-mouthed, ear-drum splitting sneezes. Despite his concern for others and beautiful country good manners, I for some odd-ball reason (remnants of memories of my mother or teachers knocking me upside the head for such refinement), found myself moving to the opposite end of the car. He had put his hand somewhat in the vicinity of the front of his buffalo mouth, after all. Seems that I have not yet developed a tolerance for inhaling the mucous and spittle of others if I can avoid it.

I got to Ebisu and went to Ebisu Garden Place to relax a bit, look for good light and something interesting to photograph. Finding little, I soon gave up and decided to enter a new Starbucks there to have a cup of liquid charcoal and a synthetic sugar donut. Soon 3 fellows who were apparently working this fine Sunday entered and sat at the counter across from my table. One fellow, a gentleman in his late 40s/early 50s with the jet black hair of a 5-year old, sat right at the corner and placed his already chair-shaped bum on the edge of his seat while scooting the unused portion of his chair out into everyone's way. People would have to squeeze sideways to get by our wig wearing or at least hair-painting fellow to enter or exit.

I admired this fellow. Three or four people squeezed by him with obvious difficulty, but even though he glanced back, he made no effort to move his seat one cm forward. Finally, a lady with a baby carriage had to exit and she started moving the chair at my table to the right to get by. Being an ill-manner foreigner, I rudely helped her and then moved my whole table so that she could exit. Lard ass with the painted hair or wig looked at me. Being a lout, I glared at him. Apparently not realizing that I was a dangerous violence-prone foreigner, he responded by simply turning back to his chat with his fellow Very Important People. His chair remained where it was.

Soon I left to return home. At Ebisu station I walked to the end of the platform so I would have less of a chance of having to pull a Three Stooges rush for the door. As the trained arrived, I was pleased to find that my Charisma Man persona attracted two women who could not resist getting close to me and decided to rush for the same door I was entering, despite the fact that we were the only three entering that car which (as I recall) had 5 doors. Damn. I've still got it.

I chose to stand next to the door even though there was plenty of room to sit. Sitting might have made someone uncomfortable or reluctant to sit next to me due to my propensity to chat up strangers in English, or my objectionable body odor. Since these defects rarely pose problems for anyone who wants to stand two inches from the end of my nose on a train, standing seemed the polite thing to do.

I was soon distracted by the ad about "Why men want sex" and "Women need love" and became a bit lost in the thought that such a thing may actually be simplistic horse-pooky, but not distracted enough to miss the tie-less Western guy in a suit playing with what looked like an iPhone while pushing his left index finger knuckle deep in his left nostril. Eeewww, thought I. Only non-Japanese would do such a thing. Never have I seen a native Tokyoite do it....oh, well "never" meaning within the last week.

Finally, I reached Denenchofu station got off and entered Precce, the supermarket for people with more money than brains, looked around and rediscovered that they have not had a new item since the Jurrassic before deciding to walk the 10 minutes to Yukigayaotsuka Tokyu to get something for lunch.

Ten minutes sweaty minutes later, I entered Tokyu. Now Tokyu owns Precce, but sells the exact same products at about 20-30% lower prices. The clerks don't put every single item in separate vinyl bags---including candy bars---and they don't bow and say "welcome" before checking you out, and they don't ask you 900 stupid questions every single time, but they are much faster than those at Precce. But that's why Tokyu is less expensive. The service is "less."

After getting my curry mix, an avocado, and a drink, I went to the register. Amazingly, a young fellow---not a woman---was manning it. I remembered that fellow. I remembered him from a few weeks ago, not only because he was a rare male in that job, but because he....uhhh, how can I put this?...stank. No, Stank with a capital S. Whew!!! I could smell him 4-5 feet away. I should have moved to another register, but the lines were too long and I was next. I tried to hold my breath. Whoa. Was he foreign, I wondered, for I have heard and read----from no less an authority than the New York Times Magazine---that Japanese have almost no body odor. I have even heard more than a few Japanese say that when comparing themselves with non-Japanese. That's one reason, in spite of their being extremely polite, some people are reluctant to sit next to a foul-smelling thing such as me on the train. Standing next to me is, as mentioned, ok. Hmmm. Maybe Precce adds the surcharge-for-morons so that its clerks can afford to bathe and use deodorant. Or, maybe they only hire real next-to-no-body-odor Japanese.

I returned to my environmentally friendly (because I reduce energy usage as much as possible to avoid the high costs) mansion with no insulation, absurdly inefficient air-conditioning and heating, with hollow plastic interior doors and a "Western" bedroom that one cannot put a twin-sized or bigger "Western" bed in 'cause a doofus designed the hallway and entrance. I environmentally-friendlily microwaved my lunch (like I have choice) and sat down with a Asahi "The Master" Philsner and wondered what will happen when I return to the rude, crude, straight-talking, debating, Neanderthal-ic USA with my refined good manners. People will admire and love me, I'm sure. Tyler Bru^le'! would appreciate it if nobody else.

Blogger spell check does not accept "donut" as a real, properly spelled word.

I reserve the right to tweak this a bit over the next few hours. My editor is me, and he is slow, lazy, cannot spell, or properly proofread unless he is being paid to do so. Plus, I follow the Japan w/o Sugar style-guide which supersedes other rules.


  1. This is such a perfect snapshot of life in Tokyo that I'm going to spread it around on FaceBook so people can see what it's actually like living here.

  2. Alas, nobody will believe it.

  3. You sir are a philistine, an out and out cad of the worst kind.
    Your diliberate misunderstanding of the perfection of Japanese cultural relativism astounds and saddens me.
    Rules and social etiquitte are not set in stone, they apply only to other people and then only when it suites.
    Of course with your filthy butter smell and wrongly sized intestine you could have no hope of ever grasping this, I pity you.

  4. Yes, I think the the tipping point was the intestine thing. I can address the other flaws, but not much I can do about intestine length.

    I am doomed

  5. Anonymous10:22 AM

    thank you. I thought I was the only one with those thoughts.

  6. Anonymous7:41 AM

    Great fun. Reminds me of journal notes (pre-digital/laptop age) I made "back in the day."

  7. Two thumbs up. Living in Japan is awesome. When I go back home to the States, I'll especially miss having four different seasons.

  8. It's just as well. Foreigners with different-than-Japanese body temperatures and wet ear wax cannot possibly understand four seasons anyway.