Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Chatting with the neighbor lady

About 2 months ago, an elderly lady moved in with her family about two houses down from me. I knew something was different about her, because I always see her on the street in front of her house, greeting everyone who passes by. She always has a good morning, a good afternoon, or a good evening for me and sometimes gives me friendly advice, such as "Be careful walking by the intersection, it's very dangerous." She doesn't duck away or ignore me because I am not Japanese. This sort of thing isn't very common in Tokyo. In fact, I don't believe I have ever seen anyone else like her here.

This morning as I was coming home for an early lunch, I met her again, and exchanged good mornings. But today she stopped me, crossed the street to where I was, and began by apologizing for being out on the street so often. While I considered whether or not to forgive her, she did another very un-Tokyo-like thing and began talking to me as if I were something other than a Special Person from Afar. She wasn't using her grade school English nor her half-Japanese/half-katakana English, but rattling off in regular Japanese just throwing in an occasional "wakaru?"

I'll admit, I didn't catch 100% of everything that she said, but I learned that she was outside everyday walking up and down the street for exercise. She seemed a bit proud of how far she walked, pointing to the intersection with Kanpachi-dori 2 blocks away and the one in the other direction about 1/2 a block away. In fact, she showed me 3 times.

She was ill, she said, with a bad heart, but she (perhaps un-Tokyo-like) enjoyed exercise. She had done a lot of sports when she was in school, and especially loved running. Now she was walking up and down the street to get well again.

A few minutes into the conversation, she mentioned that she was 86 years old and from Hiroshima. She had been there when the bomb was dropped killing 6 of the 9 people in her family, who as I understood it were sake brewers. Only she, her mother, and her younger sister survived. "The war was terrible for Japan," she said, and I did not disagree.

"Where is your family from," she asked. "The US," I replied. After inquiring about my age, she assured me that I was too young to remember the war. "I am 86 years old," she said.

"After the bomb [how long after I did not get] we moved to Tokyo." "Six people in my family died, and only 3 lived." "The war was terrible." "My son now teaches at Keio. Do you know Keio?"


"It's a university.... I am 86 years old.... I became sick with a bad heart, so I come out here everyday for exercise. I liked to run when I was young... It's not good that I come out dressed in a robe. I'm sorry."

"Well, you'd better go, it's getting cold. I'm sorry for bothering you. Be careful of the intersection, it's dangerous."

I always remember (and value) when these types of things happen in Japan, since they are so very, very, rare. And it's almost always old people.

I wish I had brought a recorder...

Of course, I could not remember or write everything we discussed. We talked for 10-15 minutes...a record for me in this sort of encounter.


  1. Jeffrey12:39 PM

    Priceless. Perhaps, in spite of what happened to her family at the end of the war, her experience with Americans during the occupation was positive one.

    My father on his first trip to Japan in 1982 had a somewhat similar encounter with a nice older man in Takayama.

    My mother and I were down the street window shopping when we look up to see my father, who did not speak Japanese, in conversation with an elderly man on one of the arched bridges that cross Miyagawa. I think my father had stopped to take pictures.

    The older gentleman spoke a fair amount of English and was, as I recall, explaining the town's history.

    One day when I lived in Nagoya a couple decades ago I had an older man come up to me in Sakae and, after the typical intergation (Where are you from? Why are you here?), gave me a sheaf of Japanese postage stamps he had collected.

    Experiences like this make up (for the most part) for the time you regret throwing the brick at the bosozoku from your third story balcony.

  2. Yes, these things make up for a lot. Too bad it doesn't happen more often.

  3. I walk the mountain roads of the inaka and this kind of interaction is very common, again usually old people. The further you get from the cities the friendlier and more open people become...

  4. I thought that might be the case. I guess Japan ain't unique in that way either...