Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Last Straw and the Nail that Sticks Up

My boss gave me some good advice the other day. She told me to write down as much as I can remember from Japan through the next few days as stuff comes to me, or I might forget it. It's true there is much that I'm remembering only just now, and I'm sure little flashes of things will come to me with time, reminding me of a specific event or memory, especially as I rifle through all our pamphlets and receipts.

So above, I would like to introduce you to Straw-san! Almost from the moment I entered the country, Straw-san was my constant companion. Remember how I mentioned on our first night, we went to Family Mart, the convenience store inside the hotel? Well, I bought a small carton of coffee-milk while there. I didn't drink it that night, but the next morning as we hustled to the shuttle to the station, I popped it in my purse. On the bus, I was drinking delicious sweet coffee beverage, but I'm an adult, so I never used the straw. It had, in fact, fallen off the carton and into the depths of my purse.

Suddenly Straw-san was everywhere. Every time I took out my camera, or the map, or the english/japanese dictionary, he would be stuck to it! The refrain was always "Haha, do you need a straw for that?" But as silly as it was, I couldn't bring myself to throw Straw-san away. He seemed so eager to help. Eventually his little piece of glue came off, so he stopped sticking to everything, but I made sure he stayed in my purse no matter what. And when I cleaned out my purse at my house back in America, he was there too. Who would think such a little straw would make such an incredible journey?

Another thing that I remember about Japan was Kyoto tower. The tower is basically a Seattle type space needle looking thing, only not nearly as tall. It's right next to Kyoto station and was a reference point for us whenever we got lost. There are a bunch of business places inside, mostly for tourists, but we saw a lot of people there, including a bunch of school kids.

The thing about schools in Japan is they go a long way to make every child look the same. Uniforms are strictly enforced, with children not even allowed to use different types of socks (even if they are the same colour). Conformity is held in the highest regard on all levels. So when I saw a girl in a crowd of highschoolers who was obviously half Caucasian half Japanese, I was taken aback.

I am ashamed to say I stared at her, because it was something so rare and unique that I couldn't look away. Massive crowds of asian faces with only slight variants, laughing and jabbering, and she stood in the middle of it, quiet in the tumult. She looked adorable in her uniform, but as soon as she saw me, we locked eyes. I don't know what mine said, but I know what hers did. "Go away, I'm trying to fit in. Leave me alone."

I could tell that school life for her must be hard. She wasn't talking to anyone around her, and didn't have a phone in hand like half the students there. She was probably being excluded from certain social groups and functions, likely only had a couple of friends. I wished she could know how much she and I had in common, and not just because she too, was an accidental gaijin in Japan.

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