Thursday this week was amusing. My class schedule was very slow so I was asked to pass out fliers. I have heard teachers from other schools tell horror stories about their experiences. I disregarded those people as quitters and looked at my task as a challenge. I like challenges.
To begin with, fliers are a very popular form of advertisement in Japan. People will stand outside of every train station, trying to pass you a coupon or brochure. I will often have to pass five or six people as I leave work and head out from the station. At first these folks slightly annoyed me, now I hardly even notice them. Thursday would be the day I joined the masses.
By the time I was outside the sun was already half down for the day. I carefully surveyed the terrain. I wanted to set up shop at a chokehold, an area where people would be forced to see me. But I also wanted to stand in the sunlight and warm my skin. I meandered over to an escalator and made myself comfortable. This escalator was a primary artery for citizens to pass through. I took a deep breath and exhaled; game time.
I quickly adapted my approach to distributing the leaflets. I introduced a slight twist in my hand so as to “present” the paper to the people. I alternated between “good afternoon” and “howdy, partner.” I started giving a subtle bow to every individual that passed by. Finally I had found a rhythm and soon had success.
I quickly noticed two trends with my work, the first being my clientele. Senior citizens and young women most frequently took my offering. Senior citizens, because they’re bored and need something to read on the train. Young women, well I can only assume why they were interested. And assume I will.
My other observation was cultural. The Japanese group-mentality, ever strong and omnipresent, worked to my advantage. Often a long series of people would ascend the escalator, 20 or more in a row. If the first person in line took a leaflet, almost every single of their successors would too. It was almost like, “Hey that guy took a flier, I guess I should too.”
For 90 minutes these two stereotypes appeared over and over again. With no more than 10 fliers in my hand, and 100 already passed out, Moto approached me. “Uhh, Alex. You can come back inside now.” I had lost all track of time. I walked back inside with Moto wearing a smug grin on my face. I knew those other teachers were just quitters. Distributing leaflets was child’s play!
Sunday I played some futsal and received a great gift from Eiko, a nice bottle of Nihonshu! I also picked up a wicked scrape playing futsal today. Girls find it really gross, so I know it’s awesome.
Monday was an expensive day! I visited a Japanese movie theater for the first time. What an experience! The ticket to a Monday matinée was ¥ 1,800. Holy cow! I bought my ticket at the front counter and I was met with a seating chart. The clerk wanted to know where I would like to sit. Can you imagine that, a seating chart at the theater! For a split moment I wondered what German movie theaters were like. I next visited the concession stand and ordered a medium popcorn, only ¥ 400.
Moto and I took our assigned seats just as the movie was starting. The American movie, “Hereafter,” was presented in the original English. Japanese subtitles were added to the bottom. The movie played out like normal, with one pleasant addition: I didn’t hear a peep from the other patrons. No one spoke a word during the movie. Amazing.
Finally the movie ended and the credits started. In the States after a movie, the lights come on, everyone stands up and starts talking. In Japan, everyone sits silently and watches the credits. All of the credits. I leaned over to Moto and asked if we had to stay. Thankfully we didn’t. We stood up and discreetly placed our empty coke bottles back into our jackets. We exited the building into the sunlight and discussed the movie. However my mind was much more fixated on the experience that I just had. Totally different. I enjoyed it immensely.
Moto and I then caught a train back to town. We spent the evening on a dinner binge. We ate and had drinks at three different restaurants. At a very nice nihonshu joint we sampled some very fine alcohol and enjoyed some great local seafood. I ate clam for the first time ever. I chewed it for a while and then gave up and just swallowed the thing whole. Moto said the clam was very fresh and delicious. I believed him, and I would order clam again in a heartbeat.
And I thought I had bad allergies. All at once, every single person in Japan came down with a terrible case of hay fever. Let me rephrase that, every single Japanese person came down with it. I’m fine. Many local flora have begun to pollinate, and the locals know it. It’s very funny, but it’s hard to laugh when so many people are so miserable.
Specifically, I believe cedar trees are the primary suspect. All of my students tell me they are allergic to the cedar tree. And it just so happens that cedar trees are everywhere. Apparently, after the war there was a huge effort to replace the native trees with cedar trees. Only no one thought to check what kind of response they might cause. Sure enough they have caused a reaction.
It took a few weeks to realize it, but I may have finally figured out why everyone is so bothered by the pollen. The answer: a homologous society. 99% of the Japanese population is Japanese. There appears to be great diversity in the people here, but they’re all relatives to a few number of people. It seems no one along the way had developed a particularly good immunity to seasonal allergies. Or maybe the cedar trees are just throwing the balance off that much.
The past month I’ve seen literally thousands of people suffering from the effects of their allergies. Never have I ever seen something so pandemic in my life. It this wasn’t a seasonal problem I would be much more concerned. As it is, I alternate between being very humored and being sympathetic. Really though, this is just one more surprise in my day-to-day life here.