“There are a lot of Miss Havisham-like characters in this town.”
A made this comment the first day, and I realized had never really noticed it before. Maybe I thought it was some elaborate form of cosplay, or maybe I was too busy trying to remember that cars come from the other side of the road and that I needed to just follow the “Don’t Walk” signs, instead of Jaywalking (I know, I’m always “Jay-walking” ha ha had I’ve only heard that since I was 5).
But these women display this sort of odd distaste for contact with the world that recurs throughout Japanese customs. Wearing different slippers to the bathroom, never wearing your shoes into the changing room at the clothing shop, even keeping your dog in a stroller to protect it from walking on the ground. You can just put your money in a little tray at any store if you want to avoid directly transferring money to the shop clerk. And forget the wrapping on food and utensils. Even a banana comes individually wrapped.
Truthfully, I don’t get it. A thinks it's some sort of sun-avoidance strategy, because pale skin is deemed desirable. But seriously, it’s 100 degrees outside and everyone’s dying. Ok, I get the umbrella – it’s just a big hat. But gloves and black arm sleeves? I’m not sure what they are protecting themselves from. In the last 2 months 60,000 people have been treated for heatstroke in Tokyo and 65 have died. But maybe it’s just me. My real fear is that it, like every other Japanese phenomenon, will travel the same path as everything else I’ve noticed about Japanese habits. My observations tend to follow the same pattern: Step One: That thing is crazy. Step Two: Ok, maybe I understand it now. Step Three: Where the hell is my damn ___? I can’t go out without it!.
It happened with the carrying a handkerchief. I thought I would never do such a foolish thing. Then I started carrying one, and when I forgot it yesterday I found about 8 different occasions when I wished I had one.
A has beaten the Japanese. Sure, they have clothes she can buy everywhere, and I lost her in Shimotka for hours after I was certain we were both dead tired. I, for one, could barely hold onto my “We are SMAP!” commemorative sports drink. And she looked vacant as a 40-year old filing clerk listening to Enya. But when we reached Shimo-Kitazawa (“Shimotka” for short; everything is shortened in Japanese. Even Brad Pitt’s name – “Brappo”), suddenly she found some secret reserve of energy every woman stores for shopping. 2 hours later we met up again. I was in the same place she had left me. She had 9 new pieces of clothing.
But back to my point. We started the day in Ueno to find shoes. Running shoes, to be exact. A has small feet, I know, but this is Japan for cryin’ out loud. So they had to have shoes in her size, right?
The shop clerks actually didn’t believe me when I told them how big her feet were. They were sure that my Japanese was bad; which it is, of course, but I had made sure to at least get her size right. 21.5 centimeters. Nothing. No shoes for her. Not at any of the incredibly hard to find specialty running stores we had traveled across the world to a country where everyone is tiny to find. Not a thing.
Well, it is the first place I’ve ever seen A drink two beers. It helped that the beers were tiny too.