I’ve been finding it harder and harder to concentrate on my writing these days.
Boring you to death with the details would be unfair on you, dear reader, so I will focus on something I definitely know I can write about.
By and large, my time in Japan has been a very positive experience. Such is the nature of my personality that from time to time I drift into focusing too intently on any negative experience, no matter how minor or significant it may have seemed at the time.
But one particular moment in the last two weeks stood out to me.
It occurred while I was on a train ride home from work. This particular train is an express, so there’s often large gaps of time between stops.
At one particular stop, a young girl who couldn’t have been more than 9 years old boarded the train. She was being helped onto the train by a middle-aged man. He was holding her by the shoulders and at first, instructed her to grab onto the arm of another girl that had just boarded the train, at which point I assumed was her sister. But the other girl was reluctant to let her hold her arm, so the middle-aged man instructed her to hold onto the handrail right next to me, so I made as much room for her as I could.
At this stage, I assumed that the man I’ve mentioned was a relative – her father or uncle, perhaps.
As the train departed, the man started saying to the girl that she should work hard in school and go to university and things of that nature.
Then he stops talking and reaches into his bag and pulls out a large bottle of Japanese alcohol, half-finished, and starts taking swigs from it while trying to call someone on his phone unsuccessfully.
Once he has decided that his phone call was being ignored, he turned his attention back to the girl.
He started by lecturing her again on working hard at school and university and the like.
Then it became very apparent to me this man was in no way related to this young girl at all.
Because then he says the equivalent of “You’re very cute, aren’t you?”
To break from the narrative for a moment, my Japanese isn’t so great. Not great enough to tell a guy off unless I was going to use some really blunt, rudimentary Japanese.
But as soon as this guy started talking about how cute this girl was, I instantly felt sick to my stomach and hoped someone else would intervene.
The man kept routinely taking swigs from his bottle.
So then he switches from Japanese to English and says “Very beautiful” and starts making kissing faces at her, then says “Cookie girl” and pats her on the head.
At this stage, I am so overcome with anger that my hand holding the overhead rail starts shaking. I’m at a loss for what to say in this situation, so I look around at other people on the train and try to make eye contact with them to intervene or say something.
Only, no-one does a fucking thing.
There were several businessmen standing within earshot. Nothing.
It gets to the point where this guy keeps insisting she study hard and starts forcibly tapping her on the head.
Still. Nothing. The poor girl just kept saying “Yes” over and over again. And nobody said a damn thing to this guy. This frustrated me beyond reason.
There was a young woman nearby who was as distressed as I was at this situation, but she didn’t want to intervene while the train was moving.
When we arrived at the next station, the man said to the girl “Shall we go?” or something of that ilk.
Thankfully, the young woman I mentioned and her friend surrounded the girl and walked her off the train at the next stop, making sure that the guy didn’t follow her.
The drunken fuckwit continued to drink on the train, try to pick fight with random passers-by and then pass out on the floor in a pool of his own spit.
So when the words don’t flow, pick ones that do, even if they’re not great. There are plenty of times where my lack of Japanese can amount to slight frustration, but I decided I would never want any situation like that to play out in front of me again, so I’m studying harder than I ever have since coming to Japan.