Gaijin Smash

I Go By Train

Posted in Blog by gaijinsmashnet on May 2, 2006

I was coming home from Osaka late one night. It was actually the last train back home. As such, there weren’t too many people on it. But before the doors closed and the train rolled out of the station, a guy came and plopped down right next to me. And then proceeded to stare at me. Not normal staring mind you, but the staring where you have to physically turn your body so you can get the best possible look.
Now, I get stared at a lot. More than you can possibly imagine. Especially on the trains, which are a hotbed of staring. What I’m not used to however, is for someone sitting right next to me to physically turn around so they can stare right at me. Every fiber in my body said “Get up. Get up, go, move, switch seats, get in a whole ‘nother train car.” And yet, I didn’t. I can’t say why I didn’t, only that I’m a stupid, stupid man.
The train tumbled along, with my friend continuing to gaze lovingly into my chocolate features. After five minutes or so, he finally worked up the courage to speak. “Where you going?” he blurts out in badly slurred Japanese. He was obviously blasted – his breath smelled of wine and cranberries. Don’t ask me why cranberries, I don’t know, I don’t want to know.
But aha! He spoke to me in Japanese! I can now use the Gaijin Ultimate Defense – “I don’t know Japanese.” It’s a wonderful little phrase that gets you out of almost anything here. Mixups at the train station, run-ins with the police, and especially the guy from public TV to collect money for the boring stupid TV channel you’re not watching anyway. It doesn’t however work against the Japanese Jehovah’s Witnesses (yes, they do exist), who either speak fluent English (how the fuck does this work?) or just happen to be carrying pamphlets in every language that exists on Earth, not just English. Ain’t that some dedication? “Ok, got my leaflets in Japanese, English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Arabic, Klingon, Binary, Smoke Signals, and Swahili Tongue-Clicks, just in case.”
So anyway, I use my Gaijin Ultimate Defense here.
Him: (badly slurred Japanese) Where you going?
Me: (English): I don’t understand.
Him: (badly slurred Japanese): I said, where you going?
Me: (English): I don’t know what you are saying.
Him: (badly slurred Japanese): Where you going?
Me: (English) I don’t know Japanese.
Him: (badly slurred Japanese): Where? You? Going?
Me: (English) I DON’T UNDERSTAND THE WORDS THAT ARE COMING OUT OF YOUR MOUTH!


Perhaps finally getting the hint, he manages to spit out his meaning in even worse, mangled English. I should have said I don’t speak English here, but I get the feeling somehow this would have made things worse. So I told him what stop I was getting off at. Which he needs to confirm like twelve times.
Him: (the name of my stop)
Me: Yes.
Him: (the name of my stop)
Me: Yes.
Him: (the name of my stop)
Me: Goddamnit yes.
Him: (the name of my stop)
Me: Yes. See, we’re at (current stop) now. Next is (station name), then (station name), then (name of my stop).
Him: (BSJ) Aha! You do speak Japanese!
Me: No I don’t. I just know the names of the train stations. That’s all.
Him: (BSJ) But your pronunciation is good.
Me: I’ve lived here for almost three years, that’s why. I don’t know Japanese.
Him: (BSJ) Yes you do.
Ain’t this some shit? Japanese people don’t normally believe that I (or any other foreigner) can speak Japanese. They just refuse to wrap their minds around the concept. There are people who’ve known me for two years, and KNOW I have Level 2 proficiency, but will STILL be like “Oh, do you like puppies? Do? You? Like? Puppy?” With the hand gestures and everything. It gets pretty frustrating, considering I’ve spent a good number of years studying the language and working hard to be able to converse with people in everyday situations, only for them to believe I am incapable of doing so merely because of how I look.
And the one time, the ONE TIME I can’t convince someone I don’t speak Japanese is with Mr. Drunk Cranberries. Why why why? Is being completely wasted out of your gourd what it takes to get Japanese people to believe that a foreigner is capable of learning their language? Shit, if that’s the case, let’s just start handing out the Bacardi 151 on the streets. Put it in Mr. Salaryman’s coffee. Put it in Ms. Housewife’s afternoon tea. Let’s go to the kindergartens and spike the milk. Yes, we’ve come to that point.
Anyway, my friend isn’t quite done with me yet…
Him: (Badly slurred English) Oh, (my train stop)! Me! My friend! I have! (My train stop)!
Me: Well, that’s good for you.
Him: Next, next, we meet, (BSJ) Next time, we play.
Me: Sure! If I can’t find someone to kick me in the crotch repeatedly, I’m game (I actually said this, he didn’t understand of course).
Him: (BSE) What you name?
Me: John. (My name’s not John)
Him: (BSE) Okay John. Next, next play!
Me: Oh, hey, look, it’s (my train stop)! I gotta go!
Him: (BSJ) See you again!
Me: Only if God really hates me as much as I think he does! Bye bye!
What I really want to know though, is where the fuck was Densha Otoko? Scratch that, gimme Densha Onna. Let some uber-geek girl come to my rescue and save me from dudes who’ve been drinking in a cranberry patch for too long. Then let us start an awkward and clumsy relationship, where I find out my geek girl is good-hearted and really hot with a proper makeover. Let her take me to her room adorned with Street Fighter and Transformers action figures. Where the hell was this? No, all the Japanese people on the train just quietly kept to themselves, probably thankful there was a Gaijin In The Mist to take the fall for them.
Lately, the problem of groping on trains has gotten so bad, that several railway companies have had to institute “women’s only” cars during peak hours. Can’t we get a Gaijin Only car or something? I mean, this kind of thing is more than enough certification. Maybe put the Gaijin Only car next to the Women’s Only car, and soon enough Japan’s birthrate will climb right back up. See? I’m killing two birds with one stone.

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48 Responses

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  1. Gabe said, on January 29, 2007 at 12:41 am

    “Japanese, English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Arabic, Klingon, Binary, Smoke Signals, and Swahili Tongue-Clicks, just in case.”
    Az, nothing made me laugh harder this week than the fact that I realized that even though you are exagerateing it is not much one one. JWs are persistant enough to do something like that.

  2. Mitch said, on January 29, 2007 at 12:42 am

    Gold everyday gold

  3. Freedom III said, on January 29, 2007 at 1:09 am

    “Maybe put the Gaijin Only car next to the Women’s Only car, and soon enough Japan’s birthrate will climb right back up. See? I’m killing two birds with one stone.”
    I’m really scared to ask what happens in between…oh well…I guess more material for those high-schoolers…

  4. Kelly said, on January 29, 2007 at 1:19 am

    Smoke signals?
    In a pamphlet, would that be written out, like, poof poof, puff poof, poof puff poof?

  5. Meghan said, on January 29, 2007 at 2:00 am

    Gaijin in the Mist- I love it! This post is classic Az.

  6. kaos-chan said, on January 29, 2007 at 2:27 am

    Densha Otoko reference. LOL’ed at that on.

  7. soumakyo said, on January 29, 2007 at 2:42 am

    damn, my money-collecting-for-stupid-TV-channel guy is speaking english !
    And it’s so true that japanese people have a hard time believing you speak japanese. You ask something in japanese, they answer you in english, you continue in japanese, they answer you in english again ! grr

  8. kenji ebata said, on January 29, 2007 at 3:48 am

    yea i know what u mean .. i live in toyama .and when ever i sit on a train or something ..first is tht they would NEVER sit with me .and even if they did sit with me ..they would stare the hell out of me . this one time ..there was this guy ..middle aged …kinda looked like a salary man .. he was constantly glaring at me ..i went to him and said
    oye kimi nani yateron da yo .. omai nengen mita kota nai no …
    he started to talk to me in english .. i was like .. i know japanese ..he didnt get me and forced me to speak english

  9. eL Thorsen said, on January 29, 2007 at 5:58 am

    I wonder how many countries could introduce the equivalent of Gaijin-only train cars, without being considered insensitive.

  10. Johi said, on January 29, 2007 at 6:18 am

    when people are staring at you
    just be like
    why are you looking so gay at me??
    works pretty well in germany
    hahaha

  11. Caged Penguin said, on January 29, 2007 at 7:57 am

    hilarious! just hilarious!
    I can’t wait to take my vacation just so I can
    see some of this.
    I swear, if I get a drunk next to me .. it’s going be the gaijin smash heard around the globe!!!!
    kiya nipon-jin!

  12. Warui Tanuki said, on January 29, 2007 at 9:26 am

    Maybe the cranberry smell was from plum wine? It smells vaguely cranberry-ish to me, anyway. Anyway, I loved the Densha Otoko reference.

  13. Seth said, on January 29, 2007 at 11:58 am

    “It doesn’t however work against the Japanese Jehovah’s Witnesses (yes, they do exist), who either speak fluent English (how the fuck does this work?) or just happen to be carrying pamphlets in every language that exists on Earth, not just English.”
    LOL, wow, this made me laugh so much. Especially since I am a Jehovah’s Witness, but I don’t live in Japan. I am fluent in Japanese, too…and Spanish.
    Anyway, great posts, I love ’em.

  14. Tyra said, on January 29, 2007 at 12:16 pm

    LOL! that was the best.
    oh drunk Japanese, I love ’em.
    being stared at on the train is always interesting, I normally just stare back and give ’em a smile.
    I recently got boots which land me at at whooping 5’11 I love the looks I get when I stand up to get off the train.
    is that godzilla? no just an gaijin…

  15. Cesuoshe said, on January 29, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    On people disbelieving that you speak thier language, the same thing applies in Korea. I was out with one of my female adult students for a beer, and it was time for another round. We push the table-buzzer and the guy comes up, looking automatically at my student. Instead I cut in:
    Me: Maekju Du Byung, Juseyo (Two bottles of beer, please)
    Guy: Huh what?
    Me (To my student): Uh, what, did I say it wrong?
    My Student: No, no, perfect! (To guy, in Korean) Two bottles of beer please…*Hits guy quite hard on the arm* Why didn’t you get it? What’s wrong with you?
    Guy: Uh…ummm…I wasn’t expecting a foreigner to speak Korean *shuffles off, chastised*
    In case you didn’t know, it’s acceptable for women to hit men in public in Korea. Not full on abuse, but the liberal application of punches to the arm is A-OK. It’s supposed to be affectionate. And I couldn’t stop laughing for hours.

  16. Claire said, on January 29, 2007 at 12:40 pm

    “…with my friend continuing to gaze lovingly into my chocolate features. ”
    I chuckled at this. For some reason, it just sounded so cute >.<

  17. Genibibiou said, on January 29, 2007 at 1:33 pm

    If I’m not mistaken- this was the last post on OP9 before you made the switch to this site. ^.^ Now I really can’t wait for new material!
    See- I didn’t get the “Densha” reference when I first read this. Now that EVERY MANGA COMPANY has done an issue of “Densha Otoko”, I finally get the meaning. And it’s funnier than ever.
    “Swahili tongue clicks” is what killed my keyboard. I don’t have a “c” button anymore. I have to Copy/paste my c’s. Thank you for that.

  18. Ben said, on January 29, 2007 at 2:34 pm

    the contact link doesn’t work, pressing the send button brings me to a page that says the email address is invalid. is anyone else having this problem? did he take the contact link down? 😦

  19. Anonymous said, on January 29, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    >>>>when people are staring at you
    just be like
    why are you looking so gay at me??
    works pretty well in germany
    hahaha<<<<
    Only in turkish slang.
    And probably not in Japan.
    The got Hard Gay, remember? get the wrong person and he might proudly say : “BECAUSE I AM GAY! Where are the girls with the strapons?”

  20. Anonymous said, on January 29, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    >>>>when people are staring at you
    just be like
    why are you looking so gay at me??
    works pretty well in germany
    hahaha<<<<
    Only in turkish slang.
    And probably not in Japan.
    The got Hard Gay, remember? get the wrong person and he might proudly say : “BECAUSE I AM GAY! Where are the girls with the strapons?”

  21. someone said, on January 29, 2007 at 6:41 pm

    Him: (BSJ) Aha! You do speak Japanese!
    Me: No I don’t. I just know the names of the train stations. That’s all.
    If you didn’t know Japanese, how’d you understand what he said and reply to him? πŸ˜‰

  22. Runs With Scissors said, on January 29, 2007 at 7:27 pm

    hah. adding on to that groping thing… I was reading in a a guide book of Japan that if you, as a female, ever get groped on the subway, and I quote, “Grab the person’s hand, raise it as high as you can in the air, then start yelling.” Pretty sweet.

  23. Mr. Bomberman said, on January 29, 2007 at 7:37 pm

    “…let’s just start handing out the Bacardi 151 on the streets. Put it in Mr. Salaryman’s coffee. Put it in Ms. Housewife’s afternoon tea. Let’s go to the kindergartens and spike the milk.”
    Yeaah…
    “…Maybe put the Gaijin Only car next to the Women’s Only car, and soon enough Japan’s birthrate will climb right back up. See? I’m killing two birds with one stone.”
    Yeaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh…!

  24. Jerone said, on January 30, 2007 at 3:01 am

    I love this blog. Thanks Az for writing up all your experiences. I found another really good Japan blog at http://firefly.yourjapan.jp as well – check it out! It seems like it just started though.

  25. Saint said, on January 30, 2007 at 3:55 am

    Az, I have loved this blog forever! but…bah! You had your own personal Mr. Miyagi on that train and you let him go… but, perhaps it was not the last time you two will meet.

  26. Shinkada said, on January 30, 2007 at 4:55 am

    I found it DAMN amusing that he never picked up on the fact that you understood what he was saying while he was speaking Japanese, and Badly Slurred Japanese at that.
    “The train tumbled along, with my friend continuing to gaze lovingly into my chocolate features.”
    Oh GOD that made me laugh.
    This is, I have to say, your best post yet.

  27. Maggie said, on January 30, 2007 at 5:19 am

    I suppose it must be handy to be a lesbian.

  28. Alan said, on January 30, 2007 at 3:57 pm

    It’s interesting to say the least… I’m Filipino by ethnicity so I have the typical Asian features… When I go to Japan with my wife to visit her family, I mix in quite well.
    Az, do people EVER get intimidated by you over there, or do they just “feel” that you have a CUDDLY WUDDLY personality?
    Just be happy Mr. Cranberry didn’t try to attempt a “hidden finger jutsu” on you…
    Ha ha ha ha…

  29. Excel-2007 said, on January 30, 2007 at 8:38 pm

    Do you know anyone with JLPT Level-1 Certification?
    (Az’s Note: Yeah, one guy. Me and a friend took it in December – we don’t think we passed this time around but we should be able to pass it this year.)

  30. Gunlord said, on January 31, 2007 at 12:01 am

    Haha! You rock, dude, I fukken love your Japan stories XD I’ve been reading your blog since the Outpost Nine days, and I’ve loved it ever since πŸ˜€ If you don’t mind, though, could I ask you a question I’ve been wondering about (and please feel free to delete my comment if it’s offensive or anything)? You mention in this entry and a lot of others how you get stared at a lot and generally stick out for being a big black dude among the Japanese, right? I’m wondering, though, do people seem to be afraid of you as much as they stare at you? I have a couple of African-American friends who’ve complained about this to me before–every time they cross the street or something, like every motorist on the road makes a point of locking their doors and getting ready to bolt if they look like they’re gonna get mugged. I can’t claim any moral superiority since I’ve done the same myself (much to my embarassment 😦 ), but I am wondering if you’ve experienced the same kind of thing in Japan, with people getting freaked out because they think you’re gonna beat them up or something? Just curious, though, sorry if I’m coming off as offensive or racist or anything. ^^;

  31. Sarah said, on January 31, 2007 at 6:29 pm

    You are hilarious – you’re bringing it all back for me. Thank you so much for getting all this done. It should be required reading for the JET program inductees. Kampai!

  32. zero0000 said, on January 31, 2007 at 9:44 pm

    Here in the Philippines, we actually did find it necessary to have a women’s only car in the trains.
    As for the language thing, the Chinese are pretty muuch the same. They don’t really believe foreigners can speak their language, and pretty much go deaf when they hear it from one who’s not Chinese.
    At least on the mainland it’s that way.

  33. Anonymous said, on February 6, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    Huh. I was on a business trip to Germany, and everyone there insisted on speaking English to me. Even this Hungarian who barely spoke either German *or* English. And I was born and raised in Germany, so it’s not like I can’t habla el lingo, you know? A minor American accent, that’s all it takes. So your experience in Japan is likely shared by foreigners in all countries.
    Except the USA, of course. Here we’re surprised or even annoyed when we find that a visitor doesn’t speak decent English.
    Which is worse?

  34. Anonymous said, on February 6, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    Huh. I was on a business trip to Germany, and everyone there insisted on speaking English to me. Even this Hungarian who barely spoke either German *or* English. And I was born and raised in Germany, so it’s not like I can’t habla el lingo, you know? A minor American accent, that’s all it takes. So your experience in Japan is likely shared by foreigners in all countries.
    Except the USA, of course. Here we’re surprised or even annoyed when we find that a visitor doesn’t speak decent English.
    Which is worse?

  35. TFG said, on February 6, 2007 at 10:11 pm

    “Which is worse?”
    I don’t know. On one hand, you have Americans expecting foreign visitors to have some grasp of the language of the country they’re going to visit. I guess that’s some kind of arrogance, maybe.
    However, I find it even more arrogant to assume that someone visiting your country doesn’t have any clue as to how to speak its language and, further, refusing to respond to them in the same language when they are obviously capable of using it increases the arrogance.
    That smacks of linguistic self-superiority to the extreme… At least expecting someone to have some grasp of your language implies that it’s their responsibility to be able to survive in your country by speaking the common tongue. Refusing to accept their fluency in your tongue implies you see them as a child, which to me is far worse.

  36. Jenna said, on February 7, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    For the ones that speak English just say “no habla Japanese” in horrible Spanish. They’ll never know.

  37. Anonymous said, on March 12, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    “For the ones that speak English just say “no habla Japanese” in horrible Spanish. They’ll never know.”
    Unless they happen to be ex-Jehovah’s witnesses…

  38. Anonymous said, on March 12, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    “For the ones that speak English just say “no habla Japanese” in horrible Spanish. They’ll never know.”
    Unless they happen to be ex-Jehovah’s witnesses…

  39. Nobody important said, on March 22, 2007 at 9:20 am

    The NHK collect-yer-money guy is one of my eikaiwa students, so I have to pay up. -_- And he speaks good English (thanks to those eikaiwa lessons!) so I can’t pull the “Me no speak Japanese” trick.

  40. Crosse said, on June 8, 2007 at 3:31 pm

    GOD I hate the Jehovahs Witness!!! In any damn country they will be there! and will bug that shit outta you! tell me how they know my fucking name! when they knocked at my door and said Hello Mr (insert first and last name)…what did I do…SHUT THE DAMN DOOR AT THERE FACES RIGHT AWAY! cause thats just creepy…there stalkers I tell you

  41. Vic said, on August 30, 2007 at 2:43 pm

    Densha Otoko for the win. πŸ˜€

  42. L'il Phoenix said, on October 22, 2007 at 2:17 am

    Gaijin-only cars YES!!! OMG, people treating you differently just because you are gaikokujin gets SO OLD SO FAST.
    On the shinkansen the green car might as well be the gaijin car, it is sooo quiet and nice and almost empty half the time.

  43. Jonadab the Unsightly One said, on November 9, 2007 at 8:22 am

    > And it’s so true that japanese people have a hard time believing
    > you speak japanese. You ask something in japanese, they answer you
    > in english, you continue in japanese, they answer you in english again!
    If you really want to blow their minds, you could pretend you don’t understand English, and keep trying to switch them to other languages. (You don’t have to actually know the other languages in question, because these are Japanese people you’re talking to, so they don’t know them either.)
    Them: Hey, you speak English?
    You: No comprendo, senyor.
    Them: What?
    You: No comprendo Ingles. Hablas Espanyol?
    Them: English, yes, English. You speak English?
    You: No, no comprendo Ingles. Spricken Sie Deutch?
    You: Parlez Vouz Francois? Legeis eleneka? Ruski?
    You: Quidquid Latine dictum sit altum videtur…
    You: [Japanese name for Japanese]?
    Them (in Japanese): Japanese? You speak Japanese?
    You (in Japanese): Oh, yes, I speak Japanese.
    Them (in Japanese): But you also speak English, yes?
    You (in Japanese): No. I speak Spanish, Japanese, German, French,
    You (in Japanese): Dutch, Russian, Arabic, and Afrikaans, plus
    You (in Japanese): a smattering of Latin and Greek. But no English.
    Their heads would probably explode. Either that or more likely they just wouldn’t believe you.

  44. Jonadab the Unsightly One said, on November 9, 2007 at 11:46 am

    Or, come to think of it, you could go the other way and employ such erudite English as to wholly exceed their capacity to make heads or tales, which given the impressions I’ve encountered on your blog seems immanently feasible for any reasonably educated Gringo. Just bust out a homogenous blend of over-the-top idioms, trippin’ colloquialisms, and intimidating polysyllabic terminology (anything with a non-Germanic etymology ought to getterdone) and watch their peepers expand with fear. If thou desirest to take things to the logical extreme, then do thou include a bit of the Queen’s English (she being Elizabeth the _First_, by my troth), and perhaps some regional dialect stuff. Give the wastrels something they canna handle, mate.
    Then you can revert to simple Japanese, which ought to be a big relief.

  45. GalaxyJane said, on August 7, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    Just thought I’d let you know that all German JWs (and Mormon missionaries) speak English too, even when you live in the middle of a farm town where no one speaks English (or at least pretends not too, I was never sure). As far as I could understand it’s illegal to be a Jehovah’s Witness in Germany and they STILL rang the bell of my apartment building to share the good news and copies of “Watchtower”. Fortunately it was a secure building and I just refused to buzz them in.

  46. JAG said, on August 11, 2008 at 11:12 am

    well if the dont understand you in english doesn’t work i usually move onto the non-arbo engles’

  47. Jonathan said, on October 20, 2008 at 1:24 am

    I am a 1st year JET in Nabari (about an hour East of Osaka in Mie-ken).
    The first person to ring my doorbell was a Japanese Jehova’s Witness. He asked if I understood Japanese, and I said a little, the handed me an English pamphlet with some Bible verse. I told him I wasn’t interested and he thanked me and left without incident, rather polit actually.
    Also, I was wondering if kancho was a fad that has passed because I’ve been here for 6 weeks at 2 junior high schools and haven’t had 1 kancho or dick-grabbing attempt (FYI – I’m a big red-headed white guy).
    I have had one kid rub my belly (no idea why) but nothing else. I will not let my guard down though, lest I be hit with a surprise attack.

  48. Anonymous said, on November 13, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    About the Jehova’s Witnesses. The first time I was approached I had no idea what the woman wanted but invited her into my house anyway (since no one actually accepts that invitation). To my surprise she did, even though I was in pajamas, my one room apartment was a mess, and having forgotten to change the water in my hotpot, I gave her stale tea (whoops). At first all I could get out of her was that she was going to be teaching at one of my elementary schools (I assumed as a main teacher, which I thought was great since her English was good, only to learn that they wouldn’t pay her so she was volunteering as another alt). After like ten or fifteen minutes of forced conversation she let slip her true purpose, and not wanting to sour the relationship, I agreed to start meeting and discussing it with her. Even after I told her I was passionately agnostic she didn’t seem to mind. I think she just likes the language practice.
    Long story short it’s got its ups and downs- she is actually a really nice person even if she’s quite odd, never respecting my boundaries (when every other Japanese person would jump out of a moving car if I hinted that I didn’t feel comfortable with them there, this woman would stare back at me and ask, “Why aren’t you comfortable? So you’re going to be comfortable in a minute, right?”).
    On the positive side, she works as my shield. I had another, completely different Jehova’s Witness come prying (seriously I thought I got out of bibleland, holy cow), I can just mention, “I already have a Jehova’s Witness, kthx” and they leave with this look of sublime and utter confusion. I wonder how often they get that response!


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