Staring Match

After all these years, I have pretty much gotten used to being gawked at in Japan. Mind you, I no longer draw crowds of giggling schoolgirls when I step onto a train (like I used to on the Kintetsu Line, c. 1990), and people in diners no longer stop in mid-sentence with a friend to see if I can use the chopsticks properly, and grandfathers no longer hold up their infant grandchildren and say, “Look, a gaijin – scary isn’t he (kowai desune),” but I still get looked at from time to time. And that’s life.

Two Sundays ago, though, K. and I stopped by for dinner at Asiyana, the Indian restaurant in Namba. As we sat down, I noticed that the man at the table across the way was staring at me. I mean full on staring. And so were his family: wife, three kids. The middle child, a girl, was muttering in her dad’s ear. Then she stared again. I looked back, attempted to smile, nodded, turned back to my menu. But they were still looking, I could feel it. I looked again, nodded. When the time came to order and they were still gawking at me, it was past the point of getting on my nerves. I was about to tell them to stop their gawking (じろじろ, jiro-jiro), when the father, a large man in his 30s, who might have been athletic once, said to me, “Do you live at Sun Valley Estates, Building No. 2?”

Since I had never seen him before in my life, I was a bit stunned to hear my address recited to me. “Y-yes,” I answered, “do you?”

“Oh, we used to live there, but we moved,” he said. “My daughter recognized you.”

“How nice of her to remember me!” was the most courteous Japanese thing I could think to say, “I’m glad to hear that.” Actually, I hadn’t a clue who the kid was either – a lot of kids play in the courtyard between the two buildings. But I’m not exactly invisible in that neighbourhood. So of course she’d notice me.

Then everyone went back to eating. No “sorry for staring,” no “where are you from,”no “do you come here often?” Nothing. When they left, nobody even said goodbye (they had to walk past our table to leave). Only the mother, who looked a bit tired and long-suffering, offered a quiet “sumimasen,” (either “pardon us” or “sorry”) as the family, led by the father barking into his cell-phone, trooped out.

“You’re famous,”said K.

“Whoopee,” said I. We drank our chai in silence.

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This entry was posted in Blogroll, japan, Osaka, restaurants, 大阪, 日本. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Staring Match

  1. pastilla says:

    The Panda Syndrome. I remember it well.

    Kudos to you for responding so politely.

  2. azumarisan says:

    I’m not sure i could have been so polite.

    The first time i went to Japan, on the train, and at the train station in rural japan (tokachi) i was stared at so intensely by everyone it gave me a nervous breakdown when i got home to Australia (no bull – ask my psychiatrist!)

    The thing that gets me is that even when they know you know they are looking at you, they don’t turn away. It makes me so angry. It’s like well you’ve had your stare, now look away please, but they don’t.

    Luckily hubby taught me JiroJiro too so i’ll use that this time (heading back in December).

    The other thing i hate is when you sit down next to someone and they get up and move to another seat. That makes me feel like a piece of sh*t. Do i smell?? Do i have a booger hanging out of my nose?? Oh sorry…i’m a gaijin! Really makes you feel less than a human.

  3. nagaijin says:

    “I’m not sure i could have been so polite.”
    I was with a Japanese friend, who would have felt responsible for either my outburst (his friend) or their provocative staring (fellow nihonjin), so I bit my tongue. Lucky the father finally explained, though, because I was about to let him have it (verbally).

  4. henrik says:

    I like your blog! You know how to tell a story!

    In my case, I think I’m the one who stares. On the train, I have to force my self to look down, but then I stare at the passengers shoes instead…

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