Golden Week is so named because some Japanese people happen to have four days off (only three consecutively) at the end of April/beginning of May. By chance, our company closes (grudgingly) for the full week. Many colleagues go to Okinawa; some go skiing; others stay in Kansai and enjoy one of the few weeks in the year when it’s hot but not humid. I was in the last category, more from inertia than any cool plans I might have had. No matter – for the first few days I was perfectly content puttering around the neighbourhood, making (ultimately failed) attempts at rearranging my apartment, and reading in the park. Come the weekend, genteel bacchanalia awaited. Life was good.
Around ten o’clock Friday I was on my second cup of coffee, second load of laundry (summer clothes), and the second hour of As It Happens (the CBC Radio evening show which, thanks to time zones, is a morning show here). The doorbell rang. Usually, unless I’m expecting a parcel, I don’t answer it (since I don’t want either a Japanese newspaper subscription or The Watchtower). This time, for some reason, I did. It was a young guy from Osaka Gas – my carbon monoxide/smoke detector had to be replaced, he said. Could he please come in and replace it?
Horror gripped me when I saw, in a flash, how a stranger would see my unkempt kitchen. The recycling was in a pile, waiting to be sorted. Dirty laundry was queued to go into the washer. My computer desk/table was its usual pile of books, papers, neckties, appliances and receipts. The previous night’s dishes were washed, but were still piled on the dish rack by the sink. There was a kettle on the floor. I pulled myself together: “Chotto motte, kudasai,” (one moment, please) and closed the door on him.
Clothes were thrown into the laundry nook and the door was slid closed, recycling was thrown haphazardly into bags, a dust mop was quickly passed over the floor, the door to the living room was closed, the shoes were rearranged in the genkan (玄関, the little entryway where you leave your shoes upon entering any Japanese home). This took about three minutes. Then I opened the door wide in a guilty “we have nothing to hide here!” gesture, and let him in.
It took him less than a minute to climb up on a chair, take out the old detector and snap in the new one (it occurs to me that Osaka Gas replaces these – free of charge – every five years: so that’s exactly how long I’ve been living in this flat). He then proceeded to fill out three pages of paperwork, in triplicate. He squatted down and wrote with his clipboard on his knee (there being, to my shame, no room on the table). A dust bunny hopped by, but he chose not to see it. While he wrote and checked boxes, he made conversation of a sort:
–Him: So where are you from?
– Me: Canada.
– Oh. So you’re American, then?
– Um, no. Canadian. It’s a different country. It’s above The United States.
– Oh, I see. does it have a capital city?
– Yes. Ottawa.
– Oh. I might have heard of that (as if we were talking about Mesopotamia).
He asked me what I did. I told him I was a teacher, and he made a great show of awe, as one must here ( although these days, that awe is sorely misplaced – I certainly don’t deserve it, and his geography teacher should be flipping burgers).
After giving my hanko to all the paper work, he left. I sighed, and locked the door. A minute later, the doorbell rang again – he had given me the wrong copies of the forms. He asked me to initial all the hanko marks (although I couldn’t use my signature, I could initial hanko mistakes – go figure). Then he left – presumably for another five years. I was always led to believe that getting a job at Osaka Gas was terribly difficult and required graduating from a good university. Guess I was wrong. He did at least put the smoke detector in properly…at least I think that’s what the little green light means.