Osaka Largesse Postscript: Writ in Water

The day after speaking to the cheerful old man on the train who just had to know how much I weighed (in an admiring way, because he liked sumo), I went to my gym and, since I seem to have hurt a tendon in my shoulder (and can’t swim very well anyway), I opted to go for a long march – 2000 metres – in the walking lane of the pool (most pools in Japan have these). Imagine walking steadily for 2 kms in chest-deep water: a good low-intensity aerobic exercise and a good wind-down after work. Well, I was happily striding away (sometimes backwards, sometimes crouching, always looking ridiculous) when I noticed a woman about my age in the beginner’s swimming lane, next to mine. She had cap and goggles on, earplugs in, and was looking at me.

Why are you walking?

I had never seen her before in my life. Taken aback, my Japanese evaporated.

I can’t swim (suiei ga dekinai), I eventually blurted out, ungrammatically.

– So why don’t you learn?

– My arm hurts. Hurt it. Upstairs (the gym). I turned and kept walking.

Fifty metres later, there she was again.

– So you’re just going to walk. That’s all?

– I exercised and now I’ll walk (I was not in a chatty mood).

– Why?

– It feels good.

– Yes, but why?

I pretended I didn’t hear, turned, walked another lap. She bobbed up from the water and and smiled triumphantly.

– I know! I know why!

She pointed to my belly.

– Metaboli (メタボリ)!”

Metaboli is the trendy new word, short for “metabolic syndrome”, which has entered the language via the media here in the past year. It just means you’ve got a beer belly, but because it’s got a foreign faux-scientific sound to it (if you’re Japanese), it’s become the cool new way of calling someone a fat-ass. I don’t think she was being malicious, but she was certainly being insensitive (not that Osakans are accused of that very often…), and was probably a bit snapped (my turn to be insensitive).

Sadly, there’s only one way out of a situation like this without causing a scene (which would be blamed on me). I made a self-deprecating joke and moved on.

– I like Japanese beer too much, I said, over my shoulder (and so did your mother when she was carrying you, honey, I failed to add).

This seemed to satisfy her, and she laughed, continued swimming for a few laps, then mercifully left. I kept at my routine until I’d reached my goal, then went for a shower and sauna, where a naked old Japanese man relentlessly tried to speak to me in French until I fled. Je pense que vous aimez la cuisine japonaise, he remarked, pointing to my gut.

No wonder I drink.

I’ll say this much for being overweight in Japan, a country where fully 25% of all women in their 20s are officially underweight but whose media only talk about the danger of beer bellies: you’ll have no trouble starting conversations in public places. Now if only I wanted to.

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7 Responses to Osaka Largesse Postscript: Writ in Water

  1. Orchid64 says:

    OK, I officially take back what I said about no offense meant and Japanese people talking about weight more freely than Westerners. What happened here was definitely rude and meant to embarrass you. I think she was asking why you were walking figuring you’d say something like “I’m too fat to swim because I’ll get winded”. Her persistence and “why”, “why”, “why” just seemed to scream trying to humiliate you. There was just no other point to what she did.

    I have never lived in Osaka so I don’t know if people often strike up conversations with strangers. Is this normal for that area? It is not done in Tokyo. That is why I get so irritated when my privacy is invaded by random strangers who decide to start speaking with me because I’m a foreigner. They don’t do it to each other, but they do it to me.

    Given how relentless this seems to be, in your shoes, I’d be inclined to start remarking back about aspects of their appearance of the people in the same tone and see how they respond. (Like, “your arms are thin but still flabby” or “your eyes are really small.”) I don’t say this because I think you should be rude in return, but rather as a test to see if they take such remarks well. If so, then it’s just a cultural difference. If not, than they might have an inkling that they’re being offensive by talking about your body.

  2. nagaijin says:

    She wasn’t deliberately trying to humiliate me – but she *was* dumb and insensitive, so same result. In Japan, Kansai people (esp. Osakans) are known for being more talkative and outgoing than people from Kanto (esp. Tokyo) but some Osakans these days think that gives them carte blanche to be tactless and loud (and not just with foreigners). The old man in the previous post was old school – as I tried to point out, he was just trying to be friendly. The woman in the pool and the old guy in the sauna were just trying.

  3. Kelly says:

    OMG what an awful experience. If someone did that to me here I would never go back! I think my reply to that woman would be “because I want to”. And if she asked again I would say “because I can”.

    I don’t think insulting someone else is the right way to go because then you are stooping as low as they are.

    And probably she didn’t realise just how dumb she is, but it’s still rude.

    Do these kind of things happen to you on a daily basis nagaijin?

  4. nagaijin says:

    No, just now and then. At least these people spoke to me directly. Over the years, I’ve been out walking or on the subway with Japanese friends and had people come up to them and ask them questions about me without ever personally acknowledging me in any way, the same way you talk to someone who has an unusual breed of dog. Now *that* irritates me, and I make no effort to hide it. Yes, it probably happens in other countries, but no, that doesn’t excuse it.

  5. Pingback: Annual Health Check, 2009 « Nagaijin

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