Living In The Inaka – Part Two

I don’t start work until 3 or 4, so I used to spend the mornings pottering around the house. When the flat got too claustrophobic I would make my way down to the local coffee shop. It’s run by a husband and wife team, and they sell coffee, tea, slices of toast an inch thick, cut into three and spread with some sort of bean paste, ice cream and curry. This fine establishment is usually filled with elderly people.

Now, at home, “elderly” means 70 or so. Not in Japan. What with their diet of fish and whatnot, coupled with cycling around the place and working in the fields, the Japanese get old. 80, 90, 100. The oldest man and the oldest woman in the world are Japanese. These old people aren’t sitting at home either, they’re congregating around the entrance to the supermarket, pushing bikes up hills, hanging out at the bank in noisy huddles and going out for ice cream and coffee. This is where I usually run into them.

Anyway, they seem to have worked out some sort of schedule for the local coffee shop (the only one in town). There’s only ever loads of old ladies OR loads of old men. God help the one that gets the day wrong, they’ll be sitting alone forlornly trying to finish their ice cream as quickly as possible so they can go find their friends. Whichever group it is, when I walk in with my basic Japanese textbook they all turn around in unison and stare. The women usually start in with the “EEEEEEEEEEEEEEHHHHHHHHHHHH?!?!?!?!?!” and then screech with laughter and giggles. Sometimes I can catch a word here and there – “gaijin“, “kawaii“. The men just give me the “EEEEHHH?!?!?!?!” and then exchange surprised looks. (Bear in mind I’ve been going there at least twice a week for nearly three months.) I sit down, order my coffee and break out the textbook. The women take it in turns to come over, look at what I’m doing, marvel as I struggle through the most basic hiragana sentence while reporting back to her cronies. The men slide into the chair opposite me and ask me where I’m from, why I’m here, have I been to Kyoto and so on. (All in Japanese. I can pick out bits and pieces by now, because I get the same questions over and over.)

All this was quite sweet at the start. I thought they were friendly and interested. Now, it’s a bit exhausting. It’s every single time I go in there. I just want coffee! I never thought I’d yearn for the anonymity of St*rbucks, but I do now.

Japan! What have you done to me?

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