How to meet the local Japanese-1955 (50-51)

What world is this!?

In August of 1995 I visited Japan for the first time (and also my first time to Asia). My wife Yuko and her seven-year-old son Lucas had gone ahead of me to visit with Yuko’s mother Tsuta who lived in Sapporo.

From the moment I arrived in the airport I became increasingly fascinated by Japan, especially the people. 

How can I meet the aliens?

I’d arranged my coaching business so that I was able to stay with Yuko and Lucas at her mother’s place for five weeks. 

Quickly I became frustrated with “being a tourist.” I wanted to talk with people, just everyday people. I wanted to have a deeper understanding of how Japanese people think and feel about themselves and their life and world by engaging them in conversation. I wanted to do this by asking them questions, maybe even a bit personal like, “What do you like about yourself?” or “What do you dislike about yourself?”

Where there is a will there is a way (and courage is helpful)

But how to do that?! Finally I thought of an idea to test out. I was in a park-like area with with some park benches along a sidewalk. Japanese people were sitting on the benches, relaxing and talking with their friends or family. Sapporo is quite cold in the winter time...but in August it was very nice, maybe 70 degrees.

"Oh, you can speak English!"

As I walked casually by the park benches, I would try to make eye contact with the people on the benches. Since I was a stand-out foreigner with a “white” skin, it was pretty easy to do. Once I had eye contact with someone, I would say in a lighthearted, friendly way, “Good morning!”

If they responded back in English (maybe about 20% of the time this happened), I would exclaim with surprise, “Oh, you can speak English!”

Sometimes they really couldn’t speak English; they just knew how to say “Hello.” But more often they did. From that point, it was usually easy to start a conversation and keep it going as long as I wanted.

Shades of "A Stranger in a Strange Land" (Robert Heinlein)

I started to learn about the Japanese people and the cultural world they live inside of (almost a jail, if you will), a world so different from the Western culture that I grew up inside of. The cultural world that lives inside the heads of Japanese people continues to fascinate me to this day (May 2021)