Friday, 1 May 2015

Taxi Omotenashi

A short vignette to begin.

I was out for a walk a few nights back. I'd spent the entire day procrastinating at home and was suffering from cabin fever, so I decided to take a stroll. It's already quite warm here in Tokyo, even in the evening, and there's a pleasant calm to the city at night that's a far cry from the often manic bustle of midday.

I was close to the boundary of Shibuya and Shinjuku wards, not too far from Nishi-Shinjuku-5-chome, when I saw a taxi pull up just before the lights on a small two-lane road that intersects Yamate-dori, one of the main North-South roads on the west side of the city. There were three guys in the taxi; all young, all dressed in business attire - two in the back and one in the front. One of the guys in the back got out and came round to the front passenger-side window. At first I thought he was getting off there and was giving money to his friend in front. Not so. It became evident that the guy in the front seat was rather the worse for wear. I wondered if maybe he was a new staff member at his company (April is hiring season) and he'd gone out for welcome drinks with coworkers and had more than his fill. Whoever he was, his friend/coworker helped him out and transferred him to the back seat, perhaps so that someone could keep an eye on him and prevent him from vomiting on the dashboard.

This story doesn't really go anywhere (bear with me), except that something struck me as odd in a nice sort of way at around the moment I realised the guy in front was wasted. The taxi driver was rubbing his arm in a manner that I can only describe as affectionate. It seemed to go against my conception of taxi driver's in Japan formed over two and a half years of them cutting in front of me, or pulling in halfway towards the kerb to let a passenger in or out without drawing close enough to get out of the way. I suppose it's natural in a service nation like Japan for taxi drivers to treat their customers well, but I was surprised to see this simple act of physical contact, which seemed to go over and above what I would expect, especially towards someone who at any moment threatens to turn the inside of your taxi a dirty cream colour.

Anyway, with the passenger switcheroo completed, they passed the taxi passed the lights and headed off south, the other rear-seat passenger holding up a plastic bag in front of his sloshed friend's face.

We've missed you

It's been four years since my last post, and a lot has happened in that time. Global air travel started to look a lot less safe, Scotland opted to stay part of the UK after a hard-fought independence campaign, and virtually everyone I grew up watching on TV has turned out to be a paedophile.

And I moved back to Japan.

I've thought about getting back into blogging pretty much since I decided to come back three years ago. When I finished the JET Programme I'd been hoping to stay on in some position where I could use Japanese and hopefully avoid the cliched pitfall of becoming an eikaiwa English teacher. After failing to get a job at CLAIR (the organisation that runs the JET Programme) I felt kind of let down by the country and broke off our romance. But we've put that behind us now, changed our Facebook relationship status to "It's complicated" and I've moved back in.

So I've been living in Tokyo for the last three years. I went the working holiday route, which is a convenient option open to most Europeans, in addition to Australians and a few other countries. The British one is for one year, after which you need to either find a company to sponsor you, marry a Japanese national, or else get someone to adopt you. The first option worked for me, and I got a three year working visa through the company that hired me after my arrival.

I quit that job over a month ago. Ostensibly, it was because I wanted to go back to Scotland for my brother's wedding - I was already back for a month at Christmas and didn't have the vacation time. But really I decided that I was getting too close to the dreaded three-oh to be doing a job that, while in no way terrible, was in no way related to anything I have ever wanted to be doing. Except that I got to use Japanese quite a lot.

I'm in Tokyo, then, and the future is uncertain. But as long as I'm here I wanted to share some of my experiences from this, the biggest city in the world. It's funny old place out here, and after six years in Japan I only just feel like I'm beginning to figure it out.

These streets have stories, and I'm putting my ear to the ground to listen to them.

Won't you join me, please?