Sunday, August 15, 2010

On staring and good-looking men

Staring. Seemingly every foreigner in Japan has something to say about it. And now - so do I.

Though it may come as a surprise to many, I haven’t really been stared at in Japan. For the most part, I’ve been treated just like any other anonymous face in the crowd. And yes, I am a blond, western woman.

From time to time a kid, or a drunk salaryman farmer will do a double take, but that’s about it. Dunno why. Maybe I’m spectacularly ugly? But no, then people would REALLY stare. Rather, I must be spectacularly average, so pedestrian and mundane that even the most inquisitive countryside obachans don't pay me any attention.

There are no scared children who clutch their mothers’ skirts and burst into tears upon seeing me in a cereal isle at the local supermarket. There are no curious looks from gas station attendants or postal workers. I go about my daily business mostly ignored by mostly everybody.

When approached by native strangers, and with no hesitation on their part, I have always been addressed in Japanese. I’ve been asked for directions and complained to about the weather, all in a friendly Tochigi manner. Nobody seems surprised by my presence, and nobody makes a big deal of it.

When visiting Tokyo, infrequently as it may be, I’m just another boring gaijin. Yawn, burp, snore… I’m perfectly invisible. I’ve been invisible in Osaka, Kyoto and Nara, of course. But surprisingly enough, I’ve also been invisible in small-town Tochigi, Fukushima and Ibaraki – places not normally known for their cosmopolitan, multi-culti flair.

I got so used to my anonymousness that I forgot that I do indeed look a lot of different than 99.99% of this country’s population. And I was rudely reminded of this fact this week while visiting Shikoku.


Yep, Shikoku. Luckily its nature is more luscious than its people.

Boy, do people have a staring problem there, or what? Both natives and foreigners alike, it seems. I have never seen a guy run up from behind me, turn around and stare. Last Thursday was the first such experience. The first of many.

All this attention made me feel first awkward, and then superpower mighty. If they can stare at me, let me stare back. But actually, no major staring was necessary. My mere presence had a profound effect on people. Women gawked with open mouths (yes, I was fully and quite decently dressed, in case you’re wondering) and men fell off their bicycles. And I felt like that Chinese girl in the “Memoirs of a Geisha” movie when the Michelle Yeoh character tests her if she’s ready. She looks at some guy on a bicycle and he falls down. And shit, I’m no geisha and in Takamatsu I could do the same. Awesome!


Bike accident in 3... 2... 1...

That the natives may stare that is to be expected. After all, I’m a newcomer who has encroached upon their territory. And let’s be frank here, Shikokans are fugly (I guess that's what centuries of inbreeding can do to the best of us). I’m a movie star by comparison.

But other gaijins? That’s a bit extreme. Guys, for a white woman, I’m not that beautiful (I’m less than average, according to my ex, but not so ugly that you’d want to gouge your eyes out). So stop staring, you’re just being rude, especially when you’re walking along with a lady friend hanging onto your arm. And ladies, yes, I’m a skinny bitch and my tits might be bigger than yours, but trust me, they’re all natural, no need to stare.

If anything, this road trip made me appreciate Tochigi that much more. And now I’m glad to be back to my usual obscurity. Crap, sometimes I wish people good-looking men* would stare at me here. But sadly, in Tochigi, I’m nobody special.

*) - I’ve never considered Tochigi guys to be especially good-looking, but damn, compared to the inhabitants of Shikoku, they are.

And speaking of good-looking, which Japanese prefecture has the handsomenest men? Opinions, please.

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