How to be Popular in Japan
I’m the most popular guy in town. And given that about a million people live in my town, that’s quite a distinction, seriously. So recently I bought a jump rope. Look, it’s not easy keeping in shape in Japan. Like I’d just gotten home last Thursday night when I got a call from this old guy that I teach English to. He’s about seventy years old and some president of a company or something. Actually, I don’t even know his name. I just call him President-san. Anyway, I pick up the phone and he says, “Can you sing The Beatles?” And I’m like, “Who is this?” And he says his name, but of course I still don’t know who he is because I don’t know his name, and he says, “There’s a band at the izakaya. Come here now and sing English songs!” And he says all this in Japanese, which is kind of ironic, and a bit depressing since it’s my fault his English isn’t getting any better. But I still hopped on my bike and reluctantly raced down there. I discovered singing with a band is a whole lot harder than karaoke. You never think about how many words are in a song until there aren’t any lyrics in front of you. Still the crowd went wild when I sang “Imagine.” I sound just like John Lennon.
So anyway, it’s hard to maintain one’s fitness when one’s exercise for the week is biking to and from izakaya. So I got this jump rope, which by the way only cost me a dollar, and that’s about the greatest deal ever. And I took it to the park at dusk, just as it was starting to get dark. Actually, I think the Japanese word for “park” translates to English as “miserable patch of dirt.” Somebody seriously needs to introduce the Japanese to the concept of trees and grass. But since it’s an open space and close to my apartment, that’s where I went.
If there’s something more physically challenging than jumping rope I don’t want to know what it is. Jumping rope for five minutes is like running a marathon, only harder. And at the end of five minutes of hopping up and down in the dirt I finally stopped and was going to quietly have a heart attack and die when I looked up and in the dark, all around me, were little pairs of eyes. Children’s eyes. It was like some effing weird horror film, where all these little kids form a circle and close in on you from all directions. Instantly, I was mobbed by Japanese children. They wanted to know why I was jumping rope, and where I was from, and if they could too. So I said Go ahead, and didn’t see my jump rope again for the next half hour. Bunch of little thieves, the lot of them.
After I finally retrieved my newest prized possession, I decided to stop by the 7-11 for some electrolyte replacement drink in the form of a malted beverage. That’s when I noticed I had a problem. Something was missing from my wallet, and it wasn’t just money as usual. It was my alien registration card. The little ID card that allows me to legally stay in this country. Somehow, somewhere I managed to lose the only thing I actually need in Japan. Where it went, I have no idea. I am an idiot. Whatever. I still bought two giant cans of malt liquor, since nobody’s ever carded me in this country anyway.
So the next day I had to go to City Hall, which was a pain in the ass. And they sent me to the police station, which was a bigger pain in the ass. And the cops were like, Where’d you lose it? And I was like, Man, I don’t know. I went to this bar, sang with a band, jumped some rope, and bought some booze. That’s all. And the one cop sits up and says, “Oh, you’re that white guy who jumps rope.” And I was like, What, you know me? And he’s like, Yeah, my kids love you. And then I felt bad. Not because I thought ill of his kids, but because this nice man obviously believed his kids weren’t a bunch of thieving hooligans, when they clearly were.
So I got my police report and went back to City Hall, took a number, and had to wait for about an hour, and I was sure wishing I had something cool and refreshing to drink. City Hall is really boring. They have magazines and television, sure, but no internet. What kind of place is that? I made up my mind to stop by the 7-11 on my way home. So after forever of watching TV with no sound, eventually they call my number. I go up to the desk and give the lady my police report and she’s like, Oh, you’re that white guy who sounds like John Lennon! And I was like, Jeezus, what the hell is up with all you people? I need to get me a disguise like Clark Kent or something. So we talked for a while and she was thrilled as punch.
Then eventually I made it to the 7-11 and picked up a can of some grapefruity booze and a package of these delicious potato stick things. My diet here has gone to hell. When I get to the counter I can see a flash of recognition in the clerk’s face, but I shoot him a look, like, Don’t you say it. And then just when I think I’m going to make it to the door without comment, another clerk comes running from the back and is all like, “Ken-san!” And so we talk and joke around for a bit. And instantly I’m in the middle of a circle, telling the whole store about how I lost my ID card and about my new exercise program. Everyone’s nodding their heads and then they all start saying how they’ll buy jump ropes and come down to the park too. And I’m like, Oh my God no. In about one second I went from being the Man of Steel to being the new town gym teacher. I really gotta stop being so darned popular.