I was standing on the Odakyu Line platform at Shinjuku waiting for the train to my new place when a girl came and stood beside me in the queue. I glanced around the station like a fidgety little 3-year-old kid wondering when the train will arrive when something on the girl’s hair caught my eye. I wasn’t certain what it was, when or how it got there, but it looked like a tiny cluster of dust even though it also could’ve been some trendy accessory that a fashion-idiot like me didn’t know about. I took a couple more looks before deciding that’s no fashion. I thought I should let her know. But I stopped myself for reasons I don’t really know. Perhaps I was worried of being judged that I was attempting to pick her up. Perhaps.
The train arrived and emptied out on the opposite side of the platform before we were allowed to board. When the doors on our side opened, I told myself, “if she happens to sit next to me, I will let her know about that foreign matter very much settled into her hair.” Since there were plenty of seats and people, I didn’t think the chance of that happening was high at all. But lo and behold! Everyone filled every other seat but the one next to her. I took it and wondered when the best time would be to utter my opening “sumimasen.” I started running simulations in my head of the train stopping at the next station, I nonchalantly glancing towards the door and “happening to see it,” then letting out the s-word. But that was if she doesn’t alight, I thought. If she did, my worry would be over and shame would come knocking grilling me on why I hesitated on something as minor as such.
The train arrived at the next station. She remained seated. I started to create the “I just happened to see it now” moment when I noticed another lady in front of me staring in my direction. I wasn’t sure if her stare was at the Hercules guitar stand I have in my hands or that she CT-scanned my thoughts. I felt naked with her piercing eyes right before me and gave up again. I told myself, “Ok, next stop. If she doesn’t alight, I will tell her.”
The next stop came before the train could move. At least it felt that way. I thought, “what the heck.” And though my left hand started trembling at the thought that she could think I’m trying to hit on her, I opened my mouth. She removed her earphones I didn’t realise she had on, the exchange started and the dust ball dropped off her head.
I’ve experienced multiple times before when I was trying to ask for directions and people just upped their pace and walked off like they couldn’t hear me. Like they thought I was hitting on them. I thought that was rude for a nation so well-known for its politeness, and started being wary about being judged. Singapore is by no means a highly polite country of people but anytime you go “excuse me” on the streets, you can be guaranteed whomever you were calling out to would stop and hear to find out how they could help you, even if they don’t live around the area to know enough. But if there’s one teeny possibility that the only information they have could be exactly the one you need, they would listen. I figured why people are less willing to hear you out on the streets in Japan especially if you’re male might be due to the prowling scouts.
The pornography and adult entertainment industry scout for women on the streets being fairly direct in their approach which may be offensive to women. That could be why their shields are always up when approached by a male stranger. The girls typically keep walking and ignore them like they don’t exist. Some of these scouts persist and follow them a stretch of the way before giving up to hunt for the next girl. This happens on the streets everyday. If you would like to catch that in action, stay around Shinjuku station’s east exit for a whole day.
I once watched a documentary on the pornography industry and learnt that as long as the scouts can get one person to join the industry out of the 100 people they approach everyday, the industry will thrive. That’s 30 fresh faces per month per scout. But I digress.
What I did wasn’t a big deal but I’m glad I did it. At least it saved her from the embarrassment when everyone else on the street sees it though the embarrassment wouldn’t be a big deal either. In fact, writing this much about something as minor as this is the big deal. I really ought to do a QC on what I post.
That sure is alot to think about to tell someone they have something in their hair. So much stress in Japan.. 🙁 No wonder there’s no suicides by a Japanese stationed in Singapore.
Sometimes when I visit Japan, or even communicate with Japanese friends, I feel this odd dilemma too. I do agree that in SG, people are mostly secure enough to at least see what you have to say, but in Japan, it seems safer (at least in the big cities) to just ignore approaching strangers.
When I stayed in Japan on exchange, I couldn’t help but reflect a lot on daily occurrences, simply because they differ so much from SG. I think reading this post reminded me that while I’m excited to return to Japan again, there may be uncomfortable differences in very real, everyday encounters.
I picked out a fallen leaf on a girl’s head and we started dating. True story.