It’s the day before the start of term and things are hotting up. The mood in the office is busy, yet jubilant. More jokes, more excitement, more laughs and giggles. As usual I’m minding my own business and smiling to myself.
“What are you laughing at?” asks Takahashi-sensei as she walks past my desk.
“Oh nothing. Not really. I just, you know, laugh at funny things. Silly things that have happened in the past.”
“I see.” She considers for a moment…
“Like Japanese people?” she says with a grin. I burst out laughing.
“Sometimes,” I say, “sometimes.”
It’s not always Japanese people I’m laughing at but they do provide me with a great deal of amusement from day to day. A bowing attack never fails to make me snigger for instance, as I superimpose the sound effects of gunfire onto each bow and pretend that the rapid Japanese they shout in-between is used to distract the opponent rather than just as a simple courtesy.
People-watching is wonderful. Whenever I go to a big city all the excitement rushes from deep within my bones to the surface of my skin, threatening, but never quite managing, to burst out into the real world. Having an insane amount of people in my vicinity is one of the most invigorating feelings in the world, and living in Shizuoka (a city of about 800,000) only heightens the experience when you visit a proper city like Nagoya or Tokyo. It’s like a drug; do it too much and you become more and more immune to it’s effects but if you abstain, the effects are heightened the next time you do it (that’s what I’ve heard, anyway). I was 18 when I first went to London; I went to see my sister for Bonfire Night weekend. She was studying at UCL and living in a hell-hole in Tottenham at the time; it was freezing, full of bugs and damp, and the living room carpet had a burn mark in it roughly the size of a large saucepan. I had a nice spot on the floor somewhere between the bits of dried pasta and a few dead flies yet all I could feel was excitement. I was in London and I could hear the underground train, which I was on only an hour or two ago, rumbling past right underneath the house ferrying thousands of drunk, sweaty people further and further from the city centre. To quote… well… myself…
…jumping on the tube only to have my head squashed between an elbow, someone’s greasy ear and a dirty smear on the door [was] interesting and exciting in a thrill-seeking “I could die of suffocation” kind of way…
…and it was! So much life! So much energy! So. Many. Weird. People.
People-watching just isn’t the same without the weirdos; the people who talk to themselves incessantly, who scream at their imaginary babies and walk onto packed rush-hour trains to preach very loudly to everyone on it while they all pretend not to hear and hold their books and iPhones ever closer to their face. The Socially Awkward too, with their sideways looks and nervous hand-ringing as they try, desperately, to read any social situation and then fail dismally when they open their mouths and take in a barrage of strange looks and nervous laughter in reply.
The latter I can only stand so much. There is a limit to how much a grown man can cringe, and I suspect my threshold is at a much lower level than most of my peers (I can only watch one episode of The Office in any one sitting for example, and I’m completely unable to watch Peep Show), but I have all the time in the world for everyone else.
Some of the most sacred places in the world are in branches of Starbucks, Costa or some other utterly impersonal coffee chain located on a busy street. They are those little stools that line up along the window where you can perch for hours with your headphones in, and watch as the craziness of a normal day unfolds before you while the occasional smile creeps across your face. Living in Japan only adds to the amusement, and gives a person like me plenty of reasons to be smirking to myself throughout the day.