Last Friday, I decided to celebrate the lovely fall weather by drinking a refreshing beer in my neighborhood park and working on my tan. I’ve discovered this really beats the hell out of sitting in a smoky izakaya wishing the proprietor’d had the foresight to provide some outdoor seating or at least install a teeny tiny window. Why the Japanese have such an aversion to open-air dining, I’ve never been able to figure out. So full of mysteries, the Far East.
Anyway, just as I was dreaming of how good I was gonna look with my new golden skin color, I noticed a homeless guy sitting across from me, on a piece of cardboard, on the ground. He was drinking one of those cheap 100-yen cups of rot-gut shochu, and looked in desperate need of a bath. Well that’s cool, I figured, public park. Plus I hadn’t exactly showered this morning either. Hey, I was busy. So I figured there was no reason we couldn’t both enjoy a pleasant cocktail after a hard day of teaching English or rummaging through garbage for aluminum cans. I’m generous with my park like that.
A Japanese Greeting for all Occasions
He looked over at me. I nodded and raised my beer. To which he replied in loud English, “America fuck you!”
That rather caught me off guard. My first thought was, Whoa, where’s this coming from? You know, like I get some minor racism in Japan on a daily basis, but it’s usually subtle. Like maybe somebody hands me a fork instead of chopsticks, that kind of thing. This lacked such nuance, and my second thought was, “Shouldn’t there be punctuation somewhere in that sentence?” But before I could point that out, he launched into a stream of English invectives, basically every swear word you’ve ever heard, and concluded with:
“Go back U.S.A.! Here’s Japan! We hate you!”
Then he spit in my direction.
Well, that did it. You know, Ken Seeroi’s a basically pretty mellow dude. After all, avoiding stress is how I maintain my youthful and radiant skin tone. And you thought it was just my daily regimen of Oil of Olay. But hey, even I’ve got my limits. Cuss me out? What, are you trying to ruin my complexion? But okay, I can deal with that. Spit at me? Eh, all right, since you’re twenty feet away, that doesn’t really faze me. But insult America? Okay now you’ve . . . well, mmmm, all right, you’ve got a point. I did move to Japan, after all, so I can’t really talk. But speak English just because I’m white? Oh, now you’ve done gone too far. There’s only so much a brother can reasonably tolerate.
Getting Rude in Japanese
So I said back at him in Japanese, “You need to work on your grammar.” But I said it without using the polite verb ending, just to let him know how I really felt. Take that.
This in turn set him off, and he resumed his string of English cuss words, interspersed with references to World War Two, the U.S. Army, Hiroshima, and, for some reason, the iPhone.
“Your words,” I replied in Japanese, “they make no sense.” Because really, they didn’t. Although I had to hand it to him, he had quite the extensive vocabulary of vulgar language, like a freaking sailor. Although, granted, I’ve never actually spoken to a sailor. But I’m pretty sure that’s how they talk.
And so we continued in this vein for some time, enjoying the fall weather, taking our respective sips of beer and shochu, and ranting incomprehensibly. Jeez, if there’s one thing I can’t stand when I go for a drink in the park, it’s some drunk wrecking the place. I mean other than me, of course. That’s different.
But the whole time, he wouldn’t stop yelling at me in English, which seemed a bit culturally insensitive. I mean, you’re in Japan—could you at least insult me in Japanese? That’s only polite. Then to make matters worse, I eventually ran out of equivalent Japanese insults, which left me at a disadvantage. Is it my fault that English is such a rich language for swearing? I blame the French. So I figured it was time to Phone a Friend, and I knew just who to call: Mikako. She’s easily the meanest Japanese person I know, her brother’s a Yakuza, and she she speaks zero English. That makes her awesome on so many levels. She once got so mad at me that she yanked open my apartment window and hurled my Starbucks tumbler onto the pavement, shattering it. To be fair, though, those tumblers do break really easily. Guess I shouldn’t have told her about that episode with her sister. Still, it cost me like ten bucks to replace. I called her on my iPhone.
The Meanest Japanese Girl I know
“I’ve got, um, like a situation,” I said to her in Japanese.
“What’s wrong?” she said immediately. “Where are you? I’ll be right there.” And the way she said it, it sounded more like, “Who’s ass do I need to kick?” God, she’s mean. I love that about her, sometimes.
“There’s this homeless guy in the park and he’s yelling at me,” I said, and suddenly I felt like I was five years old.
“Why don’t you just leave?” she asked.
“Leave?” I said, “I can’t do that. That would make too much sense. Then he’d win.
“I see,” she said. “Well, why don’t you swear at him in English? That would shut him up.
“English?” I said, “That’s no good either. I need like the worst Japanese insult you’ve got.
“Well, why don’t you tell him: ‘Die!’
“Die?” I said. “That’s the worst you’ve got?”
“That’s what I’d say.
“I was really looking for something, you know, a bit more gangster.
“Okay,” she said, “then how about, ‘die, octopus!’
“Die, octopus? I’m being cussed a new asshole by a guy who sleeps in a cardboard box and that’s what you want me to tell him?
“That’s a good one,” she said. “I use it all the time.
“Yeah, you do,” I acknowledged. “Well, thanks.”
The Moon Also Rises
Then I hung up and the homeless guy and I went back to drinking and glaring and occasionally discussing the atomic bomb and the presence of U.S. troops in Okinawa in loud voices. But after a while I realized the sun was going down and the prime tanning hours were over, so I got up to leave.
“Enjoy your box,” I said to him in Japanese.
“Go home, gaijin,” he said in English, and spit in my direction again.
“This is my home,” I replied in Japanese, and started walking away. I mean, after all, who argues with a homeless guy in the park? Well, apparently I do, but still, better to take the high road, right? Right. Or at least the road to the convenience store. Because I was out of beer, so I figured I’d head there for a freshie. He was still yelling as I left, so just for good measure, I turned around and shouted back in Japanese, “Oh yeah? Well, die, octopus!” You know that’s gotta hurt. Then I went across the street to 7-Eleven, and when I came out it was dusk and I couldn’t see across the park anymore. The moon was out, almost full, and I remembered what a lovely season fall is in Japan. But some days here, jeez. I just thank God this one was a Friday.