This is a short story about the surprises one can expect in Japan. Like the other day, it was two in the afternoon and I was heading to this bar.
The end. See, I told you it was short. Hey, it’s hard to find an izakaya open before six. But leave it to Ken Seeroi to locate a ramshackle joint with a 3-drink deal, including sashimi appetizer, for ten bucks. I’m a sucker for specials.
I decided to ride the bike there, to get in a bit of health before the booze. It was a warm Sunday, and I was casually coasting down this long hill, when suddenly the back tire went flat. Must’ve hit a nail or something. Then the front brake popped off the handlebar. When you only shell out forty bucks for an old rusty basket bike, that’s about par for the course. So as I was working to slow down with combination of shoe leather and prayer, I passed a naked baby. Nothing surprises me any more.
Japan, the Safe Country
I ground to a stop along the side of the road, looked back, and there he was, just stumbling off into the distance, butt naked. Not so much as a diaper. It was a pretty busy road with no sidewalk, cars and trucks whizzing past.
Jeez. again? Millions of Japanese folks in this country, and it’s up to the white guy to save everyone? This brought to mind a conversation I’d had with lady from China several years ago.
“Japan’s such a safe country,” I said proudly. “Even little children walk places by themselves.”
“Safe?” she said. “More like a nation where people don’t care about their kids.”
Funny how individuals can see the same thing yet reach differing conclusions. To her point, the newspaper does carry stories of abductions with startling frequency. I really gotta stick to reading the news in English. So much happier. I turned around and pushed the bike back toward the child.
Naked Japanese Babe
As I got closer, yep, he was clearly a boy. Because wiener. He was reaching up to a vending machine, fixated on the cans of coffee. He kept trying to put in change, only he was literally like one foot tall.
My first thought was, Maybe I should boost him up? I mean, if he wanted a can of coffee that badly, well, I can certainly understand that. I get that way too. And then I was like, wait, why would a baby want a can of coffee? Maybe…he’s not a baby—maybe he’s a midget, like a naked midget. Yo, sometimes things in this country are so weird that even crazy stuff seems normal. So I bent down and said in Japanese, “Hey man, you uh, need some help?”
And then I saw in his tiny hand he had all of 27 yen, and I was like Ken, you fucking idiot, that’s not a foot-tall midget who forgot his pants—that’s an actual baby. A midget would have more than 27 yen. So then I was like, maybe I should lend him a buck for coffee. That’d be the sensible thing to do.
He just kept reaching up, like he really wanted it, but he was so short, it wasn’t even close. So I squatted down and said, “Coffee? Is that what you want? Black coffee?”
He didn’t say anything. He just handed me the yen. So it occurred to me, maybe he’s mute. I mean, he doesn’t even have clothes, so that kind of made sense. But I thought, well, at least he could gesture, unless he’s deaf too, so I asked “Where’s you’re mom? Mommy?” But he just kept pointing at the cans of coffee. Hey, priorities, I get that.
A Japanese Parade
Just then, I became conscious of someone else nearby. I turned around, and across the street was a Japanese man holding a child of about three or four, just staring at me. And I was like, okay, this doesn’t look all that great, a big, hairy foreign guy crouched next to a naked boy. So I hurriedly started trying to give the baby back his 27 yen, but the little bastard wouldn’t take it. “This isn’t how it looks,” I yelled across the street. “He just wanted some coffee,” I added. Cleared that right up.
Then the baby turned around and stumbled back the way he came. A truck went by and missed him by no more than a couple of feet. I followed behind. I mean, I still had his coins. I really wanted to pick him up, but I thought that’d make things even weirder, so we just continued our little parade, naked baby, big white guy.
We crossed a side street, and over a small causeway. We actually went a pretty good distance, until we finally came to a house with the gate open, and the baby tottered his way through it. I hesitated for a moment, then followed him up to the front door, which was also open. He disappeared inside.
Visiting a Japanese Home
I stood there and thought, Well, now what? I still had his change, so I called inside softly, “Uh, hello…”
A boy of about eight came to the door.
“Was that your little brother?” I asked in Japanese.
“Are your parents home?”
He nodded again. Not real chatty, the Japanese.
“I found him walking by the side of the road,” I said. “I think he wanted a can of coffee. Here’s his yen.”
“Thank you,” he said.
I considered having a word with the parents, but something about the fact that I’d walked around with their naked son and stolen his money helped me decide I’d done enough for one day.
“You should keep the front door closed,” I said. “And get him some pants.”
The boy nodded again, and I went back to my bike. The guy across the road was still staring at me. Christ, what a country. I tucked the front brake into the basket and rode the flat to the bar. No sense trying to effect major repairs sober.
And then everything was normal. I sat at the counter, had my sashimi, a beer, and two shochu’s. Japan’s a long stream of predictability, punctuated by flashes of weirdness. And then after a while, even that starts to seem normal. What a country.