My Friend the Ambassador
My friend Terry left Japan to return to Canada
yesterday. No, not permanently, but just for a two-week vacation,
going back to visit his family and friends after being here for
nearly two years, working for a Japanese company. He lives in a small
'one-room' apartment, goes to the office every day on his scooter,
and in most respects, lives pretty much the same life as most young
unmarried Japanese 'salarymen'.
I have been wondering about what he will tell his
Canadian friends about his life here. I am sure they will be full of
questions ... How is your job? Can you eat the food? Can you meet any
girls? Are you learning to speak Japanese? And of course the big one:
What is it like living in Japan?
There are two ways he can answer all their
questions. Two very different ways. He could tell them about the long
hard hours of work at his company. About how he arrives home late
many evenings, too tired even to make dinner before falling into bed.
About how he spends many Sundays at his desk, because the other
employees are also there working, and he can't be the only one to
take time off. His Canadian friends will understand; they have heard
such stories about Japan many times before. He could also tell them
about his tiny, cramped apartment, and the endless noise from the
neighbours and the motorcycles outside. They will not be surprised at
this either. He could tell them about his feeling that he is becoming
just a cog in a huge industrial machine, devoid of his own
personality. They will nod knowingly ...
Or he could tell them a different kind of story.
He could tell them about Yuko and Toyotaro Tokimoto, who took him
into their home, and made him a 'full-time' member of their noisy,
chaotic, happy family. He might mention his co-worker Yajima-san,
devoted to his wife and two young children, and for whom the words
'family man' might have been invented. The Canadian friends will look
at each other, these are Japanese he is talking about?
He might then tell them about little five-year old
Shunsuke, who doesn't know the word 'foreigner', but who does know
that anybody willing to get down on the floor and wrestle with him
like Terry does is going to be his true friend for life. Yes, he
might tell his friends about some typical Japanese people like these
- for this is the side of Japan about which they know nothing.
Which story do you think he should tell? I guess
they are both true; but only one of them is well-known. The other
one, the human story, has somehow been neglected. So I hope Terry
will avoid reinforcing the old stereotypes about Japan, and will
simply tell his friends that, when you get right down to it, in all
the things that are really important, the people who live on these
islands are just the same as people who live anywhere else. I sure
hope he will, because around most of the world, the human story of
Japan is a pretty well-kept secret ...