Being a blonde-haired, fair-skinned, blue-eyed foreigner living in Japan makes me stick out and I’m often approached by Japanese men hoping to talk me up and get my contact information. Sometimes, though, the most annoying thing can be being approached by other foreigners that assume that just because we are both foreigners, we should automatically become friends. This happens a lot, actually. Sometimes is something slightly creepy, like the girl who stared at me nonstop as we were both waiting for our numbers to be called at the immigration office. (I pretended I didn’t notice and kept my nose in a book.) Other times it’s worse.
Back in January, I had to go into Tokyo for work. After a long day, I boarded the train and listened to music to unwind, then finally got off in my town. Feet aching from my nice work shoes and trying not to get a run in my stockings, I carefully made my way through the crowd to the stairs and started my descent.
As I turned the corner to start the twenty minute walk home, a tall, dark-skinned man of maybe 185 centimeters tall started crossing the street toward me. When he saw me, his face lit up and a large smile crept across his face. Based off of the look on his face, I assumed he knew me or that we had met and I simply didn’t remember him. As he got closer, he stepped in front of my path and stopped, staring at me expectantly.
I pulled off my headphones and looked at him.
“Are you new here?” he asked.
Okay, so I didn’t know him.
“Um… no?” I replied. I definitely wasn’t new. I had lived in this town for over three years now.
“Really? I come here every day and I’ve never seen this face!”
It was the way he said it; like I was some sort of collectible trading card that he hadn’t gotten his hands on yet. My hair stood on end.
“Where do you work?” he pressed. He had a thick accent, but I couldn’t tell you if it was Jamaican or Nigerian.
“I’m not comfortable telling a stranger where I work,” I told him bluntly. After being asked this question so many times, I’ve learned how to not answer.
“I’m not a stranger,” he said. “I’m Max!”
I kind of just stared at him for a moment, then went to leave, but he blocked my path. I’m not a very small woman. I stand at 167 centimeters. But he was still towering over me and was bigger muscle-wise.
“Do you live in the area?”
If I wasn’t comfortable telling him where I worked, why did he think I’d be comfortable telling him where I lived? The fact that he was keeping me there and pressing me for information obviously had alarm bells going off in my head. My heart was pounding so hard I could hear it in my ears.
“I live with my husband,” I told him. I didn’t tell him where, just that I lived with my husband. My logic at the time was that maybe he would leave me alone if he knew I was married.
It seemed to work at first. “Oh,” he said, looking slightly crestfallen. “Do you have kids?”
… Seriously? Who asks WHY someone doesn’t have kids? “We don’t want them,” I said, going to leave again.
He stepped in front of me again. “Oh, I see! You mean you don’t want kids with him, right?”
My anger flared over my panic. Who does he think he is? “Um, excuse me? No. Not right. And if I don’t want kids, then I certainly don’t have to justify my reasoning to a stranger.”
“But I told you, I’m not a stranger. I’m Max!”
I glared at him, saying nothing for a moment before I slammed him aside with all my strength and moved on. I could feel his eyes boring into the back of my head but I didn’t turn around until I was across the street and two blocks down. I took the long way home, just in case, calling my big-brother-figure-friend on the way. I would have called my husband, but he was at work.
I didn’t see Max again for a long time. Until I started my new job, I didn’t have to go to the station often so I didn’t really have many chances to run into him. I have seen him a few times since, but I will leave that post for a different day.