The Newbie

An extract from a work of fiction tentatively entitled ‘Foreigner’ by Michael Gillan Peckitt

Finally  I arise, turn on the TV, and the morning chat show is on, Japan’s morning serving of cooking shows and celebrities. The show usually begins with a starter of chefs and their food, maybe followed by the main course; an interview with the celeb de jour, for whom they prepare a meal and today is no different, the hostess explains to the latest soon to be has-been that the right way to make a meal of barbequed chicken. According to the host of the show, there is a wrong way to skewer chicken, it is apparently not enough that you stick a metal rod through the poultry’s backside, you must insert said rod in the proper way, to fail to do so would be very bad and result in ill-tasting chicken. The chicken does look good and I consider going back to sleep to dream of fried chicken. But no, alas I have to work today, so about that caffeine. I only started drinking coffee after moving to Japan a few years ago. 

Before moving to Japan I found coffee to be one of the most inconvenient of drinks, a trait it shares with all hot beverages, I mean, you’re thirsty and perhaps really thirsty, so what is the point of drink you have to leave ten minutes to cool down before consuming? I do like the occasional expresso though, but not today, today will be all about soft drinks, and ultimately, the best reason to take up the habit of drinking coffee is to use the WIFI at Starbucks. Cola and cheese on toast, a breakfast that reminds of my student days, no essay could be completed without such necessary sustenance. I eat, shave, and find my keys, wallet and resident card. The iPhone is fully charged and I put on my headphones, although I am not actually listening to anything, the mere inserting of earplugs creates a sometimes necessary haven of solitude, a buffer between me and the world. What is it about the wearing of headphones that suggests to the native people of Japan ‘let’s chat?’ I leave the apartment.

 

It’s called The Land of the Rising Sun for a reason; the morning vista can be something special, a crisp blue skyline with the brightest yellow sun. If I were a morning person, I would like the mornings here, but I like my futon too much and have to work today, so it is difficult to appreciate the view. I enter my local conbini, a 711, to buy a drink and a sandwich, ‘Irrashaimase’ exclaims the cute girl from across the counter. I smile awkwardly and nod upon hearing her words and grab a copy of The Japan Times from the newsstand, fold the paper and present it and yield five hundred to the lady behind the counter. Arigatogozaimasu she says, and Arigatogaimashta I say as I exit the conbini. Since I am need of a good internet connection, I linger outside the train station, pacing up and down as I listen to YouTube videos and podcasts. There are many benefits to standing near a train station. You are outside, so there is good internet and a means of escape should, to put it kindly, troublesome individuals turn up, individuals such as The Newbie, who has just come up on the elevator and is making a beeline for the ticket machine. I close my eyes and focus on the sound of the talking head being emitted from my headphones and imagine a world where, since I had just barely noticed The Newbie, he did notice me

 Alas we do not live in such a world and as he wave his aims to get my attention and begins galloping, releasing the hand of his latest Gaijin Hunter; a cute young girl, petit with dyed brunette hair, I wonder if The Newbie has some kind GPS tracker app that enables him to find me when I least what to seem him. I know I shouldn’t be unkind, it’s just he’s young, ever so eager, yet being fresh off the boat, completely clueless about Japan, and there is something about that combined with his average looks and the fact he always has a new cute girl by his side that makes his face eminently slapable.

He asks me if I had tried the latest seasonal soft drink ‘sakura cola’, essentially just cherry cola. I say I had but found it a bit too sweet – a lie – I actually quite like it, I just want this conversation to be over as soon as possible. A pause. If I were a social person this where I would speak, mercifully, I hear the chimes announcing an approaching train, quite literally saved by the bell; I shrug, stare at my iPhone and mumble:

 

Sorry I’ve got to go. 

And then I scramble on a train.

 

Morning 

Mornings seem forced to me. – Osamu Dazai

I awake to the theme music from an NHK TV program, some Japanese lady singing a love song, no doubt about a great and long lost flame, and how she misses him. Why it never occurs to her to stop singing about it and find someone who actually loves her is beyond me, that would be a song worth listening to, but alas, apparently, that is not done thing, and the singer rather pathetically wails on about the loss of her paramour. He left you lady; get over it, I think to myself. 

Annoying as such music can be, I do like some of it, the voice of the singer is often so loud and imposing that it’s quite useful as an alarm clock, and as the last verse is cried out I’m completely awake. 

Actually that’s a lie, I am almost completely awake, and there is still some residual debris from the night’s rest that only caffeine will wash away. The temptation is to close my eyes, to embrace the idea that there is something rather arbitrary about mornings, why must we get up simply because the sun has come out, why does a ball of fire determine what our waking hours should be? But arguing against nature is no use; it is a new day, for better or for worse. Get up, start moving. But inevitably I stay horizontal for another half an hour, or so. 

Finally I arise, turn on the TV, and the morning chat show is on, Japan’s morning serving of cooking shows and celebrities. The show usually begins with a starter of chefs and their food, maybe followed by the main course; an interview with the celeb de jour, for whom they prepare a meal and today is no different, the hostess explains to the latest soon to be has-been that the right way to make a meal of barbequed chicken. According to the host of the show, there is a wrong way to skewer chicken, it is apparently not enough that you stick a metal rod through the poultry’s backside, you must insert said rod in the proper way, to fail to do so would be very bad and result in ill-tasting chicken. The chicken does look good and I consider going back to sleep to dream of fried chicken. But no, alas I have to work today, so about that caffeine.

I only started drinking coffee after moving to Japan a few years ago. Before that I  found coffee to be one of the most inconvenient of drinks, a trait it shares with all hot beverages. I mean, you’re thirsty and perhaps really thirsty, so what is the point of drink you have to leave ten minutes to cool down before consuming? I do like the occasional expresso though, but not today, today will be all about soft drinks. Cola and cheese on toast, a breakfast that reminds of my student days, no essay could be completed without such necessary sustenance. I eat, shave, and find my keys, wallet and resident card. 

The iPhone is fully charged and I put on my headphones, although I am not actually listening to anything, the mere inserting of earplugs creates a sometimes necessary haven of solitude, a buffer between me and the world. I leave the apartment.

An extract from a work of fiction by Michael Gillan Peckitt, tentatively entitled ‘Foreigner.’

The Limping Philosopher’s new e-book: ‘The Chrysanthemum & the Stick’

Hi readers, 

Sorry for the lack of blog posts of late, although I have been writing for a Japan based website called Accessible Japan a kind of part information site for people with disability wanting to visit Japan, part disability and Japan news service. It’s ran by a man named Josh Grisdale.

I contribute to the blog section with a kind of column called ‘Notes from the Obstacle Course’ This is my latest post.

I also have another e-booklet out there! The link below is for Amazon Japan but it’s available on all Amazon Stores!

The Chrysanthemum & the Stick

Only Connect

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. – E.M. Forster

I have become the type of person I hate in Japan, the one who hogs the seats on trains. You know the type, the gaijin or salaryman with the wide stance who thinks the entire carriage belongs to him. Let me tell you how I became such a person.

I recently noticed that as I get older and the pain I experience due to cerebral palsy (and maybe the beginnings of middle age) have made me socially inert. I was never been the life and and soul of the party, I’ve always been one who prefers his own company, and maybe that of a good book, but now I catch myself actively avoiding human company. And that, I feel, is not good. The pain of course, is not pleasant and the inability to be out and about for long periods without pain or collapsing, is far from fun, but that is no the worst thing about having a disability. The worst part is how having a disability dictates how you respond to people.

It would be easy to dismiss this as due to the fact that I live in Japan and am not Japanese, that whilst I am trying to learn Japanese, it’s inevitable that I will be socially isolated. And between the drunk salaryman trying to practice his English or the curious child seeing their first foreigner with a disability, there are many good reasons to turn on the smartphone and slap on the headphones, which act like a ring of steel against social interaction. It’s surely OK to build a wall of sound around yourself, to protect yourself with podcasts and YouTube videos, isn’t it?

And what do the headphones of solitude protect me from? This was a question that occurred to me recently. It may indeed offer some minimal shielding from unwanted, and upon rare occasion intimidating encounters here in Japan, but on closer reflection, I began to realize that that was no the reason. Rather I was trying to protect those around me from myself.

It’s something I first noticed some months ago visiting Britain, I met an old school friend. As the friend hugged me hello, which placed pressure on my left side, the side affected by cerebral palsy,II felt anger rather than joy at meeting my friend. It wasn’t their fault, they did not know it would cause me pain, they had after all not met me for about ten years. And yet anger was still my initial reaction, albeit a reaction I attempted to hide.

My body often spasms, and those spasms are involuntary, my arms and legs on my left side have a tendency to flail and hit a passenger sitting next to me on a train or as I am walking down the street. You find ways to isolate and distance yourself physically. The empty seat next to you is your friend, it means that on this journey at least, you won’t do anyone any harm.

Pain can also make you a mean person. It’s not simply that you avoid people, perhaps on the white understandable assumption that you could hurt them, you begin to people as something to be avoid, and obstacle on your way from A to B, rather than a potential encounter with a fellow human being.

I know, of course, that most of it is in my head, most of the time my body won’t actually spasm and flail and that I might go many a train journey without injuring anyone. However, there is that word ‘might’, the fact is that occasionally my body does seemingly act independently of my will, so I fear, however unreasonably, that it is only a matter of time before I get accused of assault through some involuntary movements of body.

Maybe assault charges are unlikely, but here is something I can foresee happening. I shall become the destroyer of smartphones. Recently JR East, the railway that serves Tokyo relaxed its rules on using mobile phones in the priority seats area. It seems, on face of it to be a perfectly reasonable adjustment. After all many people use them anyway, regardless of the warning not to do so. Despite their being banned at hospitals, mobile phone signals don’t seem to cause any problems for pacemakers. So we should all be free to call people from the priority seats, right?

Believe me, I sympathize with those who want to make calls from those seats, I have, to my shame, made calls from them too. However, if you are sitting on the left of me, and holding your phone or your lap or near your ear, there is every possibility that it will be knocked out of your hands by a spasm, and there is little I can do to prevent that happening, if you are sitting too close, as many of understandably do on the last train home.. If you don’t believe me you need only examine the scratches on my own generic smartphone – which I keep discreetly hidden in a bumbag on train journeys, with only headphones protruding from its safe haven, lest it fall foul of my own disability.

I know it’s a drag, but priority seats are meant for people who have a body which at best can be characterized as unpredictable, and whilst the embargo on mobile phones is ridiculous, I have no doubt that in my case, the prohibition has prevented some nasty, not to mention expensive accidents.

I have come to the sad realization that sometimes good fences do indeed make good neighbors.