One of the things I truly love to do is people-watch. I do this often enough in the US, so I don't view it as odd that I'm doing this in Japan, too. And these are some of the people I see every day or almost every day:
- There's a teenage boy who takes the train at my local station--a thin, sort of awkward guy who has something clearly wrong with his right foot. I don't know much about congenital foot disorders and/or regular injuries, but it's obvious that this is permanent. His right foot is turned in at an angle and he drags it behind him. He limps, quite noticeably. And just as noticeably, he absolutely, without a doubt, refuses to let anyone help him. It's not helping in the sense of let me carry you up the stairs; it's more like, oh, you seem to have something wrong with your foot, I'll let you go first on the train. Or I'll let you go up the stairs ahead of me. Or I won't push you quite as hard. He's proud and so very young and he won't let anything in the world stop him. Or so it seems to me. He holds his own in the train station every morning, when it's obvious that he's off-balance a great deal of the time. I admire him, honestly.
- I also admire the mothers of Japan, who are generally youngish. I've seen some strollers here, which are charmingly referred to as a "baby car" in katakana, but the norm is to tote your child yourself. The trains are crowded, the city is busy, and you can get around faster without a stroller. So these young mothers, many of them younger than me at 29, stroll around with infants strapped to their backs, their chests, their sides, and sometimes under their coats in the rain. They shelter them in umbrellas and put them in baby seats on the back of their bicycles. They sometimes even make sure that they have an umbrella open over them, as they ride their bicycle. They take them grocery shopping and clothes shopping and everywhere you could think of this way. It takes strength and dedication to do that, to make your way through throngs of people and keep your child safe. They are very cool, and while I know it's a normal way of life to them, it's very different from how infants are lugged around in America.
- While we're on the subject of bicycles, I'd just like to note that I am greatly amused by two separate classes of cyclists. The first is those that can ride their bicycle in the driving rain, steering with one hand, and keeping a fully open umbrella above them in the wind with their other hand. Talent, my friends. But the most talented ones of all are the cyclists who ride their bikes while smoking a cigarette and talking on their cell phones at the same time. I'm fairly sure that both activities aren't legal on a bike, but it's damn amusing to watch them whiz by that way.
- Finally, I wanted to mention the old man. He's missing most of his teeth, but he grins wide anyway. Most of his hair is gone, too, and he's little and stooped. He's obviously up there in years, but that doesn't stop him from having an extremely dedicated job at the local supermarket, Ito Yokado. He's the basket cart man, and his sole job is to stand at the base of the escalators that lead into the basement supermarket and make sure that people return their shopping basket/cart combos (yes, really, that's what carts are in Japan). He's there day in and day out; he nods at those he remembers, including me, and if you greet him properly you're rewarded with a big almost-toothless grin and a greeting back. I'm not sure he's properly appreciated by the regular shoppers, but he does a wonderful job of keeping all the carts in line. it's not a very important job, you might say, but he does it well and that's all that matters. I like him very much, even though I have no idea who he is.