Article first published in May 2005 edition of JETFuel

The offending bento box.  Note that suspicious-looking egg.

“Sherry” Strikes Again…

I guess this is the time of year most of us leavers are reminiscing about the good times we’ve had in Japan – and making a mental list of all the things we’ll miss.  All those fabulous experiences. 


Yeah.  Right.

 by "Sherry Rhodes"


We’ve all been there.  You know…when you do something you shouldn’t, quite unintentionally, then have to rush around maniacally sorting things out before the important people you’re trying to impress find out what you’ve done. 


I’ve found these kinds of experiences are worse in Japan, where everyone seems so exacting, so precise.  Then you get this bumbling, clumsy gaijin1, and things just go horribly wrong….  But maybe that’s just me.


Like scratching someone’s expensive, newly polished car.  At work.  Or, when staying in a nice little ryokan2 which doesn’t usually accept foreigners (but you’ve pulled a few strings), and enjoying the home-cooked, extensive breakfast, freshly prepared by the Mama-san, you fire miso3 soup everywhere.  And I mean, everywhere. 


Or when you end up wrestling with an obaachan4, and you were only trying to be helpful.  You know the scenario, right?  A grandmother of one of the students is waiting for the homeroom teacher.  She’s lurking in the doorway of the teachers’ room and holding the door open.  You look up and see the patient, but rather cold obaachan.  You smile at her, and start to invite her into the room (which is considerably warmer than the freezing corridor).  She looks terrified, shoots backwards out of the room, and slams the door shut.  You can see her petrified eyes glinting through the narrow Perspex widow5.  You go over to explain that she can come in.  You try to open the door, only she’s holding it very firmly shut.  The rather embarrassing spectacle of Obaachan v. Gaijin thus ensues.  (Incidentally, the obaachan won.)


Like tripping over thin air and falling face-first out of your apartment, in full view of the rather austere neighbours.


Or when you’re trying to reverse park outside your apartment, but put the car into “drive” by mistake, and zoom full-pelt forward towards the wall of Angry Staring Neighbour’s rather posh house, when there just happen to be men working on the telegraph pole next to you. (I managed to stop with the bumper just resting on the wall.)


Then there was the time you hired a car in Hokkaido with your mother, and you’re late getting back to the airport.  Speeding down the expressway, you zot past a police car, which starts to give chase.  Before you know it, you’ve got a guy with a loud-hailer screaming incoherent Japanese at you through the open window…  (Actually, that was kinda fun.  The two policemen peered in the window at the two frightened gaijin, laughed, and let us go.)


Or the time your Angry Naked Neighbour (a disgruntled ojiisan6, who lives opposite Angry Staring Neighbour) leaps out of his ground floor window and chases you down the road in his underwear because you sneak out with your rubbish at 6am on a national holiday7.  (Actually, I think that was more embarrassing for him…)


Or when you’re at work, it’s the end of term, and you’re given a bento8 lunch.  Looks great.  You finish off the raw beef, the pasta, the rice, the salad and the pickles, before deciding to tackle the hard-boiled egg.  Only it isn’t.  I’m not entirely sure what it was supposed to go on, but since I hit it pretty damn hard on the desk, it ended up covering the desk, my books, me, the floor…


…I think it’s time to leave the country.



1.  Gaijin - short for "gaikokujin" - lit. person who is from another country (i.e. someone who isn't Japanese).

2. Ryokan - traditional Japanese accommodation for travellers.  Usually has tatami mat flooring, futon (not beds), and is run by a  Mama-san.  Also usually much more friendly than a hotel.  And much, much smaller.  Always wise to act as "Japanese" as you can when staying at places like this.   (i.e. not spreading food everywhere...)

3.  Miso soup - A very tasty, very popular, Japanese soup made from fermented bean paste.  

4. Obaachan (obaasan) - An old Japanese woman (or grandmother).  Never, ever take on an obaachan.  They are tough as old boots.  

5. The sliding doors to the office have narrow windows in them.

6.  Ojiisan - An old Japanese man (or grandfather).  (c.f. Obaasan).  Not nearly as scary as their female counterparts, but still a force to be reckoned with.  Whereas obaachan can at times be quite cheerful, ojiisan are usually very, very grumpy and always looking for someone doing something wrong so they can go and grump at them.  (State of mind possibly caused from living with obaasan.)

7. Rubbish?  on a non-rubbish day? - a cardinal sin.  Like mixing your burnables with your plastics.

8.  Bento box - simply a boxed meal.  Usually, but not always, contains rice.  Actually, can be anything from raw fish to curry and rice.  See the photo at the top of the page for a picture of this particular bento.  



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