This time last week I was extremely pissed off with the Japanese fetish for unthinkingly obeying authority.
Rules is rules, of course, but it doesn’t matter how daft the rule is, how trivial or indeed how inconvenient. If it is so it is so and an attempt to modify or smooth past things is met with hostility.
That’s the sort of thing I sort of knew before coming here, but I am continually surprised at the pervasiveness of it all.
It manifested itself most directly with the situation involving our bikes. Cambridge house very generously loans us a fleet of bikes. To get the bike key, we have to surrender our room key (hell a month ago because you need your room key to be able to have the air conditioning on).
Like everything else on this archipelago, the bikes have their place, a little shed round the back of the building. Our bikes, like our rooms, are therefore segregated from everyone else’s, put in a semi-privileged position that makes it clear that we are not the same. The gaijin-shed is right round the back from the front gate such that when you come home after around 6:00 and the side door to the building is shut, you have a considerable walk back to the front to be able to get in. It is infinitely more convenient, therefore, to leave your bike at the front where everyone else leaves there’s.
I should say that on the bikes it is clearly marked, on the mudguards, that they are the foreigner bikes. But who’s looking ey?
Henry-san and I began to leave our bikes in the convenient place around the front. A week ago, running late for a teaching job, I went to retrieve it so I could cycle to the station. I got to where I had left it and saw that it wasn’t there. After a little panic, I rushed to the back of the house and, lo and behold, there it was. I was, of course, late.
I was very angry and creeped out at the feeling of being surveyed all the bloody time. It seems that someone is employed to inspect the ranks and ranks of chained up bikes that form a ring around Cambridge House in order to make sure that the pointless rules are followed. Because I'm white I am constantly watched here, in the street, in a shop and, it seems, through my bike.
Undeterred, I resolved to keep putting my bike in the convenient place. I lost the battle though? On one occasion I found my bike had been upturned and placed, still locked, on one of the park benches. A clear message. Then, when I went to get the key, there was a note attached instructing the person on reception to give me a bollocking.
The guy had extremely basic English so told me “there no good. No good. No. Back!” And then, lending the exchange a sinister air, he added “Use caution!”