Chapter 1

In which unfamiliar stimuli are likened to velocity, an octogenarian attacks with bodily fluids, and pure kindness redeems all. Japeasy is a video game.

My earlier memories of being in Japan are of speed. Even in a small fishing town new things abound, flying by like road signs, reminders that you’re in fresh surroundings.

Spend a few years most anywhere and those signs start to come less often — an apparent deceleration. Eventually those thrilling little shocks become so infrequent that you can’t remember the last one. As with anything else, you get used to Japan.

Every so often though, at odd moments, I’m struck by some detail. Today after the pool I saw two kids, maybe 5 and 7, careening around on unicycles. I know this is not uncommon here, that many elementary schools have unicycles available at recess, but it’s still wacky to see children nonchalantly piloting around on a vehicle I equate with the airplane as far as operational difficulty.

A short while before, I had been standing in the corner of the pool, gasping for breath. An elderly man arrived from his length and, locking eyes with me, made a swannish sideways dive/fall into his next lap. Far arm elongated for the plunge, near arm plugging one nostril, he calmly, blew a piece of nose candy at me. It seems bastards permeate the planet.

Still, for every such instance, acts of sheer and unmitigated kindness spring more readily to mind. A yet older gentleman morally dwarfed his aforementioned contemporary by chasing me down through a crowded station to return a wallet I forgot at a drink stand. At a friendly end-of-year party, I made the mistake of complimenting a hand-made sake vessel belonging to a rough old man. “It’s yours,”  he said, still drinking from it. I stammered a refusal but anyone could tell the thing was done. He’d given it to me.

At times Japan feels like an insidious video game. You constantly feel like you’re just now really getting the hang of it. I wonder what level I’m on.

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