Reason #3653 Not to Even Try

Yet another classic illustration of why even my mildest efforts to blend in, or at least not stick out like a sore thumb waiting to be hammered in (something’s not quite working with that metaphor, but I’m not sure what) are irremediably doomed.

So, I’m in the train with a friend discussing our common love for the music of Fela Kuti and other seminal Afro-beat acts of the 70’s.

At one point, the discussion is hovering over the respective merits of Fela and his son, Femi, who has quite successfully taken where his father left and does a great job nowadays of blending classic afro-jazz with newer house beats and modern electro experimentations.

And that’s when I suddenly become aware that our car has not only fallen dead silent (Japanese hardly ever talk on the train anyway) but also that more than a few people are eyeing us sideways with strange looks on their face. The disruption in the wa is so major that even a dirty gaijin like me can feel something is fucked up.

We have been talking in Japanese, probably loud enough to be heard around the car. And, judging by the look on certain faces, we might as well have been talking about raping baby seals with hello kitty vibrators…

So I do a quick mental check for any offensive expressions I might have mistakenly used, wonder if maybe people are shocked that we might address each other with a sub-par level of deference and occasional familiar slang probably more fit to construction workers than the clean-cut innocent youth we are assumed to be (well, at least one of us is assumed to be… the other one ostensibly not-from-around-here doesn’t matter much anyway). All the while exchanging interrogating looks with my interlocutor who seems to be going through a similar mental process.

Finally, I just decide to ignore and pick up the conversation back to where I was praising Fela’s unfortunately all too rare live jam recordings, when H. leans toward me and discreetly reminds me that, in Japanese, fela means a very different thing, and maybe we ought to be more careful with our utterance of the word…

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you manage to convince an entire car of respectable obachans that young white people, when left on their own with Japanese youth of similar age, love to loudly discuss their appreciation of oral sex.

Filed under: Music, Only in Japan


  1. To be honest, I don’t recall the exact phrasing, and I dare hope nothing that bad really came out, but it couldn’t have been that far… overall, I think the word just coming up in overheard pieces of our exchange would just have been enough to set a very bad impression. And thinking about it, Fela’s last name, pronounced the katakana way, would sure not help anything…

  2. Absolutely hilarious! Your story reminds me of a time a guy learning English asked to have “intercourse” with me. Of course, he meant he wanted to maintain a correspondence.

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