A Kick to the
By Colin Curtis
Colin Curtis, from
Blackville, New Brunswick, although currently living in Tokyo, Japan has been
dabbling in writing for quite some time now. This is Colin's second short story
recently us with yet another glance at an ancient culture and how it can affect
the way one looks at the world.
At no time were any
lobsters in danger during the writing of this story!
Summer in Japan is so
consistently hot, it could make one fully aware of how a lobster must feel
being slowly cooked alive. In fact, I could never eat one again, guilt-free!
This is how it feels at this intersection, as I wait for the walk-light to
change, boiling in a soup of humidity, which inhaled, feels like you sucked in
the breath of a dragon. Finally, the light changes and an impossibly cute song,
which could easily back up the Tellutubbies on a romp in the English
countryside, is heard from a speaker. Perhaps, we could play this song for the
lobsters, as we cook them, to lighten their gradual
Enough! Save the lobsters!
Despite the heat, it is an exquisite day in Kichijoji,
with a clear blue sky, though with a slightly orange haze on the horizon, and a
gentle breeze. Patrons of a nearby coffee shop sit and enjoy cold beverages
outside. My destination, however, is a well air-conditioned, indoor
establishment on Sun Road, a shopping arcade a few minutes away. Colorful,
scantily dressed young people fill the streets as far as the eye can see. The
song 'Avalon' begins in my head, which is an old song that would be warmly
accompanied by the static of an LP record. This song often comes to mind on
I turn a corner, and walk toward the
bustling station area. Some people are on their lunch breaks from work, and
many are in long lines for busses at any point around the square, with the
various red and white coaches either arriving or departing. Other people appear
to be out shopping for the day. The security guards are always visible, in
their blue uniforms, with their clip boards clutched to their chests. Likewise,
the police are across the square standing by their local outpost, known in
Japan as a 'Koban'. They watch over the scene, with their white bicycles ready
Then, of course, there are scattered solicitors
standing within the crowd, giving away hand-fans, bearing colorful
advertisements. It is a brilliant advertising scheme, which in the winter
changes to handing out packets of facial tissue. Who doesn't need to dab their
nose with tissue, occasionally, in the winter, and who doesn't need to fan
themselves in the summer? The latter applies to me much more, and I have
happily taken many fans, totaling to quite a
If I could only provide each and every lobster
with one, to fan themselves in the pot! Or, simply use the fans to advertise
'Let it go! You are a New Brunswicker!
Lobsters are tasty! Don't fight with such deeply programmed thoughts!' my id
probably thinks, as he wipes immaterial sweat from his immaterial brow. He will
come around, in this heat.
Even here in Tokyo, I notice a
few regulars around my community, and I suppose to them, I am also a regular.
One group I often see in passing is a trio of American guys, dressed in the
common attire of inner city youth in America, who operate a hip-hop clothing
store near the end of Sun Road.
The LP record in my head
scratches rhythmically, and suddenly, 'Avalon' is joined by a slow, thumping
beat from a drum machine, and a funky groove on bass - a fitting
They appear to be the real deal, and I often wonder
if they feel any frustration toward the young Japanese who have taken hip-hop
culture as their own, when they could not possibly relate to even the basic
ideals of it. Listening to the music is one thing, but becoming 'Snoop Dog' is
quite another. They talk the talk, when they cannot speak regular English, and
try hard to walk the walk, when they could not possibly understand the attitude
behind the walk. They have the image, complete with LA gang colors, without the
environment or elements that truly fuel the overall realm. Even in most places
in Canada, this image is a stretch from reality. I suppose, however, if these
gentlemen cared or had such thoughts, they would never run their shop
As I near the entrance to the Sun Road Shopping
Arcade, I feel a twinge of hunger come upon me, and think for a moment that
perhaps I should go to Subway, MacDonald's, or even Nathan's Hotdogs, all a
short walk from here.
Then, not more than five feet in
front of me, as I walk at the speed of turtles, shoulder to shoulder in the
crowd, a small, young, wiry man spins around. Raising his foot as he turns, his
leg cuts through the air, before he strategically places a kick to the face of
the beautiful girl directly in front of me!
sound is wrenching!
The record player scratches to a
Voices stop, yet the people continue on their way.
She staggers back into me and I catch her before she
I turn her around and look at her, instinctively
brushing back her hair to see if she is OK. The words come to me slowly,
however, forgetting where I am for the
"Ahhh...Daijobu desu ka?!" This means 'are you
OK?' She says nothing, but holds her head down, while in a
Then I turn to the primitive thing that did the
violent act. He is primitive, not because of race or by any other association,
but for his own personal lack of judgement and self control! I approach him
with my own brand of rage, the kind that reminds you that you are an animal,
and I face him, my gaze piercing his shallow soul! It is a communication all
animals know and fear - the eyes of a predator!
slows...There is only he and I...
He turns as white as I
do red. He is terrified! I can sense it! Sweat runs down my face. My fist is
clenched, without me remembering clenching it, with knuckles whitened! His
nervous body steps back a little, and I brace myself for any action that could
In the next long moment, many thoughts come to
My peripheral vision still picks up the three hip-hop
gentlemen, not more than a few steps away. I feel their eyes watching the
situation, one even waving his hands motioning me to 'stop'. I swear I can hear
his voice in my head!
"Don't do it,
I also hear the voices of various foreign
"It is you, who would be arrested," they
The nervous young man glances over my shoulder to the
girl, on the other side of the wall which I have become, and then steps away
before turning and continuing through the crowd. He does not look back. I turn
to the girl, who has remained with her head held down. She slowly begins
walking again, bowing sheepishly as she passes me by. She scurries, in fact
almost runs, to catch up to her abuser and then follows behind
I watch them for a long moment, puzzled, as they
morph into the collective herd of pedestrians, until I eventually loose sight
of them. Witnesses to the act have long since gone by, and things have returned
to normal, as if nothing had ever happened. I turn to where I remember seeing
the security guards, and find them in the same place. There is no possible way
they could have missed what had happened. They have already continued with the
all important business of keeping the solicitors standing in the right spot.
They do not even bother to make notes on their clipboards about the violent
event that just happened.
The police, across the square,
are none the wiser.
The hip-hop guys look relieved that I
did not get too involved and that nothing else had transpired. I am equally
relieved, actually. I nod to them, appreciating their concern. A few similar
situations in the past have famously ended with the foreigner getting
Finally, I move on as well, although with a
completely different mindset than before. My mood has switched dramatically.
'Avalon' has become the slow, mellow version, played by Sam on the piano, in
the movie 'Casablanca'.
I break through the crowd to get
to the entrance of my usual coffee shop, and go inside. The young man behind
the counter has served me many times before, and has become a bit accustomed to
me. He smiles as I approach.
"Konichiwa!" he says, meaning
Then, after he gets a longer look at
"Atsui desu ka?" he says, which means 'are you hot?'
not the usual kind of question he would ask.
desu," which translates to 'Yes, I'm hot'. I look down at the menu.
"Iced-coffee," I say.
In addition to putting my drink on a
tray, he also gives me a wet tissue packet, which is usually only given when
food is ordered. In Japan, at a cafe or restaurant, they will always give you a
wet hand-towel, or wet tissue to clean yourself up a bit before eating. These
things are a blessing in the heat, as a way to help you cool down as well.
I find myself a table close to the window, and sit,
taking a deep breath, with thoughts clumped up and stumbling through my head.
It is sometimes impossible to accept some aspects of society here. I have,
intentionally, suppressed some thoughts or opinions I have had, in an effort to
not constantly trouble my wife with criticisms of her country. We do, however,
agree on most issues concerning society, and I know she agrees with me on this
Once, I saw a man brutalize his wife all the way
through the station, until they finally got on the train, out of sight. There
was little or no reaction from most people there, and absolutely nothing was
done about it. Although you do not see these events on a regular basis, the few
times that you do are a stark reminder of just some of our differences. From
the nonchalant attitude of the station attendants, to the blankness of the
other customers, this can be quite a culture shock. Most of the time, Japan
really is quiet and peaceful, but I always wonder what is boiling beneath the
Perhaps, as a result of suppressing this anger I
feel, my id will formulate some abstract dream for tonight, through which my
frustrations can be released - a hoard of lobsters, escaping from the pot,
coming to the girl's rescue, wielding hand-fans as weapons, some forming a jazz
ensemble playing an obscure version of 'Avalon', with interludes of rap by
'Snoop Dog' himself! 'Knock it off...Wise-guy!' my id likely says.
In any case, I will indeed hold my wife closer
I have read that the United Nations has been
frustrated for years concerning the treatment of women, in many aspects of
society in Japan, from the degrading roles they play in the workplace, to the
sexist behavior they are met with in daily life, to the issue of domestic
violence. What is most frustrating is the slow speed at which Japan undergoes
change, in general.
I once asked a Japanese male friend
of mine about the issue, and although he does not like the way women are
treated, himself, he was quick to remind me of a few details in regard to the
"You can't reprogram the psyche of an entire
nation quickly," he said. "It must be done slowly to have a strong hold. It is
not pop music, fashion, or food. And, this is not Canada, with only three or
four hundred years of history. Japan's history is three thousand years old.
That's a lot of mental conditioning. Women here do want change, yet ask them if
a woman can do a man's job, and they will almost always say 'no'. Many women,
themselves, need to reprogram their thinking, and this slows the process. It's
hard for the ones who do understand the depth of change needed. First, they
need to rally those of their own sex. It will surely be a very long
It is frustrating that, when so many aspects of
western culture can catch on so easily - like hip-hop or popular movies - the
greater, deeper necessities are so slow to come. If we could only market the
more important aspects of western society. This reprogramming was not a fast
process in the west, however. In fact, many would argue that we still have a
long way to go. But, we must also remember that things like women's equality,
freedom of speech, or human rights in general are not shared by many parts of
the world. The countries that celebrate such things make up a small fraction of
the overall global population.
Growing up in Canada, we
are constantly told not to take our freedom or rights for granted, and to
remember the hard work of previous generations in developing these important
luxuries. I can honestly say, however, that I never really understood how
precious these things were, until I was old enough and lucky enough to travel.
I finish up my drink and leave the coffee shop,
continuing on down Sun Road. An urge grows within me to see my wife, and I
begin the long, hot walk home.
'Be patient', my id
probably says, 'mental programming is no lobster picnic.'
Well as I said in my last review of Colin's work
"he has a nature twist for placing his readers in another place without ever
having to leave their seats" however, this is one of those stories that also
bring you a strong appreciation for our more "civilized" western attitudes,
mind you I think I might of knock the bloke on his arse if I had the misfortune
to witness such a display! We hope to read more from Colin and his adventures