Tapping an alien on the arm

Thursday 4th August, 2011

The obvious legacy of copper mines like at Ashio are the dilapidated industrial shells posing like a contemporary art installation, drawing intrepid tourists in to imagine the times of glory for these places.

For workers and locals, the effect of such places may be pernicious. As a visitor I always try to dismiss these negative realities and focus on self-indulgence! Like riding the Watarase Keikoku Line tourist rail line – where once only copper ore was dragged through the spectacular Watarase River gorge to port.

However, the exquisite scenery and the one-carriage train became secondary to an extraordinary conversation with a young Japanese boy.

At Omama about 15 young kids got on the little train, pushing and chatting, striving for the few seats available. Attentive young adult carers moved a child here and there, a few gentle words spoken. A pre-school or holiday group. After an  excursion to the Keikoku Line office and train sheds at Omama.

The very young boy, maybe 6 years old, sidles in the space next to me on the long, side facing seat. Constant chatter, continuing in Japanese. Will his sentence ever end. Will he take a breath.

Not to his mate. Not to the grinning carer who knows this guy is not going to shut up. He is talking to me!

Turning to him I see he is fascinated by what he sees. Different in so many respects. I am a gaijin – a term used sometimes disparagingly, for non-Japanese or alien.

My ‘hello’ just increases his excitement. A sound not able to be understood. I am the alien.

Lightly, my hairy arm is tapped and stroked. Testing reactions. Expressing a connection through touch. A genuine interest in discovery.

So just what was the boy saying, what was he thinking? Had he ever seen a gaijin up close before?

It was one of ‘smiling on the inside moments’ of learning and innocence. Savour the memory, for there is no photo.


About TonyJ2

Taking regular visitors routes but more often just where the trains or buses go. Japan leads the way.
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