There’s a man that I see almost every morning who goes out for a rather long Nordic Walk. During the cooler months he’s seen while I walk Nozomi in the park or take the boy to school. In the summertime he goes past my house no later than 7:30am. He’s what I call a “fixture” of the neighbourhood. There are other people who have their own routines who are also fixtures, doing what they do daily and bringing a sort of regularity to the community.
There goes Nishimura-san.
Isobe-san seems to be on an enka kick again.
There’s Takeuchi-san walking Shiro.
The regularity presented by these people, all retired men in their 80s, is welcome. It conveys a sense of continuity, of consistency, and of familiarity. I’ve chatted with them, laughed with them, and learned from them. Over the 30 months of living in this neighbourhood, I’ve also become one of them. I am a fixture.
Being a foreigner in any Asian country means standing out wherever you go, but this neighbourhood is different. While the land owners are 99.7% Japanese1, there is a rather large population of Portuguese-speakers in the area. Japan and Brazil have a special bond that goes back over a century and, as a result, there are often a large number of Brazilian skilled labourers who come to the country for five to ten years, earn a respectable wage, and give their families the opportunity to enjoy many of the benefits that come with living in this country. Despite this, it seems that people recognize me whenever I’m out. They ask about Nozomi. They ask about the boy. They have noticed my patterns and will let me know when things are out of stock, on the way, or discontinued. When I venture to parts of the town that are less familiar, I’ll see the occasional neighbour or person who works nearby who will stop to say hello, and they’ll let me know of a park that I might have missed, a temple I might be interested in seeing, or an unmarked walking path that is known only to locals … some of which wind through the nearby mountains and act as a shortcut to the small lake nearby.
This recognition is interesting, though I’ll admit a bit uncomfortable. In an ideal situation, I would be completely anonymous while outside. In reality, though, this is unrealistic. Much like I have identified the “fixtures” in the neighbourhood, people have identified me; a foreigner with poor Japanese-speaking skills who tends to go everywhere on foot by choice. Workers at the nearby grocery store know what kind of alcohol I prefer. Employees at the library know what kind of books I initially look through. Dog-walkers know that I’ll always stop to let their canine friends sniff the back of my hand before I scratch them behind the ear2.
Neighbours have commented on seeing me sit in all four of my preferred places, one of which I had thought to be “hidden” by the surrounding greenery. Strangers come up and say things like “Fukunaga-san in 3-chome3 tells me you’re a programmer. Can you help me with … ?” The retired man who plays basketball in the park across from the grocery store has thrown me the ball after I dropped the boy off at school and asked if I would play a quick game of 21.
I am a fixture; instantly recognizable by the foreignness of my appearance and irrepressible Canadian accent.
… And I think I’m okay with this.
99.711% of land owners in the six neighbourhoods that make up this part of the city are Japanese. 0.289% — 121 people — are foreigners with permanent residency. This is according to the recent numbers from city hall.
I scratch the dogs behind their ear, not the people. That would be weird.
A neighbourhood designation.