Sunday, April 18, 2010

Caught in the middle

It is almost nine months since I moved to Tokyo, and 6 since I wrote anything on this blog. Even though some people say that I never leave the house (which is not true, by the way) I love it here. I will not get into the trite reasons we gaijin give to tell why we love Japan. You can find those on the net on your own, if you're interested. I subscribe to them all, but I want to add my own.

As a Jew here I feel as safe as I've never felt before. It is the first time in the last 20 kippah-wearing years that I do not feel the need to turn around to watch my back. People have no idea of what my head-covering means. The fact that I'm a foreigner explains my unusual eating habits and the strange colorful stuff I put over my head. And this makes all the other inconveniences we encounter daily totally worth facing.

There is virtually no anti-Semitism in Japan. It’s great to meet people who don’t have any baggage in dealing with you, for whom you are just another Westerner, not different from the other ones who crowd Tokyo. The only unpleasant incidents have happened not with Japanese people, but with other gaijin. They have been mostly Middle Eastern men who live in the same neighborhood as we do, and hang out at the same Italian coffee shop I go, and also a few Westerners, who have given me dirty looks and hissed nasty stuff. But not only.

A few weeks ago, an early Friday afternoon, as I was heading home from Roppongi I crossed path with three Middle-Eastern men, one of whom kept staring at me with angry eyes, even after they had walked past me. A few hundred meters after this encounter I decided to go inside a supermarket that carries really overpriced imported products. There a someone approached me, addressing me in Hebrew. He greeted me with a Shabbat shalom and asked if I needed anything. He made sure he lifted his baseball cap to show his kippah underneath it, to make sure I knew we could trust him. I thanked him in Hebrew saying that no, I didn’t need anything and that I live in the neighborhood. He asked where, and I said “In the JCC. I’m the new rabbi” to which he spun over his heels and left, without a word. But this was not a case of anti-Semitism rather stupidity.

It was great to feel loved that much with the same half an hour!

More about local displays of Ahavat Israel in the next post.