“There is a desire in me to do what is good, but I’m so stupid that I can’t.”
Guidance counselor: So you like international travel and interpersonal conflict. Anything else?
Student: Oh, I also love awkward and embarrassing situations.
Guidance counselor: Oh really…
Student: What do you think I should do with my life?
Guidance counselor: Have you considered becoming a missionary?
People say that all Japanese faces look alive. That’s just because most Americans don’t know enough Japanese to see the subtle but obvious differences (everything is subtle, here, even things that are obvious). However, living in Japan, I must say that the “all Asians look alike” thing is a myth.
That being said, I can’t remember Japanese faces. But I also couldn’t remember American faces in college, so it’s to be expected. However, it’s worse here. You see, when I walk into a room with 15 people and they start introducing them selves (Yamanaka, Matsuyama, Matsunaka, Nakayama, Yamayama…), each of them has one foreign face to remember. And since they’ve only met two or three foreigners in their lives, each of them will clearly remember my face to their grave. However, I have 15 faces to remember, so I will remember none of them. I can’t tell you how many awkward situations this makes for.
Almost a month ago, Dawn and I went to eat at Gusto in Zentsuji, and when we sat down, our waitress said a word I hate: “oboemasuka?” This roughly translates to: “Hey, I know who you are, but do you remember me? Because if not, then you’re a jerk who needs to pay attention to people other than himself!!” I was confused, and Dawn couldn’t hear what she was saying, but she said her name was “Miki” (a name held by 10% of the women in Japan), then she muttered something about “Ai” (which means “love”), then she looked really flustered and ran away. Slowly, we realized that she was that girl who had come to an event in Ayauta with her friend Ai. We did not get the chance to talk to her again before leaving the restaurant, but we did notice that a different girl waited on us for the rest of the night, and Miki was nowhere to be found. She probably became a hikikomori out of embarrassment.
Well, we felt pretty bad about all this, especially because we wanted to invite her to future events. I’d wanted to go in at the same time on a different week to try to apologize, and tonight I got the chance to. I was really nervous, and just wanted to go home and eat, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that God was telling me to go in and try to re-establish contact with this girl.
As I waited to order my food, I was scoping out all the servers: three girls and a guy. I was sure that one girl wasn’t Miki, but not sure about the other two. I was also sure the guy wasn’t Miki. The hard part is that at Gusto, all the girls dress exactly the same, wear their hair exactly the same, and put on makeup so that their faces look exactly the same. Subtle differences… subtle differences…
I was uneasy the entire time I waited for my food and ate. Which one of these girls was Miki? Was Miki even working? They all seemed really uneasy, but maybe they were just tired after the long shift. Or maybe folk legends have already sprouted up around me. I don’t know, but I didn’t recognize any of the girls as Miki (which didn’t surprise me, because I’m terrible at recognizing faces, remember), though I bet they thought I was really creepy for staring them the whole time. However, I noticed that one seemed to be avoiding me more than all the others, and she seemed to have a few more centi-Mikis (if I were to form a metric unit out of a girl whose appearance I’m clueless of). So, with a prayer for divine strength and wisdom, when I saw that girl go to the register to accept payment from another couple, I knew she was trapped and pounced upon my opportunity.
Did I mention that I ate Gusto Doria? It was one of the cheapest things on the menu (409 yen), and it was quite good: a mixture of white sauce and marinara sauce served over a kind of rice pilaf.
Anyways, I stared Miki down and swallowed my nervousness as she accepted my 1010 yen and opened the register. Her name tag showed her family name, “Shirogawa,” but of course it didn’t have her personal name on it, so I had no way of knowing. Oh, if only I remembered! Just earlier in the day, I was addressing an envelope to this very same Miki with an invitation to next week’s event inside! If only I would have had the soundness of mind to take note of her family name when I had the chance! But alas, for all such opportunities were passed from the world of reality, and only an icy, throbbing sense of regret remained at such a momentous oversight.
As Miki handed me 601 yen, a receipt, and a drink bar coupon, I muttered unintelligibly, “Sumimasen” (sorry). After her blank stare, I said, “Sono mae no toki, domo sumimasen,” which may or may not mean “I’m sorry for last time.” Her blank stare turned to utter bewilderment and terror, and I said one more time, “Sumimasen,” which means, “Hand me my change already so I can go home and cry.” I think I may have produced another hikikomori.
So, the legend of the short-haired, four-eyed foreigner continues to spread upon the winds of embarrassment, and that Gusto has a new name to me: the Gusto of Awkwardness. Men quake, women scream, and children weep at the sight of my blue, button-down shirts and the gleam upon my glasses, whilst I curse Gusto for their strict dress-code under the full moon that rises so quietly over the still waters.
Do you love awkward situations? Then for crying out loud, come to the mission field! We need you!