Before I moved to Japan, I had three months of nothing to do (besides work out) but research what I could expect life to be like once I moved. I found all kinds of lists and blog entries trying to explain all the differences, but one thing stuck out overall: most foreigners who come to Japan achieve D-list celebrity status by simply looking the way they do. After reading about this phenomenon so much, I thought I would be prepared. In fact, I’m honestly a little disappointed that no one seems to notice I’m different when I go to the grocery store or am simply out and about. By myself, people rarely take notice of me. When I’m out with one of the guys, people stare at the guys and I remain completely invisible. I go into an unintentional stealth mode when next to Keith or Nico.
Sure, I get occasional stares or old people telling me not to ruin their country, but for the most part, no one notices me. I mean, I’ve gotten a little tan, but I’m pretty much still glow-in-the-dark-white. Maybe my hair is too dark and I’m too short to draw any real attention. All in all, I normally can go about my day just like I would in the US.
Which makes me completely unprepared for those rare moments when I am treated like a celebrity. Granted, only my students think I’m a celebrity, but it’s probably safer that way. Wouldn’t want my ego to get too swollen.
I was at the shoe lockers outside the school (this kind of defeats the purpose of changing shoes because you have to wear your inside shoes outside. But that’s besides the point,) putting on my sneakers to head home. I had had a long day, so I was really looking forward to getting home, showering, and playing some video games. I was just sort of tired, but not in a bad mood or anything. Three female students walked by and they all said, “Hello,” as I’ve trained them to do.
I said hello back and continued putting on my shoes. The girl in the middle was one of my second years whose English is particularly good. She always is really excited to see me and likes to ask me questions. She makes teaching her class much better. After some talking with her friends, she proclaimed, “I LOVE JODI!” I just smiled because I’m an incredibly awkward person and have absolutely no idea how to deal with that. I think I said, “Thank you,” but that’s all I could manage.
One of her friends told me to have a safe ride home and I thanked her too. Then I said, “Goodbye.” And started to leave, but I could hear the girls still talking behind me, clearly trying to figure out something to say to me. Most other days I would have been happy to stay and talk, but I was hot and tired. I just wanted to get home. Then from behind me the middle student shouts, “I am *insert name here*!”
I stopped, turned around, smiled, and said, “I remember. You’re the captain of the kyudo team.”
She looked like she was about to faint. (If I was a guy, I’d probably have love letters from my fan club.) Then I said goodbye again, waved, and exited stage left.
I was in McDonalds with Keith and Nico on Thursday night. We had just finished eating and walked around the corner to the exit. There was a middle schooler there who saw me and got very excited and turned to tell someone who was with her. There weird thing was, I knew this middle schooler. It’s weird because I teach at exactly zero middle schools. It took me a second, but then I placed her. She was one of my students’ little sisters who I met at the sports day at my school. She had mentioned whose sister she was, but I couldn’t understand her when she said it.
And then one of the most adorable one of the karate club girls ran over to me. She was the little sister of one of the first year students who always made an effort to talk to me and explain things in karate practice. For a second it looked like the student was going to hug me, but I must have looked incredibly uncomfortable/mildly panicked from the impending hug (I wasn’t sure if I’m even allowed to hug students or what) so she stopped and put her hands down. Nico and Keith saw that I was going to be stuck talking for a bit, so they headed out to the car.
As soon as they were out the door, (Karate-student turned to look and watch them leave to be sure) she turned to me and asked who they were. *Conversation in Japanese*
Me: They’re my friends.
Her: Are they your boyfriends?
Me: Just friends.
Her: Not boyfriend?
Me: Not boyfriend. Just friends. They are also ALTs in the area. Nico works at *** and Keith works in ****.
Her and her sister: Keesu?
Them: Keesuu? -laughing-
Me: Close enough. I should go. Bye bye!
Them: Bye bye!
I walked to the door and bowed my head at their mother who had been watching the whole thing with an amused smile on her face.
As the door is almost shut behind me, I hear the mother say, “Wow, her Japanese is so fast!”
And I just grinned to myself.
The same night as the previous example, the three of us headed to Trial (like a dirtier version of Walmart, with fewer fire exits and a bathroom that you avoid at all costs). We were picking up a few cheap groceries when I walked past and aisle and hear surprised noises followed by name being used in hushed tones.
I had been spotted… and not by members of my fan club. These were two trouble making boys in one of the second year classes. (I would like to mention that one of them was dressed in an all white track suit that had gold stripes down the legs. Classy.) I promptly started smiling (because that’s my defense when nervous or uncomfortable) and attempted to arrange myself beside Keith or Nico in a way that would activate the stealth mode. I quickly learned that my own students are impervious to stealth mode.
As the three of us walked through the aisles, the boys walked out of one aisle and tried to nonchalantly catch a look at us before disappearing into the exact same aisle from whence they came. I’m trying to ignore them, but then Nico says something like, “They’re trying to get pictures. And then they’re going to send the pictures to all of their friends.” And I’m pretty sure I turned bright red.
I looked back and sure enough Track Suit Boy had his phone out and at the ready. However, Nico kept thwarting his attempts at photos by looking directly at him. Keith offered to follow them through the aisles to make them feel just as awkward and I kind of wish he would have.
Thankfully, we got out of there with no real issues.
As someone who (until the past year or so) was very used to sort of fading into the background, dealing with all of this attention definitely takes some getting used to.