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Saturday, Jan. 25, 2003

JAPAN LITE

'Gaijin' do just the strangest things


People often ask me what I find strange about being the only "gaijin" living on a Japanese island. I wonder if people also ask the residents what they think is strange about the gaijin living on their island. Indeed, we gaijin seem to have unlimited ways of causing consternation and raising eyebrows among our neighbors. From drying our underwear out in full view with the rest of the wash to setting up the barbecue in the front yard, we never fail to perplex our Japanese neighbors.

Furthermore, our island's one-page newspaper carries a monthly reminder that violent gaijin may invade our island at any moment and to be on the lookout for unusual activity and to report anything -- no matter how small -- to the police immediately. As a result, I imagine the islanders are straining their eyes even harder to see through the windows of my house and are looking out their own windows more often to be on the lookout for suspicious gaijin activity.

And this morning they found it. At 6:50 a.m., there was a cow sighting on Shiraishi Island. Everyone looked out their windows to see a black-and-white dairy cow running full speed in the direction of the port, headed for the crowd of people waiting to get onto the ferry. Everyone was, of course, terrified. As those at home looked on in horror from their windows, the crowd at the port tried to register the meaning of the object hurtling toward them. Fortunately, as the cow approached the crowd, she slowed down and eventually came to a complete stop just after everyone had safely gotten on the ferry. In the end, no one was hurt, but many people were left wondering -- how did a cow get on Shiraishi Island? After all, the people on this island eat fish and vegetables. Meat doesn't live here.

As soon as everyone was on the ferry, the cow turned around and walked, quite leisurely, back in the direction she had come from and disappeared beyond the hill. People in their windows turned away and closed their curtains.

But I could imagine the conversations going on inside those houses: Did anyone recognize the cow? Why was it running haywire like that? Was it a Jersey or a Holstein? Did anyone get a picture? A video? Should we call the police? Others, I heard later, just laughed. But everyone agreed on one thing about the mystery: The gaijin did it. And they were right.

It had been a normal weekday morning. I woke up and made coffee for myself and my husband. He got dressed for work and headed out to the port at 6:45 to catch the 6:55 ferry. Our house is on the port, but the opposite side. It takes 10 minutes to walk to the ferry terminal, buy a ferry ticket, say "Ohayo gozaimasu" to the crowd of waiting passengers and get on the ferry. But if you forget anything at home, there is no turning back, as the ferry will leave without you and you will have to wait two hours for the next ferry.

I was standing at the window of my living room, looking out at the morning glow over the Inland Sea and watching my husband walk to the port. It was when I went to get another cup of coffee that I noticed he had forgotten his watch. I knew I had to hurry, so I took off running toward the port with the watch in one hand. It was 6:50 when I left.

If you have been following this story so far, you will know that at 6:50, I should have seen the cow. But I didn't.

Why? For one simple reason -- I was the cow! I was running full speed toward the port, still wearing my flannel black-and-white cow pajamas.

Check out Amy Chavez's new column, "Parents Do the Strangest Things," at www.amychavez.com.


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