Tokyo was heaving with people. I was tired of all the pushing and shoving. I was late for a meeting with Ryota the producer at NHK television here in Japan. I finally made it to Starbucks where I was meeting him and I joined a long queue for coffee.
I hate the idea of supporting Starbucks but I love the coffee, especially here in Japan. Something about being in this bland place takes me out of Japan. I really need to leave sometimes, it gets so intense. Sometimes I find myself frustrated with the crowds, and worse still the noise from huge screens that invade my privacy with garbage adverts… and then young girls pushing free tissues wrapped in more advertisements… there is no escape. At these times I look up to the sky for the peace I know I can rely on in one of the many beautiful panoramic bars on the 50th floor of a hotel. I glide up, leaving it all behind and look down on it, like a god in the sky sipping on a gin and tonic. Pure bliss.
But today I’m standing in a Starbucks queue. I get myself a latte head up stairs looking for a seat. There is nothing on the first floor and before I know it I’m on the 5th floor, out of breath with half my coffee down my shirt. I find what looks like a vacant seat but there is a beauty box on it and a stroppy looking Japanese woman in her early 20`s guarding it. She is filing another girls nails. I move over indicating I need the seat, I am out of breath, with a heavy bag on one arm and coffee all over me.
The woman looks shocked by my intervention and indicates that the chair is not free. “What?” I scream. The woman looks away and carries on filing her friend’s nails. I look around for support but in this country of non-confrontation everyone else ignores the scene. I look over to a western gaijin (foreigner) guy sat at the next table. He has observed the scene, smiling he pulls off his walkman and shuffles up on his seat to invites me to sit with him. I’m still in shock. He is smiling; I sit with him, “what was that all about..? He smiles, “this is Japan mate, don’t even start to question why!”
Later Ryota arrives. He squeezes on our seat, there are now 3 of us crammed into this tight space as the woman continues filing her friends nails. We are all looking at the box on the chair but no one will confront the woman. I continue cursing her. Ryota tries making sense of the scene explaining that when the Japanese sit at a table they see all the chairs at it as their possession.
I’m exchanging angry stares with the woman. Finally she gets up and leaves…
Suddenly the manager is at our table demanding that we apologize to the woman who has complained about my cursing.
“Why… why…..why?” I ask, at which point the gaigin (foreigner) starts to laugh, gets up and leaves.