THE NATURAL THING
Not long ago I saw a Japanese tv program in which the audience reacted to the astonishment of a Saudi Arabian visitor to Japan who was profoundly amazed at everyday Japanese conveniences and practices.
I too was shocked to see the foreigner's awe at beholding the small parking buildings, the yellow traffic flag method, the floor-polishing schoolkids, the wet-umbrella covers etc., but I've been here a long time and such impressive things have become invisible to me. After living here all this time, though, I'm still a newbie, as this morning proved.
While heading for the farm store after breakfast, and having driven about halfway down our winding one-lane mountain road, which has the local junior high school at the bottom (where you take a left or right to get into the village and thence onto the main lakeside road), I noticed ahead the bizarre phenomenon of a large mass of -- whiteness, moving up the road toward me. For a few dozen meters further I still couldn't tell what it was down there, I had never seen such a thing on the road before... As it and I drew nearer, I could finally make out that it was all of the school's baseball players in their white uniforms, many dozens of guys from about 11 to 15 years of age, running up the mountain in a training exercise; must be a new coach...
Needless to say, their numbers filled up a great length of the roadway, and in a section where the paddies are high-fenced on both sides against wild animals; how could we pass each other? Surely the teams couldn't be expected to turn around and run all the way down, then back up again? Looked like I might have to back up the twisted road, which would be difficult and take a while; whichever way this went, those guys puffing and sweating at the edge of stamina wouldn't be too happy at my intrusive presence.
Despite my time here, my western mind was kicking in at this unknown occurrence, seeing what it might expect out of old-home habit, projecting, anticipating the vibes... I could not foresee, in this new circumstance, what spontaneously came to pass: as the red vehicle and the white mass were about to merge, the big puffing, sweaty teen crowd magically disappeared, as each member pressed tightly against the fence all along both sides of the road, opening a comfortably wide gauntlet through which I could easily pass.
As I did so, and in awe moved slowly through them, they all said, over and over (in polite Japanese): "Sorry! Thank you! Sorry! Sorry! Thank you! Sorry! Thank you! Sorry! Thank you! Sorry! Sorry!" Even for me, that was so far from what I had been alienly expecting; I rolled down the window, put my hand out and waved and yelled thanks and apologies to them in return, and it felt good.
It was in fact - as they had shown me - the natural thing to do.