Another Faux Pas Gaijin? (Thank Goodness for Forgiving Japanese Friends & Neighbors)

After more than two decades in Japan, this humble (red faced) Expatriate Canadian stumbles through matters of etiquette and culture. Until my recent marriage to my Japanese Wife, I wandered obliviously from one faux pas to another, while my Japanese Colleagues, Neighbors and Friends turned the other cheek to generously excuse my transgressions. This simple but important “perk” ceased to exist, as not only does my lovely better half hold up a mirror of truth, but my once forgiving “tomodachi” now feel that “I should know better.”

My Japanese Linguistic Skills are elementary but functional. They’ve been easily eclipsed and sometimes ridiculed by my soul mate who interprets English to Japanese simultaneously. As part of the community we take our turn cleaning up after the Garbage is removed by the City. This is often a chance to meet members of the Community who enjoy the opportunity to meet a diligent foreigner ready to meet civil duties with a broom and dust pan. One elderly woman who stopped to observe my efforts asked “what are you doing”? My reply was that I was the “gomi no tantosha” and she seemed suitably impressed. My wife informs me that my role did not warrant this lofty title suitable to authorities at the City Hall, but offered “gomi toban” (clean up turn person) as a better alternative.

To decorate the walls of our new home, I had several recent photos of our family framed by friends at one of the local US Military Bases. The lovely thick black frames give the photos a classy look. My father in law received my daughters’ photo taken at her 7-5-3 (Shichi-Go-San) Shinto Blessing Ceremony. He was horrified and questioned me as to “how my daughter would allow you to do such a thing.” Apparently the black frame is only suitable to pictures of deceased loved ones, and are established from time of one’s funeral. We have a house full of family photos framed in dark wood. This must creep out friends when they come over for wine and cheese. No good deed goes unpunished.

It gets worse. We live near Kuji Station which is only a few 100 meters from one of the largest cemeteries (Ohaka) found in Greater Tokyo. Thus flower shops stock various plants suitable to the setting of a family crypt. Some have the loveliest colors and fragrance. Two weeks ago, my wife returned from grocery shopping and literally gasped when she saw the fine bouquet placed on our mantle. To make matters worse, they were positioned near a photo of me running in the Las Vegas Marathon. She removed them immediately and admonished me for the bad omen. When will I ever learn?

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