Love Thy Neighbor

In Oregon, the ringing of our doorbell usually yielded a predictable result. On the other side of the front door, we’d find a local schoolkid selling overpriced candy for a fundraiser or a pressure-washing/bug-killing/home security salesman reminding me that I needed to pressure-wash, bug-kill and secure our house.

It’s been a mixed bag when the doorbell rings here. Since we’re still getting settled, a lot of times the doorbell means added convenience. Gas service for hot water and cooking! Water pressure!

A couple times it’s been a salesman. I let one guy do his pitch for a few minutes before I finally got across that I didn’t have a clue what he was saying and that I probably wouldn’t be interested in buying it even if I did.

Sometimes, it’s just disappointment. Is it the overdue delivery of our foam mattress? Setup of the internet service? No… only the mailman with a pile of junk mail.

A couple nights ago, the doorbell rang after dark. Our hearts raced—probably more because we were in the middle of an episode of The Walking Dead than the actual tolling of the bell itself.

Walking Dead

Who knows what’s on the other side of the door? (Walking Dead, episode 1)

One of our neighbors, an older lady, stood at our door. She spoke softly in Japanese with a few English words mixed in when it was clear we weren’t following. Dining table, chairs… is she asking to borrow a chair?

We pushed one of our dining room chairs to the door, happy to help. No, no… follow me she says. I slip on my sandals before stepping into our entryway, a big-time no-no in Japan, but my transgression is either ignored or forgiven.

I walk down the street making very small talk with my limited Japanese. She’s noticed that we’ve just moved in and has a few nice pieces of furniture that she’s giving away. A dining room table with four chairs. A coffee table. She’d put the items on the porch of the apartment complex next door, but she’s giving us first dibs.

Coffee table

Kicking back and enjoying the new coffee table

Since we’d already purchased a table and two chairs, we take a couple of the chairs for company and the coffee table. She sets each of the chairs on the porch, compares the fabric and makes sure the legs don’t wobble, selecting the two best chairs for us.

We use our combined vocabulary to complete the deal, introduce ourselves and talk about why the heck these Americans are living in her neighborhood (most of the locals have cut us some slack when they discover a sensei is living in their midst).

It was good timing. I’d been thinking a lot that day about being an outsider. In Kawagoe-proper, we’re not that big a deal. There are a lot of tourists in and out of the station. But we live in the ‘burbs. We’re in a neighborhood where I can’t say that I’ve seen another non-Japanese person. We get stares… we are different.

But, every time it feels like we just don’t fit in, something like this happens and the world doesn’t feel quite so big. Random acts of kindness… a universal language.


  • Reply Brian Bertsch April 17, 2014 at 11:10 pm

    I can see you smiling at the salesman as he drones on knowing you have the perfect excuse for not buying what he’s selling.

    • Reply Robert April 18, 2014 at 6:44 pm

      🙂 And nodding like I have a clue!

  • Reply Deni April 18, 2014 at 9:26 am

    I love your posts. Robert. We know what you feel like. Being different really started to get to me during our time in Bangladesh. I realized how out of place I was when I saw some people on a restaurant and thought, “Oh, gosh. There’s something very wrong with the way they look. Are they diseased?” I then realized that their skin was the same color as mine; they were Canadians. I guess I forgot my skin wasn’t a nice light brown and I wasn’t only 5’2″.

    • Reply Robert April 18, 2014 at 6:44 pm

      LOL! That’s fantastic! I found myself being annoyed by the Americans in Tokyo on our last visit. It happens quickly.

  • Reply Amy Daraghy April 19, 2014 at 9:30 am

    What a nice neighbor you have. A random act of kindness indeed.

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