CONTRIBUTED BY MEREDITH NOVARIO
Off-base I walk about in a state of oblivion. I can’t read street signs or advertisements. I don’t understand the school girl chatter or the salespersons tidings. And I’m a-okay with this most of the time.
And then other times I wish I could navigate simple situations with the right words, the right bows and the right-rightness. Because in Japan there seems to be a right way to handle things. And sometimes I wish I could read the rule book.
Like that time forever ago when I worked in Tokyo. One rainy morning, I walked to work without an umbrella. A man came out of his home and offered soggy me his umbrella. I took it and pantomimed something that meant I’d return it after work. His angry wife promptly called the school where I taught and told them I had stolen the umbrella. Much confusion and embarrassment and tongue-tied-ness ensued. The end result was that two managers from the school returned the umbrella on my behalf with a gift in hand. I imagine, but don’t know, that the gift was either a fruit basket or a balloon-o-gram. Apologies were made for me and the umbrella incident was stashed on the top shelf to gather dust.
I learned two things from this.
- Umbrella is KASA in Japanese. There was much joking about how my kasa is NOT your kasa. And it was funny then. VERY funny.
- Sorry is a Japanese art form. There is an appropriate sorry for every infraction. Apparently a proper sorry for an allegedly stolen umbrella required a gift delivered by a person of more importance than the criminal. The combination of gift and rank let the victim know that the matter had been taken seriously. So sorry that this has befallen us and our harmonious relationship. Sorry because I love harmony and this situation has caused disharmony so mightn’t you like a piece of fruit or a cookie to find the love and balance and harmony that was us before the incident gift.
Kaho says we can call this shazai. From what I gather shazai is about matching your apology to the degree of the crime. The shazai for one stolen umbrella is two big-wigs on your doorstep with a gift.
Because of that umbrella I am still extra-sensitive about the how-to on apologizing and thanking and gifting in Japan. There are murky rivers that run between these places. In an awkward move shortly after the umbrella incident, I bought a woman at the gym a watermelon because she lent me a pair of socks. A watermelon! Thanks for the socks, have a melon.
Kaho says we can call this sharei. Like a thank-you gift. This I get. And maybe because I don’t have the language to say thank you with the right kind of pizazz I buy watermelons instead.
Or Godiva chocolates.
Because nothing says thanks (for opening my van in under fifteen minutes with a wire hanger so that my one-year-old can live and scream) like a box of chocolates.