I spend a lot of time thinking about the differences between Japan and America. Not because I am an anthropology enthusiast and not because I am trying to determine which is better, but because I am asked about it every time I meet a new person. Always asking me what is different between Japan and America is one thing that is the same in both countries, for those keeping track. Unfortunately, I struggle to come up with anything interesting to say when someone asks me ‘what is different between Japan and America?’ I end up relying on clichés: “the sodas in America are bigger,” “the people in America are bigger,” “the food is different,” the language is different,” and “Japan has way more varieties of Kit-Kats than America does” are all useful, but also range from somewhat to completely uninteresting. Recently, I’ve come to notice another difference that, while not particularly useful to mention to new acquaintances, is strange.
I live in an apartment building and have never once seen or spoken to any of my neighbors.
Not a single time.
They do exist, by the way. I don’t live in an otherwise abandoned building. I definitely have neighbors. Their mailboxes are full and later empty. On rainy days, there are umbrellas in the hallway. And most importantly, I hear them- through the walls, talking to each other, playing video games, and sometimes having sex.
There are contributing factors to my not seeing them. The apartment I live in is small, with only three floors. I live on the first floor, so I don’t use the stairs or elevator, where I would have inevitably seen someone by now. But still, on my floor there are five other apartments and, in six months, I have never seen any of them. I’m not sure it’s by accident either.
On a few occasions, I have exited my apartment and heard the sounds of jangling keys and become inanely excited, sure that I would finally see another person. It’s like the end of an episode of ‘Scooby-Doo,’ when you finally get to see who’s behind the mask. But each time, no one has appeared, so it’s more like earlier in that episode of ‘Scooby-Doo,’ when it seems as if they’re about to crack the case, but they don’t because then the episode would only be eight minutes long. This is more disappointing, however, because at least in ‘Scooby-Doo,’ you know they will eventually catch the villain and remove the mask, while I’m not sure if this will ever be resolved. Did they hear me outside and decide to wait until I was gone to come out? Are they avoiding me because I’m white and they assume I can’t speak Japanese? Can they speak Japanese? Do they know that I’m white? Have they ever seen me? Who are these people? What are they like? Where are they from? What language are my next-door neighbors speaking? Are they as angry as they sound? Why are they having so much fun and why does hearing them have fun make me so lonely? Is this even a difference between Japan and America or is it just a strange thing that has happened to me? Unfortunately, I have a lot of questions, but no answers. There’s no conclusion or realization or ending to this story. It was a waste of time for me to write and, if you’ve made it this far, for you to read. Sorry.