First post and explanation
Here, stranger, by all means please take my bike and do god knows what with it
So yesterday was a bit of an adventure.
We've started our project work, where we have to organize a community survey, perform it, gather the data and give a presentation in front of our class. It's a complicated group assignment that's going to take an enormous amount of my work, but I'm intrigued by the topic my group chose and I know very little about it, so I should be able to summon the will to crack down (I mean, besides all the homework I'm doing... geez but do they pile it on a little here).
We're going to be studying Japanese-Russian relations. Since Hokkaido is very near to Russia and many of the people who were exiled from the Kuril Islands when Russia took them over after World War II resettled in Hokkaido, Russia is more relevant here than in the rest of Japan. We'll be doing a questionnaire covering various aspect of Japanese-Russian relations and respondants opinions about the Kuril Islands issue and the fact that Russia and Japan still haven't officially ended World War II (they never signed a peace treaty).
Project work held me fairly late, so after that finished I decided to head for home. I got sidetracked by a shop selling t-shirts with really cute crosslingual Japanese puns (I bought one that has what looks like the Puma logo, but instead it says "Kuma" and has a grizzly bear where the puma should be. "Kuma" is the Japanese word for 'bear.') I can be pretty sure the shirt I bought isn't lame, because just as I came out a group of high school students stopped dead in front of the display window and started talking about awesome the Kuma shirt was and debated whether they should in to buy it or not. So there!
Anyway, when I came out, I found that the bike tire of my bike was completely flat. I was still a good hour's bike ride away from home, to say nothing of how long it would take me to walk the distance, so I figured it'd probably work best if I could get it fixed right away. Problem was, I haven't had a chance to explore the waterfront area of Hakodate yet, so I have no idea where anything is.
At this point though, I'm comfortable enough with my Japanese that I just walked into a 'police box' (this strange form of police outposts, I guess would be the best way to describe them) and asked one of the policeman if he knew where I could get my flat tire fixed. He pulled out a map and gave me directions in Japanese. They were fairly easy to follow, and I found the shop crowded with old bikes and all sorts of tools sitting next to a very old Shinto shrine stuffed into the corner of the block.
I entered the shop yelling, "Sumimasen!" but no one was there. A door from the back of the shop led to an apartment where a historical drama was playing on the TV, as I could see through the paper window, but no one responded when I knocked. I waited there for a while, tried to fill the tire up with a pump that was just sitting around in front of the shop to no avail, and was about to leave when an old woman rode up on a bicycle and asked if I needed help.
It turned out that she herself couldn't fix my bike, and her husband wouldn't be back for a little while. She asked how far away I lived and I explained that it was a quite a ways. So then she was like, "Well, why don't you leave your bike with us, I'll let you borrow this one," she pointed to one of the bikes in a row in front of the store, "and you can come back around this time tomorrow to return it."
I was so shocked by her generosity that I lost control of my Japanese and started stuttering through a mild refusal. It just seemed so way beyond what I could reasonably expect from her. She insisted though, and asked me a few questions about how long I'd studied Japanese and where I was from. She'd thought I was a Russian at first. After thanking her probably ten times or so in a row and bowing like mad, I took her bike and made it the rest of the way home.
Now, I know this wasn't some sort of normal Japanese excessive respect for the customer she was showing here, because when I told the story to my host mom she was like, "Ehhhhh?! She did what?! You're kidding!" My host dad was really surprised too.
I mean, all the worse that I was obviously a foreigner and I hadn't communicated my problem very fluently; she had every reason not to lend me a bike. I certainly didn't ask for it. I didn't even indicate it was any trouble that she couldn't fix it at that exact moment: she offered me the other bike before I'd quite understood that her husband wasn't going to be back for a while.
Man, gods bless generous, foreigner-tolerant people. Unfortunately, I'll have to miss an Igo class tomorrow in order to return her the bike, but it's worth it just to have experienced such unexpectedly kind treatment. Plus, I need to get pictures of that shrine. Crazy cool the way all these locales of concentrated mysticism are squeezed in to the middle of houses, apartments, shops and factories. It's homey in a wholey unfamiliar way.