I walked up to the storefront ahead of my group with a bit of excitement. The sign mentioned The Philippines, and it looked like a restaurant. At least that’s what I thought.
“Wait!”, my companion held me back. “You do NOT want to go in there. You don’t belong there, let’s just keep going”.
I took a closer look – and there it was. A sign. Filled with the faces of smiling Filipino women. As if they were a menu items. I held my head down in shame. “No,” I said, “I definitely do not belong here.”
A few weeks later, while I was out doing an errand before work, a young man approached me. He was shy and tried to mumble something in English. I couldn’t make sense of it. Finally, he switched to Japanese and it became apparent what he wanted.
“Da-to wo suru?” I looked at him blankly. I thought that maybe I misunderstood. I hoped I did. I tried to say something else, and he decided to make it even more clearer: I like your body type. I want to go on a date with you. I like…..you. Me. Date.
Suddenly, I recalled the menu of faces. I felt like maybe he thought I was one of them. I wasn’t sure and didn’t know. I just knew I felt really uncomfortable and had to go. I told him that I was leaving and hurried away. He followed me.
I tried again a few times to tell him no, in English and in Japanese. He kept following me. I don’t know if it was a miscommunication or not, but I had hoped that me scurrying away or the terrified look on my face would tell him what I meant. It didn’t. I began to panic.
It wasn’t until I walked close to a police station that he finally went away. I stood around there for a while, knowing fully well I’d be late to work. I was scared and felt alone. I had no one to go to or talk to about this incident. I finally went to work. There was a big presentation that day, and I was a part of it. Still shaken, I gathered my things and sat at my desk. I silently practiced my presentation..but every now and then I’d hear his voice “da-to wo suru?”
I closed my eyes and tried to let it go, hoping that I’d never have to cross that part of town again.
Note: To be fair, this incident was the only scary and negative experience that I had in Japan. I lived and worked there for a few months, and it continues to be one of the best life experiences I have ever had. I will always be grateful for my time there. However, I thought it was important to highlight this occurrence, because it made me fear going out alone for a few weeks. Eventually, I got over it, and had a lot of wonderful adventures. I’ll be writing about those soon!