The funniest, in a cute way, happened on Friday evening.
See, on Fridays, I teach at the engineering campus, and it’s a 10km drive to return home after that. It’s usually the worst commute of the week. First, it’s long, it’s later than usual (I usually finish at 5 pm, not on Fridays: it’s 6 pm) there’s a lot of traffic, and because it’s Friday most people are in the same mood as I am: we just can’t wait to get home and start the weekend. Add to that the fact that Friday is my busiest day of the week, so I’m usually exhausted before starting that commute, which only makes things worse. Oh, and did I tell you that I hate driving in Japan (at least in my prefecture, which is famous all over the country for having the worst drivers for some reason)?
In short: this particular drive home is not a moment I look forward to.
This week’s drive started just like every other Friday evening. Waiting at one of the first traffic lights after leaving campus, I looked in the rearview mirror at the people behind me for no particular reason (I guess I almost always do it without really thinking). Two young people, a young man and a young woman. The man is driving. He’s a beginner as the “beginner sticker” attests. That should have been the end of it, but so close to campus, I wondered if they were my students and I looked a bit closer.
They were not my students, but something intrigued me, so I kept on looking. Something was off in their body language. The way they moved, the way they looked at each other when talking. They were not a couple, but they were not just friends either.
At the next red light, intrigued and to fight boredom, I resumed watching them. And very soon after their car stopped behind me, their faces started to move closer to each other, and closer, until their mouths were just a centimeter or two from each other. Then, they pulled back, both with that expression on their face that I hope you have experienced at least once in your life. You know which one.
Then, the boy did the funniest thing. He smiled and clapped. This very unique clapping that Japanese people do to express joy, even when there is no one performing or anything else to clap for. That particular clapping has always been a bit disconcerting for me. And, I’m not the only one who laughed. The young woman did too. And she clapped too, imitating him more than anything else. There was no mocking in her laughing and her imitation. I’m sure she found the thing as funny as I did, but at the same time, contrarily to me, she also was a protagonist of that scene. The boy’s reaction could only confirm that whatever she was feeling for him, he also felt it for her. Joy and relief could be seen on her face too.
The light turned green, and we continued our route, but it was difficult not to look too much in the rearview mirror.
Luckily, the next traffic light was red too. I’d be so annoyed by all of these red lights in a normal situation, but this time, I welcomed them. Something interesting was happening on this Friday evening ride home. Great!
They looked at each other again. Their faces got closer again. And again, they stopped right before actually kissing. The girl laughed again, but this time it was that embarrassed/shy laugh so typical of Japanese women. Their third attempt ended up in a hug.
The light turned green. This time I had to turn right into a bigger road. They did too. Yeah! I took the slow lane where they stayed (I usually take the fast lane, there), but oh no, a car managed to weave itself between the young people and me! What should I do? I was invested at this point. I needed to know the end of the story.
Well, you need to know something about my driving. While I never speed, I’m a European and my driving style is much more energetic than Japanese people (or North Americans for that matter). In practice, it means that I usually go from 0 to 50 km/h (or the opposite) much faster than the locals, which means I tend to pass slower cars more, and so on. On a normal day, I would have just accelerated a bit, changed lanes, and kept on going. But this was not a normal day anymore. So, I did what any person who likes a good love story did, I started driving slower so that the car between us passes me. And I made sure to keep on driving slowly until they were right behind me again so that no other car has the bad idea to insert itself between them and me again.
I made the right choice. At the next traffic light, they finally did it! They kissed! Yeah!!! And they kissed again! That cute shy kiss people have when it’s the first time (at least together) and not a lot of time on their hands. If anyone reading this lives in my city, it happened in front of Löwe’s. As I seriously doubt they will remember where their first kiss happened, someone needs to for posterity. I have to admit, that a first kiss on this Friday evening commute is quite an original setting, actually. Not the most romantic one, but let’s not be picky.
One final traffic light, the big intersection under the highway where Kūkō-dōri becomes Chūō-dōri. I watched them one last time. They kissed again, still in that shy way. You could tell the guy couldn’t wait to go a little further, but well… he was driving…
After that, I decided that it was a good ending for the story. Watching any longer would have started to feel like being a Peeping Tom. I mean, it was just a few very chaste kisses, nothing to write home about when you witness such a thing in a Western country, but in Japan, public kissing is a rare thing.
Also, I have to admit that had I been in a Western country the temptation to very loudly cheer and congratulate would have been too hard to resist, but here, nah… Not a good idea… And a worse idea, because even if they’re not my students, they still may know who I am if they’re actually from my university. On second thought, if they had been my students, I would have probably cheered.
So when the lights turned green, I moved to the fast lane and finally headed home the way I usually do, hoping I witness the beginnings of a beautiful relationship.
I need to be on the lookout on campus next Friday, we never know.
Addendum: this story made me think about something interesting about public and private spaces in Japan. When I told the anecdote to my wife, she kinda felt that I had invaded their private space. I’m not so sure. I was doing nothing different from what I do when I drive. I just looked in the rearview mirror a bit more carefully than usual.
Whether the inside of a car is a private space or not is a very grey zone to me. I mean, of course, the physical space is private. You will not enter someone else’s car uninvited. But the “visual space”? For me, it’s public. Yes, when you drive you need to get a look at who’s behind you to be sure they’re being careful and not a potential danger. In the other direction, I also always look “through” the car that’s in front of me, to anticipate what’s coming, whatever it could be.
But the fact that they kissed and that Japanese people almost never kiss in public implies that they considered the space they were in as a private space. Hmmmm…
What do you think?