So, it’s a rainy old Sunday and I’m sitting in my apartment, drowning in TOEFL textbooks, when the doorbell rings. This in itself is almost blog-worthy, as nobody ever just turns up at my apartment (not that I’d want them to…). I’m wearing my PJs and haven’t even taken a shower today, so I decide to try out the telephone system for answering my door.
“Hello?” (I figure it’s better to start in English and, besides, I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to answer the door with “moshi moshi”.)
The response comes in fast Japanese. I half catch one word: keisatsu (警察). I think I know this word.
“Um… sumimasen. Uh… chotto wakaranai. Gaijin desu.” I reply. (Um… sorry. Uh… I don’t really understand. I’m a foreigner.)
The man says some more words I almost understand. I’m frustratingly close to being able to catch his meaning. The one word that jumps out again is “keisatsu”. I’m pretty sure this means “police”. He asks me if I will come to the door. I do, knowing that, despite my PJs, face to face conversation will be much easier.
So I throw on my dressing gown, attempt to brush back my fluffy hair (god I need a haircut!) and climb over my exploding laundry basket to answer the door.
What a find is a surprise, and I begin regretting my decision not to shower this morning. There is a very very cute policeman standing at my door. He’s a little short and skinny but, well, I’m in Japan. Still, the uniform is nice, and no match for my PJs.
Why is there a cute Japanese policeman at my door? I begin to wonder.
He smiles, seeming almost to apologise for not speaking English. He speaks more slowly now, and I can catch more of what he’s saying. It’s weird how you can begin to understand a language even though you don’t really know half of the words you’re hearing.
He’s doing a routine check, and today it is my “mansion”‘s turn (“mansion” – マンション – is the Japanese word for apartment building). He’s trying to find out who lives in each apartment, in case there is an emergency or something. I show him my ID and he asks me questions about when I came to Japan and where I work. This is all pretty routine stuff that I can do, albeit badly and in broken Japanese.
Then he starts asking me something else. I catch words like じしん (jishin) and I know this means earthquake. Ah… he’s asking me what I would do if there was an earthquake. He’s asking me who my ‘in case of emergency’ is, and… I don’t know! I actually manage not to answer that question, but it has left me thinking that perhaps I should have one who lives in the same country. Having an ‘in case of emergency’ person who lives in England is probably not much use if there is an earthquake here.
Anyway, after I answered most of his questions, he seemed satisfied and pulled out some stickers. He told me he worked at the police station by the train station. I think his name was Suzuki-san. He showed me this shiny yellow sticker and asked if it was ok to slap it on next to my door. I felt like a Japanese school kid being rewarded for my good work – I got a sticker! The second part of the sticker was for me to keep inside – phone numbers to reach the police on, should I need them. In a real emergency situation I doubt I would even be able to use my phone. I only have a cell phone and the networks would probably be down. Or the battery would run out – damn Xperia ‘smart’ phone…
But that made me realise another thing – I didn’t even know for sure what the 999 equivalent was in Japan! (I just looked it up: 110 for police and 119 for ambulance/fire.)
I realise now how complacently I’ve been living here in Japan. In England, something like calling the police wouldn’t be something I would need to think about. But here in Japan, it is. if I had a problem, would my Japanese be up to it? I could probably muddle through, but I don’t want to spend my whole life here muddling through with broken Japanese and flailing arms. Time to shape up – time to swap those TOEFL textbooks for my Japanese textbooks, which are getting shamefully dusty…