Suddenly we're approached out of nowhere by a group of young male Ryuukoku students. “You wanna get drunk, right?!” asks the leader, Nasser. Well yeah. Of course I do. We wile away some time in a nearby park, publicly urinating and smashing empty bottles, before returning to the Sanjou area. A block before Sanjoubashi we run into a small group of high school kids, whom Nasser inexplicably starts talking to. But these aren't normal high school kids – these are yankii, the kids who think you got nothing on them. The ones who smoke, drink, fail every test, get into fights, and wear their uniforms improperly. Do you know Gokusen? Those are yankii.
|Crows Zero. You get the idea.|
Awesome. I've always wanted to meet some yankii. The Japanese high school I went to was too high-quality for there to be any kicking around.
I try to discreetly snap a quick shot. To my consternation, the dim lighting means the shutter speed is automatically set to “a goddamn eternity.” I almost pull it off...but in the exact moment that I lower my hand, a normal, black-haired, gyaru groupie type chick (clearly sucking up to the current group and hoping to be one day inducted into it) coincidentally looks in my direction.
Gyaru Groupie: Hey, this fucker's taking a motherfucking picture, god damn!
In an instant, the swarm is upon me. Gyaru Groupie, an extremely angry blonde gyaru, a basically silent gyaru, and a totally feckless guy form a semi-circle around me. I'm taken off-guard but, to be completely honest, I'm uninspired by the tactic. I actually wonder if I'm supposed to be intimidated or what. As far as I can tell we're just having a conversation. Albeit a conversation in which the young'uns don't know their place.
Angry Blonde Gyaru: Hey, what the fuck are you fucking taking a fucking picture, god damn!
Rude Boy: Picture? I don't know anything about any picture.
Angry Blonde Gyaru: Oh fuck off, why are you pretending not to understand when you obviously speak Japanese, god damn?
Rude Boy: (lying obviously) I have no idea what you're going on about.
Angry Blonde Gyaru: Oh my god, you stink of alcohol, god damn.
Rude Boy: Then why don't you disappear?
At this moment, one of the guys comes to my “rescue.” He explains that I'm a foreigner who only arrived two months prior (technically true) and that I am not yet familiar with Japanese customs (not in any way true). He promises to delete the photo in front of all of them, that justice may be meted out. I'm a little incensed. Up until this point I've had no intention of admitting that I took a photo or even that I possessed a camera, but at this point I think oh, fucking fine.
Angry Blonde Gyaru: Why you taking that photo, god damn?!
Rude Boy: Well...it was fuckin' funny.
One of the guys charges into my personal space.
Wannabe Gangster: So if it's funny you think it's ok to take a picture of it, god damn?!
Again, I guess I'm supposed to be afraid at this point. The problem is that I know that on the inside he's a fucking pussy who won't do shit. I can sit there and insult him, I can goad him into a confrontation, I can outright invite him to take a swing at me, and he will do literally nothing. If he's feeling particularly bold and aggravated he might lay his palms on my chest, just for a second. To make the situation even more comical, I'm actually not only taller but slightly more muscular and bodily impressive than he is, and believe me that's quite something.
By the way? Here's a quick word of advice for any teenagers reading this blog post, although I know full well you won't want to believe me. Look, I understand that if you think I'm trying to infringe upon your lifestyle, you're going to want to fight back. You're going to want to show me, in as few words as possible, that you don't give a fuck who I am or what I've accomplished, because now I'm staring down the real deal. But the problem is, if you try to use gangster-type slang, you sound fucking ridiculous to adults. I want you to imagine a toddler right now, giving you his scariest voice and direst threats. That is what you sound like to us. So if you're actually trying to get something done, cool off. Appeal to our logic, our guilt, our nostalgia (oh to be young again!), anything but our fear, because you are not going to be able to tap into that. Not without a little something extra, anyway.
Gyaru Groupie tries to add something, but I completely ignore her and wave her off, because I know full well that is what will infuriate her most. I've already given in to my comrade and am trying to explain how to erase the picture, but he thinks I'm trying to trick him and so keeps doing the opposite of what I say. Eventually we settle the matter.
At almost exactly that moment, the police show up.
There's two at first. Within minutes the number has ballooned to six. Unbeknownst to me, a few blocks back Nasser dropped his pants in front of a couple of girls. Now suddenly everybody and I do mean everybody has been drawn into the incident. Chinese has disappeared. “I don't speak Japanese and never have,” I remind those near me, in Japanese. One of the police officers draws in. Suddenly I forget every bit of the language that I have ever learned. My pronunciation is shit and I can't even get through the simplest of constructions without making a catatrophic grammatical fuck-up. Weird how that happens, eh?!
We end up standing around for literally about an hour and a half. Angry Blonde Gyaru tells me several times that I shouldn't be making fun of her, since I'm older – but actually, doesn't being older than her give me the right to make fun of her? She also tells the police, twice, that I took a picture of them, which is fucking stupid, because compared to the nine or so federal laws being broken right in front of them, my completely legal photo shoot is the fucking least important issue. Annoyed me a little bit, though, since she was obviously doing nothing more than trying to get me in trouble. Ok, again. Teenagers? Don't do stuff like this. It makes you look like half-wits.
Gyaru Groupie: What the fuck is up with your taking that picture, god damn?!
Rude Boy (English, lying): I don't understand why you angry. Look, your face. So angry! Why? I don't understand. Why angry?
Fun Gyaru (coming to my rescue): Maybe you should just drop it....
Gyaru Groupie: He's a fucking loser, god damn!
Rude Boy (not sorry): Look, sorry, I said, right?
Fun Gyaru: Ah, he's saying that he already apologized so why are you still angry?
Gyaru Groupie: Because he's a fucking loser, god damn!
Rude Groupie: (English, wanting badly to admit that I actually speak Japanese, but not being able to) So angry. Why angry? Sorry, aimu souri, okee?
Fun Gyaru: Seriously--
Gyaru Groupie: Fuck this, god damn.
Fun Gyaru (immediately switching attention): You wanted a picture of some gyaru, eh. So, do you want to take a picture with me?!
Rude Boy (English): Ah, picture? (miming camera)
So in the end I got a pretty nice picture with a fun gyaru. Maybe it's good they got mad, then? The guys were raring to go for a pretend fight, approaching individual police with the most aggressive body language possible. Much like me, the police didn't even flinch, because they knew full well they wouldn't do a goddamn thing. But their women didn't. Fun Gyaru, at one point, threw herself between her man and a police officer, hugging him deeply. It's ok, her hug seemed to say. I'm here. Don't worry. If we just leave, everything will be ok. I promise. I love you. Fuck, I thought, teenagers are so fucking dramatic. And then I remembered what I promised myself when I was one.
At that time, I didn't necessarily think I knew it all, but it definitely seemed to me that the world held a few truths that the adults around me no longer understood. That is, not that they just didn't get, but that they had once known but had long since forgotten. There's a really great word for this in Japanese: seishun (青春). As explained to me by a middle-aged Japanese man at a karaoke party, it means the sensation of youth, and after graduating high school, you can no longer feel it. I realised even then that I would one day lose the ability myself.
Then and there, I vowed to always try to remember what it feels like to be in the throes of seishun. After all, it has some pretty great moments. A lot of adults tend to think of high school as cut off from the so-called “real world,” which teenagers can't possibly understand. This is utterly false. High school isn't a safe haven from the real world, it's a microcosm of it. In high school I felt as alive as I've ever felt in my whole life, except I was experiencing it every second of every single day. That's why I still enjoy gakuen dramas; I can understand that when you're that age, whether or not that special someone reciprocates your feelings or not is goddamn life and death. I reflect upon this silent resolution often (in order that I don't forget it at an inopportune time – I'll forever be the patron saint of high school students!)
And so I realised – ha. That's right. I've forgotten their sense of scale, and it's a damn dramatic and enjoyable sense of scale. I kind of wish I could get it back. I instantly forgive everyone involved. I even feel bad. Please, you guys. I am not the enemy.
I am not the enemy.
I am not the enemy.