Israeli vendor in Japan

I spot my first guy outside Ebisu station.

Rows of silver rings catch my eye on his collapsible table.

He has soft blue-grey eyes set close together. His brown wavy hair and pale skin with a few freckles are offset by a nose that rises like Mount Fuji. For a split second I think I’m looking at myself in the mirror. 

He smiles at me. Nice teeth.

I  smile back. “Sterling silver. I guarantee you the best quality. You like brown stones–here’s Tiger’s Eye. Or blue stones–how about Lapis Lazuli? Every ring 50 percent off, for you. 

For me?  So he wants to talk business. Okay–it’s a start. 

Under his black t-shirt his biceps bulge.  I’m ready to slip Lapis Lazuli on my finger when his eyes narrow. His smile disappears. A police car pulls up to the curb. The vendor slams shut his folding table, grabs his box of jewels and runs away with his shop under his arm. He disappears into the bobbing heads, one brown wavy haired fish swimming against the stream. 

He bolts through the turnstiles and as he disappears I can’t help wondering: Have I just saved myself a couple of thousand yen or lost the chance to explore what else we might have in common?

Stop being ridiculous, I tell myself. Just because he’s Jewish? Am I a racist? Was I not born in the later half of the century precisely so I could shake off the shackles by falling in love and marrying whomever I want? 


Tokyo in the 1980s had a very different street life vibe than you find here now. You would see outside the main hub train stations along the Yamanote line, stations that forms a giant compass at the center of Tokyo,  one after one of these young Israelis who didn’t seem to care one iota that what they were doing was potentially illegal and could run them into trouble with the police, or worse Japan’s homegrown yakuza who prowled the streets looking to take “rent” from anyone who happened to decide to perch a table and stool on their branch of the tree of Tokyo life.

These Israelis had chutzpah, for sure, but they also possessed bravado. Here they were, traveling to Japan with hardly any yen in their pocket but confident that work was waiting because of “the Book.” Or was it their faith in God?

Israeli travelers the world over have for years followed a tradition of writing reviews in notebooks that they leave behind wherever they travel and these books are filled with insider tips about where to stay, what to do, who to meet, and where to make some money while traveling.

Americans have no such “Book.” We’re on our own, to say the least, and I think this is also a matter of pride. Wanting to figure things out for myself, to show off our independent nature, that we don’t need anybody’s help, this too comes inside the “unchecked” emotional suitcase some of us  carry to Japan.

 

 

 

Author: admin

Liane Grunberg Wakabayashi is a Tokyo-based artist and writer of a memoir in progress, The Wagamama Bride, based on her nearly 30 years of life in Japan, 25 of which she has been married to Taoist therapist Akihiko Wakabayashi, her inspiration, and her guide back to rediscovering her own Jewish roots owing to the presence of Chabad House of Japan.

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