I have nothing against albinos. They make excellent villains in movies, and even pasty Brits like me appear tanned in comparison. But the pale, white haired Japanese guy who knocked on my door minutes after I had walked in from my day’s teaching turned out to be the scariest person I met in my entire 3 years here.
“You English teacher”, he informed me with a bow, as if I hadn’t known it. True, it had only been a few weeks since I had arrived in rural Oita, and I didn’t understand most of the things going on, but after standing in front of various classes of students every day as an Assistant Language Teacher, I was pretty sure of that much. “Yes”, I replied slowly and clearly. Still very much in my naïve, early throes of being overly friendly to everyone in the small town I lived in, I introduced myself. “My name is Doron. I’m from England. Nice to meet you.”
“I know you English teacher”, he continued, after another little bow. “I see you go home from school yesterday when I walk dog, and I follow home.” He indicated a rat-sized creature of some kind which was cowering behind his legs, so scrawny and un-cute that for a moment I didn’t register the last part of his comment.
“You… followed me home?”
“Yes. You teach me English”, he announced, in such a toneless way that the phrase was left hanging halfway between statement and question. On seeing my confused look, he attempted to confirm his apparent request. “You teach English, yes?
I am hairdresser, go New York study, but not speak English. You teach English, yes?”
I had heard from several of the older ALTs that private lessons were a lucrative way to pass your spare time, and also a good way to make local friends, so this seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up. I should have paid more attention to the fact that, as he hadn’t been shy to admit, he had followed me home from work.
“Umm, yeah. Yes. I teach private lessons. But they are quite expensive. Will your parents be paying?” I didn’t want to rip off any poor uni students, but was quite happy to charge ¥5,000 an hour to their parents.
A curious look passed across his pale features, and he shook my hand, saying, “My name Takeshi. Come back soon.” And then he disappeared into the afternoon, the sunlight seeming to shine straight through him as he marched away.
Just before midnight that night, there was an insistent tapping at my front door, which I rose to answer, deeply tired and in my underwear. There, naturally, was Takeshi, in his pyjamas, with a 2 litre bottle of coke and a family sized packet of Calbee crisps under his arm. He pushed his way in, and sat down in the middle of my hall floor, proffering me the snacks accompanied by a sheet of paper. I took the soda and crisps with confusion, and turned my attention to the message. It turned out to be a computer print-out which I, alongside teachers throughout Japan, if not the world, would soon come to instantly recognise and hate – a translation from Google.
“Being that we are now the friends, friendship is the for best ways. Friends is the helping. I am for the go travel New York, but the money I is nothing. Friends is then the helping. Teach I with the humble thanks. Money is not the friends. Takeshi.”
“You… want me to teach you for free?” I ventured. He stared back at me without saying anything, but looking deeply menacing in his Hello Kitty pyjamas. “Because we’re… friends?” This hadn’t been part of the plan. Is that how things worked in Japan? You were friends with someone because they gave you some coke and told you that you were? “I’m sorry, I don’t think I have time to give free lessons. Actually, I think I’m quite busy from now on, and won’t be able to see you again. Goodbye.”
Slowly, and scarily, he rose to his feet, reached out… and took the coke and Calbee back. He left without saying a word, and I went to bed after locking the front door for the first time since I’d arrived.
He called my mobile phone every few days for 3 weeks after that. No, I have no idea how he got my phone number. He would breathe heavily for a few minutes, then spew out some Japanese mingled with broken English, generally involving the words ‘English’, ‘friends’ and ‘duty’. Each time I apologized and hung up, my apologies gradually becoming briefer, and my hang-up swifter, until one day, a month or so later, a Japanese-speaking friend, who knew the story and was far more firm than I, took the phone from me when he called and in no uncertain terms told him not to call anymore. He didn’t, and I didn’t see him again, but every Halloween I remember my own, personal, phantom stalker.