Culture

Carnivore at the scramble

Sho Sakurai
Sho Sakurai
Sho Sakurai, born January 25, 1982, is a Japanese idol, singer, songwriter, actor, newscaster, host and former radio host. He is a member of Japanese boy band Arashi. | Sho Sakurai, Japanese, Singer, Arashi,

A lesson in politeness

Walking out of the Hachiko exit at Shibuya station in Tokyo is an absolute assault on the senses - the lights, the billboards, the TV screens playing 10 different commercials at once. It's amazing and frightening at the same time. The sheer amount of people outside the station at the busiest hours is something you have to become desensitized to. The crowds are filled with girls dressed up, girls dressed strangely, couples, salarymen, tourists with their fanny packs and "I HEART JAPAN" t-shirts walking around aimlessly.

In the menagerie of Tokyoites, the boys who are all dressed up with nowhere to go are the only ones I have reason to be wary of. They're like hungry lions on the hunt in the Sahara. Some of them even resemble lions with their teased out, waxed up, bleach blonde manes. They're all starving and exposed to the elements - be it the heat in the summer, the constant downpour of rainy season, or the snow in the winter - but they endure everything with patience. They watch the people flood into the famous scramble crossing and wait to pick their prey.

The kill is often anti-climactic. Like most girls, I ignore the carnivores that come after me. In a crowd I can pretend they aren't chasing after me, they must be going after the pretty girl up ahead. I can't hear them over my iPod or the conversation I'm pretending to have on my phone. I already have things to do, people to see. I don't want to go to their crappy bars or lose my voice at karaoke, especially at 2:30 in the afternoon.

By Japanese standards, I'm not terribly rude to these guys. If I acknowledge their advances in any way - a glance to check if he's cute, a smirk at some terrible English - I'll open the harassment floodgates and they'll keep following me. I can't afford to be deported for using physical force against someone, so my only defense is to keep my imaginary blinders up and hope they go away. In a country where politeness is the norm and crime is almost non-existent, these types of men represent one of the only threats to my safety.

One Saturday night in the scramble, I heard a man call out that all too familiar phrase, "Sumimasen (excuse me)!" It struck me as odd that, even through the mass of people and noise around me, I managed to hear it. The same voice kept following me and I immediately put up my blinders; I knew what was coming. Maybe he'd trail me in the intersection for a bit but he'd inevitably find some other girl to hit on if I didn't respond.

I was not prepared for the hand that grabbed my arm, however. Fear shot through me and I shoved him away. Anger immediately took over ' I can take some idiot throwing empty compliments at me, but I've never had someone touch me. What did this person want?

"You dropped this!" rang out. I turned around and a hand with my train pass was floating between bodies. A polite Japanese man had picked it up and wanted to return it to me, despite the crowd that was crushing us both. The appropriate thing to do would have been to turn around and exchange many awkward bows and words of apology, but I never saw the person attached to the hand. I only know better for next time.

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Updated Aug 12, 2017 12:17 PM EDT | More details

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