“excuse me”

Ayme Frye
Dr. Preston Houser
Position Paper #1
January 30, 06

Everyday I ride my bike, whizzing and bouncing over concrete and tar. It is a harrowing experience at times. People meander from shops with bags or umbrellas dressed in kimonos or furry jackets, with heads down or deeply engrossed in conversation, either unaware or unconcerned with their perilous surroundings. These carefree pedestrians barely bat an eye while bikes careen past them or slam on breaks with a blood curdling screech. At least four times a day I am involved in or witness a near fatal accedent. It amazes me that so few actually occur.There has to be a different set of rules here written in the minds of the natives that a Westerner could never understand.The people of Japan are skilled bike riders who ride with umbrellas open in driving wind, rain, and snow, talk on cell phones, and are able to transport the most precarious cargo on these two wheeled balance oriented vehicles.Yet what strikes me most about Kyoto street conduct is that the common phrase “excuse me”or “sumimasen” in Japanese is rarely heard.
Perhaps it is the sheer number of encounters with people that causes the omission of this simple courtesy. There are so many situations where I find myself in need of the phrase that if one used it as much as one should larengitis would be unavoidable. Thesidewalks here are always full, people are more exposed than if everyone had a car, it makes sense that the bumping ratio goes up here and the “excuse me” ratio goes down. This is normal life in Kyoto city, I am just not used to it.
Since I have been here I have attended several live shows a good percentage of which were electronic music. These musicians almost without exception preform alone with their computer. The computer screen lights their skin as they push buttons and twist knobs, sometimes they dance totally immersed in thier music and their own world, barely interacting with the audience. I felt closed off from them. The music was interesting, and I felt something in it but it was very closed. I am a musician too, and one of the most exciting things about playing music for me is when a song I wrote alone transforms in the live preformance with other musicians.Through the synnergy of everyone involved, each putting something of themselves into the music it becomes something beyond me something with a life of its own.After the show I had asked the musicians if they had ever had an experience like mine collaborating with other musicians. The reply came after a thoughtful pause, “No.” They said they enjoyed working alone, and the studio was preferable to the live performance. I know there are alot of musicians in the US too, that prefer the studio to the crowded bar, but this conversation made me think about other things.
These people on the street never interacting in that simple way, never acknowledging with a word that someone else is in their space. Maybe I miss that interaction, it makes me feel lonely, isolated from my fellow travelers, like I am not there, or they are not there.There is a scene in the movie Waking Life where two of the characters bump into each other and say, “excuse me”, almost go on their way but instead they continue the interaction,
“Hey, could we do that again, I know we havent met but I don’t want to be
an ant.- we go through life with our antennaes continuously bouncing off
one another with nothing really human required of us.-all communication
to keep this ant colony buzzing in an efficient polite manner.-I want real
human moments. I want to see you. I want you to see me.I don’t want to give
that up. I don’t want to be an ant, you know.”
Here even the first excuse me is absent. I do feel isolated, but it seems the Japanese are isolated too. Maybe it doesn’t feel so bad to them, maybe it is a positive to them. My friend here said that he feels much better when he is alone than when he tries to communicate with people. Yet this same person is constantly reaching out, trying akwardly to create deeper friendships.Is solitude really so comfortable for him? Does loniliness feel the same for everyone? Do you ever get used to it? An intuition tells me no. A simple phrase may not be enough to soften my feelings of isolation in a culture that is not my own, but it would make me feel a little bit more visible.