After church today, we went to put pamphlets in mail boxes, and I had another one of my lovely random street encounters that I love. I was in this neighborhood with winding narrow streets and old, wooden houses, and I came to a place where an old woman was squatting outside her house, talking to her neighbor who had just come out her door.
I paused, rather unsure what to do, because you can't put pamphlets in people's mailboxes right in front of them, but it also seemed odd to skip their houses all together.
She saw me looking confused, and asked me in Japanese what I was looking for. I explained I was giving out pamphlets and showed one to her. And she just kept talking to me. I liked her a lot. Within two minutes, I was squatted down beside her and she started explaining the neighborhood with wide hand gestures.
The funny thing about older people is that you tell them you've spoken Japanese for two years, and they assume you are fluent. She was very surprised when I had to pull out my dictionary to figure out her meaning of the word "air raid", but it turns out she was explaining that Ueno had been flattened by the air raids in WW2, but this area had been untouched, and so there were lots of old houses. I kept sitting with her as she talked and was amazed at how this place was different than anywhere else I had been in Tokyo just because of her presence.
Many people in Tokyo don't know their neighbors. This woman seemed to know her whole street. And a lot of people walked by. She would call out directions to lost people, greetings to people who seemed determined to just race out their door, and they would turn around and smile and greet her back. Finally, a young college aged guy came by, kind of smiling at seeing this 80 year old woman and 24 year old foreigner crouching together on the street. "Tomodachi?" he asked. "Friend?" She explained that we had just become friends. He knew her, and he squatted down with us for awhile too. He also looked at a pamphlet, saw I had lived in Minnesota and said, "Twins?" That made me smile. She checked in with all sorts of things in his life, gave him all sorts of advice...I think at one point he was talking about job searching and she started telling him, "You've got to go that way and check in with this business..." It was wonderful...this woman is an 80 year old fireball who seems to be the center of her whole street.
I hope I get to see her again!