The nail which sticks out….

Deru kui wa utareru. “The nail which sticks out gets hammered down

The Japanese love order and conformity. I notice this the most while I am driving. Despite the fact I’m in a new place – in a foreign land – I’m more relaxed driving here than in Australia. No-one speeds or drives erratically, and I can anticipate every move. For someone as anal and precise as me this is seventh heaven! I bet there is no road rage in Japan. However when there is dis-order or dis-harmony, the Japanese tend to become confused and edgy. (I can relate to this too, as my friends will no doubt confirm!)

Today I witnessed the hammer at the cove. The drive boats have been in harbour the past two days, following the bloody events of the previous two days leading up to my arrival. Today however, the parking lot at the cove was full of cars as I pulled in on my way back from the harbour. Two groups of four Japanese stood at each end of the parking lot. A few others wandered the area, to all intents and purposes like tourists, but the way they carried themselves said otherwise. These are not curious onlookers. Or protesters, or passing tourists. A police vehicle trawls it’s way through the car park, pausing momentarily presumably to record my car’s registration number.

Japanese Coast Guard vessel in Taiji harbour

Bear in mind that I am not here to protest. Or break laws. Nor do I wear the colours of any organisation.

I parked the car and quietly observed the scene. Minutes of blase scrutiny pass and then suddenly my car is descended upon by six people. Three stand behind peering through the back window, holding up video cameras, a little like a Japanese paparazzi. ( Or is that japarazzi?!) A further three make their way to the driver’s side window and one attempts some broken English. When I greet him in Japanese he takes a backstep then speaks a quick stream of Japanese at me. I can’t pick a word out so I explain in Japanese “Sorry, English. I don’t understand”. Another takes his place. This one speaks reasonable English, though I respectfully answer as many of his questions as possible in Japanese. His demeanour is polite and the questions are standard…Where am I from? How long are you here for? Where are you staying?  When asked for my passport, I proffer it two handed, with a bow, following the etiquette of respect in Japan. He then asks “How did you learn about this place?” I answer him truthfully…”From television and newspapers. Most people who read the newspaper know about this place.” There is a genuine look of surprise on his face. Asian races are not as quick as Westerners to show facial expression, so I know that his look is one of genuine surprise. In truth, the first I saw of  Taiji was a 6 page colour spread in the Sunday Times newspaper. I still have the copy at home. I explain this to him and he relays the details to his companions who are also surprised. I politely offer to send him a copy when I return home. He thanks me for my answers and tells me that this won’t be necessary. I return his thanks and tell him that I will be passing by each day, but I have no intention of showing disrespect by breaking laws. I politely hand him my business card with a bow. He bows his thanks and they depart.

Drive boats berthed in harbour

I am left amazed by the circus I have just witnessed. A dozen authorities and as many cars. I have an image of the human body – when an infection enters the bloodstream, hundreds of white blood cells mill around until the threat is neutralised. The nail which sticks out must be hammered down.

After the tension at the cove I drive the 5km’s back to my hotel in Katsuura and go for my late afternoon walk through the town. I am greeted by smiles of recognition and polite bows from these lovely people that I have only known  for a couple of days. A fisherman at the Katsuura fish market waves me closer to look at the day’s tuna catch. He didn’t ask to see my passport. Or stick a camera in my face. Go figure….

Katsuura fish market



5 responses to “The nail which sticks out….

  • Kim Nakajima

    I am an Aussie and have been living in Tokyo for 6yrs. Living here I have felt like I was that nail a number of times. I guess in Taiji though it must be very intense. Politeness gets you very far in Japan!!!
    Thank you for being here:-)

  • Margarita Benjamin

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