A Japanese Dog Story

Some of you may know that I lived for many years in Japan, teaching English, writing for newspapers, and making masks. It was a strange country… that place of the rising mists. There was a mix of the sublime mysterious temples and the steep narrow streets. The cherry trees, heavy with subtle blossoms, and the ancient gray houses standing as crowded as old battered books on a bookshelf. I lived in a small apartment called the Hikari Mansions, which meant the mansions of light, but despite which was small and rather run down with no insulation for the Winter and neighbors so close, they could hear you whisper.

Every morning on my commute to work, I would walk down the long and steep hill to the train station and then in the evening I would walk back up. On a corner very near my house and just by the river there was a tree, and tied to that tree on a very short lead there was always a medium-sized brown dog.

I will mention here that the Japanese, at least in those days did not make very good dog owners. Their homes are extremely small, and their language not well suited to commands of any sort. Their word for no translates more to resistance while their word for yes really relates more to acceptance or agreement than approval. The friends I knew there who raised dogs trained them either in German or in English, both of which are languages in which no really means no and yes really means yes.

All of which goes to explain why every day I would encounter this lonely and unhappy dog tied to a tree by the side of the road. The dog was ferocious.

For the 1st 6 months that I passed this poor dog, I never saw anyone near him or had any idea to whom he belonged. Whether it was hot or cold, sunny or cloudy, there he was looking like he wanted to kill someone. When anyone walked by, he would hurl himself against the end of his chain and bark and snarl with murder in his eyes. Pedestrians, myself included gave him a wide berth.

Eventually, on my way home one day, I stopped and bought a box of dog biscuits. Every day on my way to work and on my way home I would pause and toss this wild dog a biscuit. At 1st, the dog would not consider touching the biscuit while I was around. He would wait until I was out of sight before sniffing at it and finally eating it with every sign of doubt and suspicion. As weeks went by our relationship began to slowly grow. Barking and snarling became a more subdued growling and instead of ignoring the dog biscuit, he would fix me with a beady stare and accept my offering cautiously.

Later, as we got to know each other, he would not only accept the biscuit from my hand with pleasure, but he began to stand up on his back legs when he saw me coming and jump up and down with joy. Over a period of about 6 months we became fast friends, and then one evening as I was going out for dinner I happen to run into the family who owned him as they were taking him for a walk.

Here I will say, that the average American, knows almost nothing about the average Japanese person, just as the average Japanese person knows almost nothing about Americans. What they know of us, is what they see on television and in movies. They think we are all violent, they think we all carry guns, they think we all live in big houses, and drive big cars. Often, when I told people I was from California, they asked if I was a cowboy. When they found out I had tattoos, they wanted to know if I was a gangster, since in Japan, particularly when I was there, tattoos were primarily an underworld phenomenon. Young Japanese nowadays are more likely to have Ink, but traditionally it was only for the Yakuza.

As an American living in their neighborhoods, you become a symbol of America. If you are rude, they believe all Americans are rude. And if you are kind, they will believe we are a country of Angels. Recognizing this fact, I had become acutely aware that I was an emissary and an example for my country.

So, as I said, I run into this family out walking their dog, and when the dog sees me he immediately hops up on his hind legs and begins to jump up and down in place as if I were his long-lost and best ever friend. The family is stunned…

“Subarashii!”, wonderful, “Sugoi!”, amazing. They cannot believe their dog likes me. After some discussion, it is decided that is because I am an American. Dogs, it seems, love Americans. We are… an extraordinary people.

I say nothing to convince them otherwise.

Several months later as I was on my way to work, I stopped as usual to give my canine friend a biscuit, when I heard a Japanese man shouting from the balcony of the apartments across the street… When I looked up, I saw one of the family members pointing down at me and shouting, “dogu biscuito! dogu biscuito!” Which is Japanese English for, of course, dog biscuit. I had been found out. The mystery had been solved. Americans were not magical dog whisperer’s.

We do however, carry dog biscuits our pockets… And isn’t that what it’s all about?

My Japanese friends would be horrified!

Mask making in Japan...

2 Responses to “A Japanese Dog Story”
  1. Cherie says:

    I met you during this time if you can call it meeting and seem to recall this delightful story!

  2. ward says:

    Damn nice story .

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