My first vehicle in Japan was a grey van. I live in a small town and the van was great for escaping to go camping or on longer journeys, but if I was just popping down to the shops for a carton of milk or a couple of cans of beer I would often borrow my wife’s small, black, compact car. A kei-car they call it in Japan. On this occasion, however, my wife was using her own car and so I drove my big van down to the local convenience store.
I went into the shop and bought something to eat or a drink of some sort and came back outside, ready to drive home and enjoy my small purchases. When I left the shop, however, I saw a small, black, compact, car parked in the convenience store car-park. Habit compelled me to move towards the car and I opened the driver’s door, much to the alarm of a young teenage Japanese girl who was sitting in the back e-mailing friends on her cell phone. Our eyes met with mutual surprise and more than a little fear on her part, before I slammed the door shut and started to walk away. Then I began to panic. I thought that at any moment her parents would emerge from the convenience store and she would tell them about how a large foreigner had attempted to get into the car. As a tall caucasian in a small Japanese town I was very conspicuous. The police would be round in no time, I thought. With this realization, I thought it best to at least try to explain to the girl that it was a simple case of mistaken car identity.
I walked back to her car and opened the door again. She pulled her knees up to her chest on the seat and tried to squeeze herself further into the corner of the back seat. Her eyes were now wide with panic. I wanted to tell her that I was very sorry and that I had simply mistaken her car for my wife’s car which was exactly the same colour and model. Unfortunately, my skills in the Japanese language were less than spectacular, and the words for ‘wife’ and ‘mother’, whilst not particularly close in sound were near enough for someone with my linguistic skills and slight state of anxiety to confuse. I opened the door, and said, ‘I’m sorry. I think you are my mother. You’re the same colour.’
The poor girl looked more alarmed than ever. I closed the door and walked swiftly to my van, wheel-spinning out of the car-park before the girl’s parents returned to their distraught daughter.