Let me tell you a little something about Oki. It’s peaceful. It’s tiny. It’s happily placed in the middle of nowhere (3 hours into the Sea of Japan). And it’s full of the nicest and most polite people you will ever meet.
My first days on this island were full of people bending over backwards to make sure I had absolutely everything I needed and could ever want. My supervisor is the first person to show me this hospitality. Not only did he pick me up from the airport, set up my internet, phone, water, electricity, my inkan (personal stamp), personally haul a giant bed frame out of my apartment, set up my bank account, get me signed up for discounts for local flights, and set up everything pertaining to my residence, but he would also take me on random detours to see the most beautiful parts of the island every time I said “Kireii! (pretty) when we were running errands. It got to the point where I was wary of when I would say that word when we were in the car. I knew from experience that there was about a 75% chance that my supervisor would immediately veer off on a run down road in an attempt to take me to a place where I could bask in the beauty of this island.
Same goes for my co-workers. One day, I casually mentioned that I would be going to the mainland to pick up Aaron from the airport, and the woman who sits next to me dropped everything and spent the next couple of hours mapping out my entire trip. She even showed me how much everything would cost, found a hotel, made a reservation for Aaron and I with her email address, and printed out signs in Japanese saying “Hi, I need to go to this station. Please help me.” Are you convinced they’re the nicest people yet? Yes? No? Don’t care, let me tell you more.
This kind of thing doesn’t just stop at work. Oh no. It’s everywhere on this island. People will offer us rides home left and right. Sometimes, I’m fortunate enough to actually know the person who is offering me a ride home. One particular time I remember was when Aaron and I were walking home from the grocery store (about a 2Km walk), backpack full, just a couple bags in our hands (usually bread) when a car politely beeped it’s horn behind us. Looking over my shoulder I saw a woman with her head out the window asking if we were headed home. Not knowing what else to do I said “yes” and was met with an immediate, “I know where you live! I’ll drive you home!” As I’d become used to encounters such as this, I was perfectly fine hopping in this woman’s car and immediately began the task of putting our groceries in the trunk. Aaron, however, had never had an encounter like this before and followed me to the trunk like a little lost puppy. I vaguely remember him asking me the same question over and over, but I was so focused on hopping in this woman’s car (I’d gotten so good at it, by that point) that he was just a low buzz in in the back of my head. It wasn’t until Aaron was right next to me, face hovering right in front of mine that I understood what he was saying. Which was a: “No, seriously, Rachael. Who is this person?” To which I responded, “I have absolutely no idea. Hop in her car.”
As Aaron mentioned once, walking home anywhere on this island is like playing Car-ride Russian Roulette. Or rather, the opposite. It’s almost a game to us now; trying to make it home before someone offers us a ride home. Sometimes we don’t even make it out of the grocery store. I’m so used to these occurrences that I’m half afraid that one day someone will stop for a red light and I’ll just plop my defeated-by-kindness self into the back of their car without thinking.
Now, on a more obnoxious note, we reach the topic of cars vs. pedestrians. On Oki, cars don’t just stop for pedestrians. It’s so much more than that. Cars will stop traffic and wait in the middle of the street for a whole minute waiting for you to cross an intersection that you haven’t even made it to yet. Because they’re that polite. Now this leaves you with a few choices. One, you can give an exaggerated “oh!” and hurriedly half-walk-half-run waddle to first make it to the intersection, and then to cross it (while bobbing your head up and down, trying to apologize to the driver and thank them at the same time). Two, you can continue at your current pace and hope they will finally decide to turn before you reach the intersection. *Note: you will always lose in option two. And you will then feel like Meanie McJerkface for taking your sweet old time. And lastly, you can do what we call a Gaijin (foreigner) Smash and whip out your phone and pretend you’re completely distracted. It’s important to also turn your back to the car, completely ignoring them, so they begin to understand that you will not be crossing the far, far away intersection anytime soon and they should just go ahead and turn already. I’m sure you’ve all guessed it by now but, I am pro at option three.
So, now you’ve got an idea of what it’s like to live on Oki! A beautiful island full of amazing people and a place where the biggest crime is when people don’t recycle their garbage correctly (No, really. I met the mayor. And that’s exactly what he told me).
I’m so going to end up getting mugged when I move back to America.