November 9 left me stunned.
“Excuse me. May I ask where you are from?”
We know what is going to happen next. It started happening a year ago and where ever we went. The first time it happened we were caught off guard. It came from Italians vacationing in the Maldives, then retired cyclists on the Kiwi Line of New Zealand, and Chinese New Year revelers at the TGI Fridays in Tai Chung, Taiwan. At that time the next question was “What can America be thinking?!”.
This time it is a well-dressed gentleman in the courtyard of Nagoya Castle. With distressed eyes and shaky voice, he tells us in broken English that he is a history teacher at a local high school. He then proceeds to voice his concern over our newly elected president. It’s the first time for my son, Jack, to experience this situation. I recognize the rush to comfort, the apologizing, the loss for words. The gentleman continues to talk until a young man dressed in period costume interrupts him to get us out of the way of their show. He is so embarrassed by this situation that he turns the other way and we go ours.
“Too bad you don’t have your candy canes Mom.”
Back in December as I planned how to spread some Christmas cheer, I realized, to my horror, that I did not have the regular sized traditional peppermint candy canes to hand out to my neighbors. Luckily during our weekly shopping at Costco, I found a bucket of 270 small individually wrapped candy canes. On one hand they were better suited for the Japanese, they are small and individually wrapped. On the other hand they didn’t make a very good tree ornament. Consequently I paper clipped them to the big purple ribbon on the tree. On December 6th, St Nicholas day, neighbors and their children again ventured to my door for a peppermint treat. It was Halloween all over again. Last year they just picked one off the tree. This year they ran my doorbell.
So heading out to my cooking class the following Thursday, I threw the rest of my candy canes (200 plus) into my bag. It’s a big class this year and if I give everyone enough for their families that will leave a big dent. My presence in the class is a burden. I cannot read the directions or understand at the level you need to for a cooking class. I realize I take up an inordinate amount of attention. These candies are a small token of appreciation.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the response to these small candies. This self-reserved group of women erupts into shrieks and giggles. I learn a new word “ureshii” which they say as they pat their heart. It means, “I am so happy”. None of them have every seen or eaten one before.
Remembering this response, I start leaving the house with a baggie full of candy canes in my purse. The locals at the gas station, Masae-san the wine tasting lady at Costco, the people at the post office, the taxi driver, the cashier all get a candy cane.. So if a package is delivered, I give a candy cane. The newspaper lady collecting the fee gets a candy cane. Their response is almost exactly like my cooking friends .Heading to get my haircut, I stash a few in my pocket. When I hand it to Shumpei-san, he gets the biggest smile, and says, “I love these, they are so cute!”
In Japan the service is amazing. Clerks scuttle to get you exactly what you want in a timely fashion. With a watchful eye they anticipate your needs. Their professional demeanor makes shopping enjoyable. Tipping is not customary in Japan. December, like America, is a frenzy of activity, preparation and shopping because of Oshogatus (Japanese New Year). The department stores have ample help for the crowds, but just like in cooking class, I require much more energy than the usual customer. These little confectioneries are the perfect way to show my gratitude for their care.
Not only did the Japanese of my daily life get a candy cane, but anyone Fate allowed the opportunity for me to hand them one. Unknowingly the current of joy passing through the receiver to the giver made it become my peace offering, my sign of peace, my sign of unity, my sign of hope.
Meanwhile my sons arrive for Christmas. Before long, they are whispering in my ear, “give them a candy cane”. We bought one of the last boxes at Costco and gave out another 270 before January 3rd when they returned to Idaho.
It’s a weird place to be. To be the person that is looked to for reassurance to what is happening in the United States. I learned at the knee of my parents that democracy requires study and participation. Newspapers, academic magazines and the nightly news were staples for nighttime conversation. Whatever was happening in the country-whether to adopt the metric system, the ERA amendment, Watergate, every presidential election, and our local politics was discussed at the supper table. But this current situation has me at a loss. So much so that every time I started to write this story I would think it sounded silly. Ridiculous. Fatuous.
And then yesterday my Facebook page said, “You have memories from 1 year ago”.
Gandalf the Grey stares back at me:
Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay…small acts of kindness and love.—Gandalf in The Hobbit
Yes, Jack, I do need more candy canes.