The conventional wisdom is that Japanese people are shy. In fact, many Japanese will tell you as much. For some reason, I always make a point to tell my outgoing, talkative students just how non-shy they actually are.
Which usually leads to the student pointing at her nose and saying, "Me? No, I am shy!"
But I suppose it depends on the situation. For example, as I was crossing the bridge over the Hamanako outlet after my Bentenjima class, I ran into (as I frequently do that time of day) small clusters of... small people. Elementary school students wearing their yellow plastic hardhats for safety, many of them carrying umbrellas because it was sprinkling rain.
As I was catching up to a couple of little girls, I decided to cross the street to 1) avoid frightening them with my bald gaijin monstrosity and 2) to avoid the awkwardness of having to find a way around them, since their short legs were no match for my long ones and they were taking up valuable real estate. Up ahead, a cluster of boys began playing the fool, and loudly.
When I glanced over, one of them was doing some sort of acrobatic dance move on the far sidewalk. They saw me and started shouting, "Hello! Hello! Hello!"
"Hello," I shouted back.
The dancing kid stopped and shouted something like, "Hellohowareyounicetomeetyou!"
"Nice to meet you! I'm fine!" I answered. "And you?"
He clutched at his face in surprise as they all started cackling with laughter. His English exhausted, there ended his first conversation with a foreigner.
Earlier tonight, as I was waiting for the #9 bus, someone started speaking to me. I turned and saw a couple of young guys. One was short and slender, with a face full of hardwear and a stubbly beard, and the other was a bit stockier and wearing a do-rag.
"Nice to meet you," said the hardware-faced guy.
"Nice style," the other guy said, waving his hand up and down to show that he admired my pinstripe trousers and black Chuck Taylors. "You have nice fashion."
"Thanks," I said.
Do-rag held out his hand and we shook. "Nice to meet you," he said, then told me his name. We each introduced ourselves.
"Why you came to Japan?" Do-rag asked.
"I like Japan."
"Oh. What do you do here?"
"How long you been in Japan?" Hardware asked.
"Oh, about 3 years."
"In Hamamatsu?" Do-rag asked.
"Uh huh. It's a nice city, though."
He asked me about my school and we talked about it for a few minutes. I told him where it was. Then they got down to business. Hardware opened his bag and pulled out some super-slick full-color flyers for a live show at "Club Klan" near the Hamamatsu Station. They explained that they're both dj's and that a local ALT will be singing.
"It's an international party," Hardware assured me.
"Cool, cool," I said trying to decide if I was going to attend or not. 10pm, Friday night. 2200 yen for the show and a drink (pretty typical of local shows in Japan), but 500 yen off with the flyer. Some hip, young women interested in bald foreigners, maybe a chance to make some friends with some musical creativity and experimentalism. A possibility.
"How you like Japanese girls?" Do-rag asked.
"Oh, they're great. I like them a lot."
They seemed pleased with that answer, nodding and laughing.
"You have a girlfriend?"
"We broke up a couple of months ago."
More knowing laughter.
Then Hardware spoke up: "I haven't had sex in one year."
"Oh man, that's difficult," I told him reassuringly. Thanks for the information, jack. Speaking of...
"Only masturbating everyday," joked Do-rag, making a fist and pantomiming the act of self-pleasuring.
"It's a necessity," I agreed, laughing.
Then we said our goodbyes and they went off to pass out more flyers.