Skip to content
February 22, 2013 / Karen Hill Anton

Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide

This photo was taken right after I got out of the hospital

This photo was taken right after I got out of the hospital


(February 23, 1995)

There is no escape. Your card will come up. There’ll be nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

Although it’s taken years for this to sink in, I see clearly now that it’s impossible to live in a Japanese community and not accept this basic fact:  Your turn will come.

It may be for the local children’s association, the neighborhood association, or any of the many slots to be filled in the PTA at your children’s schools. But as sure as the rainy season, hardly a year will pass when you’re not an official in this or that group. And of course it’s not unusual to be in several groups at the same time.

Every time I’m chosen for something or am told that I’ve been selected for yet another committee, my first reaction is without fail:  No way.

But this is followed, and with lightning speed, by the realization that it’s my turn. I’m not even dreaming of actually saying, “No, I won’t do it.”

The other day a woman in our neighborhood, a mother who knew she would soon have to hold the staff of office, stopped me in the grocery store and said she knew I’d already served a term as vice president of the children association. “Did you volunteer for the position?” she asked.

“Are you joking?” I responded. I’d only agreed to it when I saw there was no way out.

“Yeah, nobody ever wants to do it,” she said.

“But you’re all used to participating as a group, no questions asked. No one seems to mind.”

“‘Seems’ and reality are different,” she said. “We just know there’s no getting out of it and accept it. But believe me, everybody is dragged into it.”

My new attitude is this:  Do it now and get it over with. No matter how busy I am now, I reason, I might be busier later. I do whatever is asked of me, and liken it to making a deposit in the bank. The time will surely come when I won’t be able to do something, and then I’ll have a little margin and can draw on my deposit.

When your children are in elementary school here there are various responsibilities connected with the school and you’re obliged to participate. A meeting is held to outline what positions have to be filled — some mothers volunteer immediately, deciding it’s best to get it out of the way. Then there are the others who try to fade into the edges of the group until they have no recourse. The blank “I’m-a-gaijin-I-don’t-know-what’s-going-on” look doesn’t work at all. Everyone is more than happy to explain it to you.

Last year I was chosen (I can’t say elected since I don’t think any democratic process is involved) to be a representative in my son’s first-year junior high school class.

In the hall on my way to the classroom to assume my new position as the first-year representative, I met the woman who was to be the co-representative. I had my work cut out for me, let me tell you, trying to convince her that she should be the leader and I the assistant.

“Oh no, Anton-san, please. Oh won’t you be the leader,” she pleaded.

“Oh, I beg you,” I said, “not me, please.”

Onegaishiamsu. I implore you.”

Have a heart, I’m on bended knee, in the name of all that’s good, I ask your indulgence. I was running out of ways to beg.

“Oh, I beseech you,” she went on, “I don’t know anything. This is my first experience with junior high school.”

Now she had me. I had the dubious distinction of being her sempai (the senior or superior) in this circumstance because I’d already had two kids in and out of junior high school, and was on my third.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “I’ll be right by your side. I just don’t want to be the leader,” who I knew well has to read long notices to the assembled — and there is no time to decide if you do or do not know a kanji or to check electronic dictionaries.

But she wasn’t giving up. “I’ve been ill,” she told me. “I don’t know if I’ll be strong enough to attend all the meetings.”

Well, I wasn’t to be outdone in the illness department. I had a few stories of my own, and at the time could even say I had been hospitalized and had only recently been discharged.

Wouldn’t you know it, she too had been in the hospital, and for something worse!

We both went on, exchanging stories and vivid descriptions of our various symptoms and ailments, delineating clearly to what degree we were debilitated. We mentioned our prescribed medications by name. Although we were — “okagesama de” — much improved, we were still under a doctor’s care. I think if we’d had surgical scars we would’ve shown them!

Finally, we both just laughed and said, “Okay. Let’s do it together.”


© Karen Hill Anton and “Crossing Cultures” 1990-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Hill Anton and “Crossing Cultures” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: