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Japan Diary

Oddities in Surreal Times #2

By April 7, 2020May 21st, 2020One Comment

Welcome back.

If you haven’t already, check out my previous “Oddities in Surreal Times” posting. I am doing a series of postings related to strange happenings in Japan within the last month. My objective, while to get you to read, is also to get your mind off what is going in our world.

I do hope you enjoy and maybe even crack a smile.

Well on we go with #2 …


Imagine you are in Tokyo, Japan riding your bike. Any kind of bike will do, you decide. I know many of you have never been to Japan, but I am sure you have some preconceived ideas so let’s rely on those. I will fill in the details and paint a picture for you along the way.

On your bike, you are bike you are riding on a paved path along the Tamagawa river. A river about the width of a soccer pitch that zig-zags through central Tokyo and upriver to the surrounding mountains.

You are riding up river heading towards the mountains to commune with nature and a reprieve from the days corona events you have read on the news and watched on the television. In short you are news’ed out!

The weather is perfect, as it always is in mid-March. Like clockwork the clouds depart during this time giving way to perfectly clear blue skies and a warming sun on your exposed skin. The temperature is just right for being outside.

Riding along enjoying the peace and quiet with the sounds of rushing water in the background, you come upon a series of tight turns on the path. One of them is a switchback with a downhill. You slow down to make the turn to the left and to avoid the construction on the right. Your next turn is a steep short uphill and another left before straightening out.


As is the case with all construction sites in Japan, there is what they call a flag man. This may or may not be true, but from what you have noticed in all cases, the requirement to be a flag man is simple, a man over the age of 65. Everywhere there is construction in Japan and there are many, flag men are aplenty. Their responsibility is to simply warn anyone within sight to slow down, stop or to be aware. In this case it was to draw your attention to the fact that there is a construction site.

Closing in on the flag man you notice the usual garb, white hard hat, dark blue pants, light blue shirt, neon vest and a red flag with a bamboo handle. Once he spots you from afar he waves the flag. However, this was no ordinary flag man. He spotted you alright, but as soon as you were within range he did something so out of the ordinary you had to do a double take as you passed him.

Before continuing, let me inform you dear reader about the typical Japanese character – reserved – meaning they do very little to draw attention to oneself. In fact there is a saying “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” While an antiquated saying, the remnants remain with the exception of the younger generations. And this is what made your experience all the more interesting – the flag man looked to be in his 70s and in theory was supposed to be influenced by the nail analogy.


As you come upon the flag bearer the first thing you notice is his height. He is tall, taller than the average Japanese. The next thing, his face color is a deep brown from standing in the sun day in and day out bearing that flag. The next thing, he has a beaming smile as bright as the spring sun that day revealing his perfectly straight pearlies.

All this taken together would surely put a smile on any passerby. With so much darkness in the world, you fought back cracking even a slight smile. That is until the clincher – the 70 year old something, tall, pearly white, smiler was dancing. At first you couldn’t believe it. Thus the double take.

Japanese do NOT dance in public come hell of high Tamagawa. Looking closely he was doing the jitterbug. A full on jitterbug dance without a partner. The fact that he was doing the dance pretending to have a partner made it all the more interesting flailing his legs outward, lifting his arm as if twirling his partner. He was clearly hearing the music, despite no music.

As you passed the dancing flag man, the smile you fought so hard to keep from cracking gave way to a big grin and a laughter of joy at such a unique sight.

For those few moments, you forgot what was going on in the world.

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