Despite having worked in the Births Registration Section at Kakeochi City Office for sixteen years, and despite Kakeochi City having more foreigners than dogs within its boundaries, Katsurei Uketa still struggles with the concept of a family featuring a non-Japanese member.
“Huh… The baby’s name is Natsumi… Parker… !? And… she’s Japanese…!?” exclaimed the overweight and unfashionably unshaven 38 year old lifetime public servant. As he took the forms from the beaming parents, Uketa proceeded to stare at them in the manner of a North Korean reading a book which shows Japan in a positive light.
Taking utmost care not to betray the fact that he serves people in exactly the same situation at least once a week, and that the procedure ought to be straight-forward with a minimum of fuss, Uketa’s only utterance for the next ten minutes is a laboured “Hmm…” as he handles the papers much in the way of a detective sifting through delicate yet incriminating evidence, his only reaction being to tilt his head every minute or so.
Failing to find even the smallest error that would allow him to unempathetically send the family away from his desk, Uketa humourlessly completes the paperwork and then abruptly directs the young family to another section of the office where they will be required to do just about everything they’d just done all over again.
It’s a scene that occurs regularly at the city office, and precious westerners love retelling embellished versions of their encounters with friends at izakaya and British-themed chain pubs. But the experience from the other side of the counter is rarely heard, or even considered. Taking this gap in information on board, I decided to sit down with Uketa last week to shed some light on the matter.
While catching up with Uketa during his lunch break, he revealed that there is an international side to his actions, which can be seen when he stares at a form put before him silently for two minutes. The poker face is, in fact, an instinctive reaction to any receipt of a formal document. “I was trained by a stone-faced, elderly woman from the DMV in Ohio,” he says between highly off-putting chomps on a burger in the city hall lunch room. “My key takeaway from the course was to never act assertively or show an inch of initiative to help a client. Staring blankly at a form for what seems like hours is all part of my training.”
The pachinko-loving Saitama native also explained the perplexities he often has to deal with. “I can’t imagine how these people in international relationships meet, how they court, and how they live together. What happens in the house when the Japanese woman cooks dinner? Can he eat Japanese food? Can he use chopsticks? Can he respond appropriately when his sexless mother-in-law tries to pleasure him at the kotatsu?
“What about the relationships when the man is Japanese? It must be hard for him using a knife and fork all the time and dealing with all those cultural differences. What about when they have sex? I guess he has to learn tag questions to confirm that she likes what he is doing to her every 30 seconds. What should he do when the woman gets into crystals and essential oils? It all seems like an enormously stressful way to live.”