Writer, photographer, "rapper" and general technophobe takes on the internet in what could be a very, very messy fight. But it's alright: she's harder than she looks, and she's wearing every single ring she could get her hands on.


Wednesday, 19 May 2010


I am having a fight with my next door neighbour. It started out as a little battle, and it's now a full blown war. It was foolish, really, and I should have known not to get involved; fighting somebody who has spent 70 years practicing was inevitably going to end up in humiliating defeat. And - predictably - I have just been humiliatingly defeated.

It started, I think, for a few reasons. Firstly, we don't speak a word of the same language, which means that we have to communicate in international gestures. Secondly, the Japanese culture means that you have to retaliate, and you have to do better. Thirdly, we seem to have mutual, unspoken feelings for each other that we are both desperate to express, and no words with which to do it.

First of all, she attacked me with food. Tempura, to be precise. She turned up on my doorstep, willynilly, and handed me a basket of home made, hot, deep fried vegetables and fish that smelled absolutely delicious. And then, to top it off, she made me call her BaBa, which is what little children call their grandmas (Obachan is the more grown up term).

That was the beginning; and I have to make the point at this stage that she started it.

So, to pay her back for the tempura - and not knowing quite how to - I took her a big bunch of flowers. It was a good shot, and she was suitably cowed by my retaliation. She wasn't taking it lying down though; she started knocking on my window to let me know when it was about to rain, and then she delivered the right bags so that I'd know how and when to put my rubbish out.

I wasn't having any of that - obviously - so I picked a bunch of flowers from a field near my house and took them round to her (I'm not very imaginative and I can't cook; so she got flowers twice). Then I got home from work and discovered that she had saved my washing from a rain storm by climbing up onto my step and taking it into her house, and then drying it and ironing it for me, and I had no option: I had to make sure she never, ever did it again by inviting her and her husband (Gigi: grandpa) to my house party with a little note that had balloons drawn all over it.

BaBa and Gigi were so utterly furious that I had invited them into my home when none of the other gaijin had after two years, that they turned up with a table, cushions, sake, umeshu and six home cooked dishes: including chicken nanban, the local speciality. Then they tried to cheer me in public, just to really, really piss me off.

I spent an hour or two writing a letter to them in Japanese (I got somebody to help me, obviously), but BaBa - who has a good forty five years more experience than me - had obviously decided that she was totally fed up with all this nonsense and she was going to finish the war once and for all. Today, when I got home from work, she called me rather aggressively into her house and plonked into my arms the most beautiful, raw silk, pale pink kimono that - it transpired, through hand gestures - that she had made specifically for me because of my blonde colouring and because she knows that I love them (I have one hanging on my living room wall because they are the most beautiful clothes in the world).

"Presento," she said, which would be the only word we have exchanged thus far that both of us understand: mainly because it's the same in both English and Japanese.

I don't know what to do now. I thought I was warring nicely - half obeying the ancient Japanese gift tradition (Omiyage), and half giving her things because I genuinely think she's awesome and want to show her it somehow, and I like giving presents - but I'm not quite sure how to respond to a handmade, specifically designed, silk kimono. Somehow I don't think giving her flowers for the third time is going to cut it.

I feel a little guilty because I don't need another grandma - I already have the best one back in England (still eating birthday cake) - but I think my own Baba will be pleased that there is somebody like her in Japan, looking out for me and my washing when I am so far away.

Now I just need to think of something that will knock this old lady next door out of the water, once and for all.

I don't give up battles that easily. Especially not when I'm fighting grandmas.