One the way back from lunch, I was accosted by a crazed religious cult.
... OK, so they might have been two middle aged ladies handing out copies of the Jehovah's Witnesses' 'Watchtower' publication but let's generalise for a moment.
Campus is rife with religious recruiting groups, especially during the summer when loitering on pavements is no longer an extreme sport. To refer to these people as 'cults' is not actually inaccurate: there are posters up to warn foreign students of their existence in the foyer of the International Student Centre. Most likely, the majority are not in fact harmful and are simply approaching foreigners due to the likelihood of them being Christian, as opposed to the more common Buddhist and Shinto beliefs in Japan. That said, they do not always represent mainstream denominations and it is easy to become cornered by their immensely sneaky tactics.
Namely, speaking English.
If your goal is to approach anyone looking remotely non-Japanese, it does make sense to send in your best linguaphiles. So surprising is it to be addressed by a stranger in your mother tongue that this strategy quickly gathers victims who have been struck as immobile as a deer in headlights. The first few times this happened to me, I would listen politely until they tried to take me to their church, whereupon I would mutter something about the training my mother gave me regarding strangers and streak away into the (now) setting Sun.
Nowadays I tell them I'm Jewish.
While quick and efficient, this always leaves me with a feeling of guilt stemming from memories of half-remembered Sunday School lessons and a thrice crowing cockerel.
Today, however, I was disarmed by a different set of tactics. For one, the lady who stopped me did not mention that she was from a church. Secondly, she spoke to me in Japanese. Thirdly, I understood her.
While doggedly persisting with my language classes has produced some results, understanding random conversations in the street remains sufficiently unusual to trigger disarming elation. Admittedly, our exchange stuck to basics: she told me she was a volunteer (sneaky, Mrs J. Witness, SNEAKY), asked me how long I'd been in Japan and that I looked pretty.
If the excitement at understanding her words didn't do it, the random compliment nailed me to the spot.
(Around this time, I vaguely recalled vanity was one of the seven deadly sins.)
Before I knew it, I'd been presented with a copy of 'The Watchtower' magazine (which I was relieved to note was at least from a group I knew) and invited to a service the following Monday. Since I was scheduled to teach right over the designated time, it was almost tempting.
"Is that near where you live?" Mrs Volunteer-undercover-Jehovah asked me.
I looked at the address which stated the church was on 24th street. "Yes, my apartment is on 21st."
"I also live on 21st!" Mrs VuJ proclaimed in delight. "The cross-street is 6th."
... oh dear.
"Erm... my cross-street is 4," I lied, praying (though to who was rather unclear at this point) that we weren't in fact in the same building.
The prospect of being cornered each time I returned home brought me to my senses and I made good my escape, mumbling something about having a seminar. Once safely within the Faculty of Science, I looked down at the magazine I was still holding. It contained a pull-out leaflet headed "Would you like to know the Truth?"
I think my reactions to these encounters rather suggests the answer is 'no'.