Something seemed a little different about the cashier. Perhaps she was just a little younger, less seasoned. Her gestures were less exact, the way she turned the basket at the scanner was less practiced and efficient, and her posture was a little more casual. All in all, nothing terribly unusual.
But when it was my turn and she started to pull the things from my basket and scan them and place them into another basket, as is the custom here, she looked at me and then casually asked, in English, "Do you understand Japanese?" I was a little stunned. This was not the rehearsed exchange that I've come to expect. She's supposed to ask me two questions in Japanese and for each I indicate "no," in some manner, usually awkwardly. I stumbled a bit, "Um, yeah a little." "Do you have a point card?" "No," I said in English. "Do you have a shopping bag?" "No. I mean yes, I mean no, I don't need one, thank you." And then I continued, "Thank you, your English is very good." And she answered, "Yes, it is now I am studying English." It was a little broken, it wasn't actually perfect, which made it all the more touching that she would bother to use it. And she continued with some other information about Vietnam and French, maybe a friend of hers? I couldn't quite make it out and it didn't matter. I thanked her.
This is the first time this has ever happened to me in Japan. Maybe twice before I've had a short conversation in Japanese with a particular cashier at another super market (the one I've come to know that has given me coupons when I didn't have them), but those were always initiated by me, somewhat out of thanks for her kindness. She had a mask and I asked if she was sick, for example. Never has someone offered me English, never as someone offered me information about themselves unsolicited. It was wonderfully shocking.
I had dinner with a friend tonight. Her boyfriend (who is Irish) works in an office in Japan and just recently found out that he doesn't have to be at the office everyday. But everyone always is. He asked one of his coworkers why everybody always comes into the office if they don't have to and could work from home instead. "Nobody ever does it," was the answer.
Social inertia. And today I experienced a ripple. That tension of the tide as it pulls yours ankles to shore or back into the ocean. Change. And in such a simple and innocent way, unaware of being an impetus, it begins. Over time, perhaps others will see and hear, perhaps I will start to speak with the cashiers more, realizing the possibility. Perhaps with a unknowing natural nudge, something will start to change.