I’ve had the pleasure and the honor of living in Japan on three separate occasions: Twice in high school for summer-vacation homestays in Hiroshima, and once in college for my junior year in an apartment in Kyoto. I kept extensive journals of my time over there, and I sent the majority of the content of those journals home to family and friends in the form of weekly e-mails. Most of what I wrote was less than riveting, but there are a few stories that stand out in my mind as worth telling again. Some of them, like the following story, have never been written down before. This is the Mole Story.
First, a personal revelation: I have a fair number of moles on my chest and back. Nothing absurd (Kramer: “I’ve seen moles so big they have their own moles. Freckles that cover two men.”), but a decent number.
Second, a clarification: This story doesn’t happen in Japan. You’ll figure that out pretty quick. But it could not have happened without the involvement of a Japanese person.
‘Twas the winter of 2004, and I had escaped an icy St. Louis winter for the glistening summer bays of Sydney, Australia. My best friend Trevor was working over there for a few months, so I stayed with him and a number of other characters in a large apartment. My roommate for the week was a Japanese woman named Aimi.
Loyal readers know that I have a weakness for Japanese women. Aimi was no exception. She was pretty cute, and she spoke some English, which was a plus, because my Japanese had greatly faded by that point. We slept in separate beds, of course, but there were some harmless flirtations. The point is that I generally wanted to impress her.
I had been working out at the gym that year and was thus pleased with my sleek, dolphin-like physique (yeah, I have no idea what that means). So one day that week, I came out of the shower in only a towel, hoping to simultaneously push the edge of Aimi’s conservative Japanese comfort zone and perhaps make her a bit peckish.
Needless to say, this backfired.
That’s not to say that Aimi wasn’t cool with having a half-naked American in her room. That didn’t seem to deter her from whatever she was doing. But as I turned my back to her to slip on some boxers under my towel, I heard her say, “What are those?”
I looked over my shoulder. “What are what?”
She pointed at my back. “Those things.”
I laughed, realizing she was talking about freckle’s ugly cousins. “These?” I said, flexing my shoulder blades. “They’re moles.”
“Moles?” She looked baffled. “Like—rararararaa?” She had cavorted her face into a snarl and was making digging motions with her hands.
It took me a second to get it. “No, not the animal. Moles. Like,” I pointed to my back, honestly bewildered. I had no way of explaining moles in simple English or Japanese. Did she really think I had little rodents attached to my back?!
“Like, they’re just skin!” I exclaimed.
She smiled and nodded. “Ah, I see. Skin. Moles.”
I rolled my eyes. Unbelievable. I’ve never had anyone make that mistake. Are there no moles in Japan?
Needless to say, a number of soil-pushing rodents ruined my bid for impressing Aimi and embarrassed me along the way. Moles 1, Jamey 0.