Center of Attention

It happened one day that I decided to take a short break from some intensive central Tokyo shopping by having a hot cup of milky tea at Segafredo. Making my way up to the smoking floor I noticed with slight dismay that most of the comfortable seats were taken leaving me only with a place at the central communal table.

After drinking most of my tea and smoking a few cigarettes I noticed from the corner of my eye a young girl sitting far to the right of me with a stack of papers on her table and, propped up against the corner a sketchpad on which she was busily scribbling away. This must be an art student, I thought to myself. I remember in my college days going to cafes and public spaces to quickly sketch people as they walked past. To really quickly put down a few lines on paper in the hope of catching the visual essence of a stranger is damn good drawing practice. I was never very good at it but I tried. The girl was really hiding in the corner next to the dirty tray deposit cupboard. I guess openly staring at people and drawing them is a tad too forward for the Japanese; or she’s just very shy about doing so.

I noticed from her frequent head bobbing she was probably looking in my direction. I glanced to the left of me but there was noone there; the couple that had occupied that table had up and left. She must be sketching me, it occurred to me. Of course! Though gaijin aren’t such a complete rarity we often do stick out and, well, we’re not exactly dominating the landscape, are we? She must be taking this opportunity to sketch herself a big-nosed roundeye, I thought.

I moved in my seat to make myself comfortable and pretended to stare out of the window, giving her the full benefit of my good side. I tried to hold the pose as long as possible giving her ample time to observe and sketch. Though I was curious as to the result I didn’t want to embarrass her by downright asking to see the sketch, so some subterfuge was in order. When she went to the bathroom at one point I pretended to need some paper napkins, as they were neatly stacked on part of the cupboard she was hiding next to. As I moved over I tried to sneak a peek but all her papers, including the sketchpad, were stacked face down on the table. Blast, I thought, and returned to the table, wiping my nose with the napkin to show any suspicious onlookers what the supposed purpose of my little venture had been.

When she got back she continued furiously drawing, her head bobbing up slightly every few seconds, but every time I tried to look a little closer her eyes had already been cast downward, making eye contact impossible. To Hell with it, I thought. She would probably be making an unflatteringly realistic portrait. I remembered that once I had been asked to model, fully clothed thankfully, for the rest of my class to draw. One girl had some an amazing bit of work which unfortunately showed me, as Cromwell would have had it, “warts and all”. It’s never nice to see yourself from an angle you’ve never observed your own face. Possibly I don’t want to see the final result, I thought.

The pose was beginning to hurt, the tea finished and my mouth dry. It was time to get back to shopping, I figured, so if she isn’t done yet, well, it’s too bad. As I got up I saw her still scribbling so I surreptitiously dumped my tray in the space provided and tried a last sneaky glance at her sketchpad. She had drawn, with commendable accuracy, a likeness of the kitten that adorned a photo-postcard that was lying in front of her on the table.


  1. lol...Well, sometimes, we do have a tendency to think that the world revolves around us. Happens to the best of us. Very funny...keep it up!

  2. Haha! Thats funneeee

    I woulve probably thought the same thing - gaijin must be different to draw for them.

    Too bad.
    Couldve been a titanic-esque drawing moment as a follow up if she did draw you though.....

  3. Oh man, that's an ego-crusher! :)

  4. As I am often the center of attention for being a gaijin it's all too easy to assume it's alays the case. I'm glad of experiences like these as they remind me I'm nothing special. There are plenty of gaijin in Japan who never get this and actually start to believe they are special and interesting.

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