I’ve been living in Tokyo for the past couple of months. I’m here for a business trip and have been in an apartment in a seemingly old-style, mostly residential area of Tokyo (Kita-shinagawa for those that are curious).
I have a decent grasp of the language and culture from studying in college, but of course I have a long way to go until fluency.
However, although I understood the language completely in the incident today, I’m not quite sure what happened.
Last week I noticed a small store just a block from my apartment that sells Wagashi. These are Japanese-style sweets that are very intricately designed. I was curious what they taste like. I’ve seen them before, but haven’t eaten them yet. I figured a small neighborhood store would be a great place to be introduced to them.
So I walked in and the storekeeper came out. I excused myself for bothering him. So I mentioned to him as I was looking at the display case that I had never eaten them before, and asked him if he had some recommendations.
His response was a very terse, “食べられない” (You can’t eat them)
Okay. Not what I was expecting. So I figured it was a joke or something. So I said to him that I’d like to try them, which ones are a good introduction? Again he says “食べたことない人は食べられない” (People that haven’t eaten them can’t eat them.)
I was unsure how to respond to that beyond a simple, “本当ですか？” (Really?)
I asked him about the flavor… “They’re sweet, right?”
He said, “甘いけど、食べられない。” (They’re sweet, but you can’t eat them"
So I thanked him and left. I got the message, I was not meant to eat these sweets.
But I’m puzzled about the situation. I wanted to try something new and either this guy was trying to save me from hating myself for spending money on them, or he didn’t want to do business with me for some reason. I’m kind of leaning toward the second explanation due to the fact he was using the plain forms of all the verbs when talking with a potential customer. In my experience here, the store owners have been stepping all over themselves to use polite forms or 敬語 (super polite!) when speaking with me.
But really, why would someone limit their income like that? The store was obviously open for busines – the doors were wide open and there was an 営業中 (Open) sign hanging outside, so I don’t think he was just trying to hint that the store was closed.