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Why This Brit in Japan Always Has an Umbrella and a Hat

If I ask some of my Japanese colleagues what their image of a typical British man is, they often conjure up images of suited men carrying a rather posh suitcase. Of course they’re also fully equipped with bowler hat and a coal black umbrella (and they’re usually fencing, if you believe the promotional music video for the 2012 London Olympics). I think it’s fair to say that on the surface I don’t really look like that kind of Briton. When I’m introduced to someone who is not a native English speaker, one of the first things I point out is my nationality. That or I play the “guess where I’m from” game, where the other person will list almost every other country under the sun, usually starting “America, Brazil, India, Egypt, South Africa …” and after some minutes of guessing, ending in a confused “… Japan?” as if it were a trick question. Most Americans by the way, act completely baffled by the fact that I’m British, and presume I’m just some jerk from putting on an accent for laughs. I may not look like a Brit, but at least I know I’ll be able to blend in well in any country I go to.

This English Gentleman is walking in a park in Kensington, picture by Jenny Rollo
This English Gentleman is walking in a park in Kensington, picture by Jenny Rollo

That being said, I have recently began to adopt a routine of picking up my jet-black brolly and black hat (albeit baseball cap rather than bowler) every time I leave my apartment. You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s because of my recent trip back to the UK, and that I suddenly felt an urge of pride to share UK culture with every step I take. But let’s be honest, going around announcing one’s own country and boasting about it is not exactly a British quality is it. No the reason I have been carrying hat and brolly on leaving my place is indeed much more local to my Japanese home.

Crows. Sodding crows. As you can guess from the Why Crow Why video above, I’m having a little problem with these bothersome birds. It all started one evening after I finished work. I walked from my car to the bottom of the stairs leading up to my apartment, bag on back and another across the shoulder, when I decided to pop over to the vending machine to get a drink for later on. Just as I approaching the machine, I heard a “whoosh” just above and ducked instinctively. When I looked up a crow was staring back at me; his stoney little eyes giving me evils. He began to caw at me. I decided that I really didn’t need a drink, so turned and went toward the stairs.


He’d gone just over my head and was now sitting at the top of the stairs, glaring at me and cawing his lungs out. I went up the first few stairs and he didn’t move, but as I approached the top of the stairs he flew about 5 meters to the right and sat down. He was now sat right outside my apartment front door. Once again I walked toward him, feeling nervous about how this crow would react, and again he flew a few meters down the walkway. As I approached the door, there was a familiar whoosh behind me, followed by more cawing.

The vending machine where it all began
The vending machine where it all began

I looked forward, the crow was definitely there. I looked behind me, there was another sodding crow!

I didn’t want to turn my back to them by unlocking my front door, and I certainly didn’t want them to try and follow my in. I crept back toward the stairs, trying to face both birds at once. I guess my video game mentality kicked in. I was a Mario brother and these were Boos. Unfortunately even though I was looking at them they still followed me. When I was downstairs I made a quick walk toward the car, and managed to get the door unlocked just as the birds came toward me.

Sat in the car, shaking somewhat, I started to google what I could have done to annoy them. Of all the possibilities that came up, the most likely is that it is nesting season and they saw me as a threat to their young. What made for more terrifying reading was learning about crow intelligence! Not only can they remember human faces for years, they can also hold terrible grudges. If you’ve been marked, it’s almost impossible for a crow to change its mind. Not only that, crows will tell other crows about you so what started as one annoyed buzzard can soon escalate to an entire bird social network coming after you, like the crow version of Twitter I guess. I gave it twenty minutes before trying to escape the car, and successfully managed to get into my apartment moments before hearing a familiar cawing sound. I went to the rear side of my apartment and looked out of the window. What do you think I saw?

This evil crow was captured (on film) by Keesa Marie
This evil crow was captured (on film) by Keesa Marie

The next day I needed to walk into town; it’s quicker to walk than drive. On the walk from my front door to the train station I was not alone. One of the black beasties was closely following me every step of the way, flying just above my head and screaming at me. I walked under the station, and was relieved that he neither followed me under nor was waiting on the other side. Remembering that crows could memorise faces, I stopped into a 100 yen shop (Japan’s equivalent of Poundland) and bought a baseball cap, sunglasses and an umbrella. After doing my errands I headed home. Cap worn tightly, sunglasses on, umbrella up (despite it being really sunny), I’m surprised no one called the police on me. I didn’t see a single crow so I couldn’t tell if my disguise worked.

From that day I’ve taken my umbrella and cap with me everywhere, though have not put the brolly up. I decided that the sunglasses were a little much. There have been a few times of crows coming near me, but after they lose sight of my under my now open umbrella, I don’t have to worry about getting dive-bombed. I’ve also put a few anti crow items in front and behind my apartment so I don’t have to watch my back when opening the door, but I’ve read that the crows will soon realise they don’t actually do anything.

These may look like just ordinary old CDs, but … well, yeah they probably were once.

My biggest worry is the social networking they do. There’ve been a few times when crows have been looking at me at my different work locations, but looking at it rationally it’s more likely that I’m just being paranoid.

So to recap, the reason for my recent use of a cap and brolly is not because I’m trying to get everyone to follow British stereotypes, but because I’m trying to disguise my face from a few sodding black birds … but not blackbirds, and to be honest I don’t think it’s sodding working. I know this ending seems rushed, but I’ve got to get in the house and there’s a few of them by the sodding door.

Oh, before I go special thanks to Tomucho for featuring me on! (It’s in Japanese, but here’s the link)

Header image by Martin Boulanger.