The schedule at work one day had me charged with the task of handing out to passersby advertisements stapled to a package of pocket tissues. Sadly, this venture is well known as an inefficient marketing scheme as close to none pay attention to these hand outs, which very quickly find themselves in the garbage.
Still me and two other colleagues had to board a bus bound for Shijo Kawaramachi to stand on the corners of an intersection and beg for our advertisements to be accepted. Inside the bus reeked of rainy sweat, and none aboard seemed to want to be there. Thankfully we could get seats; perhaps the most coveted thing in Japan. The scramble for seats gives way to the most vicious and conniving, those with the sharpest elbows, those with the most inflated sense of entitlement, those who see all others as only obstacles designed to be insulted. Even when I am first in line I frequently fail to secure a seat. Only when the seats outnumber the amount of passengers boarding do I always have the luxury of a seat.
Relishing in my luxury I let my mind wander to the time when I, still a university student, designed my own leaflets with the likes of “I said no, but no I couldn’t spell,” or “and who am I to say what I am and how I am to be used” on them, sat on a terrace at a relatively high trafficked sidewalk, and handed them out. As my memory has faded I doubt reason for handing out these leaflets. Perhaps I did so to see if passive promotion of a leaflet could be equally effective as aggressive promotion of a leaflet. Perhaps I did so with the purpose of having no purpose in what I was doing. I do not know, but while my memory of why I did so fails me, the reactions of those passersby stays fresh in my mind.
I knew that most people would avoid me, deny me, reject me, but I had not expected to what extent people would go to do so. Some purposefully ignored me, some searched in their bag for something at the most convenient moment, some increased their walking pace to pass me before I could get another ready to hand out, some veered to the far end of the sidewalk, a few even crossed the street suddenly, some shook their heads or raised their hands in rejections, and some spoke with disdain in their eyes. Most, however, simply said no thank you.
There were, of course, people who did accept my offer, and the ways in which they did varied equally as much as those who rejected me. Perhaps most who did accept a leaflet accepted simply to avoid seeming rude, or perhaps they lacked the creativity to say no. Others still might have accepted because they accepted all leaflets out of principle, out of an altruistic self-righteousness, and others still because they were generally interested in what I had to offer.
Within this last group appeared a few who purposefully changed their course, or their pace, dodging through people or taking a stunted step to intercept my offer. I thought that these people did so because they had seen me handing out my leaflet to people ahead of them without forcing it upon them. This act intrigued them enough to see for themselves what was on the paper. Perhaps not.
I held these few people in my mind as I stood on the corner of Kawaramachi handing out advertisements imploring them to come and learn English at an overly expensive private English school. Taking the same approach as I had when I was a student I met with the same aversions, yet this time tinged with some undertones that referenced my otherness.
Charged with an actual goal, I altered my approach. Capitalizing on my otherness, I stopped onegaishimasu-ing and company name desu-ing. I chose to entreat them in English only, catching them in their eyes, inviting them to take the tissue from me with a smile of shall we dance? coupled with a gesture to the tissues of you know you want it. Still no takers.
My first taker came when I noticed a woman standing near the entrance of the building that stood on the corner with me. She must have felt my eyes on her for she looked up from her phone. I held out a tissue out to her. With a tilt of my head I invited her over to take them. She hesitated, perhaps taken off guard by my directness. I raised my eyebrows. Gave her a coy smile. She smiled back. She acknowledged me, I had her then. She embarrassingly came over to grab the tissues from my hand. My first of only ten tissues handed out in an hour.
All of the rest went through similar motions as the first; a locking of the eyes, the word tissues uttered and heard, a slight gesture in their direction accompanied by an equally slight smile, followed by a few other random English words relating to tissues being soft and nice, finishing with the reluctant taking of the tissues in my hand. None wanted to know what I held, none approached me directly. My passive promotion only succeeded in embarrassing them into taking what I was offering them.
A failure in comparison to my colleagues, but I none the less enjoyed baiting people in, and watching them either scurry away from me or bite. Only one did I approach. A woman behind me sneezed. “Clearly,” I said to her as I dropped my hand in front of her, “you need these.”