A strange thing happened on my way to school the other morning.
I was walking along a busy road, listening to my iPod. My body was in Kyoto but my head was somewhere else. I didn't notice that a well-dressed, middle-aged Japanese woman had sidled up beside me, matching my stride, step for step.
"Hello. Hello. Hello? Konnichiwa. Hello," she said, jogging ahead of me and twisting her body so that her face suddenly appeared in front of mine.
Startled, I pulled my headphones out of my ears and apologized for not noticing her right away.
"How are you?" she asked in perfect English.
I told her I was fine, thanks. I thought maybe she was going to ask me for directions or maybe she just wanted to practice her English with a foreigner (which happens surprisingly often).
"Sorry to bother you," she said with a polite bow and a smile. "I'm a volunteer in this area."
Okay, she's not lost. Not looking for directions. Maybe she wants me to join some sort of neighbourhood clean-up crew?
"I'm a Jehovah's Witness," she said.
A Jehovah's Witness? They have Jehovah's Witnesses in Japan? Not just Jehovah's Witnesses but Japanese Jehovah's Witnesses?
"I'm a Jehovah's Witness" was the last thing I expected her to say.
I was so surprised I think I just said something like, "Oh." I was intrigued and annoyed at the same time.
"Have you seen these before?" she asked, handing me a copies of The Watchtower and Awake magazines.
I told her that I hadn't and that I'd be happy to take a look at them. She seemed relived that I was such an easy sell. I told her I was running late for class (I was) and didn't have time to talk (I didn't). She smiled and bowed some more and told me she hoped to see me again.
I spent the rest of the day puzzling over our brief encounter. I had no idea there were Jehovah's Witnesses in Japan. When did they get here and how did they manage to brainwash the locals? I mean, this is Japan. A country that doesn't exactly welcome foreign religions with open arms. They used to persecute Christians not too long ago.
I asked my classmates if Japanese Jehovah's Witnesses had ever approached any of them.
"Are you kidding?" said Seema. "All the time!"
Apparently, I was the last foreigner in Kyoto to have been accosted by Jehovah's minions. I was a little insulted. Why did they wait so long before approaching me? Don't I look like I'm in need of salvation too?
To be honest, I know absolutely nothing about Jehovah's Witnesses and what they believe in. So I decided to flip through the magazines before I threw them in the garbage.
The Watchtower was full of all kinds of simplistic crap like, "God's Kingdom, which is a real government in heaven, will soon bring an end to all wickedness and transform the earth into a paradise."
Thanks but no thanks. I think the Jehovah's Witnesses and I probably have different ideas of what "paradise" would look like. For example, my vision of paradise is a world without religious lunatics forcing their crazy brainwashed bullshit on other people.
Anyway, there's no real point to this story. I'm just making a random observation. I had no idea there were Jehovah's Witnesses in Japan.