This article is a web original
Dianne Yett (Gunma)
As an ex-Mormon, I am quite familiar with the tactics of religious solicitors. They come to your door, or they intercept you on the street just to have a nice little chat with all of the niceties of a casual, friendly conversation. While that’s all well and good, I am not a person who can say “No thank you” without considerable emotional strain.
I’ve met my fair share of odd solicitors back in the United States, but nothing could quite prepare me for the kinds of solicitors I’d encounter here in Japan. A well-known group of individuals who can be found at many stations holding newspapers that feature Mount Fuji very prominently is one such group of religious solicitors that comes to mind here.
First week here, my friend Ash was at a mall in Maebashi. While she was leaving, two Japanese ladies approached her, complimenting her red hair. “Do you live here?” They asked. “We think we live in the same neighborhood.” They invited Ash over to tea. Not feeling particularly threatened, Ash swapped Line accounts with them. The ladies tried to set up times to meet up, but they were always times Ash was busy. Finally, they asked for her address and arranged to come meet Ash at her house.
On an ordinary Tuesday, one of the ladies arrived at Ash’s door and held up that tell-tale half-folded pamphlet with a large image of Mount Fuji plastered on it. The woman asked Ash if she was religious or not.
Now, Ash is not super religious anymore, but she did grow up religious—as you do—so she said, “Yes. My family and I are all Southern Baptist and have been for some time.”
The lady started asking questions to the effect of, “Don’t you think it’s dumb? Don’t you think it doesn’t make sense? Don’t you think it’s too complicated? Do you really believe in it?”
Ash explained (in an attempt to talk her down), “Well sure I believe in it; it keeps me connected with my family.”
The lady thus proceeded to talk about her own beliefs. There is a guru she can pray to at some temple who performs miracles. She then leaned in toward Ash and said, “Even if I cut your throat right now, and you bleed all over the balcony, if you pray to our guru, you won’t die.”
“What?” Ash says.
The woman, who very easily could have pretended those exact words didn’t come out of her mouth, proceeded to double-down and repeat herself very clearly twice more—with gestures, might I add—to make herself abundantly clear.
“Uhh. . . I’ll take your pamphlet and read it later.” Ash reluctantly accepted the pamphlet and hastily closed the door. She took a photo of it, told her friends, “Guess who I was visited by,” and promptly threw it in the trash and blocked the ladies on Line.
That was the last Ash ever interacted with them.
And then, it was my turn.
I do not deal exclusively with one group of religious solicitors; I get the whole platter of types, from the Mormons learning my Japanese address somehow and making multiple efforts to coax me back into their fold to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their adorable children. As delightful as these people present themselves, it only makes it all the more difficult for me to shut my door on them.
But then there’s the mysterious lady that I noticed sitting in her car in my apartment parking lot. And upon opening my car door to get out, her car door, too, opened. I headed for the steps to my second-story apartment, so did she.
I did not acknowledge her even as she followed me—again, exchanging no words, not even a konnichiwa—up those stairs. I picked up the pace, unsettled by her odd approach. I unlocked my apartment door, opened it, and literally the very second my door had shut:
“I’m not answering that,” I muttered to myself, half annoyed, the other half afraid. I locked the door and left my genkan.
When there was a follow-up knock. I still didn’t answer.
I huddled in my living room, anxiously messaging people on Discord about this weird lady that followed me silently to my door. When a concerned friend of mine called me to make sure I was okay, I filled her in on what was happening. The friend asked if she could speak to the lady (as she spoke Japanese fluently), but I could do little more than stare through the peep hole in apprehension.
“I kind of don’t want to interact with this person,” I said, but I could then hear the lady speaking to my neighbor in the unit across from mine. I put the phone up to my door so that my friend could catch some of the conversation.
“It sounds like. . . something about. . . COVID-19? Perhaps a warning about taking precautions?” My friend said.
Remembering Ash’s disturbing encounter with the Mount Fuji worshippers, I wondered out loud if the woman may have been saying some nonsense like, ‘Join my religion and it will cure COVID,’ but I cannot say for certain, and I do not want any of these people coming after me for defamation. So, I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.