I’ll set the scene. I arrive at the station after work, and nod to one of my pupils as I pass. (No surprise there; as I teach at three of the four elementary schools in the municipality, there’s a good chance that anyone between the age of six and twelve is one of mine.) Walking further along, I’m accosted by a drunk woman swigging from a can of Asahi Super Dry. Obviously a well-off alcoholic; otherwise, she’d by drinking happōshu—it’s cheaper and stronger.

I can’t work out who this woman is, or why she is talking to me, still less what she is saying, so she calls over her son—the pupil I saw earlier—to translate her slurred ramblings into coherent Japanese.

She asked where I was from. “England,” I told her. “Where’s that?”

I constructed a brief oral sketch with the assistance of a little hand-waving. “You’ve got America, then the ocean, then there’s Ireland, and the UK, and France, Belgium, Holland...” It turned out that she had heard of France, at least.

It was one of those conversations one just has to endure, boring in that peculiarly monomaniac way that drunks have. I felt sorry for her son who was obviously—and understandably—discomfited by his inebriated mother. Me too.