Last week I wasn't speaking all that much. Not to say I didn't want to speak, just that I was having a lot of fun reading squiggles on a page and making them into sounds in my head, which didn't put much of a strain on my vocal chords. After a few days of English teaching, blabbing and being blabbed at for hours on end, my vocal chords were a bit strained, and I woke up this morning with a nasty sore throat.
The local groceries don't carry honey, so I walked down to the supermarket in the local department store, which didn't open until ten. I could see the staff scurrying around inside behind the glass doors setting up displays and straightening uniforms. The first row of doors had been opened to give those customers waiting outside access to seats in the entranceway. They were all taken up by fierce looking old women by the time I got there. (There is a brilliant word for fierce old battleaxe Japanese women: "oba-ttarion", which combines the Japanese word for older woman "obasan" with the English battalion. Pops into my head every time one of them shoves their way onto a crowded train draped with shopping bags.)
At precisely 10:00 the manager came and unlocked the door personally, then stood at attention and bowed to each individual customer as we walked in. I headed to the basement supermarket. There was a boy of about twenty standing with a plastic shopping basket, which he handed to me as I passed. I was the only customer in sight. The supermarket creeped me out. The entire staff, in uniform was standing at attention, one person at the end of each aisle. They would yell out Irrashaimase! ("Welcome honored customer!) as soon as I came with six feet of them. I wonder if they specify how close the customer should be before you yell.
I didn't see the order given, but after 5 minutes they were given permission to be at ease, and resumed shelving and scurrying, back to the normal frantic pace of a Japanese supermarket. Since older women are the only people who show up to a department store at opening time, guess all that bowing and scraping is for the oba-tarrion's, who I'm sure appreciate military discipline when they see it.