Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Last week Reno got a new bicycle. It was delivered on Monday afternoon and stood waiting in the driveway for her return home from school that day.

We practiced riding on it for about two hours that afternoon. I noticed that the frame was a little too high for her. . . but kids grow so fast. Before we have always gotten her the bicycle frame that fit her exactly at the moment we were purchasing and then maybe two months later she was begging for a new, bigger bike!

So this time, Masa went ahead and bought her an adult size frame bike. I wasn't with them when they purchased it. Sure she has to use her toes to balance it standing, but she could just slide off the seat to set her feet firmly on the ground.

Unfortunately on our first test run out with the new bicycle I realized that Reno wasn't doing that--the sliding off the seat for firm footing thing. She was instead desperately pedaling around looking for curbs and rocks and things to balance against when she had to stop the bike. I pointed this out to her but she continued to stop only by finding open curb to balance her toe on.

So when we got home I told her that until she could pass my bicycling test (stopping quickly on a dime, turning around without having to use the entire street space to do so, etc.) she was limited to bicycling only within our neighborhood. No crossing any major roads or bicycling on/along unfamiliar roads. Confining her to the limits of our neighborhood meant that she had access to eight roads--all within a residential area. She protested a bit as now that she is a 4th grader according to her elementary school she is entitled to bicycle within the school zone not just her neighborhood. (1-3rd graders are limited to just their neighborhoods.) Her school is about 20 minutes away from our house by bike and the route crosses two major roads. I was resolute that she would have to practice, get the hang of her new bicycle and pass my test before she could leave the neighborhood.

On Thursday she got hit by a car while bicycling just two blocks from our doorstep.

I had just had the bright idea of taking her along with me on another practice session with the bicycle when I stepped out the door to go get her. She had been cheerfully waving each time she cycled pass our house as she went up and down our street but when I stepped out to intercept her I didn't see her anywhere. Hhhhmmm. . . perhaps she has taken a spin around the block? I thought. So I started off down the street thinking I could check in on Saki who was playing at the neighbor's house three doors down from us. Saki was standing in front of her friend's house pouring water into empty bottles. "Have you seen Reno?" Saki paused, put a hand to her forehead to shade her eyes and squinted at the open road in front of and behind me. "No." Hmmm. . . . I thought and I turned towards the road again intending to walk further down another block to the neighborhood park.

Then I saw Reno, walking rather stiff legged towards me. An unknown woman of about my age was next to her, steering her by the arm. Reno was walking her new bicycle next to her. As I got closer to them, it dawned on me, "she must have crashed on her bicycle!" So in Japanese, as I got closer I called out, "koronda?" (did you fall). Reno didn't say anything, without turning her head she looked sideways at the woman next to her and then back at me. By then I was close enough to realize that she had tears in her eyes and that the trembling lip she was biting was bleeding. The woman immediately bowed deeply towards me and said something about her car hitting Reno and Reno falling down off her bicycle.

At that moment is was as though my mind were run on a gear system and all the chains simply fell off. So information was coming in but wheels were spinning without any progress being made towards processing any of this information.

I stood there swallowing words whole: car, hit, fell. And I seem to remember concentrating on trying to look friendly. I kept reminding myself to smile. I think I apologized to the woman but I still don't know quite what for? For my daughter being in her way?

The woman leaned down and lifted Reno's skirt to show me where she had fallen. The scraped side of the leg wasn't very bad looking but what my mind seized on was the woman's hand--shaking uncontrollably and suddenly "hit her with my car" was processed. My daughter had been hit by a car. The woman was so terrified, Reno was in a kind of state of mild shock. . . and I was standing there practicing my "friendly face".

A quick inspection of Reno revealed that she had scrapes on both legs, her left arm and when I pulled back her bangs a cut on her forehead as well as some scraping along the left side of her nose. She was holding her left wrist but could bend it. Her lip was bleeding and when I had her open her mouth I was shocked to realize that the lower right corner of one of her front teeth was gone. "Reno, where did you hit your head?"

Reno continued to stare straight ahead, her eyes large and watering. She shook her head slightly but said nothing.

"On the road? On your bike? Do you remember hitting your head? Not at all?"

The woman looked anxiously at me so I translated my questions for her into Japanese. While Reno continued to just shake her head ever so slightly to respond negatively to all my questions the woman told me that she had not seen Reno's head strike any thing.

"Hmm. I think I will take her to the hospital just to have a doctor look at her though. It concerns me that her head is bleeding, her tooth is chipped and she has no memory of hitting her head on anything."

The woman nodded.

I don't remember the order of things from that day very well, but sometime in between calling the taxi, collecting Saki from the neighbor's to take her with us, and calling Masa to let him know what was going on the driver left and then came back again. When she came back we looked at Reno's bike (no major damage, just some scrapes on the front basket) and the woman explained where the accident had occurred and how.

Reno came out of a blind exit from the park at the same moment that the woman had just come around a bend in the road and they collided. Thankfully because the driver had just completed a sharp bend in the road she was traveling at a low speed. I'm sure in retrospect that Reno on her bicycle must have seemed like a torpedo coming out of no where. Reno more or less agreed with the woman's version of things although she kept insisting that she had looked both ways before leaving the park. There was no one else present to give an objective report.

Interestingly enough it never occurred to me to look at the driver's car. And although I kept thinking, "if I were in America I would be asking for her insurance company information and taking down her license plate number. " I couldn't get past just thinking about it. Because I don't know how to ask for someone's insurance information and details in Japanese. I was concerned that if I asked for official information I should ask for it correctly.

My daughter gets hit by a car and I turn into a grinning second language idiot.

Just as the taxi pulled up Masa returned my call (I had left a message for him at his office) so I asked the taxi driver to wait and handed the phone over to the driver of the car that had hit Reno. When she handed the cell phone back to me Masa was demanding, "did you ask her to call the police?" It wasn't so much a question as an accusation. I defended myself by saying that mostly I was just concerned with getting Reno to a doctor to be checked out at the moment.

When I asked if I should tell the driver to call the police now he responded that he had already told her to do so and that he would meet us at the hospital later. I hastily exchanged phone numbers with the driver and then sped off in the taxi with the dazed and still shaking Reno and the exuberant Saki who likes taxis. In my mental fog I neglected to give the driver either my or Masa's cell phone number and she also only gave me her home phone number so for the next two hours we could not contact each other. Finally the police contacted us through the hospital.

Reno, thankfully was not seriously injured. No broken bones, no sprains, just scrapes. The most serious injury was to her tooth and on that front we are waiting to see if the tooth's nerve will recover or if she will need a root canal and a cap. In Japan, generally, whenever a driver hits a pedestrian, be they on foot or on a bicycle, the driver is the one who is held at fault. So the driver's insurance is paying all of the medical/dental bills. They even offered to cover the cost of a CT scan if we wanted one done.

So now, in the aftermath of the event as I ride the aftershocks of the initial collision I am left wondering. First, I wonder why I froze at the "if I were in America I would. . . " point of the thought process. I mean, yeah, I'm not in America. So why didn't I just do or say something sensible instead of just standing in the road concentrating on trying to put the driver at her ease? Not that I wish I had jumped all over the woman and run around shrieking or something. I just wish I could have transformed into capable adult not grinning foreigner freak.

And even after 7 years of living here as a wife and mother it is coming as kind of a shock to find myself once again in uncharted, unknown cultural territory. I have no point of reference in accident/collision behavior.

So, if Reno had been hit by a car when riding her bicycle in America:

Would the driver have spent over five hours waiting at the park--first to talk with the police and then to wait for our return from the hospital ER to discuss the matter with us?

Would the driver have called my home to ask how Reno was feeling later that evening?

Would the driver have called my home again the morning after the accident to check on Reno's condition?

Would my daughter's fourth grade teacher have driven over to our house after school to check up on Reno?

Would the police have painstakingly outlined the whole incident in chalk on the street where it occurred? Here is where the car hit the bicycle. Here is where the car came to a complete stop. Here is where the bicycle fell over, in swirls of yellow and white chalk. (I was so thankful when rain the next night washed it all away.)

Would the driver have appeared the next day on our door step with a box of cookies from a high profile bakery?

Would the driver continue to call to get the latest updates on Reno's tooth?

And just like I sat in amazement, my jaw hanging open at the site of Japanese baseball fans politely returning the caught fly balls to the umpire at my first Japanese major league baseball game, here I am now waiting and waiting for the self defense comments to come. But the driver never says any of them. She simply looks distraught and continues to repeat, "I just didn't see her at all and then there she was. " She usually follows this with "I am so sorry."

Why doesn't she scream, "She came out of no where! How was I to avoid her? She was a missile on a bike!"

I ponder all these differences as I chew on a shortbread strawberry cookie from the bakery gift box. I've talked with other foreigners here in Japan who have been involved in traffic accidents. All of them spoke about being unable to choke down the various edible apologies that they were given. Saki, Reno and I had finished half of the gift box of bakery goods on the very day that the driver brought it by. Of course, our accident wasn't as serious as those that others I know have been involved in. No one was seriously injured. As far as I know both Reno's bicycle and the woman's car don't need any repairs. Only the tooth. That one front tooth, which happens to be an adult tooth. It's the only crack left after the collision.


Donna said...

wow, how frightening. I would have found it difficult to deal with the situation even here at home, let alone in another country. I think you handled it very well.

I have heard of sitations in the United States where contact was discouraged between the two parties--since fault might have to be determined, gifts might be seen as an effort to persuade the injured party not to seek an insurance settlement. What a difference in Japan.

Sarah said...

I am so sorry that you had to go through all of that. Children just know how to send you through the wringer, don't they? Emi is only in 1st grade and doesn't ask for much freedom yet but I know that day is coming.

I've heard from other friends about the amazing protocol that follows car accidents. Gifts are common and if you don't receive them, it's very offensive. Still, it would probably feel better not to have to go through that in the first place. I'm always worried that if we ever hit another person, that I wouldn't know what to do and just make the situation worse.

I'm going to ask my husband to teach me all the proper vocabulary that goes with this situation so I can be prepared.

Lily said...

Oh my goodness- what a terrifying experience for everyone involved- I think I stopped breathing a few times as I read your post. Sorry this is so late- but I hope Reno is okay now and hasn't freaked her out about riding her bike.
Definantly makes me want to study my Japanese more- you did better than I would.