Saturday. A dragon’s flying over the cash register and out in the parking lot the drivers are totally bloody nuts. Must be Uwajimaya.

Uwajimaya is the local Japanese grocery chain, but it’s more like an Asian Costco; inside, there’s a bookstore, homewares, appliances, all sorts of things.

I’m on a mission, seeking handmade Japanese papers for various projects, a few assorted goodies from the produce aisles, and one of Miyazaki’s non-English animes. Cherrybaby and I pull into the parking lot, narrowly avoiding a homicidal septuagenarian bent on achieving a prime parking space.

He’s racing someone else there, and wins. I listen in bemusement as the other driver leans on his horn and shouts obscenities out the window. The first driver, a slender white-haired gentleman in a Nebraska Sunday suit, gets out of the car, looks back at the loser, and flips him off.

Now the really odd thing about this is that, about a dozen feet farther from the store, there are maybe 30 open parking spaces. I start to slip into one, and ANOTHER driver, this time a red-headed middle-aged lady, zooms past me into the space. She smirks at me triumphantly; I move over to the next aisle and park.

What the heck? As driving goes, this is closer to Boston than Portland. I shake my head and walk inside, under a gorgeous-huge dragon kite.

I move past rice cookers and woks to the bookstore, where I browse the stacks and stacks of animes and comics. They don’t have the Miyazaki I wanted but they do have the papers, and they’re beautiful. My niece is into bookmaking, so I pick up a few extra for her.

It’s while I’m standing in an aisle full of dishes–I always check for nice shapes that might serve as a departure point for a pate de verre vessel–that the man starts up.

“Your basic Japanese is actually more comfortable in a store like this, where he can be with his own,” he says confidently (and loudly) to the woman pushing the shopping cart. She’s listening to him raptly, nodding. “And you can see that in their movies and their cartoons.”

I wonder idly how it would feel to be described as “your basic” anything and decide that I wouldn’t much like it. I suspect this fellow wouldn’t much like it if the Japanese couple, standing a short distance away, began discussing your basic WASP.

The man explains why clothing in Seattle is too short (he says it’s because there are so many Asians there). He’s not trying to offend anyone, I suppose, but he does make me wonder if anyone in the American melting pot ever really melts.

They push their cart in my direction and I immediately pull my cart backwards, cushioning the distance between us. I guess I automatically assume that physical separation prevents others from associating me with the Japanese expert. I notice a couple of raised eyebrows from listeners, and they, too, pull back subtly. No one speaks; we just move on.

I pick up some rice crackers and mushrooms, grab a $3 package of Kobe beef with slices so thin they’re almost see-through. There’s a beautiful Napa cabbage, a big whack of sliced lotus root, my favorite umeboshi, and assorted sprouts–it all makes its way into my cart. I’m not sure what they’ll turn into yet, but I’m willing to bet there’s an incredible stir-fry in my future.

I check out my purchases under the big red and gold dragon up front, and as I do the Japanese expert pulls in line behind me. “You don’t ever want to go to Japan,” he tells his companion, “They’re not very friendly there. Downright rude, in fact.”

Gee. I wonder why.