Tales of a Japanese Life

Well, I don’t have any wild adventures to report about this week. That being the case, I thought I would relate a few anecdotes that provide a glimpse into my everyday life in Japan. Presenting “Tales of a Japanese Life” (aka “Truths I’ve Learned From Living In Japan”):

Truth #1: You will make mistakes.  Trust me, I’ve made lots of these, even if it’s just something as simple as my tongue getting twisted when I try to say “Otsukaresama deshita.” (That “tsukare” bit is a doozy to try to push out quickly, at least for my American tongue.) Or the bloopers might be a little bigger, like the time my coworker and I went to a convenience store together on a Saturday afternoon. As we walked up to the store, we noticed some cleaning tools out front and a guy hosing off some of the parking spaces in front of the store. That should have been our first clue that something was amiss. But no, ahead we barreled, just like the go-getter Americans that we are. When we entered the store, a boy was just leaving, kicking off some slippers and putting his outdoor shoes back on. The store was empty except for a couple of employees, who were also cleaning. But hey, look, there’s a row of slippers in front of the door! That must be so we don’t track in water from the wet parking lot? I changed from my shoes into the slippers and started into the store, until I realized the employees were trying to tell us something. “Oh, you’re closed? Sumimasen! Sorry!” We hastily put our own shoes back on and hightailed it out of there. If the store was closed, we wondered afterward, why was a boy coming out of there? Must have been one of the employee’s children, my wise coworker guessed. But still, why were they closed for business on a Saturday afternoon? Do they clean the store like that regularly? Perhaps it’s one mystery that we Americans will never learn…

Truth #2: Japanese names are difficult (for Americans). I like to think that my Japanese pronunciation is decent. I’ve been practicing long enough, and I can spit out some of the more difficult sounds, like “tsu” and “ryo.” But when it comes to remembering my Japanese students’ names, I am a self-admitted failure. Granted, I haven’t made any focused effort to learn them – much to my shame, since a good teacher should learn her students’ names as quickly as possible! (We’ll put that on the goal list for next year.) By now, of course, I’ve picked up most of my students’ names just by using them so much. But I still have trouble remembering some of my quieter students, and I also have difficulty remembering names that are similar. “Ryusei!” I’ll say, and get no response. “It’s Ryohei,” my students inform me. Oops. I guess Ryusei is in my other class. I also have a Kotone and a Kotoha (both girls, in different classes) and a Takuto, a Takuma, and a Takeru (all boys, in three different classes). I am slowly learning to remember which is which! Of course, in our classes at the elementary schools, the students aren’t really “mine,” so I have no real obligation to learn all of their names. Often, if I can’t read their name tag, I’ll just say something like, “Let’s ask this boy!” or “Let’s ask this girl!” Unfortunately, that can pose a problem if I choose a child whose gender I can’t easily tell – like the child I called on a few weeks ago. “Let’s ask this…” I hesitated, my mind racing. Short hair. Features that could belong to a boy or a girl. Which was it? I ended up by not finishing my sentence at all, leaving the poor child dubbed as a “this.” I was hoping the other students wouldn’t notice my lapse, but I heard a bit of snickering. Oh, well. What’s a stupid gaijin (foreigner) teacher to do?

Truth #3: Try it…you might like it! When my coworkers suggested going to a ramen shop to get cold ramen last week, I have to admit I wasn’t very gung-ho about it. I’m a girl who likes hot food hot and cold food cold…no cold leftover pizza for me, thank you. However, I was pleasantly surprised, both by the overall experience and the taste of the food. We popped into a little hole-in-the-wall ramen shop on our lunch break, and walked up a narrow staircase to a traditional seating area upstairs. The place was old, and kind of dingy, which just added to its charm. We were served by a sweet middle-aged woman who had gray hair pulled back under a colorful bandana, and our bowls of ramen were chock-full of good things to eat – and picturesque, as well! The ramen had a pleasantly refreshing taste, and I didn’t mind a bit that it was cold! I snapped a few photos with my phone, so I could share the experience with all of you.

The seating area:

The narrow staircase:

A sign of menu items – up on the wall:

The piece de resistance!

I guess this visit to the ramen shop just confirms the lesson I’ve been learning continually as I’ve been living here, which is…don’t be afraid to try new things! You might discover a new favorite – or not, but at least it’s worth a shot!


2 Replies to “Tales of a Japanese Life”

  1. A delightful read—especially the adventure with cold ramen! Such cross-cultural gastronomic discoveries are there no matter which country one is in. I recall my experience with Romanian coffee—and I’m strictly a “tea man.” It was the only coffee I ever truly enjoyed. Your ongoing days and weeks will bring forth many new “discoveries.” Continue to share them with your fellow gaijin at home.

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