Sunday, February 19, 2006

Well, How Do you Celebrate Washington's Birthday?

I had a very only-in-Japan day today. I'll try to keep this short.

I went to Honoka-chan's volleyball tournament today. I went from 10 to 1, although the tournament was from 8 to 5. (I think this is something about the group mindset in Japan, but I've learned that when I'm invited to an event like this, it's pointless to ask, "When does Honoka play?" because it's not about one person, it's about the team. I want to say, but I only care about seeing Honoka! But I don't.) The kids were amazingly cute, as usual. The team cheers and chants were hilarious. When the opposing team makes a mistake, they all chant "Lucky, lucky!" There are specific chants for when they score, when they start, when they finish, etc. Very choreographed. And there is a group bow, of course, too. Notice in one picture above that the coach is in the middle of the court. He took a very active role giving feedback all the time. A shot was barely missed before he was out on the court yelling. There were some public humiliation techniques, but Toshi-san assured me that he smiles sometimes, too. ("Nico, nico." Smile, smile.)

A few minutes into the game, Toshi expressed concern that there wasn't a western toilet at the gym. Why this is becoming a theme only now when I've known them for three years, I don't know. There's a sudden interest in accommodating LSL's bathroom needs. I told her "It's ok" (Daijobou desu) (because I had a feeling of what was coming), but that wasn't good enough. She then took a poll of all the parents watching the game. What should we do about LSL using a Japanese toilet? Someone offered that they had a friend who lived close by, and I could go to their house if I needed to use a toilet. Ok, thank you. Nope, not good enough. So Toshi polls more people. Then she *demonstrates* to me the differences between the kinds of toilets. She squats very low on the ground, as if she is straddling a Japanese toilet, and then changes her position and mimes sitting calmly, hovering above an invisible western toilet. Yes, I get it. There's a lot of discussion among the group, and I recognize words like American, foreigner, and English, and then suddenly "Oy!" They remember there is a handicapped toilet (always a western type) in the gym. Great. Then Toshi wants to show me where it is, so we take a brief field trip, and when we get back to the crowd of parents, everyone wants a report. Did Toshi show me? Is it ok? Yes, daijobou desu. Thank you.


And then this afternoon I had friends stop by unexpectedly, which was really fun. The daughter's name is Tomoka, but I don't know anyone else's name. They speak about three words of English, so it's up to my Japanese skills, which doesn't say much for us. They are a family of four and I used to live by them in Hachigamine before I moved, and Tomoka-chan used to come play at my house every day after school with the other twenty or so kids. I love this family and haven't seen them for a while, so it was such a treat. They brought me presents, including a really pretty tapestry for the upcoming March holiday, Hinamatsuri or Girl's Day. (More on that later.)

This part cracked me up: when the family came into my living room, they all sat directly on the floor. I have a couch, a love seat, a chair and an ottoman in my living room, and all were free, but they walk in, flip off their shoes, line them up in my genkan, and sit on the floor. I brought out sweet popcorn and peanut M&Ms (which they don't have here), and offered something to drink. I had Qoo (a yummy drink here; I'm thinking about shipping cases of it home when I leave), Orenji (Japanese orange juice) and a can of rootbeer. Wow, that was a hit. There's no rootbeer in Japan, and it took me a long time to convince them that I wasn't offering their nine year old beer. I don't think they ever believed me.

We had a really great time staring at each other, starting sentences and making exaggerated gestures, and laughing. There is always a lot of laughing. I also think I may have gotten invited to a BBQ. Searching for something to discuss that I could talk about in Japanese, I explained that tomorrow is a holiday, and then tried to explain George Washington's birthday. I knew immediately I was in trouble. They understood about the holiday, and asked how I celebrate it. Uh ho. I don't go to work. Do you have a party? Um, no. I sleep in. Hmm. They thought about that. But how do you celebrate? I watch New York on TV. (Shut up, what would you have said? I didn't know if they would recognize Washington D.C.) They asked me if I liked Japan, which is the number one question that I get, and I told them that I love Japan. I explained that I've traveled all over the world, and that Japan is my favorite place. I love Japan.

So that was my day, and it's just another day in Japan. I'm starting to get sad about leaving. (And, no, I don't have a job yet; sorry that I haven't posted an update about that, but here it is - job hunting sucks and I don't have a job yet.) I feel deeply conflicted about it. Part of me feels like a failure that I've lived here for so long and not mastered the language. So much of a culture is in the language, and I could have learned so much more had I focused on that from the beginning. I also feel conflicted about the culture. A great deal of it drives me CRAZY. I mean, CRAZY. My sister gets most of that; I'll call her and tell her something very screwed up that has happened, and she'll say, "Get the hell out of there," and I couldn't agree more. But there are other parts that I love more than anything in America, and a part of me wishes I could stay forever. I wonder -- do I move back because I miss people? Is that a good enough reason? My job is prematurely aging me, times ten, do I move back for that reason? There is a job with a different company in Tokyo -- do I take it? Maybe it will come down to choices and trade offs, but I haven't gotten that far in my mind. Right now I just feel conflicted. Maybe it's good that the transition hasn't been quicker so I have time to process through it all. Maybe.

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