Last year I fell in love with Japan practically the moment I landed in this fair country. I went around my new neighborhood with a grin on my face calling out “Konichiwa” to everyone I met. What I finally realized, though, was that I lived in a neighborhood where people wanted to go about their lives without interruption by the middle aged American woman, so by week three (it took me a while), I noticed that although some people did smile and reply, not everyone returned my smile or even responded to me.
This year, I’m much more aware (or at least I think so). When I arrived in Japan, I felt as though I’d never left. I picked up my life here like a favorite garment, and I wore it with great content.
I settled into my routine immediately, but with a mind not to create waves or draw unwonted attention to myself. I don’t know if that’s even possible because I stand several inches taller than most Japanese women, and my hair is light, but with that in mind, I began my journey in this my second year in Nihon-koku.
Now I pay close attention to my neighbors, and sometimes as I’m walking to the grocery store, I’ll meet one walking from the opposite direction. I’ve learned to respect thier personal space and keep my eyes down, not on them (I shudder to think of my enthusiasm last year!), and I do not to say anything. Sometimes I will catch a nod out of the corner of my, and I feel so happy. Sometimes they will say, Konichiwa, and I’m so glad as I respond, “Konichwa!”
The older men are tough, though. I think of them in terms of their ancestors. Which of these gentlemen might have samurai in their lineage? Many have the stern, fierce look of a samurai as they march down the street, their eyes never wavering, heads held high. The attire may be modern, but the bearing is regal! They have a steely frown, and I wonder if my deodorant has given out, or perhaps my eyes are still wandering too much, invading thier personal space.
I met a Japanese gentleman at Tsujiki Fish Market, and he asked me where I lived in Japan.
"Live,” I asked. (I hoped he didn’t think I could Nihon-go hanashimasu![speak Japanese!]).
“Yes,” he said. “You seem like a Japanese lady.”
His words thrilled me. I really want to fit in, and I believe he was paying me a compliment. At least I took it as one. We chatted for a while, and I told him it was my second year in Japan, etc. etc. He had wonderful English, and when several students found me, he talked with them too.
I have come to the conclusion that many people know I’m probably American, and they’re afraid I’ll use English, and they will want to reply in kind, which is nearly impossible for many here, but they don’t know me very well. I too am afraid that I’ll exhaust my Japanese in the first ten seconds and embarrass us both!
That’s the way it is here, and why I love it so. The respect people have for each other and themselves transcends all other things. They truly care about how they will be perceived and how they can be a positive influence on others, at least that's how I interpret their behavior. I hope I bring these lovely traits home with me, a priceless souvenir. :)