I’ve been rather busy lately but it’s been a mixture of work and fun. Two long studio days last week were uneventful, except that I hooked into WiFi for the very first time using my shiny new laptop and appalling pink mouse.
On Saturday, I had to teach a couple of live online English lessons for kids. As I had expected, it was not dissimilar to pulling teeth. We didn’t get far beyond “My name is” and “Yes” and “No”, but I was told afterward that the kids were jubilant. “I did it! I actually spoke English!” Baby steps: small but significant.
Yesterday, I had almost three hours to kill between jobs. I was trying to work out what to do with the time when I noticed a sign for the Shinjuku Historical Museum. I had never been there and it was cold outside, so I thought I’d give it a flutter.
Inside it was warm and quiet, not another soul around except the museum staff. As soon as I entered, a docent walked up to me and asked if I can speak Japanese. I said, “As long as you use easy words.” Thereon followed a very pleasant hour in her company, as she guided me through the exhibits. I didn’t understand everything she said, but got most of it, and asked questions to prove that I was paying attention.
One display concerned miniature models of Mt. Fuji scattered around the city. She said that until the Meiji era, women weren’t allowed to climb Mt. Fuji, and I joked that the miniatures were for women. “Well, yes,” she said. “Women, old people, whoever couldn’t climb the actual mountain for whatever reason. Women used to be in a lower social position.”(Knowing nods.)
I still had time to kill and was getting rather hungry when I remembered that there was a Burger King nearby. (I finally got to scratch that cheeseburger itch, see January 12.) I would rather drive the Yamanote line up my nose than eat at Mickey D’s, but Burger King is another story.
While I was sitting there finishing my Coke (complete with bubbles, see January 12 again) I noticed a man was staring at me. This happens, and it’s usually nutcases, so I figured I’d just ignore him. Then he said, “You don’t happen to speak English, do you?” I nodded, still unsure.
“Are those Ugg boots?” he asked.
Well, that was unexpected.
It turned out he was from New York, in town for a couple of weeks with his Japanese girlfriend who had some sort of family emergency. He had not expected Tokyo to be so cold, so was thinking of procuring some boots. We chatted for a few minutes and then he left.
When I got to my next job, I told my colleagues about that conversation and they were shocked. With very few exceptions, (see August 12, 2012) Japanese simply do not talk to strangers about anything other than the weather.
So all in all, that was a lot of human contact: shared jokes, shared culture, shared conversation. Living in Japan, it’s very easy to get isolated, and not just for foreigners. However insignificant in the bigger picture, these small opportunities to influence other people’s lives mean a lot to me.