Kevin asked the 6 of us gathered at Thanksgiving dinner if we ever thought about how ridiculous it is that we’re here in Japan.
And not ridiculous like, “Wow, guys, we really made it here!” Ridiculous like our day-to-day lives, living amongst Japanese people, sorting our trash incorrectly, pulling our chopsticks apart in a rude way, going to classes and stores and trying to interact with people without speaking a common language, but somehow making it work.
It’s amazing that more of us aren’t found quivering in dark alleys because we just couldn’t take it anymore. I mean, everyday life isn’t so bad. It’s just sometimes a chore if, like today, for instance, I want to get a new watch battery, because mine is dead. But it’s not one I can install myself. I don’t want to bother my coworkers furiously filling out spreadsheets and stamping huge stacks of paper at breakneck speed. While I type on my website.
I don’t want to look up, “My battery is dead. May I please purchase another that you install?” on the internet, because I’ve had enough conversations with Japanese people online to know that it will likely come out, “The electricity of mine is killed. Please install a clock in yourself?”
I don’t even know if the place I plan to go to after work is the right place to go. I’m just hoping to walk into this watch store, hand them my watch with a sad face, and hope for the best. On top of all that, the Japanese are so accommodating, if, by some miracle, they figure out what I’m asking, and they don’t actually do it at that store, I wouldn’t be surprised if they hung up their work apron and drove me to the nearest watch store themselves.
Ridiculous is my constant fear that when I make plans with someone and don’t hear from them at our specified time, I am terrified that I had been the one to misunderstand and stood THEM up.
Or there’s the time when my neighbor called me the day after our awkward introduction (story on THAT later) with a cryptic phone conversation.
Me: Hello?
Neighbor: You have to get up early tomorrow. Right?
Me: No? It’s Saturday.
N: Can you drink sake?
Me: Yes?
N: Okay!
< hang up >
Which left me standing, blinking in my kitchen wondering…okay, did I just get invited to her apartment? Is she coming here? Was she just taking a poll?
Anyway, Kevin’s statement about our lives being ridiculous was especially true last Sunday. I had planned on having a dinner with the family I tutor in English. I get a text message in the morning informing me that dinner was at 4:00, which was a little early, but okay. Then I get another inviting me to come to Dragon Park with the family at 1:00. Sure! Why not?
And as I strolled in my house at about 7:30, it dawned on me that I had just spent 6 hours with four people who could barely understand a word I said, and I them. And it was still a blast.
I feel most like I belong when listening to music or watching a performance, and I always notice these moments just because it’s so weird to feel like I understand something. After a rough day of classes or a tutoring lesson where I feel like I couldn’t get anything across, suddenly I pass a music room where people are practicing their scales. Or my tutoring kids play me “Phantom of the Opera” on the piano before I leave, and it’s like we finally understand each other.
And playing baseball and badminton with this family at Dragon Park, and later eating dinner with them really proved that there are some things you don’t need a common language for.
Unlike getting watch batteries. Although, maybe the clerk will take pity on me, and in his accommodating way, he will just give me his watch.
UPDATE: I cannot, in fact, get my watch battery. After speaking 3 minutes of Japanese to my blank stare, he finally broke down and told me (in English) that it would take 3 weeks and $40 to fix my watch. While it costs $7 and 5 minutes in America. So…I guess I won’t be telling time until I come home for Christmas. I hope the plane takes off at half past a freckle.

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