Semester Recap: Interactions with the Japanese People

My semester abroad has come to a close about a week ago. And, while trying to get over my 14 hour jet lag, I’ve had lots of time to think about the past semester. So far I’ve mostly talked about what I’ve done, but I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the interactions with the Japanese people as they shaped my surroundings.

Some interactions were of everyday sorts, walking past the residents living on the narrow residential street I take to walk to school or being looked at strangely as I shop for my groceries. But there were other more prominent encounters that really shaped my experience and what I’ve learned here, from the little old ladies telling me to take care to the older guy at the park who tried to hit on me.

Little Observances

On a rapid-express train from Osaka City to my local station, there stood a man next to me reading an English book. He stared at the first page for the entire 20 minute ride. I wondered if he needed any help or if he just wanted to look cool reading English.

At Kiyomizudera in Kyoto, a son of about 30 walked around a building to find a way for his mother to get down the hill. “There’s stairs on the other side of this building,” he said. To which his mother snapped and said “I’m too old for stairs. Let’s just go down the hill.” The son dropped his shoulders and sighed as she turns around and followed her.

The guy angrily yelling on his phone on the local train at around 9:30PM kept saying things like “You’ve got to be kidding me,” and “Even though I told them not to.” Talking on trains is considered very rude, let alone yelling such a conversation on one.

Surprising People With My Japanese Ability

Somewhere in Arashiyama, my friend had lost her Icoca card (a card you put money on and use at the train stations so you don’t have to buy individual tickets). We went to the Koban police to see if anyone had turned it in. Walking in, we were met with a younger officer who, once he saw two foreigners, looked really scared. My friend was unable to speak much Japanese outside of the basics, so I explained the situation in Japanese. His face looked both confused that 1) foreigners came to the Koban and that 2) the foreigners were speaking Japanese to him. He calmed down after I explained that we had just lost a card and he has us fill out a form for it. He asked us questions about how long we’ll be staying in Japan and what school we were studying at, but the conversation didn’t go much farther than that.

In Kyoto with my Japanese friends, we walked by a rickshaw driver. He started talking to my Japanese friends and I walked a little bit to the side so he didn’t get confused by the foreigner with them. But then I heard him ask how many of them are in the group. “Four,” they say, but there was only three of them standing there. I sighed and joined them, to which his mouth dropped as he muttered “Hello” in English. I say hello back, but then say afterwards, in Japanese, that I can speak Japanese. He looked confused, but all my Japanese friends nodded in sync together like “Of course she can!” He then asked me if I was living in Japan (in really honorific Japanese that lifted me up like I was a princess or something and I’m so scared I might have accidentally rolled my eyes at that) but I told him I was studying abroad at the moment. Then he asked if I had ever been on a rickshaw before and what I thought of it. After a bit of talking we later decline his offer as we just want to walk and explore the shops for ourselves.

Teaching Young Ladies How to Skate

I went skating a few times over the semester with my roommate as she wanted to learn how to skate. I’ve been skating since I was four years old and both love skating and teaching people how to skate. The first time we went skating though, we met a couple girls a little bit older than us. They looked and spoke like they were just out of college. They saw how I could skate and how I was teaching my friend, so they started asking me to teach them how to skate themselves. I became their skating sensei as I gave them the basics both off and on ice and I’m glad to say they were able to skate by themselves off the walls by the end of it. Not very well though, they got halfway across the rink and then got nervous and held on to me. My roommate and I had to leave not long after, but they asked for our names and asked what we were doing in Japan.

Getting Hit On by Japanese Guys

I headed in Kyoto by myself on a class-less Thursday to enjoy a cute little park and the beginnings of the fall scenery. I wasn’t feeling all that great that day due to other people staring at me or saying things under their breath like “gah, foreigners” (this was the only day I heard something like that). But right as I was about to leave the park, an older guy who had just started getting wrinkles calls out from behind me. “Excuse me!” he says, as I turn around, thinking that he must be lost and didn’t realize I was a foreigner. But no, he starts telling me that I’m pretty and asking if we could go somewhere like a coffee shop. I should’ve just pretended I didn’t know Japanese, but it was written on my face that I knew exactly what he just said. “I’m busy,” I kept saying in the Japanese form (which doesn’t exist in English) that implies reasons why you can’t do something so you don’t actually have to say the reason. “Add me on your phone,” he says. And I can’t say I have a phone because I’m literally holding it so I tell him the truth that “I don’t have any service on my phone.” He then asks me, “So, no?” and, afraid to be too abrupt even though he’s asking for a straight answer, I said “No.” He said okay, smiled and extended a hand for a handshake as I, warily, shook his hand. He just walked away, saying bye as I turned the other way.

In the Apple Store with my roommate buying new headphones, a group of about four middle school male students started talking to my roommate and I in English (most likely to practice their English). At first they just said hello and asked where we were from. But then they started saying how we’re pretty. Then they asked how old we are. My roommate was quite sassy and in reply asked how old they think we are. They guessed 20, which is right for me but a year off for my roommate who had asked the question. We had to go to do other things, so we said goodbye and left. After shopping for another half hour or so, we walked out of the store and ran into them again. They called out to us again in English. We stopped and said hello to them. I laugh at something they said, and the guys friend, in Japanese, comments about my laugh so I laughed more. Confused, they asked (in Japanese) if we could speak Japanese, and we both said we could. Then they looked disappointed with faces that read “we could’ve spoken Japanese the entire time.” We left shortly after that.

Cute Little Old Ladies Telling Me to Take Care

Walking back after my last class a little after 6PM, I heard a ring from a bell bike behind me. I was on the side of the road and the biker has plenty of room to pass, so I looked behind me to see what it was. It was a cute little old lady on her bike who, as she passed me, said “Take care, okay!” I was really touched at first, but then I also had a slight worry of “Did she say that just to be nice or does she know of something I need to take care from?” I made it home safely, so I believe it was the former.

The morning of my departure from Japan back to the US, I ended up talking to the older lady sitting at the bus stop for the airport. She was asking me where I was going and if I planned to come back to Japan in the future. The conversation was fairly short as the bus arrived shortly after and we were separated. But, while waiting for my bags once the bus arrived, she tapped me on the shoulder and told me, “Take care on your way home!” followed by “see you again!” The “see you again,” confused me, as she was going to Okinawa and I was leaving Japan. But, the Japanese “またね,” literally just means “again,” so I think she meant it in more of a way as encouraging me to come back to Japan in the future, which made my heart happy. I’d absolutely love to go back again.


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