Monday, August 17, 2009

Common Ground

Communicating with Japanese people who speak very little English is at once a nervewracking and elating process. You find yourself desperately trying to follow their questions by tone, body language, and the few words that happen to be familiar to you. When you finally encounter something known, some shared experience, no matter how mundane, you're thrilled--"You like basketball?!? No way, I also like basketball!" It's the most simplistic form of interaction, but also somehow fulfilling.

Today the principal invited me to his office to eat figs he had just picked from his garden. The English-speaking office lady popped in to assist us occasionally, but it was definitely a struggle to communicate. So when I heard him say "daigakko," I was like college! That means college! And probably overzealously rushed to tell him I went to American, then Sarah Lawrence. He and the office lady didn't seem to understand that I went to grad school to study creative writing. Which is fine, because I don't really understand it either.

When he asked me about my family I attempted to explain that Julian is trying to join the Secret Service. He associated that, like most people do, with the guys who guard the President, and from there we somehow wandered into a discussion about the movie The Bodyguard, and then Whitney Houston. Turns out the principal is a big fan of "I Will Always Love You." Or maybe not--like I said, you find yourself becoming strangely excited about things you don't ordinarly care about, just because someone from a different culture speaking a different language also knows about it.

Which is why I was quick to name drop basically every Japanese thing I know when I first met the principal--everything from Hayao Miyazake movies to Haruki Murakami to the Sapporo snow festival. Just to be like, I know you think I have really weird hair and I am always sweating because I'm not acclimated to your country's ridiculous humidity and I still don't really get the whole indoor-outdoor shoes thing, but hey! I've seen My Neighbor Totoro!


  1. And you understand that when all little Japanese boys howl like cats, it means trouble. So you're off to an okay start fo sho.

    I've read some Murukami and seen Ikuru, so you're better off than I am!!!!!

  2. "Ponyo", the Japanese animated film, is getting alot of press and good reviews here.