Part of me feared that by the end of my trip, I would not have truly engaged with the people here. Even if I took the steps to talk with people from Japan more, how would I know when I really and truly had made a strong connection? Would it have been enough?
But, all tough things in life just need a big enough push to get through, and I’m happy to say that this week was the most engaged I have felt with this… incredible place. It all started with my Culture teacher, Masuda sensei.
He told us at the very beginning of the term that at a certain week, we would all be invited to his house for dinner. We would take a train to Seto, walk to his house and have dinner with him and his friends, while also getting a lesson in making Japanese tea. Truth be told, I was nervous, not wanting to embarrass myself in front of Sensei’s friends… Funny how I was surprised I wasn’t engaging with people, huh?
Much like my trip to Nakatsugawa two months ago, I was awestruck by Seto, at least from the small glimpse I received on the roads up to Masuda’s house. On the way, he even turned the journey there into a lesson, explaining the fascinating foundation of the houses built into the hills, how leftover pottery materials were just placed into the foundation.
This kind of ingenuity isn’t a recent revelation for me. Back when I visited my friend in Nakatsugawa, he told me how he was so impressed with how the Japanese built around elevation in their landscape. Japan is a packed country and the way they built their infrastructure into mountains, creating elaborate and beautiful staircases.
Needless to say, I felt like I was having flashbacks of Nakatsugawa and I was NOT complaining. When we arrived to Masuda’s house, it was immediately clear that we were at his place just based on his car. A little background since I have not talked much about Masuda since around week three. He is the coolest god damn teacher I have ever had.
“Japanese Culture” could not be a more appropriate class for a man like him. A lover of jazz who is always dressed to impressed, flaunting a bow tie. After class, he hosts those coffee time sessions outside the classroom and likes to play guitar during those sessions as well. All that packaged with this kind, intellectual demeanor that makes you want to sit down and talk with him for hours.
Getting to visit his house was an honor, but stepping inside was nothing I could have prepared for. The house had the look of a cabin and the walls were lined with books and antiques both Japanese and western. To the right upon entering was a study with chairs, a gramophone, and a cello.
I almost lost my mind when he picked up the cello and started playing off of the jazz music from the gramophone. Thankfully, I was still reeling from everything else, like the open living space to the left of the entrance, with its warm, low-lit atmosphere. I do not exaggerate when I say that I almost cried as I walked through this house.
Joining us for dinner were some friends of Masuda Sensei, and those friends’ students, meaning we had plenty of Japanese people to talk to. There was that typical awkward phase where people are nervous to start talking, but add some curry rice and alcohol and you can make any party a talkative one.
The craziest thing is that I was talking to these people and I was being understood, and told that my Japanese was good. Most other times I jump immediately to saying that I’m not as good as they think and that I could get better, but for the first time I actually felt like agreeing with them, at least in my mind. There were so many little conversations, however small, that I got sucked up into where I was able to hold my own fine.
It wasn’t even just talking to people who were also learning Japanese, I was talking to people who barely knew English. By the time I returned home, enjoying the fresh air after leaving the cramped and hot house, I thought I had experienced one of the best nights of my life.
If I have any advice to give to those learning a foreign language who are travelling abroad, it is to give yourself some credit. I guarantee, you can always improve, but when you manage to interact with someone of a foreign tongue, be happy and be proud of yourself.