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Chigasaki City, October 28

Well, I have to say, I never imagined that one day I would come to Japan and sit around a low dinner table on the floor teaching 60-year-old japanese women origami. I'd have to say that seemed like the least likely thing I'd ever do with origami, pretty much... ever.

But that about sums up my evening. And I have never been so grateful for all those thousands of cranes I folded or all those books my father bought for me, in Japanese, so that I could only look at the pictures and try and puzzle things out that way. Because wow... what a great evening!

When I arrived at Chigasaki City this morning I met Matsui-san at the train station. He held up his sign with "Canada Kenzie" brushed on in ink and shook my hand and led me out to his car. Once we were in the car he explained his plans for me, and I have to admit that my heart sank a little when he said, "And tonight we are having a dinner party with friends to meet you! All seniors like us, friends from the Mitsubishi company, no young people!" I felt a little overwhelmed, at least partly because I've been feeling socially a fish out of water for oh... about ten days now, but nonetheless I was determined to put my best foot forward.

Later on in the afternoon he asked me if I spoke any Japanese and I explained that beyond a few very simple phrases I basically spoke no Japanese, and he said that was too bad because his friends did not speak English. I think my heart sank a little further at this pronouncement. "Oh god," I thought, "An evening spent acting polite and interested with people I don't know and with whom I do not even share a bit of a language."

Still, I dressed in my suit and orange silk top and tied my hair up and put on my black socks with polar bears just to cheer myself up and readied myself for the evening as best I could.

They arrived extremely punctually and in greeting them they discovered that I didn't speak Japanese (though it's really amazing how far a few yeses and noes in japanese will go towards making people laugh good-naturedly at you). I imagine that at this point they felt a little awkward too, or at least that's the way I read their body language.

We sat down and I was introduced to a man and his wife, and to another woman, all Matsui's age. I immediately and habitually forgot all of their names, as I tend to do even in Canada where names are at least slightly familiar.

I think I need to work on reversing this habit, because it's at least slightly purposeful... there's some inner part of me that discards their name before it can be assimilated because I don't perceive their name to be important... or something. Still, it's polite to remember people's names, and it doesn't lend itself to the awkwardness of having to introduce someone you've known casually for five years and trying to hide the fact that you still don't know their name (I have done this, and I don't really think I got away with it terribly well, because one-sided introductions are obvious, and no introductions at all are more obvious still). Somehow people don't conveniently and urgently call me away from introductions at that critical moment, which would be helpful. Oh well.

Dinner was a special event, so there was all kinds of sushi (though not much with raw fish), fried chicken, potato salad (which is unexpectedly ubiquitous in Japan) and, I think to make me feel "at home" a series of bizarre white bread sandwiches, which everyone encouraged me to eat.

Until you've had a boiled potato and scallop sandwich you... haven't had a boiled potato and scallop sandwich. Enough said.

We started eating and everyone complimented me on my chopstick use multiple times. I have to admit, I have gotten much better, but it's always hard to tell if people aren't just being kind when they say that sort of thing. Either way, it doesn't really matter. It's all meant kindly, and kindness and generosity of spirit are nothing to be sneezed at.

The conversation started slowly, with Matsui generally telling them stories about me and my family learned from my father, and then translating them back to me to tell them what he was telling them. I smiled and nodded and ate.

Every so often one of them would try to speak in English to me and we would all lean in and wait to see what they said. Any time one of them said something in English they would all clap and any time I said something in Japanese (even "arigato" or "hai" or "iie") they would all clap, and there was a lot of laughter going around the table. Once things started to go a little smoother in this way I started to relax and think that perhaps this wouldn't be so bad after all.

In fact, after a while, I just started listening, still not understanding anything, but realizing that if I paid attention in a different way I could feel the rhythm of a story or statement, and where the punchline was, and then laugh or smile or frown or nod seriously with everyone else, even though I didn't really understand the joke or statement or story. Still, this kept me occupied for a couple of hours.

By 7:20 though, I felt exhausted at the strain of it (and at being up at 5:30 that morning) and I could feel my smile starting to falter. It was at about this time that Matsui launched into an explanation of how all Canadians eat too much, twice as much as he did when he was there, and as the sole Canadian at the table I suddenly felt acutely self conscious about the amount I'd eaten (I don't think more than anyone else...), not to mention uncomfortable with the way this sort of comment rubs up against our general societal issues with weight and eating.

It was kind of hard to pull my mood up by its socks after that. Everyone was involved in what sounded (but wasn't) some kind of lecherous story about what the husbands called their wives when they were first married. Apparently, Japanese men do not traditionally call their wives by their first names. I have no idea why, only that they would be embarrassed to do so. Instead they call them by some nick name, like "Oi" or "Mama". Everyone was laughing at this, and I'm afraid my brain went off in a different direction with it (mainly how annoyed I would be to be called "Oi" by my husband instead of my name, which is mine, and which I have as much a right to as anybody does to their own name) and I could feel I was starting to lose all connection to the table out of tiredness.

The woman who was there with her husband had brought origami cranes of a style I hadn't seen yet, all made with reversible red and gold paper. She brought a couple for me so that I would have good luck. Then someone else asked her to show how she had made it, and when she brought out another peice of paper I asked if I could follow along with a napkin because I didn't know the design and she assented, so I did and created a floppy crane out of napkin. It's an interesting design, and very beautiful with the special paper. The tail fans out in gold in contrast to the red body and head. I'll have to make some when I get home.

After we'd done that I made a flapping crane out of a napkin (one where the wings flap when you pull the head and body) and we were off to the races. Itsuko got out some origami paper and we made flapping cranes, jumping frogs and flowers for the next two hours, with me instructing all of the ladies in sign language and extremely minimal japanese.

The frogs, in particular, were a big hit, and soon everyone was jumping them around the table. One landed in a cup of tea and had to be fished out. Everyone was laughing and playing and joking and extremely poor english and japanese flew. Suddenly someone looked up at the clock and it was 9:30! Time to go!

There was then a massive flurry of bows and waves and exchanges of cards and more bows and waves and then more bows, and the car driving down the street while one woman tried to jump in the back seat, and then yelling, and then *more* bows and more waves and they were gone, only to get home and call to talk to me on the phone to tell me brokenly how nice it was to meet me and that next time I come to Japan I must go and stay with them. Of course, I said that when they come to Canada they must stay with me, though I have no idea practically how that work (a one bedroom apartment without even a proper bed, hurrah), but I think it's the politeness of the offer that counts, because nobody goes to Canada from Japan on a whim because they met some sweet young thing at a dinner party who did origami jumping frogs. Or at least, I don't think they do... *worries*

Comments

Heck, I don't even know the social script for social drunkenness in my own country! I'd be even more utterly lost in anyone else's.

At the begining of the dinner party I was offered beer and then wine (Mr. Matsui had bought two bottles of "Woodbridge" winery wine from California, just for the name, and then was quite disappointed to learn that I didn't drink), and I declined and drank water and apple juice instead, and then noticed that none of the women drank anything alcoholic, and I have to wonder whether they didn't because I didn't or whether it was good that I didn't because they didn't or... what. Oh well.

Whatever! I'm home now!
japan

February 2010

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