Even though I have spent about a month here in Japan, there are still days when this all still seems so surreal, and I think, “How the heck did I get here…” Today… this morning anyway, was one of those days.
The company that my husband works for here brings in loaned employees from many different countries, and as a way of supporting those loaned employees and their families, they provide some Japanese language instruction to the spouses — and actually, in this case it is a group of all wives. Today, I met with the rest of these wives for this luncheon language class. There were probably about a dozen of us all together… mostly from Asia… and I am… the only American. My husband is only the second American loaned employee they have ever had. I feel like we are still blazing the trail here, still something of a cultural new frontier.
We are divided into two groups at these meetings, those with some Japanese language ability,and my group… those who have very little Japanese language ability.There were 5 women in my group today, all of us from different countries: India, China, Pakistan, Taiwan, and America. The other group also had women from Russia, France, and South Korea. It was a fun time… we laughed, we struggled with the words, and we communicated as best we could. Most of the women in the class, can speak at least a little English, but not all.
We worked on some basic phrases… one of which was “O-shigoto wa”: (what is) your profession. We are all here as dependents on our husbands’ work visas. So… we all are “shu fu desu”: homemakers. No matter what our professions in our home countries, here we are all homemakers. I am not even sure what it would take for me to get a work visa here… and there is little I could actually do here without language skills. Our professions help to define who we are, and here — at least for two years — I have set that aside.
They provide a box lunch for us at these classes, but sometimes people bring in extra food items to share. Today one of the South Korean women brought in roasted Japanese sweet potatoes. I have seen vendors on the street selling these… but have never tried them. The Japanese sweet potato is different from what we know in the US as a sweet potato. These have a yellow flesh, and are skinnier than the US version… and sweeter. To eat them, you can peel the skin and eat the flesh, or just eat them skin and all. Very tasty… almost like dessert.
When the class was over, two of the South Korean women approached me, and in piece-meal, halting English, asked if I wanted to join them for another Japanese class next week at “the Libre”, and wanted to show me where it was meeting. We walked to the Minato-ku (our district of Tokyo) library and recreation center and they showed me around. It is a huge place with a gym, swimming pool, and fitness classes, as well as the library where the Japanese class meets. So next week, I will go there with them to another class.
What felt so surreal (and I usually don’t like to use that word because it is so OVER-used), was walking down the street with these two women, and we were all three trying so hard to communicate… so eager to communicate and get to know each other… stumbling over the language barrier, and nervously laughing and searching for the words to understand each other. Three women from diverse cultures and backgrounds, but brought together in this one place wanting and trying to forge friendship. It all just is so mind-boggling. And now, we are also going to meet next week for lunch, and they are going to show me another supermarket where they shop.
Lol… It is overwhelming to be in a place so different from my home, with so many new experiences and meeting so many people from so many different places. But — we are finding that underneath it all, we are very much the same, wanting the same things, needing the same things… just trying to make a connection, to get to know each other, and be friends.