I woke up on the morning of October 5, hoping to be imbued with some sort of divine wisdom of how to Adult™. But sadly, no such epiphany occurred. Instead, all that I realized was that I only had about 50 minutes until my train left the station. So, I dragged myself out of bed and prepared for the two-hour commute to my field placement office.
Every morning, I’m about five minutes from the station when that cheerful little jingle blares from the speakers and alerts me, in a kind way, that I have missed my train. “Better luck next time, sucker,” the melodic tune trails in the wind, as I watch the 8:21 rapid train to Tokyo leave Inagekaigan station. That day, however, I was victorious, and I squeezed inside the doors right before they slammed shut with a sort of cold finality.
When I was a new, naïve gaijin (foreigner), I used to marvel at the people who fell asleep on the train. It’s kind of unsettling to watch their eyes roll backwards in their skulls, their mouths hanging agape. The disheveled salaryman falling asleep on my shoulder became a sort of permanent fixture on my Wednesday morning commutes to Nakano. However, now, I too, am one of those people passed out unceremoniously on the train. If I don’t manage to get a coveted end seat, I’m usually slumped over and trying in vain to keep from leaning on the person next to me. Every once in a while I open my eyes groggily to check what station I am at, but then I promptly fall back asleep. Judge all you want, I think to the fresh-faced foreigners excitedly chatting about Shinjuku. I squeeze in at least 30 more minutes of sleep! Yabai!
On Wednesdays, I report to my field placement: The Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies (ISEP). I am thinking about doing an entirely separate post on my experiences at ISEP, but for now, I will say this: I enjoy going to work on Wednesdays. My supervisor, Y-san, is totemo yasashii (very kind). My senpais, W-san, K-san, and T-san are all important people to me. Every Wednesdays we eat lunch at Nakano Central Park, and I enjoy their company and conversation. It’s always such a lively atmosphere and I always get the feeling that I am being well looked after.
When we get lunch, I try to follow their conversations in rapid Japanese. Instead, by the time I recognize the first word they’ve said, they’re already on the third sentence. So, usually, I try to focus on the timbre of their voice, how their tones fluctuate and pace of their wording. But, this time, I recognized three words, “kanojo (her),” “tanjoubi (birthday),” and “surprise.”
So, when K-san got up abruptly, I decided to tease him a little,
“Where are you going?”
He sort of looked off into the distance, glanced hesitantly at T-san, then replied vaguely,
“We have to go…somewhere.”
I couldn’t help but smile to myself as I walked back to the office with W-san, wondering where K-san and T-san had run off to.
A few minutes later, K-san and T-san presented me with a box of dorayaki, courtesy of my supervisor, Y-san. One of my coworkers made some coffee and we all took a small afternoon break to enjoy each other’s company, café au lait, and delicious marron dorayaki. I was so touched by their kindness. It’s really beginning to feel like I’m part of the team.
Since my host family was busy on my actual birthday, we postponed the festivities until Saturday. Aided by my host sister and our next-door neighbor, we whipped up the most beautiful homemade cake I’ve ever seen. I let my cake chefs take care of the aesthetic decisions, and had fun decorating the cake with sliced peaches, mandarin oranges, and blueberries. I think it turned out pretty amazing, don’t you?
The table was completely covered in what my host mom said was a “typical birthday meal.” There were layers and layers of sashimi on silver platters, a stack of nori, and bowls of steaming rice. I had a hard time deciding where to start. My favorite combination was salmon, maguro, and a tuna mixture rolled up temaki style, with just a hint of shoyu.
Afterwards, they surprised me with gifts. A pair of Japanese toe-socks, a kumamon plushie (mascot of Kumamoto prefecture), facemasks, and mermaid-themed nail polish. The whole table burst into laughter when I pulled the toe-socks out of the bag. Just weeks before, my host-mom told me that she would turn me into a true, toe-sock-wearing-Japanese-person. I was taken aback by their generosity, and the realization that they've truly gotten to know me within these short two months. As we sat around the crowded dinner table, trading stories from Hawaii to Japan, I really felt like I was celebrating my birthday among family.
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