In the past course of learning Japanese, I've often felt silly trying to say anything in the language. The ability to speak Japanese has never been a part of who I am. Even if I thought I knew how to say something, trying to do so felt false and forced to me, as though I would be pretending to be something I'm not. But somehow I think this is fading. Perhaps it is the long break from study and the ignorant courage it has given me. Perhaps it's the opportunity to be in a Japanese-speaking quartet and hear the rhythm of the language. Perhaps it's becoming more familiar with the structure of conversations and what can be expected. It's a gradual thing, but I always appreciate having a small feeling of understanding in places where frustration or incomprehension once lived.
And today it was a wonderful to reenter the worlds of both shodo and Kaneko-san. When my friend and I walked into the classroom this morning, Sensei was the only one there. She spoke in Japanese with us about the program she had attended at HPAC and about upcoming scheduling. She told some stories about her family, and about an outing she had had to Kobe. They started talking about Setsubun, an interesting holiday falling on my birthday in which people throw beans at people dressed as devils in order to drive evil out of their homes before the coming of spring. Why didn't I know about this last year? Sensei gave me my first assignment: まめ, mame, the word for bean. I appreciated her sense of humor.
Following shodo, I biked one train station further to meet with Kaneko-san for our first lesson of the new year. It was so good to see him. We started the next lesson, and after two exercises he seemed to become bored with it and asked me for my essay. I had written about my time in California and had brought my iPad to show him a map of where I had travelled as well as pictures of the things I had done. I wrote that because I had been in America, "my Japanese bad had become," which made him laugh really hard and very sweetly. He encouraged me saying that that happens to everyone, commending me on how good my Japanese was. As he read the essay, he came upon name San Francisco and his face lit up trying to conjure a memory. A song, a very old song in English....he couldn't remember. I assumed it was "San Francisco" by Scott McKenzie, but I couldn't bring it to mind to sing it. Luckily so, because now I will have something to bring to him next week. I always look forward to singing with Kaneko-san.
It is such a wonderful feeling to come closer to the people of Japan. To come closer to understanding what it is that is making them laugh, what it is that is giving them concern. I still feel foreign from them and maybe I always will, but the closeness that seems to be possible in the midst of and despite my language ability is encouraging. I few steps closer. A bit of warmth on a very cold day.