Thursday, October 23, 2008

Crossing the Threshold

This week marks the completion of one month in Japan. It's funny because while on the one hand it feels like I have been here so much longer, on the other it feels like I left the US just last week. Of course I'm way more adjusted now than I was one week after leaving the US. My first week in Japan was filled with anxiety (as well as excitement). I wondered every day whether I had made the right decision. Now my excitement and love for my host country grows more and more each day and my anxiety has left.
I used to think that the Japanese custom of taking off one's shoes when entering a home was not just for the home but for entering any building. It turns out that one only takes off ones shoes when crossing a threshold. When entering a home or office, if there's a change in flooring, a raised entry, or slippers waiting these are all indicators that shoes must be removed before entering; different footwear is required beyond the threshold. This month has been about living life beyond the threshold: learning a new language, new customs, a whole other way of being in the world. We began our language classes and have already had our first test. We're only in our third week of language study and I must confess that I don't always feel motivated to go to class or to speak Japanese. My third Sunday at Ichigaya church I remember being exhausted from having to be so polite. The Japanese are very polite. It makes them very hospitable, but it also means that for someone from the US who is used to being direct, I have to now gently enter conversations and constantly say "thank you" for everything. Now this doesn't sound all that bad, but I have to say thank you here in Japan far more than is normal or even standard politeness in the US. But I feel like I'm getting used to it all.
I am starting to understand the way the language works and I'm not bad at speaking it. I am also getting used to my routine, my neighborhood, and my prefecture Tokyo. I have only traveled outside of Tokyo prefecture once and it was to a bordering area called Yokohama. I look forward to getting further outside of Tokyo. In November we will have a J-3 retreat in Kyushu, the southernmost island off the main body of Japan, where we will also get to visit the Kumamoto site. We have had the joy of attending Bible study and English Coffee hour at the Hongo Student Center, another J-3 site that one of us will be assigned to. 
Thanks so much for all of your prayers. I am enjoying the Japanese language more and more, so I am speaking more and more. It is so exciting to go to church every week and be able to communicate and understand more than the previous week. I can now understand what the announcer is saying on the trains and can sound out words (although I often don't know what they mean). These are exciting times. Our neighbors are also becoming more familiar with us. Earlier this week we went out to eat at a restaurant across the street from our apartment. After dinner our server asked us (in Japanese) if we lived across the street because she sees us every day. This was very exciting for us to be known by someone in the neighborhood. Of course this restaurant has become our favorite place--because sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. We like to think that we are becoming familiar within the larger neighborhood. One example is a story about Carolyn's walk home from church this Sunday: 
We all go to different churches. Matt and I have to take the train to get to our churches, but Carolyn is able to walk to hers. Well this Sunday on her usual route Carolyn spotted some Sumo wrestlers sitting outside an apartment building (did I mention our town Ryogoku is known for Sumo wrestlers--it is literally the Sumo Wrestling capital of the world). Seeing Sumo wrestlers is normal for us, but this Sunday was different. She said that as she walked by one of them pointed at her and the other two all turned to look at her and talk about her. This was unusual since Sumo wrestlers have never made a single nod in our direction or any semblance  of acknowledging our presence, not even when we smile at them in passing. We like to think they were probably saying, that's the gaikokujin (foreigner) who lives in our neighborhood.

That said thanks for your prayers and email messages encouraging me to hang in there and speak. I have seen a huge turn around from my first week. Now that the newness is wearing off please pray that we continue to get along (Carolyn, Matt, and I) and that we become even more of an encouragement to one another. Pray especially for our language learning, it is frustrating not being able to communicate with people. Also pray that we start to make friends with people our own age. Right now we are all we've got so we feel kind of isolated.
Many Blessings

By the way the video is from Ichigaya church's annual Festa 10/19/2008