April 28th turned out to be a pretty amazing day. Yamazaki-san took Harada-san (from the company) and I around the Shakotan peninsula to visit the schools at which I’ll be teaching. The farthest school was about a half hour drive away, and it had only four students. There was another elementary school that had only three students! In total, we visited four elementary schools and one middle school; as well as one nursery school. (Apparently I’ll be teaching at two nursery schools too, which was news to me.) Everyone we met at schools was incredibly warm and welcoming.
At the elementary school nearest to my residence in the Bikuni area, we just happened to arrive when the whole school was having an assembly in the gymnasium. Unexpectedly, the principal had me walk out in front of the student body (about 73 kids) and introduce myself, which I did in Japanese. It was kind of sudden, but I thought that it went pretty well.
Midday, Yamazaki-san, Harada-san, and I had lunch at a local soba shop. When we sat down, the traditional green tea was brought out, and it was incredibly good. Yamazaki-san and I had giant bowls of hot soba with rare seaweed; it was amazing. After we were finished eating, cups of coffee were brought out, and I even thought the coffee was wonderful.
Later, I was introduced to the mayor of Shakotan. He was man of smaller stature, but also very nice and welcoming. With Harada-san acting as translator, he asked me some questions about my family and relationship status. He asked me to invite my parents to visit Shakotan. (He advised that the summer would be the best time to visit.)
After we had seen the schools, and I’d met the mayor, I thought we were probably all done for the day, but as it turns out, it was time for an interview for the local newspaper. A young lady reporter arrived and took my picture. Then Harada-san acted as my translator again, as my limited Japanese ability didn’t make it possible to answer her questions. She asked some questions similar to what the Mayor had asked about my family. She asked if there was anything I missed about Seattle (of which I could think of many) and I mentioned that I missed my soccer team. We talked about my interest in martial arts and my desire to learn to cook the Japanese way. After everything we discussed, I wondered what items would make into the final draft of her article. After the interview, Harada-san assured me that I was going to be very big news in the community.
Yamazaki-san offered to treat me to dinner, which I enthusiastically accepted. He arrived at my apartment at 6:30pm with his two kids and we walked to the restaurant, which as it turns out, was actually just down the street. It was another establishment with the Tatami seating, but this time, the restaurant’s atmosphere really felt like eating at someone’s house, though perhaps in olden times. I found it quite cool. Yamazaki-san and I got draft beers, and the food was served family style, which allowed me to taste a lot of different stuff. My favorite dish of the evening was Omu-Soba (オムソバ); an omelet with yakisoba inside. Hell yes!
During dinner we were joined by Fujiki-san, two more friends of Yamazaki’s, and Yamazaki-san’s wife. The conversation was in Japanese, but thanks to an electronic dictionary and a lot of talking about learning English, I was able to keep up pretty well.
We discussed how it seems to be easier to communicate when alcohol is involved, and Yamazaki-san introduced me to my new favorite word: Nominication. The term combines “communication” and “nomu” or “ nomimasu” (飲む – のみます) the Japanese word for drink. After four beers (and tasting a couple varieties of sake), the nominication was crystal clear.
We left the restaurant around 10:30pm and I thought the night was coming to an end. But during dinner I had expressed a desire to sing karaoke, and Yamazaki-san was going to take me to karaoke right away! We walked about a block from the restaurant and turned the corner into an alley, right at the convenience store that I knew so well. Just behind the conbini was a little bar named “スッナク Cocoro”, meaning “heart” (心). Inside Cocoro, there was a modest setup, with a small bar, limited seating, and a karaoke machine with a couple screens strategically positioned in the corners of the room. The locals were drinking and singing Japanese songs, which was really great. In fact, the elementary school principal who had had me introduce myself to his entire school earlier that day was singing a song as I arrived.
Yamazaki-san found me the remote that you use to sign up for a song, and I selected to sing Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”. When it was my turn and I sang, the whole bar was cheering! Everyone seemed to appreciate my singing and I was even complimented on my “great English”, which I found rather amusing. Yamazaki-san asked me to sing The Beatles song “Let It Be”, so I obliged. Eventually, people were reserving songs and then handing me the microphone when the song started and saying, “Lucas-san, please sing.” By the end of the evening I had sung some Beach Boys, Wham, Michael Jackson, and Journey as well. (I tried to explain that “Don’t Stop Believing” was the quintessential American karaoke song.) The only thing that would have made it even better would be if I knew any Japanese songs well enough to sing them. That would have definitely impressed. My beer magically refilled itself as the evening went on, and subsequently, I had a fantastic time.
All in all, it was a big day. We visited the schools where I’ll be teaching, I met the mayor, I was interviewed by the paper, and we rocked the local karaoke joint. It would seem that, at least at the moment, Shakotan is happy to have me.