Sunday, June 10, 2012

On Generosity

The other day I had no classes in the afternoon, and was trying very hard not to fall asleep at my desk, struggling to think of ways to keep myself alert, when the science teacher came over and offered me a dish of homemade yogurt. This is the fourth time in about a week that he’s brought his homemade yogurt to share with the entire staffroom. Times like these I think about how lucky I am to be here and in such a warm, friendly school.

Japanese people are overwhelmingly generous and hospitable, in a way that’s so engrained that thoughtfulness doesn’t even get a second thought. Take the science teacher, for instance. I had barely spoken to him at school before I ran into him at a local arts festival. He came with his wife, who had been invited by a friend of mine, the leader of her English conversation group. We chatted for a bit, both surprised to see each other outside of the staff room. The following Monday, he came by my desk to say – rather, read; he had prepared what he wanted to say on a piece of paper – that he enjoyed the arts festival and my set with Anthony; he said we had very good singing voices. He then asked if I liked Japanese culture (of course!), and lent me a book about traditional Japanese things like rock gardens, paper fans and soba noodles, written in both English and Japanese. Awesome, right?? Later he gave me some photographs he had taken at the event, and he gave gifts to my mom and aunt when they visited. Now he regularly comes and asks “can I talk with you?” whenever he’s looking for a chance to practice his English.

Last time he came over to chat was the time he brought the yogurt. He then asked me if I liked movies. He told me he had recently watched a Johnny Depp film with his family, and then mentioned another Japanese film, wondering if I had heard of it. I wasn’t sure until he began explaining the premise of the comedy – a man from ancient Rome is somehow transported to Japan. “Oh! I saw a preview…” hm. Would he be familiar with the word “preview”? “Chotto matte” (wait a minute) – and he ran back to his desk. To fetch his dictionary, I assumed. Nope. He came back with his iPad, and before I knew it he was pulling up the trailer and hitting play and we were watching it in the middle of the staffroom. Students coming in and out to ask teachers questions, teachers bustling by, busy with photocopying and lesson prep no doubt. And here we are, watching a trailer that is primarily made up of comedic scenes of men in bathhouses. But every other teacher who stopped to look at what we were watching immediately said, “ah, Thermae Romae! Funny movie. You should see it.”

Instances of generosity don’t stop there. There was the time my school nurse kindly helped me fix up my busted lip (*snowboarding incident*), and didn’t even laugh TOO much at my ridiculous-looking face. There was the time my school invited not only me but my mom and aunt as well to join the second-graders on their school trip to Hiraizumi. Or the time an elementary school secretary gave me her fan because I commented that it was nice. I tried to refuse, but she wouldn’t hear of it. Lesson learned: be careful with your compliments? Now whenever I compliment someone on something they have I get worried that they’re going to turn around and give it to me. There was also the time someone from my English conversation group sent me home with a loaf of fresh bakery bread and homemade jam because I had remarked that I missed the bread from home. Or when that same lady asked for my aunt and my mom to stay overnight at her house, and then treated them to a private onsen visit the next day while I had to work. Or the woman in a Kamakura cafe who gave us paper cranes made my her mother and told us to enjoy Japan.

I could go on. But basically Japan is pretty freakin generous and I never feel like I can quite repay it.

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