Halfway through my tenure here in Shionoe, I was invited by one of the local dads to join in their weekly volleyball games. I had never really played and thought that the opportunity to get to know some of the parents over at Shionoe Elementary would be great. Also, I was doing very little of interest during the week and developing some sort of routine sounded healthy.
I’ve continued coming most Tuesdays for the two hours of either freezing cold or sweltering game time in the gym. Like most school buildings, there is a complete lack of climate-control. These people have always been kind, and fun to interact with. They are mostly parents from the area, but there are other locals who will make an appearance every so often as well.
I can confidently say that I have improved my game since when I first started, but generally I’m not so good at the fundamentals. I can however jump well above anyone else and either block ridiculous shots or otherwise crush them down at impossible angles, while my side to side abilities are quite limited. We were able to compete in one tournament, where we got destroyed, and also a Shionoe Elementary PTA tourney where I made ample contributions. All in all, this was a good chance to stay active and have fun. Hope to continue this sort of thing in the future.
This same group of people invited me to a dinner in my honor at the same place we met before. This local sushi shop had a number of seafood delicacies for us, several of them being new to me. I’ve eaten plenty of octopus legs, but this was the first time eating part of the head. One of the others were the intestines of a squid. I always assumed that like a jellyfish these animals were just blobs. It was all good stuff though. Throughout the meal, we talked about some of my post JET plans and reminisced a bit about life here. They commented that they really enjoyed the chance to get to know me during my time here. I felt good at that, like I had succeeded in carving out a place in the local community.
Towards the end of our time there, I had a great chance to talk with one of the locals sitting at the sushi counter. He was introduced to me as the grandpa of one of my students. I chatted with him a little bit, and was impressed at his ability to speak to me in an easily understood way. Elderly people especially, all across the world, have got no idea how to speak such that non native speakers of that language can understand them. Japan is particularly tough, since these people here speak in a difficult mix of standard Japanese and their local dialects. This guy was good though and while pouting each other cups of sake, we talked of many things.
I asked about the life and times of Shionoe back when he was a kid here, and eventually we got on the topic of marriage, more specifically divorce. He though that Americans were ‘too free’ as a people and divorced too easily. I agreed, but then challenged, ”But is that better than the loveless marriages common throughout Japan?” He conceded that a balance should be struck between free will and duty. I had to pat myself on the back for even managing this conversation in Japanese.
Following our time here, they wanted to keep things going with a bit of singing. I had no idea that there was a place I could sing karaoke at this our in my town, but there was apparently a local snack bar that I had always assumed to be closed down. Apparently it comes to life at night and on in we went. It was little more than a box with a bar and some tables, but it was perfect. There were a number of people already there, and several of them introduced themselves to me as the father of one of my students.
I got the karaoke session going with an old enka song by Meiko Kaji. I’m not much of a singer, but I received applause and handshakes from some of the other guests for even knowing such an old and obscure song. One of the things I noticed immediately about this karaoke was that it was a bit more R rated than usual. They always play weird videos in the background of something like two forlorn lovers wandering around a city, but this more adult version consisted of scantily clad models. Then based on how well one sang, they would ‘reward’ the audience with varying degrees of exposure. As crazy as this may seem to the rest of the world, it is par for the course here in Japan. Though shocking, it was not surprising.
The songs kept coming, but soon songs were skipped anytime someone picked an English on, whether by myself or not. We stuck around here for well over an hour before I had to sneak away for some sleep. The next morning included an early departure and it was already after 1am. This smattering of locals covered all my costs and basically ensured that I had a great time. I’ve had a smattering of great experiences in town like this, but being able to hang out with a number of parents was such an authentic experience. I’m really thankful that they did this for me, and also that despite a considerable language barrier we could have such fun together.