Well, no need to fear. It has officially gotten warmer. And lighter, too! I took the above photo on campus a few days ago because I thought the campus and the clouds looked beautiful, but also to make up for the snowy campus picture I included in my last post.
Other things are changing too. As we welcomed in the new year, my senseis also welcomed in new students. Whether or not I was ready for it, this automatically shoved me up the social ladder. I’m not at the bottom anymore! My kyodo sensei has welcomed in quite a few new students since the new year, actually. He’s even asked me to start helping him a bit. And the more I become familiar with him, the more my language that I use around him changes.
My tea sensei hasn’t really taken on any more students, but I’ve been studying enough with her and the others that I’ve become quite comfortable with tea ceremony now. Last Tuesday, sensei invited a guest in so that he could see us practice and so that we could serve him some tea. Just like in kyudo, his presence in the room immediately shoved me up the ranks, and although I did make quite a few mistakes, that’s the first time where tea has felt fun. When I’m practicing, I usually feel like I quiet the whole room down; there’s so much tension in watching a newcomer like me. But lately the atmosphere has felt far more natural. No shaking hands. We’ve even been exchanging a few jokes.
It’s crazy how palpable the ascendance to senpai really is.
On Friday, I had a great night.
I’m not so sure what made it so great. I suppose it was a couple of things all together. I made a list.
- When I went to kyudo as usual, I walked to the back door, and seeing no one, I called out to see who was home before I came in. From the basement I heard, “Yeaahh! One second.” As I heard someone coming up the stairs, I asked, “Is now an ok time?” My senpai came up the stairs as she was saying “yep,” and then seeing me, she put stopped and put her hand over her eyes: “Oh! You surprised me. I didn’t realize it was you, Jesse. Oh wait! A person who can speak English! Good! Just in time… come downstairs when you’re ready.”
- This made me happy for a lot of reasons. But mostly, that I suppose I didn’t sound like a non-native speaker. That’s been happening more and more recently. I’ll call out into a house or a store, and when someone comes out, they’re always surprised to see that it was me to say it.
- The reason why she was so happy to see me, and English speaker, was that a nice guy from Manchester was getting taught kyudo by sensei that very moment. And he didn’t know any Japanese. He looked quite scared. Sensei looked like his usual relaxed self, but I could tell things were a little tense. He was noticeably relieved when he saw me. “Jesse! Nice to see you, bud. Just in time. Help out and translate a bit, will ya?” So of course I did. Mr Manchester actually seemed pretty ok after just a few seconds of me telling him some of the important stuff, and sensei told me to go practice upstairs. After Manchester ran out of time, sensei told him to come upstairs and watch me shoot arrows. We had a very nice conversation about archery (he was also interested in archery before this) and Japanese archery. I feel like I cleared up a few things and it seemed like he was even more interested in it by the time he left. Mission accomplished. I went back down after Manchester slid the back door shut and sensei conversed with me like an old pal in front of a new student he was teaching. “Boy, that was a close one! Good thing you came. He seem like a good guy? Seemed ok to me. A little spindly though. Hahaha [backslap].” Good feels all around.
- As I was headed back, I saw the train just pull into the station as I rounded the corner. I ran for the train, but everyone had already boarded by the time I still had about 30 yards to go. The conductor looked out the window and saw me, and then he nodded very slightly. I sped up a bit, and he kept the doors open till I got on the train. Sometimes I really love Japan.
Well everybody, today was another one of those days. Something new might have just entered my life.
For various reasons, I needed to get someone a present today. And it just so happens that I decided that this present needed to be sake. But I didn’t want to get it from just any place! I wanted to get it from a liqueur or sake store so that I could ask questions like, “Does this one have a dry flavor?” because I still don’t really have any idea how to pick something like that out.
I decided all this while I was out today, and I also decided that I needed to find I quickly and nearby so I could get home for dinner.
After failing to find several places, I finally realized that I was right next to Nishiki, the most famous food marketplace in Japan. I looked on Yelp and found the place with the most stars and went for it. Aijikiroji is famous for giving out samples of good sake to people passing by, but also for selling a large amount of pottery made by the owners. I was interested. And I also thought I had seen it before.
I waded through Nishiki’s crowds till I found the shop (passing by a few other tempting sake shops), and there were certainly samples being given all around. I huddled with the rest of the people till I got a little cup. The older ladies were giggling and talking to the other customers about how handsome they thought I was. They thought I couldn’t understand them, but they were wrong.
By the time it became apparent that I did know Japanese, everyone was so excited that they started asking me all kinds of questions, all the while refilling my little plastic sample cup. Eventually one of them made a joke that I should have a part time job there. Everyone laughed and pointed out that the woman who said that was actually the owner of the shop. “Yeah maybe, maybe if I have time…” I drank a few more samples and then decided on my bottle. The owner thanked me very nicely and took the bottle to the register.
Once there, it also became apparent that there were many Doshisha graduates in the family. “Huh! What a coincidence.” After that I finally plucked up enough courage to ask the person behind the cash register. “Um, actually, if there’s any time, I would like to perhaps take on a part-time job here.” This was the right thing to say. A small celebration was had and I wrote down my contact information. The owner asked me to send her what slots would work for me, whenever I have time.
I walked out of the store with a good feeling.
Until I realized that everyone was so excited that I had entirely forgotten to pay for my bottle.
I hurried back and asked the same woman behind the register (who was a little surprised to see me back so soon), “Did I pay for my bottle?”
“Oh! I’m not sure actually. I’ll get the owner, one sec.”
She called up the stairs and the owner came down. They talked for a few seconds quietly and then they both erupted into laughter. The owner came over to me and said, “I’m so incredibly sorry for that.” To which I pretty much said ditto. I paid successfully and left the store with an even better feeling. These seem like some good people to work with.
There’s buds on the trees, everyone.
Heard it’s going to get cold again this week, though. Don’t mean to be a downer, but I also know when to call it. No worries though. It shouldn’t really get as cold as it did again until next year. And next week has a lot of awesome things in store.
Two field-trips, Setsubun festivities, and a nearly-free dinner and sake tasting opportunity that I heard about from the website deepkyoto.com. I was put on the waiting list, but it seems my position got pushed up a bit and I’m going to it this Thursday.
That’s all for now. Stay warm and watch out for spring,