親睦の機会 – The Opportunities of Friendship

“Friendship is a thing most necessary to life, since without friends no one would choose to live, though possessed of all other advantages.”

Aristotle

While every week brings about new opportunities, the ones I experienced this last week were different, namely in how they related to my life outside of work. To put it simply, I have finally made friends outside of the JET Program.

In the last week, I had the opportunity to hang out with new friends who share no connection to JET, teaching, or even being American. This opportunity allowed me to feel at home in the actual country of Japan, rather than simply in my apartment and place of work. Even though I am introverted, it was a wonder to finally make these connections, and I cannot wait to see how they will impact my time here going forward.

So far as making friends go, the process here has been slow-going, so this first of these two experiences was one of which that I was greatly appreciative. At my gym, I am the only foreigner, or so I thought until the week before last, when I met my new friend Hoang, a Vietnamese fellow who works in my city as a civil engineer. He approached me to start talking to me, and it was a pleasant surprise to find that he spoke English. After a conversation about being foreigners with a mutual enjoyment of working out, beer, and conversation, we exchanged LINE numbers and agreed to meet up sometime soon to talk some more.

Prior to this, I had also established a rapport with a Japanese man named Taka, who is about my age. We got along well, and he speaks very good English, so we were able to speak further than my own meager Japanese would limit us. After my meeting with Hoang, with the promise of future interactions to come from the relationship, I decided to develop my relationship with Taka in that same way, so I reached out to him on Facebook. 

Later that week, we spent a night just conversing and getting to know each other over some drinks at my apartment. As we spoke, we found a mutual passion for travel, working out, learning, and personal growth, and a remarkably similar sense of humor. We ended the night with a jovial farewell as Taka returned home, and we both expressed a desire to do it again sometime soon. Fresh off the heels of that wonderful evening, I reached out to Hoang, and then we agreed to meet for dinner and drinks this last Friday.

Hoang had mentioned previously that he loves to meet new people, so in the spirit of that I invited two of my other friends, Brendan and Joe, both fellow America JETs, though they are from Connecticut instead of New York. We all met on Friday, and then, over the course of the evening, our discussions began from the standard fare of where we are from, what we do, and what we like, and eventually our discussion evolved into one of politics; while I was not entirely welcoming of the introduction of politics into the conversation, it still proved to be a nice avenue for practicing my English in a way that I have been unable to do since I came to Japan. At the end of the night, each of us went our separate ways, and I was happy that I was able to share a second pleasant evening with newfound friends that week. And, as it turns out there was one more interaction to be had. 

Later that week, we spent a night just conversing and getting to know each other over some drinks at my apartment. As we spoke, we found a mutual passion for travel, working out, learning, and personal growth, and a remarkably similar sense of humor. We ended the night with a jovial farewell as Taka returned home, and we both expressed a desire to do it again sometime soon. Fresh off the heels of that wonderful evening, I reached out to Hoang, and then we agreed to meet for dinner and drinks this last Friday. Hoang had mentioned previously that he loves to meet new people, so in the spirit of that I invited two of my other friends, Brendan and Joe, both fellow America JETs, though they are from Connecticut instead of New York. We all met on Friday, and then, over the course of the evening, our discussions began from the standard fare of where we are from, what we do, and what we like, and eventually our discussion evolved into one of politics; while I was not entirely welcoming of the introduction of politics into the conversation, it still proved to be a nice avenue for practicing my English in a way that I have been unable to do since I came to Japan. At the end of the night, each of us went our separate ways, and I was happy that I was able to share a second pleasant evening with newfound friends that week. And, as it turns out there was one more interaction to be had. 

On Saturday, Taka texted me and asked if I would be interested in getting lunch with him and Hoang the following day. They said they were going to a good Vietnamese restaurant in the neighboring city of Ota, and as one who loves trying new food, I instantly agreed. The next day, as I awoke from a three-hour nap in the wake of a night out in Takasaki, I showered, dressed, and waited for Taka to pick me up, and he arrived at about 11 am to take me to the restaurant. Along the way, we picked up Hoang, and then we made our way to the restaurant, where Hoang took care of everything.

Being Vietnamese, he knew what all of the best foods to get were, and as he spoke with the waitress in rapid Vietnamese, I could not help but feel excited about what I was going to try. He ordered five different plates for us, and the spread included pho, spring rolls, and a litany of other foods whose names I never caught. Regardless, all of the food was delicious, and the conversation was equally pleasing. There was nothing inherently special about the topics we discussed, but I think that it what made this day, and the two that preceded it, to be so memorable to me.

In all of these interactions, I was truly living an everyday life and having an everyday conversation with new friends. Whereas before I have felt at home in my apartment or my place of work, this sense was one of true integration into the cultural ecosystem of Japan. For the first time, I was sharing good food and good company with people I had not met through the JET Program. It is not to disparage the program or the people within it, but I felt such a sense of accomplishment in being able to make inroads outside of the program. And for that I am very thankful.

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Song of the Week

Memoirs of a Gaijin Playlist

“Almost” by Bowling For Soup

In yet another reflection of my own inability to act mature enough for my age, this week’s song was another key piece in my adolescent music library. “Almost” is a song that I have always enjoyed, originally for the catchy instrumentals and lyrics of it, but as I have aged I have become appreciative of the lyricism of the song. The idea of love lost is not unique to this song, but I really enjoy the way that the theme is examined in the song. Every one of us wonders about the almosts, maybes, and could-have-beens, and this song stands as an anthem to those insecurities. And for that reason, most of all, I love it.

If you would like to listen to this song or any of the other prior Songs of the Week, check out the Spotify Playlist linked above!

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2 Comments

  1. I miss you…was thinking about you so intensely last night! Glad to see that you are doing well, meeting new people and enjoying life

  2. Really enjoying your blogs! Reminds me of my own adventures adjusting to life in a “foreign” culture.

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