Aishiteru – a story of new friendships

All the students you see in the photos here (don’t worry, I asked their permission) I met for the first time on Sunday evening. It is now Thursday and I feel like I have known them for a much longer amount of time. I already care about all of them so much – I cannot imagine what the goodbyes will be like on the 3rd September! It will be hard! (For context of what I’m doing at the moment, see here.)

The photo below was taken with my ‘buddy group’ before breakfast on Monday morning. At this point they were all very quiet – Monday was really the day that jet lag started to set in for them. The language-barrier and tiredness combo wasn’t one I’d like to re-visit. The students also did not know each other before coming here so the ice was very much yet to be broken! It is strange to think that at this point I didn’t really have a clue about their individual personalities or the fun that was to be had over the next few days.

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This next photo was taken on the Monday night ‘Pub Quiz’. My team may not have won, but we did have a lot of fun. In particular, there was a round of English Landmarks in which I was trying to give clues that gave them the answer, without telling them the answer directly. Cue 15 minutes of discussion to get to Shakepeare’s ‘Globe Theatre’ via descriptions of spinning world maps and glass souvenirs that have pictures in them, which you shake so that fake snow falls down. Also the ‘Gherkin’ via a green vegetable that isn’t cucumber or aubergine and then ‘the thing MacDonald’s puts in burgers’.

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However, it was Tuesday night that was really special. Everyone dressed very nicely for the formal photo that was taken, and then enjoyed drinks before the formal meal. I went around teaching the boys the English word ‘suave’, which I explained was different to the word smart and meant ‘like James Bond’, which they all thought was very funny.

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All the girls called me ‘cute’ which I now know is kawaii (ka-why-ee) in Japanese. They are all so sweet and love my skin and my hair colour (lots of expressions of shock to the news that my hair is not dyed haha).

I was asked to be in so many photos! As Cassie (one of the girls I am working alongside) had warned me at the start, this is not a good job for the camera-shy! The previous day I had decided that it was worthwhile to lose some of my dignity in learning names, before I missed the opportunity to do so. This definitely had an impact on the numbers of photos I was asked for, as now all the students know my name they are unafraid to come up to me and test me on their names, or ask for photos.

I am still very much in this process of name-learning. I know for certain the names of at least 40 of the 65 students, but I am trying to ‘trouble-shoot’ the confusions I have. I confuse a girl called Shiho with another called Mona, Sahoko with Sathoko, Marina and Madoka and really struggle remembering the names of Kanako and Akiko unless they keep their clothing the same from day-to-day. However, I am very proud because I have never got the names of the twins Haruna and Haruka the wrong way around (yet).

There is one name that for some reason I cannot get. This guy is called Daisuke but, given that I struggled to say it correctly, we decided that I would call him ‘Mr J’ and he would call me ‘Miss R’. I have subsequently learned to say his name but he will only let me call him ‘Mr J’. He now also swaps Miss R for whatever name he decides or thinks is funny. On Tuesday at formal he was calling me Jessica, whilst yesterday he walked in and greeted me (loudly) with ‘hello Santa Monica’. Mr J is very funny! On Tuesday he tried to use my phone to take a group photo and instead took a selfie of himself and Ryohei (also called Nicholas – a guy who, in class yesterday, revealed that he once bought live golden fish from the internet).

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‘Mr J’ is the only student who will really go for the whole ‘pull a funny face’ thing.

I have so many photos of me with different students on my phone now! Yoshino (Yos-ino, you don’t seem to pronounce ‘h’ in Japanese names) is in my team and she asks me for photos so often, at least twice a day – she is the one with me in the top left photo. I remember how excited she was on the first night because I told her I was 19, because that’s also her age – I think that was the start of a very special friendship. I have a lot of love for her.

After all these photos were taken, we went into the hall for dinner. The meal itself was so much fun. I gave a guy called Takashi lessons in eating with a knife and fork and taught him how to cut his bread roll. The guys also had a discussion about the difference between ‘cute’ and ‘beautiful’, and told me that ‘cute’ is more for teens, so I was ‘beautiful’. I then told Takashi I was 19 – he was very surprised and asked me if I was kidding, and then told me that I had to call him ‘sir’ in that case, because he is 23.

Happily, I have got to the stage that I am friends enough with all of them to start making jokes… This is a lot of fun because a lot of the time they can’t work out if I am making a joke, or if they haven’t understood my English. Kyohei (who is also in my group) was sat by me and I found out that he doesn’t really like chocolate-mint flavoured food. I pretended to looked concerned and said, “Oh no! But the meal we are having next week is entirely mint-flavoured food.” Takashi and Kyohei then had a discussion together in Japanese trying to work out what I had said and whether I was serious. After a while they turned back to me and said “kidding?”, and I shook my head seriously for ten seconds before bursting out with a smile saying, “Kidding!!”. They thought it was very funny.

The girl in the red dress above is called Sauri and she has the best look of surprise you have ever seen (see top right photo for the mild version). Also during the meal-time conversation she asked me if I had a boyfriend – and when I said I didn’t, she said that she wanted to be my boyfriend. We now joke a lot about going on pretend dates. It seems that lots of the students think that I am very beautiful. My pale skin, hair colour, delicate features and blue eyes are apparently all very desirable in a way that I don’t think is the same in the UK. I am finding the attention all very amusing and funny.

This is where the title of this post comes from. ‘Aishiteru’ (I-ee-shay-tay-ru) is ‘I love you’ in Japanese and is something I was first told by one of the guys who struggles with English more than some of the other students. The guys in the group around me at that point laughed a lot whilst I carried on oblivious to the profession of love that had just occurred. ‘Aishiteru’ is now something I say to everyone and they all say it back to me. Also ‘cho kawaii’ (very cute) is said a lot each day. It is a sign of the friendship that is developing between everyone, despite the slight language barrier.

Actually, one really nice thing about the slight language barrier is that all of the communication feels much more earnest than typical conversation. The students are unable to add sophisticated ‘qualifiers’ so language reflects the honest sentiment felt. This has resulted in a really nice atmosphere in the group.

This atmosphere was there last night in the evening, when I played pool for the first time. It was the same the previous night when I was taught the card game ‘Daifugō’ (which has a similar principle to a game I taught them on the first night, ‘The Great Dalmuti’). All the students are now very used to me saying ‘English please’ when they are talking Japanese and I don’t understand, and are very happy to teach me Japanese words and laugh at me when I repeat the words back with an incorrect pronunciation.

I am really enjoying my time here, building friendships, having fun, and also learning new things. I am also enjoying the new responsibilities of this kind of job – I have booked coaches and museum tours, filled in risk assessments, emailed offices, scanned visas and all sorts of things. I am so excited for what is ahead, so far everything that happens seems to be full of nice surprises!

One such ‘nice surprise’ happened this morning. I had planned to visit Fitzbillies with Yukana and two others because I wanted Yukana to try Fitzbillies’ famous Chelsea Buns, since she is writing her project on English cakes. I turned up to the meeting place five minutes early, expecting to see three people and instead saw seven! I then had a lovely time out with them in Fitzbillies.

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All in all, I am just so happy to have an opportunity to make so many wonderful new friends! May all this fun and joy continue.

3 thoughts on “Aishiteru – a story of new friendships

  1. Chris Traxson says:

    Glad you are having such fun. It sounds an absolute hoot. I smiled when you said . . . “My pale skin, hair colour, delicate features and blue eyes are apparently all very desirable in a way that I don’t think is the same in the UK. I am finding the attention all very amusing and funny.”. . . . have you not realised you are very beautiful to the English too Rachel That is you are beautiful both inside and out !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Anyhow enjoy your riotous time and have loads of fun and laughter. . .fancy that you are being paid to have such a great time! That is amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rachel says:

      Thank you Chris, that is very kind! It is more that they all always want photos with me and are really excited because apparently I look like Carly Rae Jepsen (don’t know if you know her, she sings ‘Call Me Maybe’?). Their levels of enthusiasm are unrivalled! 🙂

      Like

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