I slurped on my noodles as I observed the chef chopping up dough into soba. After we finished eating, I jumped from my seat and ran outside. Jewelry merchants crouched near the edge of the canal with purple blankets bearing necklaces and trinkets. In one doorway sat a mechanical cat. A ruffle from a bag sent the cat shouting greetings to draw in customers. I did not run through the streets, I floated down them in a dreamlike state, overwhelmed by the rush of refreshing sea air and the warmth of the peoples’ hospitality.
My brother and I vanished down a side street of Kurashiki. I stopped to peer into the waters of the canal. My brother shouted my name. I looked up and noticed him standing with his arms casually hanging over the railing directly across from me. Abandoning my interest in the water, I scuttled across the bridge until I bumped into my brother. We squeezed through a narrow passageway between two traditional Japanese buildings and reemerged near a card shop overlooking an empty street. When my brother and I entered, shelves displaying wire art lined the interior perimeter and limited our movement.
An elderly woman stood behind the counter, bending colorful wires into cranes to place onto special greeting cards. She momentarily paused her work to greet us with a friendly, “Kon’nichi wa! Atsui desu ne?” I gladly grasped the chance to converse with a non-English speaker by myself. I wanted to practice Japanese, to see how far my independent studies had led me. Smiling, I replied, “Hai, totemo atsui desu.” The woman nodded her head in approval and continued her work. She wanted to talk with us, but her redundant questions regarding the heat suggested her uneasiness. I also felt uncomfortable; unlike her, I had to formulate a response in my head before putting it into words.
Ten minutes passed before the three of us grew used to one another’s company. Moments where we scrunched our brows in confusion were common, but we laughed them off. The woman excessively apologized for her inability to speak English, while I apologized for not understanding. When the conversation died down, my brother asked me if I remembered the word for “wedding.” I did not, but I came prepared. With the quick tug of a zipper, I whipped a dictionary from my backpack. I leafed through the pages and then pointed my finger to “kekkon,” the Japanese word for wedding. My brother held out a card and asked, “Kekkon?” The elderly woman replied enthusiastically, wondering if he needed a card for his sister’s wedding. My brother and I said “iie” several times with frantic arm-crossing motions.
After regaining our composure, we purchased cards, received a present from the woman, and then wished her farewell. We walked down a small corridor, but suddenly, a girl called out and welcomed us into a 1050 yen shop. She approached me casually asking, “Sukoshi Nihongo wo hanasemasu ka?” I responded with a quick, “Hai, sukoshi hanasemasu.” Holding her arm out, the girl motioned for me to follow. She directed my attention to the various yukata and asked if I liked them. Eventually, my brother and I politely escaped her generous grip and returned to our hotel.
My journey proved that excitement can be found outside of the United States. It is vital that people understand the importance of diversity and are willing to experience cultures from a first hand perspective. I am thankful I experienced a conversation with native Japanese speakers and learned about their food and culture.
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