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Takeuchi-A Japanese Volunteer Teacher
by Jennie
August 19, 2013

“Konnichiwa (hello),” her voice was as gentle as a bird singing.

“Ko~~ni~chi~~wa,” I awkwardly repeated this sole Japanese word that I knew. Actually, at that time, I had arrived in Japan from China only six days before, and I didn’t speak Japanese at all.

She is Takeuchi, an ordinary forty-eight years old housewife, my Japanese volunteer teacher in Sendai of Japan.

After the greeting, it was silence.

She looked at me for a while, said slowly “oo~bento ~mochimasuka? (Did you bring a lunch box).” I couldn’t catch any word just saw her mouth quickly moved, so I shook my head and murmured the word “bento? Bento!?” She talked more and tried to explain to me, I thought. However, nothing had been changed on me because my ability of Japanese language was fairly limited. I felt that her voice was becoming further and further away.

It seemed that she would give up, and the silence was still there. Then she started moving her hands to make a rectangle shape and pretended to be eating something. I guessed that meant “the food in the box.” She also repeated “Bento” over ten times. Finally my first Japanese lesson with Takeuchi unexpectedly started; the word “Bento (lunch box) ” jumped in my mind at once and has lived in my heart.

At the second lesson, both of us had an electronics dictionary in hand. When either of us were confused, the other definitely looked it up in the dictionary. However, we preferred using body language to show the meaning because it was a direct and easy way. When I communicated with her, I totally forgot the shyness and embarrassment that I had before. How to make each other be understood is the most significant whichever we used. Most of time I guessed as best as I could. If it was right, I would see her big smile; if it was not, we would laugh at the ridiculous guess.

Everything looked very fine, and I was able to speak Japanese three months later. However, when I was confident about my language ability, an unpredictable event came.

One day I had to update my personal information at city hall, so I wanted to ask for her help. She owned a car and was always glad to drive me to somewhere before, so I called her.
“Sensei (Teacher), do you have time to drive me to city hall on this Friday?”

Bulabula . . . concert . . . have a tea with a friend . . .” she spoke at least two minutes about it.”

I was still confused if she would do me a favour or not because I couldn’t understand all words she said. I really wanted to know the answer so I said again.

“Could you help me on some day?”

“Bulabula . . . concert . . . have a tea with a friend . . . ” she said for another two minutes.

What she said frustrated me.

“Could you help me this time, Yes or no?” I tried.

She spoke again, but I didn’t get any answer that I wanted.

She spoke, spoke and spoke.

Finally I desperately gave up and misunderstood her.

After that, even when I talked to her in person, she didn’t say it clearly either. One year later, I suddenly understood why she acted like that, the reason is Japanese culture—vagueness of speaking style. Japanese never say “no” directly and clearly.

Since then, I thought completely exposing to Japanese culture is the fastest and most effective way to improve my language ability.

In the coming weeks, I was busy. She had taken me to Japanese’ summer festival, a concert held by her and her music friends or a party in her house. Every week, I met her, talked to her, and felt she had become my close friend rather than a teacher. She started to talk about her family, introduce her two daughters (her husband and the oldest son lived in another city for working) to me.

My oral Japanese had become more and more fluent. I caught every chance to communicate with local residents, and I could even identify dialect. Also, I remember not saying “no” at any time.

She was a model of hardworking housewife. Her house was very clean all the time. When I visited her two-story house, everything was organized very well and finding a piece of dirt was hard, even in a closet. I was curious about how to do and keep it like that, and she told me that she woke up at 6 a.m. and cleaned up until 10 a.m. every day.

She loved handwriting mail, although printing mail was becoming faster and more convenient. She said she could have a feel through handwritten words. I was told many times she wanted a mail by my handwriting. I have kept writing by hand when I want to send her a message or a card.

Six months later, when I passed the exam to become a master’s student in University of Tohoku, she told me that she was not to be my teacher because she thought she was not good enough to be my teacher. Undoubtedly, she is modest. Anyway, we still had met every week for enjoying the diversity of Japanese culture.

Time flies quickly. I left Sendai seven years ago. Whether I stayed in Osaka, Beijing China or Vancouver Canada, we have kept in touch.

Last January, we met in Sendai again. She was still the same image as the first time we met—a middle aged, gentle Japanese housewife. We talked and laughed about the “bento” as a joke. I will never forget it.

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